Belief Back In The Stars Camp
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars return to North Cup and National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 action this weekend hoping to capitalise on the double boost of last Sunday’s crushing defeat of Nottingham Lions, plus the midweek signing of Billingham-born forward Craig Thurston.
His paperwork cleared, Thurston will link up with his new teammates for the trip to Blackburn tomorrow afternoon, both sides’ North Cup hopes hanging by a thread. Needing to win all remaining fixtures as well as relying on a late stumble from Sheffield Steeldogs, a highly competitive match is guaranteed. Blackburn have the psychological edge, their comfortable win over the Stars at the Forum last month one of the two wins they have so far in this group stage of the competition. For the Hawks, much will depend on the availability of two-way forwards Kieran Brown and Adam Barnes, the young talents instrumental in the Lancashire side’s successes so far this season.
On Sunday Billingham welcome Solihull Barons to the Forum for their second League encounter of the season, the Stars having edged the first meeting between the sides by the odd goal in nine at Hobs Moat Road in early September. Since then the Barons form has been patchy, but they sit four places above their hosts in fifth position. Solihull are traditionally very strong offensively, and this season has been no different as only Hull and Telford have scored more goals. Unfortunately for the Barons they tend to leak goals at the other end, something the Stars new forward line-up must look to exploit.
Billingham will have the luxury of a full squad available for selection this weekend, with the notable exception of netminder James Flavell who is serving the final two games of his four match suspension. The junior members of the roster may well stay behind for tomorrow afternoon’s Under 18s clash with Coventry at the Forum, but on Sunday it is anticipated that the coaches will have to cut some players to form their final 22. Mark Watson will continue to deputise for Flavell between the pipes.
The Stars’ General Manager Allen Flavell sees renewed belief in his side and is looking for a four point weekend:
“We’ve had a couple of shots in the arm this week, the win last Sunday was just what we needed and to have Craig join up with us is a real boost. We’ve also got a full squad for the first time in many weeks which gives the coaching team the kind of headache they like, and it increases competition for places. We owe the Hawks after we rolled over and let them take the points last month – a win on their tricky pad would set us up nicely for the Barons, so four points is definitely the target.”
The Stars are in Blackburn tomorrow night for a crucial North Cup encounter, face off 6pm. On Sunday they welcome Solihull Barons for a National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 clash, face off 6.30pm. Tickets for Sunday's game can be bought from the box office from 5.30pm priced at £10.50 adults, £6.50 concessions, £32 family [2+2].
Solihull Barons v Whitley Warriors, Saturday 5.15pm
Solway Sharks v Hull Pirates, Saturday 7pm
Whitley Warriors v Solway Sharks, Sunday 5pm
Billingham Stars v Solihull Barons, Sunday 6.30pm
Nottingham Lions v Sutton Sting, Sunday 7.30pm
Blackburn Hawks v Billingham Stars, Saturday 6pm
Sheffield Steeldogs v Telford Tigers, Saturday 7.30pm
Hull Pirates v Sheffield Steeldogs, Sunday 5.30pm
Telford Tigers v Blackburn Hawks, Sunday 6pm
Images: Linda Crabtree / Tony Burgum / Keith Davies