Weekend Preview: Lions Lie In Wait
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars tackle another double header weekend in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1, facing Nottingham Lions home and away as they go for their second four-point weekend in a row.
Travelling to Nottingham for the first time this season tomorrow afternoon, the Stars will find themselves in unfamiliar surroundings. The teams will do battle in the 10,000 seat Motorpoint Arena at the twin–pad National Ice Centre, the arena usually reserved for Lions’ Elite League brethren, the Panthers. Acting as a feeder team for their more illustrious big brother, the Lions elected to take promotion into the new-look Division 1 having finished just outside the playoff places in Division 2 last season. Relying in the main on home-grown talent, Nottingham have struggled against teams with much larger budgets and currently find themselves in ninth place, the dreaded relegation playoff slot. Although they have only picked up ten points thus far, the Lions have made a fight of their campaign and pushed current table-toppers Sheffield Steeldogs all the way last Sunday before eventually succumbing 2-4 on home ice. That score line that had much to do with the presence of Sam Gospel between the pipes, the Nottingham born netminder having recently bolstered the ranks from the Panthers.
Billingham will be looking for successive four point weekends to widen the gap between themselves and Nottingham, whilst also closing down on the pack of teams just above them. Last weekend’s 22-goal bonanza will certainly have given the forwards confidence in front of the net and none more so than Chris Sykes, the Stars top scorer bagging two hat tricks to take him to the 40-goal mark for the season. Sykes’ fine individual performances, coupled with the Teessiders’ improved form since Christmas, has led to him being awarded January’s Player of the Month award in North Division 1. Short last weekend, Billingham should have a larger bench for the mini-series against the Lions with just Ethan Hehir and James Hellens absent through Under 18s duties tomorrow and Darren Stattersfield still suspended.
The Stars’ Director of Coaching Terry Ward is still buoyant after last weekend’s heroics:
“There is no reason why we can’t take another four points this weekend. The lads are flying and we are finding the net more regularly now. We can see the teams above us are within our reach and we want to catch a few before we get to playoff time. We don’t take anyone lightly however – Nottingham are a well-coached team and they are not just going to give us the points. If we want them, we will have to work hard for them. Chris Sykes’ award is testament to the way we have been playing as a team though – well done to Chris, getting to 40 goals is no mean feat and any defence in this League is quite right to worry about him.”
Billingham face Nottingham Lions twice in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 this weekend as they travel south for a 5.30pm face off tomorrow afternoon before welcoming the Lions to the Forum on Sunday evening, face off 6.30pm. Tickets for Sunday’s game can be bought from the box office from 5.30pm priced at £10 adults, £6 concessions, £30 family [2+2].
Telford Tigers v Blackburn Hawks, Saturday 5.30pm
Nottingham Lions v Billingham Stars, Saturday 5.30pm
Solway Sharks v Solihull Barons, Saturday 7pm
Whitley Warriors v Sheffield Steeldogs, Sunday 5pm
Hull Pirates v Telford Tigers, Sunday 5.30pm
Blackburn Hawks v Solway Sharks, Sunday 5.45pm
Solihull Barons v The Dragons, Sunday 6pm
Billingham Stars v Nottingham Lions, Sunday 6.30pm
All images courtesy of Pete Sheffield.