Ultimate Windows sponsored Billingham Stars

Ultimate Windows sponsored Billingham Stars couldn’t kick on from a morale-boosting North Cup win in Blackburn on Saturday as they came up just short in their National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 match-up with Solihull Barons the following evening.

Travelling to Blackburn on Saturday with new signing Craig Thurston but without Andy Finn and Richie Thornton meant that Matthew Campbell reverted to defence, and Jack Davies was added to the blue line. A disjointed first period from both sides ensued as Billingham tried out new lines, whilst the hosts’ main threat came predominantly from two-way forwards Adam Barnes and Kieran Brown. Quality shots were in short supply, both netminders turning plenty of rubber away without being made to work too hard. For the Stars, Kevin Boyd was denied by a late glove in the fifth minute, then Thurston almost grabbed a debut goal on the backhand in the ninth but Nik Trapans in the Hawks net was equal to the challenge. The deadlock was finally broken on 15.45, Blackburn with the extra skater as Jack Davies was about to be called for slashing, but his penalty was washed out when Lee Pollitt found the top corner over netminder Mark Watson’s shoulder from close range.

A determined-looking Billingham side came out for the middle session, captain Michael Elder surging forward from the face off and drawing a hooking penalty against Danielius Nomanovas. The Stars set themselves up perfectly on the resulting power play, and it was Elder who tipped home a Chris Sykes shot from the point to level the game on 20.46. Two minutes later the visitors edged ahead, Ethan Hehir showing great composure to slot home under Trapans on the backhand after an excellent set-up pass from Cain Taylor. The game was all tied up once again when Barnes was given too much room to pick his spot over Watson’s glove to make it three goals in as many minutes. Despite the equaliser, Billingham were having the better of the play and always looked the more likely to score. The go-ahead goal finally came on 34.56, Sykes with the toe drag to beat the last defenceman and the low shot to beat Trapans. The period ended on a sour note as Brown found himself despatched to the dressing room with a minute to go, his slash on Darren Stattersfield penalised with a five plus game to leave the Hawks without one of their most influential players.

Starting the final period short-handed, the hosts still managed to hit the inside of the post with just over a minute gone before Barnes was called for tripping to put his side at an even greater disadvantage. The Stars squandered the power play however, Nomanovas going closest for either side but finding Watson in excellent form. Billingham seemed much more comfortable in five-on-five situations, and moved further ahead on 45.28 when Hehir collected in the neutral zone and – despite three Hawks between himself and the net – he fired home past Trapans from a wide position. Half a minute later it was five, Boyd finding the back of the net from the blue line. Blackburn didn’t give the game up but when they did find a way through a resolute Stars defence they came up against an inspired Watson, the netminder making a series of impossible stops in the 51st minute to keep the gap at three. A late delay the game call against Michael Bowman gave the Hawks a chance for a consolation effort, an opportunity they took with just over a minute to go as Ross Kennedy put a backhander away under Watson for a 3-5 final score.

Man-of-the-Match for Billingham was Mark Watson.

Hawks Stats:

Ross Kennedy 1+0; Lee Pollitt 1+0; Adam Barnes 1+0; Niks Trapans 0+1; Aaron Davies 0+1; Rick Ravey 0+1; James Royds 0+1; Danielius Nomanovas 0+1

SOG: Niks Trapans 43 (15 / 15 / 13)

Stars Stats:

Ethan Hehir 2+0; Chris Sykes 1+1; Michael Elder 1+0; Kevin Boyd 1+0; Edgar Protčenko 0+2; James Hellens 0+1; Michael Bowman 0+1; Cain Taylor 0+1; Callum Davies 0+1; Jack Davies 0+1; Darren Stattersfield 0+1

SOG: Mark Watson 46 (16 / 13 / 17)

The Blackburn game saw Jack Davies and Tom Keeley lost to injuries and unable to face Solihull, however Andy Finn was available to fill one of the blue line holes. Barons arrived on Teesside with a full bench, including new signing Paul Stanley who joined midweek from Nottingham Lions. Billingham had the brighter start but in what was to become a recurring theme they found netminder Sam Hewitt at the top of his game as he saved early chances from Hehir and Thurston. With one of their first real attacking chances, Solihull opened the scoring on 4.32 with a great finish from Adam Brittle. The Stars kept up the pressure but time and again they were thwarted by Hewitt. It took a power play late in the session to finally restore parity – with Niklas Ottosson in the box on an interference call, Boyd pushed the puck home on the backhand under Hewitt on 17.25.

A defensive error allowed the Barons in for their second with less than a minute of the middle period played, Josh Bruce backhanding out to Adam Brittle who poked it under a prone Watson. Finding themselves behind once again, Billingham battled back and tested Hewitt through Taylor in the 27th minute, but it wasn’t until 31.39 that they found a way through, James Moss collecting a mishandled puck and firing into the roof of the net. It was Watson’s turn to shine between the pipes late in the period as he denied first Luke Brittle and then Andrew Whitehouse to keep the scores level.

The home side let themselves down defensively once more in the 42nd minute, a messy scramble in front of Watson’s net eventually saw the puck tucked home by Adam Brittle for his hat trick. The Stars had to respond again and they piled forward but it took them until 48.27 to tie the game up, Edgar Protčenko finding Matthew Campbell with a pinpoint pass that Campbell slapped home with a one-time effort into the bottom of the net. With two points on the line, Billingham scented glory but the difference between the sides was Hewitt as he performed miracles to keep his side in the game. A power play opportunity fell the hosts’ way in the 53rd minute as Edward Eaton was called for tripping, but Billingham committed themselves too far and Solihull broke out through Luke Brittle and Ottosson, the Swede finishing the move for the short-handed winner. The Stars pulled Watson in the final minute but Barons and Hewitt in particular stood firm to come away with the victory, 3-4 the final score.

Man-of-the-Match for Billingham was Ethan Hehir.

Stars Stats:

James Moss 1+0; Matthew Campbell 1+0; Kevin Boyd 1+0; Chris Sykes 0+2; Edgar Protčenko 0+1; Andy Finn 0+1; James Hellens 0+1; Callum Davies 0+1

SOG: Mark Watson 29 (8 / 15 / 6)

Barons Stats:

Adam Brittle 3+0; Niklas Ottosson 1+0; Josh Bruce 0+3; Macaulay Halford 0+2; Marcus Maynard 0+1; David Rogers 0+1; Luke Brittle 0+1

SOG: Sam Hewitt 38 (11 / 13 / 14)

Billingham Stars TV caught up with some of the Stars camp post-game:

Billingham travel to Telford Tigers for a National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 game next Saturday 1st December (face off 7pm) before returning to the Forum for a North Cup game against Sheffield Steeldogs on Sunday 2nd December (face off 6.30pm).

Weekend Results:


Solihull Barons 6 Whitley Warriors 5 (after overtime and penalty shots)

Solway Sharks 3 Hull Pirates 2

Whitley Warriors 4 Solway Sharks 6

Billingham Stars 3 Solihull Barons 4

Nottingham Lions 0 Sutton Sting 11

North Cup:

Blackburn Hawks 3 Billingham Stars 5

Sheffield Steeldogs 1 Telford Tigers 5

Hull Pirates 2 Sheffield Steeldogs 1 (after overtime)

Telford Tigers 13 Blackburn Hawks 4


Images courtesy of Steve Pollitt (Hawks); Linda Crabtree (Barons)