A Day At The Racers
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars get a break from National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 action this weekend as they complete their North Cup fixtures with Sunday's trip to Murrayfield Racers – their first in many, many years.
A ‘grand old name’ in British ice hockey, the resurrected Murrayfield Racers are competing in this season’s Scottish National League having taken over the ice time contract from the now defunct Elite League side Edinburgh Capitals. The Racers have ambitions to climb the hockey ladder and are using the Cup competition to gauge their progress against National Ice Hockey League outfits. Under the guidance of British ice hockey and Murrayfield legend Tony Hand, the Racers currently sit mid-table in the SNL but have played fewer games than those above and have top spot within their sights. The gulf in class between the SNL and the NIHL has been demonstrated by Murrayfield’s inclusion in the North Cup however as the Scots have failed to win a single point and have conceded 71 goals in their nine fixtures thus far. The Racers ranks have been boosted this week by the signing of Latvian defenceman Rihards Grigors, who joins up with brother Patriks on the Murrayfield blue line from Elite League outfit Milton Keynes Lightning. The Scots hope to have Grigors’ paperwork completed in time for him to make his debut on Sunday evening.
The Stars will be grateful for a second one-game weekend and a break from the trials and tribulations of the League as they look to finish off their Cup campaign in style. An 8-2 victory over the Racers at the Forum in the reverse fixture back in September will give the Teessiders the psychological edge going into Sunday's game, but with a much stronger roster and Murrayfield’s famously huge ice pad Billingham will face a much tougher challenge north of the border. It is over two decades since a Billingham side last faced the Murrayfield Racers in Edinburgh, so experience of the 61m x 30m pad is not something many of the current squad have had. The Stars still have some injury and availability issues to contend with ahead of Sunday's game and expect to ice without Tom Keeley, Callum Davies, Jack Emerson and Andy Finn as a minimum, however the younger members of the side that have been asked to step up have all flourished thus far and are expected to travel.
Billingham’s General Manager Allen Flavell wants to see his side get back on track ahead of important League fixtures over the festive period
“This is no easy task for us and I do not want us to see it as a done deal. Murrayfield may have struggled in this Cup competition but they have pushed some teams close and on their own ice they are going to put up a great display for their fans. We need to use this game to get ourselves ready for the upcoming League matches – we simply must start picking up points. This is not the time for complacency for sure – we have not been finding the net recently and that has to change for results to start going our way.”
The Stars will travel up to Edinburgh for their final North Cup fixture against Murrayfield Racers on Sunday evening, face off 6pm.
Solihull Barons v Hull Pirates, Saturday 5.15pm
Solway Sharks v Whitley Warriors, Saturday 7pm
Telford Tigers v Nottingham Lions, Saturday 7pm
Sutton Sting v Sheffield Steeldogs, Saturday 7.30pm
Whitley Warriors v Sutton Sting, Sunday 5pm
Hull Pirates v Solway Sharks, Sunday 5.30pm
Nottingham Lions v Telford Tigers, Sunday 7.30pm
Sheffield Steeldogs v Blackburn Hawks, Sunday 5.30pm
Murrayfield Racers v Billingham Stars, Sunday 6pm
All images: Linda Crabtree