Weekend Report: Last Laugh For Stars
ULTIMATE WINDOWS sponsored Billingham Stars saved the best until last with a confidence-boosting derby win over National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 local rivals Whitley Warriors on Sunday at the Forum.
Billingham started the weekend with a trip to Blackburn Hawks in Saturday, just four defencemen making the trip across the Pennines. It was the home side who got the first shot in anger, youngster Kieran Brown stealing the puck from a face off in the first minute and drawing a good point-blank save from Stars netminder Mark Watson. The visitors looked a different team from the one that rolled over so tamely on Tyneside last weekend and got off the mark in fortuitous fashion in the second minute, Hawks goaltender Niks Trapans failing to track an Alex Preston effort. Chris Sykes blasted just over a minute later but the lead did not last long as Richard Bentham capitalised on a defensive error to equalise in the third minute. The hosts began to get themselves on top, Bentham with another chance caught high just on the four-minute mark, a kick save to deny Aaron Davies in the ninth minute followed quickly by a high catch from Luke Boothroyd. The Stars survived the pressure and began to exert some of their own, Michael Elder seeing his one-on-one breakout stopped at the last by an excellent Trapans glove save. It was another breakaway that led to Billingham regaining the lead, Artūrs Ozols the man charging out of defence to score in the 13th minute. Ozols was involved again just a minute later as his blue line blast ricocheted favourably for Corey Stones to break and slot past Watson to tie the game up once again. Late chances fell to both sides as Elder and Jack Davies went close for the visitors, Ollie Lomax with a couple of efforts knocked clear for the hosts.
The Stars started the middle session well, Sykes and Baškatovs both with backhand efforts within the first two minutes. Brown continued to look threatening and Watson kicked away his shot in the 22nd minute. Billingham began to make hard work of the game, and Blackburn capitalised to take the lead in the 29th minute, Watson sent the wrong way allowing a Kim Miettinen effort to creep past his skate at the far post. Seconds later and the Stars were rocked by a fourth goal as Jozef Ištocy found the back of the net. Billingham appeared to be falling apart when less than a minute later the Hawks moved further ahead, a rebound off the back boards finding Stones who blasted home. The visitors called their timeout to collect themselves and it did the trick, Baškatovs clawing one back in the 33rd minute when he waited for Trapans to commit before slotting the puck past him. Jack Davies had two bites of the cherry to potentially make it a one-goal game just on 36 minutes but Trapans stood up well. Eventually though the Stars got themselves right back into the game when Sykes hung onto the puck despite defensive pressure and poked the puck through Trapans’ pads on the backhand with less than 80 seconds until the buzzer.
Billingham got an early break in the final period, James Riddoch sent to the box for tripping Baškatovs, but as they piled forward Brown broke from his own zone and unleashed a bullet past Watson for a short-handed effort in the 42nd minute. Desperate to get back into the match, the Stars threw everything at their hosts as chances for Preston, Jack Davies and Michael Elder all went begging, a combination of Trapans and the post combining to deny the Teessiders. Just before the 54-minute mark, Stones’ two-handed slash into Sykes’ face drew blood and he was sent for an early shower. On the resulting five-minute power play, Billingham once again penned their hosts into the zone and again hit the pipework as they did everything but score, Blackburn surviving the late onslaught to take the win 6-4.
Man-of-the-Match for Billingham was Callum Davies.
Corey Stones 2+0; Kieran Brown 1+1; Jozef Ištocy 1+0; Richard Bentham 1+0; Kim Miettinen 1+0; Aaron Davies 0+1; James Neil 0+1; Lewis Baldwin 0+1; James Riddoch 0+1
SOG: Niks Trapans 37 (10 / 15 / 12)
Artūrs Ozols 1+1; Chris Sykes 1+0; Deniss Baškatovs 1+0; Alex Preston 1+0; James Moss 0+1; Jack Emerson 0+1; Callum Davies 0+1
SOG: Mark Watson 36 (17 / 11 / 8)
Sunday’s final game of the regular season saw Whitley Warriors make the short trip down the A19 to the Forum with the Stars looking to make amends for a poor showing in the reverse fixture on Tyneside the previous weekend. They got off to the perfect start, Baškatovs roofing a rebound past Richie Lawson in the Warriors net with a little over a minute played. Whitley hadn’t read the script however, a one timer from DJ Good well saved by Billingham netminder James Flavell showing their intent before they equalised on the power play just before the five-minute mark through Philip Edgar with the home side looking for an icing call that never came. Tempers started to fray seconds later, Bowman and Dean Holland having a pop at each other from a face off and warming the penalty bench for their troubles. Play swinging from one end to the other, it was the Stars who got their noses in front in the seventh minute when Jack Davies swept a Baškatovs face off win through Lawson’s pads. A frantic rest of period followed as both sides saw chances come and go, the blistering pace kept up until the buzzer.
The Teessiders edged away from their local rivals early in the second period, Jack Emerson collecting high in the 22nd minute and confidently shooting past Lawson’s glove. The Warriors were not about to let them get away and had narrowed the gap once again in the 24th minute, Shaun Kippin’s effort deflected high past Flavell. A minute later and the game was all-square, Ben Richards given space to follow up a rebound despite an initial excellent save from Flavell. It all started to go wrong for the visitors from a slashing penalty against Lawson in the 27th minute, a clever backhand pass on the spin from Richie Thornton finding Sykes for the one timer to nose the home side back in front on the resulting power play. Just seven seconds later a huge rebound from Lawson was pounced on by Bowman to increase the gap, Lawson taking himself off at this point to be replaced between the pipes by Jordan Boyle. Boyle had barely had chance to touch the puck when the Stars made it six in the 32nd minute, the puck popping out from the corner for Emerson to swing his second goal of the game into the bottom corner. Whitley were not without their chances, Flavell denying Richards and Ross Douglass, but an unsavoury incident in the 34th minute saw Jordan Barnes depart the game on a match penalty for a check to the head that put Ben Davison out of the game prematurely also. Billingham should have enjoyed a five-minute power play, but less than a minute had gone before Bowman had also went to the dressing room on a game misconduct for high sticks. The teams playing four-on-four, the Stars killed the game just before the 37-minute mark when Sykes picked his spot in the top corner. The Warriors struggling to solve the Flavell puzzle at the other end meant the hosts enjoyed a four-goal cushion going into the break.
Whitley were handed an early power play opportunity in the final session as Matthew Campbell incurred a minor penalty for slashing. They were able to make it count when Edgar bundled it over the line a minute later. Any thoughts of a comeback were stifled as Billingham resumed control of the game. A slashing minor against Ross Hanlon prompted a Warriors timeout, but with Flavell in fine form the visitors were unable to capitalise, even when they briefly had a five-on-three advantage when Tom Keeley incurred a delay the game minor. The action not completely confined to the Billingham defensive zone, Baškatovs went just wide of the near post in the 53rd minute and James Hellens forced a kick save with less than three minutes to play. Eventually the clock counted down on a much-needed morale boost for the home side as they face champions Sheffield Steeldogs in the first round of the playoffs next weekend.
Man-of-the-Match for the Stars was Jack Emerson.
Chris Sykes 2+0; Jack Emerson 2+0; Deniss Baškatovs 1+2; Michael Bowman 1+1; Jack Davies 1+0; James Moss 0+2; Richie Thornton 0+1; Ben Davison 0+1; Callum Davies 0+1; Matthew Campbell 0+1; Alex Preston 0+1
SOG: James Flavell 45 (12 / 18 / 15)
Philip Edgar 2+0; Shaun Kippin 1+0; Ben Richards 1+0; Liam Smedley 0+2; Kyle Ross 0+1; Dean Holland 0+1; Josh Maddock 0+1; Harry Harley 0+1
SOG: Richie Lawson 24 (17 / 7); Jordan Boyle 17 (10 / 7)
Speaking after Sunday’s game, Billingham’s Director of Coaching Terry Ward was pleased to see the turnaround in his side ahead of a tricky playoff series:
“We needed to show commitment this weekend – last Sunday we were flat so it was important to get the intensity back. Tonight we went out to put our stamp on the game early, which we did, then we blew them away in the second. We closed the game down in the third and got the victory, which we haven’t done in some games this season.”
The regular season at an end, the Stars will face new League champions Sheffield Steeldogs home and away in the first round of the playoffs next weekend. The home leg is at the Forum on Saturday 17th March (face off 6pm) followed by the deciding leg at IceSheffield on Sunday 18th March (face off 5.30pm).
Blackburn Hawks 6 Billingham Stars 4
The Dragons 5 Whitley Warriors 9
Solway Sharks 2 Telford Tigers 3
Sheffield Steeldogs 1 Hull Pirates 0
Hull Pirates 4 Sheffield Steeldogs 6
Solihull Barons 5 Blackburn Hawks 3
Telford Tigers 11 Nottingham Lions 2
Billingham Stars 7 Whitley Warriors 4
All images courtesy of Linda Crabtree