Top & Bottom Start to 2019
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars start 2019 in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 with two hugely contrasting games this weekend – a trip to title-chasing Hull Pirates this evening followed by the visit of basement dwellers Nottingham Lions to the Forum tomorrow night.
In the expected three-way battle for the League trophy, Hull currently sit behind their rivals Telford and Sheffield and cannot afford to drop more points to teams further down the pecking order if they are to mount a serious challenge and overtake one or both. Their early season promise saw a hiccup in October when import netminder Tomas Fucik was first suspended and then left the club, leading to the re-signing of last year’s keeper Ashley Smith. Smith sustained a long-term injury in the Pirates’ first League loss of the season at Solway Sharks in late November, and since then the club have been loaning Brad Day from Sheffield Steelers. They bolstered their ranks just before Christmas with the signing of Czech import Lubomir Korhon – previously with Steeldogs and Tigers, the now 40-year-old forward is a proven point scorer that the Stars will have to keep a watchful eye on.
Tomorrow’s visitors to the Forum, Nottingham, are having a season to forget. Always battling against the odds with a development-led squad and a small budget, this campaign has seen the Lions face more challenges than usual with unexpected player departures causing them to rely on an increasingly junior roster. Winless and pointless, and with a goals against column topping 200, Nottingham look like they are destined for last place unless a turnaround of epic proportions occurs. There have been some bright spots in their dismal campaign, not least the performances of their young side against opposition that is usually miles ahead of them in terms of experience. Tomorrow will be the fourth and last meeting between the two teams this season, and with Billingham comfortably taking the previous three the Stars will feel confident of a full house in front of their own fans.
Billingham will hope that 2019 is kinder to them than the back end of 2018 in terms of player availability. The Teessiders have six games this month – four of them at the Forum – and they simply must start picking up points soon if they are to have a run at a playoff spot. The performances are starting to come, however the goals are proving harder to come by as the last two games against North East rivals Whitley Warriors proved. Whilst no one expects a result at Hull today, the Stars have put 27 goals past Nottingham already this season and will look to use the game as the springboard for upcoming matches against teams just above them in the League. Short-benched for much of the campaign thus far, Billingham hope to welcome a few faces back to the squad this weekend. Ross Hanlon has resumed training but his lengthy layoff may preclude his involvement this weekend, whilst Callum Davies has also returned to the fold but may only have limited availability. Jack Davies, Jack Emerson, Darren Stattersfield, Tom Keeley and Alex Preston will all miss out, whilst tomorrow’s Under-18s fixture may see some of the younger members of the team required elsewhere.
Billingham’s General Manager Allen Flavell can see things coming together, but blames a loss of confidence for his side’s difficulties in front of the net:
“I can definitely see how [Head Coach] Tom [Brown] is making a difference, especially at the back, but we seem to have lost our faith in ourselves up front. I’m sure it will only take a couple of good, solid games to turn things around and the match-up against the Lions must be seen as an opportunity for our forwards. The Hull game is a completely different story, but we have given them a few really good games this season and I doubt they’ll be taking us lightly. We just need Lady Luck to start smiling on us and I’m confident we can secure a playoff slot.”
With two National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 games this weekend, the Stars travel to Hull this afternoon to take on the Pirates (face off 6pm). They then host Nottingham 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].
Hull Pirates v Billingham Stars, Saturday 6pm
Sheffield Steeldogs v Telford Tigers, Saturday 7.30pm
Whitley Warriors v Blackburn Hawks, Sunday 5pm
Solihull Barons v Sheffield Steeldogs, Sunday 6pm
Telford Tigers v Hull Pirates, Sunday 6pm
Billingham Stars v Nottingham Lions, Sunday 6.30pm
Blackburn Hawks v Murrayfield Racers, Saturday 6pm
Images courtesy of Steve Pollitt