Weekend Report: All Over For Stars
ULTIMATE WINDOWS sponsored Billingham Stars put up a valiant fight over their two-legged National Ice Hockey League (N) Playoff series against League champions Sheffield Steeldogs, but a 13-6 aggregate defeat sees their season over as they exit the competition at the quarter-final stage.
At the Forum on Sunday, the new champions looked to stamp their authority early as Milan Kolena tested Stars netminder James Flavell with just 18 seconds on the clock. Billingham took a little while to warm up but eventually got a shot on net when Sheffield goaltender Dmitri Zimozdra smothered a Deniss Baškatovs point shot at his skate in the fifth minute. Flavell was the busier of the two however, kicking a Lloyd Gibson effort away in the sixth minute, then tracking James Spurr on the break to nullify the danger seconds later. The visitors got the goal they had threatened just before the nine minute mark, Cameron Brownley bundling in a rebound on the near post for a scrappy opener. Billingham were keen not to let their illustrious opponents get away however, Chris Sykes almost catching out Zimozdra with a surprise backhand effort in the tenth minute, then a minute later Zimozdra could only parry from Baškatovs but with no one on the spot to capitalise the chance went begging. Brownley was looking lively for the Steeldogs and Flavell picked his shot out of the air in the 12th minute. Three minutes later and it was the Stars back on the attack, Jack Davies finding himself alone out front but he fanned on his shot. Late penalties called against Jack Davies and Baškatovs put the home side on the defensive but they weathered the storm to go in just a goal down at the break.
Sheffield again looked to get themselves on top early in the middle session, Brownley with a shot to Flavell’s middle with just over a minute played. The hosts were still not lying down however, Richie Thornton’s one time effort from the blue line forcing the pad save in the 25th minute. Billingham had just survived a clipping call against Matthew Campbell when the visitors moved further ahead in the 30th minute, no defencemen on hand to clear up Adrian Palak’s rebound and Brownley free to pot home his second. The Steeldogs picked up their first penalty of the evening not long after, Tim Smith sitting for delaying the game, but the closest the hosts got was a Michael Elder effort that came off Zimozdra’s mask in the 33rd minute. Brownley almost bagged his hat trick in the closing moments of the period but Flavell again stood tall and kept the score at 0-2.
Still in the game at the start of the third period, Baškatovs’ attempted tip in the first minute almost saw the Teessiders on the score board. A tripping penalty against Liam Charnock just before the 42-minute mark should have been Billingham’s green light but they got caught pushing forward and allowed Kolena to break, the Steeldogs top scorer pulling the pass across for Gibson to tap home. 0-3 should have been game over but the Stars came roaring back, Baškatovs finding the roof of the net in fine style just 30 seconds later. Despite still being two goals down the momentum noticeably shifted to the home side as they sought a way past the top seeds, eventually they got it back to a one-goal game when a great pass from James Moss found Baškatovs for the one-timer in the 54th minute. Half a minute later and Baškatovs returned the favour, his hard work setting up Moss for the equaliser to send the Forum faithful wild. Clearly rattled, Sheffield surged forward to re-establish their grip on the game, Kolena seeing his tip saved on 57 minutes. They had the final say however, a defensive clearance getting stuck in the ‘snow’ and ending up on Palak’s stick for the Slovakian to give the visitors a slender lead going into the deciding leg the following evening.
Man-of-the-Match for Billingham was Deniss Baškatovs.
Deniss Baškatovs 2+1; James Moss 1+2; Jack Davies 0+2; Ben Davison 0+1
SOG: James Flavell 45 (16 / 12 / 17)
Cameron Brownley 2+1; Adrian Palak 1+2; Lloyd Gibson 1+0; Liam Charnock 0+2; Milan Kolena 0+1
SOG: Dmitri Zimozdra 18 (5 / 6 / 7)
'Mini' Stars TV caught up with some of the main protagonists after the game:
At IceSheffield on Sunday evening, Sheffield started as they had done the previous night by trying to exert early pressure. Flavell made the pad save from Tom Relf within the first two minutes, then flashed the glove to deny Gibson seconds later. Again it took the visitors a little while to grow into the game, Jack Emerson with an attempted wraparound in the fifth minute. Charnock went on a charge seconds later but slid his effort just past the near post. Baškatovs fired just over the bar in the seventh minute as both sides sought an opener. Eventually the home side broke the deadlock in the 11th minute, Gibson getting the final touch on a Ben Morgan shot. Two minutes later and the gap widened a little more, the defence standing a little too far off Lewis Bell to allow him to find his range. Billingham were still very much in the tie however, Moss trying to spring a surprise from behind the net in the 14th minute before Emerson tried one from a tight angle two minutes later. The game’s defining moment came with just 23 seconds left before the buzzer, referee Andrew Miller appearing to have blown the whistle to indicate a dead puck with the biscuit nestled between Flavell’s pads before deciding that the puck had crossed the line before the whistle to award Brownley a goal. The Stars protestations earned captain Elder and assistant captain Sykes ten-minute misconduct penalties despite both being able to speak to the referee, thus robbing Billingham of their top line going into the second period.
Forced to rejig all their lines the Stars tried valiantly to make a game of it, Baškatovs attempted divert going just wide in the 22nd minute. The action became increasingly confined to the Billingham defensive zone however and Brownley popped up for his second in the 24th minute after Ben Davison had lost his footing to give him space to shoot. Further depleted with Artūrs Ozols sitting out a delay the game minor, James Spurr chipped over Flavell for a power play effort in the 28th minute. Finally restored to their normal lines, the Stars nevertheless fell further behind in the 32nd minute through Kolena, then four minutes later Kolena’s mazy skate through set up Brady Doxey for a simple tap-in. The Steeldogs eighth summed up Billingham’s night as a fortunate puck bounce fell nicely to Spurr to slot home at the near post in the final minute of the period.
Aiming to end their season on a high, the Stars came out for the final period looking hungry, Elder going just wide in the first minute and then seeing replacement netminder Brandon Stones glove his high shot in the 44th minute. Baškatovs fired straight at the pads a minute later before an interference call against Brownley gave Billingham the extra man in the 46th minute and this time they made the home side pay, Michael Bowman with the Stars opener just nine seconds into the penalty. Three minutes later and Bowman made it two for the visitors with a top shelf effort. The pressure off and Billingham enjoying another great third period, Davison fired through Stones’ pads for number three in the 53rd minute. The champions had the final say however, Gibson rounding off the scoring with a tip-in from a Charlie Thompson shot with less than three minutes to play. 9-3 on the night, a 13-6 aggregate score and Billingham’s season comes to an end.
Man-of-the-Match for the Stars was Michael Bowman.
James Spurr 2+1; Cameron Brownley 2+0; Lloyd Gibson 2+0; Milan Kolena 1+3; Brady Doxey 1+1; Lewis Bell 1+0; Ben Morgan 0+4; Charlie Thompson 0+2; Greg Wood 0+1; Liam Charnock 0+1; Tim Smith 0+1; Adrian Palak 0+1
SOG: Dmitri Zimozdra 15 (14 / 1); Brandon Stones 22 (6 / 16)
Michael Bowman 2+0; Ben Davison 1+0; Michael Elder 0+2; Chris Sykes 0+1; Jack Emerson 0+1; Callum Davies 0+1; Alex Preston 0+1
SOG: James Flavell 28 (15 / 13); Mark Watson 15
Billingham Stars TV were on hand to capture the post-game mood after the last game of the season for Stars:
The Stars defeat means their season is now over. Season 2018-2019 will begin in September.
Whitley Warriors 2 Telford Tigers 5
Billingham Stars 3 Sheffield Steeldogs 4
Hull Pirates12 v Blackburn Hawks 1
Solway Sharks 4 Solihull Barons 4
Sheffield Steeldogs 9 Billingham Stars 3
Blackburn Hawks P Hull Pirates P (awarded 0-0)
Solihull Barons 5 Solway Sharks 3
Telford Tigers P Whitley Warriors P (awarded 0-0)
All images courtesy of Linda Crabtree