North Cup Opener: Racers Return to the Forum
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars kick off their National Ice Hockey League North Cup campaign on Sunday evening at the Forum when an ‘old friend’ visits Teesside for the first time in over two decades – Murrayfield Racers have returned to British ice hockey.
One of the most famous names in British ice hockey history, Murrayfield Racers last graced the sport in 1994 when they finished fifth in the old British National League, a season the then Teesside Bombers finished in last place. They became the Edinburgh Racers the following year, then the Murrayfield Royals. A new franchise in the form of the Edinburgh Capitals was born in 1998, and that side played in the top tier of the sport until this summer when the team folded after losing its ice time contract with the owners of the Murrayfield rink. The reformed Murrayfield Racers failed to gain entry to both the Elite League and the National Ice Hockey League, and will instead play in the Scottish National League, the second tier of the sport north of the border. The longer-term ambition is to return to the top flight, and a spot in this season’s Cup competition gives them a chance to prove themselves against tougher opposition than they will face in the SNL. On the bench this Sunday will be former Great Britain international Tony Hand alongside Murrayfield legend Jock Hay, and assisting them in their coaching duties will be Player/Coach Martin Cingel. Slovakian Cingel is perhaps the best-known name in the squad, a former Elite League forward with an impressive scoring pedigree. Other players used to playing at the top level include Callum Boyd, Joel Gautschi, Michael Ireland and Jordan Steel, whilst Daniel Abercrombie has joined from Stars’ NIHL rivals Solway Sharks.
Billingham go into the game on a high after picking up their first League points of the season with a gritty win on the road at Solihull Barons last Sunday, a rink that has not been a happy hunting ground for the Stars in recent seasons. Coupled with a spirited performance against the reigning League champions Sheffield Steeldogs at the Forum the previous evening, Billingham would seem to be heading in the right direction in the early days of new Head Coach Tom Brown’s regime. After a slight delay with his paperwork caused him to miss last weekend’s matches, new Canadian import Kevin Boyd makes his much-anticipated debut on Sunday night. Stars will be missing James Moss after he picked up a suspension in last Sunday’s game following a fight in the latter stages with Barons’ Luke Brittle, plus Ross Hanlon has picked up an upper body injury. Despite that, Billingham will have a full bench at Brown’s disposal and will hope to make a winning start to their Cup campaign.
Stars’ Head Coach Tom Brown is pleased with the progress his side have made in just a few short weeks:
“We are all still getting used to each other and there is a lot of work to do, but I am pleased with the guys’ willingness to learn. They are taking on board completely new systems – it will take time to get things right. We don’t know a great deal about Murrayfield but there are no easy games for sure and we will be playing each team exactly the same way. We may make a few changes to lines this weekend – the fans will have to wait and see.”
Billingham welcome Murrayfield Racers to the Forum on Sunday evening for a National Ice Hockey League North Cup fixture, face off 6.30pm. Tickets can be bought from the box office from 5.30pm priced at £10.50 adults, £6.50 concessions, £32 family [2+2].
Telford Tigers v Whitley Warriors, Saturday 7pm
Solway Sharks v Sheffield Steeldogs, Saturday 7pm
Sutton Sting v Hull Pirates, Saturday 7.30pm
Hull Pirates v Sutton Sting, Sunday 5.30pm
Sheffield Steeldogs v Telford Tigers, Sunday 5.30pm
Solihull Barons v Nottingham Lions, Sunday 6pm
Blackburn Hawks v Solway Sharks, Sunday 5.30pm
Billingham Stars v Murrayfield Racers, Sunday 6.30pm
Images: Steeldogs - Linda Crabtree / Barons - Keith & Jenny Davies