Ultimate Windows sponsored Billingham Stars

ULTIMATE WINDOWS sponsored Billingham Stars got plenty of positives and two points from their opening weekend in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1, pushing League champions Sheffield Steeldogs to the wire before going down by the odd goal in seven then grabbing both points in a scrappy road win at Solihull Barons.

The Stars got off to a flyer in Saturday’s curtain-raiser at the Forum, Jack Davies putting the home side on the board after just 34 seconds. In a first period littered with penalties as both sides got to grips with some rules changes for this season, Billingham thought they had doubled their advantage in the fifth minute as new Lithuanian defenceman Edgar Protčenko let go a rocket of a shot into the bottom of the net, only to see his marker chalked off for a disputed interference call against Callum Davies by referee Steve Brown. There was a single second left on that penalty when Nathan Salem levelled things up, a fanned shot fooling James Flavell in the Stars net. The minor penalties continued to come, giving the period a stop-start feel and allowing neither side to find any rhythm. Chances limited, Billingham almost got the breakthrough with seconds to go before the buzzer when James Moss tricked his way through the Steeldogs defence, but his shot went just past the far post.

The Stars lost Ross Hanlon at the break to an upper body injury but again started brightly, new forward Cain Taylor unlucky on the backhand in the 23rd minute. Sheffield were beginning to put some plays together however, and were handed a power play opportunity a minute later when Protčenko was called for interference. The visitors immediately went on the offensive, hitting the bar just before the 25-minute mark. Seemingly inevitably the Steeldogs moved ahead with 30 seconds left on the penalty, Player/Coach Ben Morgan shooting straight through Flavell from the point. Billingham got their chance to get straight back into the game in the 27th minute as Cameron Brownley was handed a hooking minor and they equalised in bewildering fashion as captain Michael Elder somehow managed to find the top shelf from behind the goal line with 13 seconds remaining on the call. Instead of pushing on, the Stars then seemed to lose their way a little as Sheffield pressed for the go-ahead goal. They eventually got it when Milan Kolena broke with Ashley Calvert, the Slovakian setting up Calvert for the one timer in the 32nd minute. With Billingham short-handed again, the champions doubled their lead less than three minutes later when Andrew Hirst was left all alone to pick his spot low at the near post. The Stars survived another penalty late in the period to go in at the break down by two goals.

Billingham came out for the third determined to put their illustrious guests back under the pressure they had exerted in the first period. Taylor almost caught out Zimozdra in the 42nd minute before the Steeldogs hit serious penalty trouble and found themselves two men down in the 44th minute as Thomas Barry and Liam Charnock both took seats in the sinbin. Almost immediately Moss tested Zimozdra at the far post, and from the resulting face off Chris Sykes’ one time effort got the best from the Russian netminder. Barry had returned to the action but a high stick call against Adrian Palak reduced Sheffield back to three skaters and this time the Stars made it count, Sykes’ initial shot in the 48th minute was wide but Moss was on hand to net the rebound off the boards to make it a one-goal game. Billingham kept their foot on the gas, Jack Davies and Tom Keeley with late chances to square the game, but despite an interference call against Salem in the last two minutes the Steeldogs clung on and took the points back to South Yorkshire.

Man-of-the-Match for the Stars was James Moss.

Stars Stats:

Michael Elder 1+1; Jack Davies 1+1; James Moss 1+0; Chris Sykes 0+2

SOG: James Flavell 45 (17 / 13 / 15)

Steeldogs Stats:

Ben Morgan 1+1; Andrew Hirst 1+0; Ashley Calvert 1+0; Nathan Salem 1+0; Lewis Bell 0+2; Milan Kolena 0+2; Tim Smith 0+1; Adrian Palak 0+1

SOG: Dmitri Zimozdra 34 (13 / 12 / 9)

Billingham Stars TV caught up with the main protagonists after the game:

Billingham made the long journey to the Midlands on Sunday without Hanlon and Darren Stattersfield, Richie Thornton dressing as cover at the back. In an end-to-end opening session, it was the Stars who had the first real chance, Taylor breaking clear in the second minute but Sam Hewitt in the Barons net made the save between the pads. Two minutes later the home side swarmed at Flavell’s near post, new import Filip Supa with the attempted poke before the Billingham keeper got down to smother. Back at the other end in the fifth minute Jack Emerson hit the pipework, then seconds later Keeley found Hewitt’s middle from the point. Luke Brittle was next to test Flavell in the sixth minute, but the hosts momentum was halted by a late hit call against Josh Bruce. The Stars pressed forward and opened their account in the eighth minute as Jack Davies found Moss and his one-time effort beat Hewitt on his stick side. Supa continued to threaten and saw his 13th minute effort saved between the pads by Flavell. Taylor and Andrew Whitehouse came to blows in the 14th minute, the Billingham forward given an additional two-minute slashing call to give the Barons the man advantage, but it was the visitors who almost doubled their lead when Callum Davies broke free a minute into the penalty, Hewitt flashing the glove to deny the assistant captain.

Three goals in the opening three minutes of the second period brought the game to life. First Jack Davies broke from the defensive zone to beat Hewitt on his glove side with less than 90 seconds played, then less than a minute later Protčenko opened his Stars account properly when he roofed a rebound from a Jack Emerson shot into the unguarded net. Solihull responded immediately and got a goal back through Niklas Ottosson to make it 1-3 on the 23-minute mark. Four minutes later and the deficit was reduced further, Bruce given too much space to get his shot away and under Flavell, but this time it was Billingham’s turn to respond within seconds as Sykes poked at a loose puck underneath Hewitt to restore the two-goal cushion. Protčenko hit the metalwork just past the halfway point with Hewitt out of his net, then four minutes later Moss got a sight of goal but Hewitt stood up well to deny the in-form winger.

A tough opening weekend beginning to take its toll, the Stars looked tired at the start of the final period. The Barons closed the gap after a scramble in front of Flavell’s net eventually saw the puck poked in by Daniel Harrison in the 42nd minute, then the game was back level in the 47th minute, Luke Brittle with the space to find his spot past Flavell. Billingham were not about to throw their hard work away however, and they somehow found the energy to take the fight back to the home side. Jack Davies fired just over the bar in the 49th minute, then two minutes later hot prospect Ethan Hehir got what proved to be the game winner when he was on hand to tuck away a Moss rebound. Predictably the Stars had to absorb a lot of late pressure as the home side tried desperately to get something out of the game, and tempers boiled over with just over three minutes left in the game in an incident that saw Moss, Jack Davies and Solihull’s Marcus Maynard all ejected from the game. Despite having to play out the game short-handed, Billingham held on for the two points and their first win of the season.

Man-of-the-Match for the Stars was James Flavell.

Barons Stats:

Daniel Harrison 1+1; Josh Bruce 1+1; Niklas Ottosson 1+1; Luke Brittle 1+0; Andrew Whitehouse 0+1

SOG: Sam Hewitt 35 (16 / 12 / 7)

Stars Stats:

Edgar Protčenko 1+1; James Moss 1+1; Jack Davies 1+1; Chris Sykes 1+0; Ethan Hehir 1+0; Jack Emerson 0+1; Michael Elder 0+1; Callum Davies 0+1

SOG: James Flavell 40 (9 / 17 / 14)

Billingham’s Bench Coach Garry Dowd spoke to the Stars Media Team after to game, pleased with a job well done.

The Stars take on Murrayfield Racers in the North Cup competition next Sunday 9th September at the Forum, face off 6.30pm.

 

Weekend Results:

NIHL(N)1:

Billingham Stars 3 Sheffield Steeldogs 4

Hull Pirates 8 Whitley Warriors 1

Telford Tigers 12 Nottingham Lions 1

Whitley Warriors 2 Telford Tigers 8

Blackburn Hawks 1 Hull Pirates 5

Solihull Barons 4 Billingham Stars 5

Nottingham Lions 0 Sheffield Steeldogs 11

 

Image credits: Steeldogs - Linda Crabtree / Barons - Keith & Jenny Davies