Weekend Report: Hard Work But 4 Points For Stars
ULTIMATE WINDOWS sponsored Billingham Stars were made to work for their second successive four-point weekend in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 as they recorded home and away victories over Nottingham Lions.
Enjoying the luxury of three lines plus for Saturday’s trip to the Motorpoint Arena, the Stars put the pressure on their hosts early. Andy Finn registered their first shot in anger from the point with less than a minute played, but despite enjoying plenty of possession Billingham found it difficult to get through the Lions as they clogged up the centre lanes. Artūrs Ozols stung the pads of Nottingham netminder Sam Gospel in the sixth minute, then James Moss pinged the post seconds later as the visitors got closer to their target. The deadlock was broken in strange circumstances with a little over eight minutes gone, Jack Davies with a speculative shot that Gospel lost track of in the air and ended up in the back of the net. Callum Davies almost doubled the lead seconds after the restart but Gospel smothered. The Lions started to put together some offensive moves of their own, Stars netminder Mark Watson using the glove to deny Paul Stanley and Adam Andrews in quick succession in the 11th minute. Billingham were keen to stamp their authority on the game however, and they finally got goal two in the 12th minute, some excellent passing from the whole line cueing up man-of-the-moment Chris Sykes in the slot. A late flurry in front of the Stars net saw Watson throwing his body and stick in the way of everything to keep the home side at bay and ensure the Stars went in with a two-goal cushion at the break.
The second period saw a tempo drop from both sides as Billingham struggled to break their hosts down. Sykes saw a soft shot scooped by Gospel in the 21st minute, and a minute later the puck was back at the other end with bodies being flung in the way once again to keep the puck out of the Stars net. In the 24th minute Deniss Baškatovs set up Moss for the seemingly easy tap-in with Gospel flailing, but Moss missed his cue and the chance went begging. Nottingham got themselves back in the game just past the halfway mark, a turnover on their own blue line passed quickly up the ice for captain Marc Levers to put away. It took less than two minutes for Billingham to restore their advantage, Michael Elder set up well on the power play to drill the puck between Gospel’s pads. Baškatovs went close on the backhand in the 33rd minute before Billingham widened the gap with less than two minutes to play on the clock, Ozols releasing Moss with a blue line to blue line pass which Moss collected on the spin to take out the last defenceman before going high to beat Gospel.
An early call against Joe Gretton put the Stars on the power play which they took full advantage of in the first minute of play, Elder finishing a well-worked move over Gospel’s shoulder. The Lions looking beaten, the visitors finished off the game in the 49th minute when Ozols surged forward and found Elder who waited for Gospel to commit before sliding the puck across to Sykes for the tap-in to the unguarded net. Billingham content to sit on their lead, Nottingham took the chance to ice some of their fringe players as the clock wound down on a win that was harder than the score line suggested.
Man-of-the-Match for the Stars was Artūrs Ozols.
Marc Levers 1+0; Joe Humphries 0+1; Paul Stanley 0+1
SOG: Sam Gospel 40 (13 / 15 / 12)
Michael Elder 2+2; Chris Sykes 2+1; James Moss 1+0; Jack Davies 1+0; Artūrs Ozols 0+3; Callum Davies 0+2; Ross Hanlon 0+1
SOG: Mark Watson 34 (9 / 14 / 11)
Back at the Forum on Sunday, Billingham welcomed back James Hellens and Ethan Hehir from Under 18s duties but had to do without Ross Hanlon, Richie Thornton and James Flavell. From the first puck drop the Lions looked a different proposition from the previous evening, Watson forced to smother the danger within the first minute as the visitors went on the attack. The Stars started to threaten as the game warmed up, Jack Davies going just past the far post on the backhand in the fourth minute. Watson denied Ruskin Hughes with the glove in the seventh minute, before a couple of 12th minute chances for Hehir and Sykes almost gave the hosts the lead. Thomas Hovell, taking Gospel’s place in the Nottingham net, made a stunning split save to deny Baškatovs just before the 17-minute mark, then Moss rang the crossbar in the 18th minute as the period ended goalless.
The home side eventually got off the mark within 70 seconds of the restart, Sykes with two bites of the cherry at the near post before putting it high past Hovell on the backhand. The Lions did not look fazed and Paul Stanley in particular looked threatening, Watson’s glove required to stop his shot in the 24th minute. Nottingham levelled in the 25th minute, Hughes with the quick shot from the face off that was past Watson’s skate and into the bottom corner before he could react. Back came the Stars, Callum Davies not quite able to get to a Michael Elder rebound in the 27th minute, then seconds later Sykes had time out front to pick his spot but hit it straight at Hovell. They got their noses back in front just past the 28-minute mark however, Finn with the shot in that was tipped past Hovell by Baškatovs. A minute later it should have been three as Hehir saw his effort ring around every post before ricocheting to safety. Billingham were made to rue the lost opportunity as just on the halfway point of the game Stanley was allowed to get around his defenceman too easily, his finish past Watson squaring the game once more. The response was immediate, Sykes roofing a Callum Davies rebound to edge the Stars ahead once more seconds later, but the Lions were not going to let the game go and it was Stanley again getting around a static Billingham defence and going high past Watson’s glove to level things up again in the 34th minute. The visitors moved in front in controversial fashion in the 36th minute, a clear hand pass behind the net let go by referee David Emmerson to set up Levers who poked home under Watson.
Billingham needed to come out firing on all cylinders in the final session, but it was Nottingham with the first chance, Stanley again testing Watson with less than a minute gone. The Stars started to come out of their shell, Ozols taken down in sight of goal on 44 minutes before Jack Davies just failed with a wraparound attempt two minutes later. From the restart Billingham found themselves in their own zone but some great work by Hellens in the corner got the puck out to Michael Bowman whose cross-ice pass found Sykes, the Stars top scorer beating his man to slot past Hovell for his hat trick. A minute later and the home side were in front, Hovell thinking he had the puck covered but Callum Davies was able to poke it home. This Billingham purple patch saw further chances for Tom Keeley, Matthew Campbell and Hellens before the 50-minute mark, but they then switched off and allowed their visitors to equalise, the Lions capitalising on the Stars failure to clear the zone as a rebound eventually fell to Levers to tie the game up with less than eight minutes to play. Neither side could create a clear-cut scoring opportunity to win the game in regulation time, so three-on-three sudden-death overtime ensued. The extra five-minute period was less than 60 seconds in when Baškatovs hung onto the puck under pressure and surged in front of the net to slide it past Hovell for the game winner and another two points in the bag, 6-5 the final score.
Man-of-the-Match for Billingham was Chris Sykes.
Chris Sykes 3+1; Deniss Baškatovs 2+0; Callum Davies 1+1; Michael Elder 0+3; Andy Finn 0+2; James Moss 0+1; James Hellens 0+1
SOG: Mark Watson 35 (11 / 15 / 9 / 0)
Paul Stanley 2+2; Marc Levers 2+1; Ruskin Hughes 1+0; Joe Humphries 0+3; Jakub Pniok 0+1; Thomas Hovell 0+1; Luke Smith 0+1
SOG: Thomas Hovell 44 (11 / 18 / 13 / 2)
Stars Media Team were on hand to catch the post-game reactions:
Billingham welcome table toppers Telford Tigers to the Forum in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 next Saturday 10th February (face off 5.30pm) before travelling back to Nottingham for their final match-up of the season with the Lions on Sunday 11th February (face off 6pm).
Telford Tigers 9 Blackburn Hawks 1
Nottingham Lions 1 Billingham Stars 6
Solway Sharks 5 Solihull Barons 2
Whitley Warriors 4 Sheffield Steeldogs 1
Hull Pirates 3 Telford Tigers 4
Blackburn Hawks 2 Solway Sharks 3
Solihull Barons 16 The Dragons 0
Billingham Stars 6 Nottingham Lions 5 (after overtime)
All images courtesy of Tony Burgum Photography