Match Preview 13th October: First League Points?
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars return to National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 action at the Forum tomorrow evening as old rivals Blackburn Hawks make their first visit of the season.
The summer saw big changes for many clubs, not least in Lancashire where the Hawks are in rebuild mode after the departure of several key players. Player/Coach James Neil stays in post after taking over from Steven Duncombe in January, and his efforts to put together a competitive squad suffered blows with the exit door swinging open for Luke Boothroyd, Robin Kovar, Ben Wood, Ross Kennedy, Bobby Streetly and Adam Barnes. Not a squad huge on numbers to start with, those gaps needed filling and the recruitment process brought in Joe Greaves, Tom Revesz, Ethan Mayoh, Geoff Wigglesworth and Corey Lee. The changes have not stopped with the season starting – the new campaign was not even a month old when Blackburn stalwart Ollie Lomax decided to call time on a long playing career. In his place the Hawks have just recently drafted in Billingham’s Sam Warnock, Warnock making his debut against Solihull Barons last Sunday.
With all of these changes it is perhaps understandable that Blackburn have not made the best of starts to their season. They would have expected to pick up points at Nottingham Lions for their opening fixture, however the margin of victory was closer than expected. League losses to Solihull home and away have followed, and they have a 50% record in the Midlands Cup – a defeat on the road at Sutton Sting followed by a 6-1 home ice win over Division 2 outfit Widnes Wild. Last weekend saw the Hawks crushed on their own ice by Solihull 2-10, and much soul-searching will no doubt have gone on in training this week as they prepare to face the Stars.
Billingham are not without issues, a flat 8-3 defeat at Whitley Warriors last Sunday exposing a wafer-thin blue line not for the first time this season. The Stars defensive problems are well-known – despite boasting a good-sized roster, Billingham seem to be scratching around for defencemen on an almost weekly basis. As Sunday proved, a short blue line will be punished by just about every team the Stars face this season so it is a conundrum that the coaching team must find an answer to if the side is to make an impact this season. The good news is that the Teessiders should be able to ice three solid defensive lines this weekend as Tom Keeley and Darren Stattersfield return to the squad, Matthew Campbell will miss out and joins Shaun Galloway on the treatment table with a lower body injury.
General Manager Allen Flavell is confident of grabbing the Stars’ first League points of the season on Sunday:
“We were all disappointed with the result last Sunday – for whatever reason we just didn’t seem to get going. We knew what Whitley would throw at us but we had no answers. It doesn’t help when your back line is not up to full strength, fortunately this weekend we should be playing off a solid defensive core which will allow our forwards to do their work. We have a powerful offensive threat this season with players across all lines capable of scoring goals – I’m confident that we will have too much for Blackburn to handle if we play to our full potential.”
Billingham welcome Blackburn Hawks to the Forum for a National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 clash tomorrow evening, face off 6.30pm. Tickets can be bought from the box office from 5.30pm priced at £12 adults, £7.50 concessions, £35 family [2+2].
Nottingham Lions v Whitley Warriors, Sunday 5.40pm
Billingham Stars v Blackburn Hawks, Sunday 6.30pm
Image credit: Colin Lawson, IceHockeyMedia