Stars Need A Response
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars face an uphill battle if they are to snap a seven-game losing streak this weekend, a still-weakened bench set to face former English Premier League sides in both National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 and the North Cup.
First up for the Stars tomorrow evening is a trip to reigning League champions Sheffield Steeldogs for a Moralee Conference encounter. Steeldogs are sitting pretty in their pursuit of back-to-back titles, nestled on the shoulder of current leaders Solway Sharks just two points behind but with two games in hand. Unbeaten thus far in the League, Sheffield’s minor concern at the moment would appear to be a lack of goals scored compared to their traditional ex-EPL rivals, however they are grinding out the results and were boosted midweek when they qualified for the final of the Autumn Cup at the expense of Hull Pirates. Games between the two sides this season have been close affairs, Steeldogs controversially just edging Billingham in their North Cup clash last month thanks in no small part to the game-tying goal not being disallowed for the puck coming of the netminder’s mask.
From IceSheffield the Stars skate out at the Forum on Sunday evening to take on Telford Tigers in the North Cup. The ‘big three’ of Hull, Sheffield and Telford currently top the round-robin group stage of the Cup competition with the Tigers just lagging a little in third spot. Telford had started to pick up the pace since the return of fan favourite Doug Clarkson last month but suffered a setback last Saturday with their first defeat in six matches at home to the Steeldogs. They bounced straight back with a 1-9 thrashing of Cup minnows Murrayfield Racers on the road, and they will be looking to carry that goal scoring form into this weekend as they face the Racers again tomorrow night before travelling to Teesside.
Billingham have faced a week of reflection after a dismal showing last weekend that saw two winnable games given up seemingly without a fight. The home loss to Blackburn Hawks especially left both coaches and fans wondering what had changed from the heroics of the Hull Pirates match, however training sessions this week have been used to learn lessons positively in an attempt to get the side back on track. Whilst the games this weekend look particularly tough, it is the approach and application that the coaches will be looking at in terms of making improvements. The Stars must cope with gaps still in the side but are hopeful that both Jack Davies and Tom Keeley will return for both games. On the flip side a decision will be taken late in the day as to whether Kevin Boyd will have recovered sufficiently from illness to be able to participate.
Billingham’s General Manager Allen Flavell believes the team need encouragement rather than criticism going into a difficult run of four games against ex-EPL opposition:
“Yes we were all very disappointed by last weekend’s performances, they were not what we expected and certainly didn’t show what the lads are capable of. The boys have to take some of the flak that has come their way, you can’t take the glory and then refuse to shoulder some of the blame when things go wrong. But last weekend is done – we dust ourselves off and we go again. We say every week that everyone has lots to learn and it will take time, sometimes it’s frustrating but we have faith that the pay-off will be worth it. We are working hard to close the gap between ourselves and the top sides and we believe we are on the right track.”
The Stars travel to Sheffield Steeldogs tomorrow night for a National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 match, face off 7.30pm. On Sunday the visitors to the Forum are Telford Tigers in the North Cup, face off 6.30pm. Tickets for Sunday's encounter can be bought from the box office from 5.30pm priced at £10.50 adults, £6.50 concessions, £32 family [2+2].
Sutton Sting v Solihull Barons, Saturday 3.30pm
Sheffield Steeldogs v Billingham Stars, Saturday 7.30pm
Whitley Warriors v Sheffield Steeldogs, Sunday 5pm
Hull Pirates v Sutton Sting, Sunday 5.30pm
Solihull Barons v Solway Sharks, Sunday 6pm
Nottingham Lions v Blackburn Hawks, Sunday 7.30pm
Solway Sharks v Hull Pirates, Saturday 7pm
Telford Tigers v Murrayfield Racers, Saturday 7pm
Billingham Stars v Telford Tigers, Sunday 6.30pm
Images courtesy of Tony Burgum Photography