Opening Weekend: Steeldogs & Barons First Up
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars get their brand new National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 campaign underway this weekend with a tough start for new Head Coach Tom Brown as defending League champions Sheffield Steeldogs visit the Forum tomorrow evening, followed by a long trip to the Midlands on Sunday to take on Solihull Barons.
With teams around the League upgrading their squads in an attempt to topple the South Yorkshiremen, it was important that the Steeldogs did not rest on their laurels. The loss of Lloyd Gibson, Greg Wood and Brady Doxey has been more than compensated for by the capture of much-travelled forward Nathan Salem, most recently playing for Peterborough Phantoms, and Duncan Speirs from Moralee rivals Solway Sharks. Opting to retain last season’s import duo of Milan Kolena and Adrian Palak, Sheffield’s key re-sign of the summer was almost certainly that of Player of the Year Dmitri Zimozdra, the popular netminder the last line of a formidable and tight defensive unit that the Stars must find a way past.
Solihull recovered from a poor start last season to eventually finish fifth and provide the only upset of the playoff competition when they made it past Solway in the first round. On paper however they do not look as strong as last time out, especially up front where they will have to do without Thomas Soar (moved to Streatham), Philip Mulcahy (sabbatical) and Tomas Janak (retired). Filip Supa comes in as the Barons second import, but the burden of scoring will now fall more heavily on the shoulders of Niklas Ottosson, Josh Bruce and Luke Brittle.
A late flurry of summer signing activity means the Stars faithful have five new faces to get used to… although one is already well-known to older Billingham fans. Tom Brown has returned to Teesside after an 18-year absence to become the senior team’s Head Coach having last pulled on a Billingham Eagles jersey for season 1999-2000. Brown has been coaching in Canada and brings a new import forward with him from previous club Stayner Siskins in the form of 22-year-old Kevin Boyd to replace Deniss Baškatovs who has moved to France. Lithuanian international Edgar Protčenko is the new man on the blue line filling the skates of the departed Artūrs Ozols, whilst Cain Taylor has also joined from Hull Pirates. Coach Brown’s son Thomas Junior will be the Stars third-choice netminder and is an up-and-coming England prospect. Paperwork issues may prevent Boyd from making his debut this weekend, whilst Darren Stattersfield and Mark Watson are not available for Sunday's trip.
Billingham’s new Head Coach has not had long with his new charges but believes the fans will begin to see hints of how he wants his team to play from early on:
“The guys look good and with a little work ethic I think we’ll be ok this year. I have a good group of people around me to help – I have played with (bench coach) Garry Dowd before and I know (Director of Coaching) Terry Ward very well. The fans will see a gradual change over the next few weeks – they may see a lot of what they’re used to watching this weekend but over the next month or so we’ll change that. But we’re going to play every team the same way – hard. The fans are going to see some good hockey.”
Billingham host Sheffield Steeldogs for their National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 season opener tomorrow night at the Forum (face off 6pm) before travelling to Solihull Barons on Sunday evening (face off 6pm). Tickets for tomorrow's game can be bought from the box office from 5pm priced at £10.50 adults, £6.50 concessions, £32 family [2+2].
Billingham Stars v Sheffield Steeldogs, Saturday 6pm
Hull Pirates v Whitley Warriors, Saturday 6pm
Telford Tigers v Nottingham Lions, Saturday 7pm
Whitley Warriors v Telford Tigers, Sunday 5pm
Blackburn Hawks v Hull Pirates, Sunday 5.30pm
Solihull Barons v Billingham Stars, Sunday 6pm
Nottingham Lions v Sheffield Steeldogs, Sunday 7.30pm