Points Are A Must This Weekend!
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars face two ‘must-win’ National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 games this weekend, starting with this afternoon’s trip to Solihull Barons.
The long trek to the Midlands in September yielded two points for the Stars last time out as the Teessiders held on for victory in a thrilling 4-5 encounter. Since then the fortunes of the two clubs have seesawed wildly, Billingham struggling in ninth whilst Solihull began to pick up points including gaining revenge over the Stars with a 3-4 reverse at the Forum in November. Their form has faltered in recent months however – at one time challenging for fourth spot, the Barons have slumped to sixth on the back of a seven-game losing streak and now sit just nine points ahead of the Stars. Billingham have four games in hand so are within striking distance. Solihull have suffered some personnel changes of late, Slovakian import Filip Supa jettisoned at the turn of the year with as yet no confirmed replacement signed.
Blackburn Hawks are the visitors to the Forum tomorrow evening, another club struggling this season when better was perhaps anticipated from the 2016 League champions. Hawks too have had to shuffle their roster in the past few weeks as Lithuanian forward Danielius Nomanovas was asked to leave before Christmas, Czech danger man Robin Kovar brought in this week to replace him. A well-known figure in British ice hockey, Kovar has scored goals wherever he has played including 129 in 202 games in the English Premier League predominantly with the now defunct Manchester Phoenix. Paperwork permitting, Kovar should make his Blackburn debut on home ice against Sheffield Steeldogs tonight before making the trip across the Pennines to face the Stars tomorrow.
For Billingham it must be a case of ‘now or never’ if the team are to make a concerted effort to reach the playoffs. Having missed the chance to close the gap on their nearest rivals with a home defeat to Sutton Sting last Sunday, the Stars are running out of games and must pick up points against two sides that are within range. They have been boosted this week by the arrival of new Latvian forward Kristers Bormanis who comes in to replace Kevin Boyd. The 22-year-old has played much of his hockey in North America, scoring 107 goals in 102 games in the Canadian Greater Metro Hockey League (GMHL), which is exactly the kind of form that Billingham need if they are to achieve their minimum target for this season of a playoff place. His outstanding paperwork just cleared in time, Bormanis should feature in both games this weekend. Elsewhere the Stars have just Alex Preston and Mark Watson out through injury, although Matthew Campbell and Shaun Galloway are unavailable and some of the juniors may be required for today’s Under-18s fixture at the Forum.
Billingham General Manager Allen Flavell knows just how important this weekend is:
“Last weekend was so disappointing in so many ways. Sutton are the sort of team we should be picking points up from, as are the two sides we face this weekend. We didn’t get the result we wanted last Sunday, so we really must get what we need out of these two games. We weren’t great defensively against Sutton, as long as we can tie that end up then I see no reason why our forwards can’t do the business at the other end.”
Two crucial National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 games this weekend as the Stars travel to Solihull this afternoon to take on the Barons (face off 5.15pm). They then host Blackburn Hawks at the Forum tomorrow evening (face off 6.30pm). Tickets for tomorrow’s game can be bought from the box office from 5.30pm priced at £10.50 adults, £6.50 concessions, £32 family [2+2].
Solihull Barons v Billingham Stars, Saturday 5.15pm
Blackburn Hawks v Sheffield Steeldogs, Saturday 6pm
Solway Sharks v Telford Tigers, Saturday 7pm
Sutton Sting v Hull Pirates, Saturday 7.30pm
Whitley Warriors v Solihull Barons, Sunday 5pm
Hull Pirates v Nottingham Lions, Sunday 5.30pm
Telford Tigers v Solway Sharks, Sunday 6pm
Billingham Stars v Blackburn Hawks, Sunday 6.30pm
Murrayfield Racers v Sheffield Steeldogs, Sunday 6pm
Images courtesy of Linda Crabtree.