Match Preview 17th November 2019: Into The Hawks Nest
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars will get back to National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 business after a few weeks of North Cup distraction when they take to the ice in Lancashire on Sunday evening to reacquaint themselves with old rivals Blackburn Hawks.
Blackburn are living in interesting times. A summer of turmoil saw several key components of last year’s squad depart for pastures new. To a certain extent those gaps were filled by new recruits, but since the season started just two months ago the Hawks have suffered further blows as both Ollie Lomax and Craig Lutkevitch retired. Losing two senior defencemen from an already thin squad, Player/Coach James Neil has had to go back to recruiting and has brought in Solomon Smith from Widnes Wild and Cade King from Altrincham Aces to add to the previous capture of Sam Warnock from the Stars. Smith and King made their debuts in last weekend’s home defeat to Solway Sharks, a loss that keeps them second-from-bottom of the League table with four points from seven games. Blackburn need to start picking up points soon if they are to make a concerted push up the table, Solway and Whitley Warriors at the top already look too far away for Blackburn to consider troubling the early front runners later in the season.
A one-game weekend after a few weeks caught up in North Cup action, the Stars want to start picking up some League points themselves as they look to make inroads into the Sharks and Warriors small gap at the top of the table. A return of six points from five games has put Billingham fourth, however Blackburn’s rink has not proved to be the happiest of hunting grounds in recent times. The Stars will have a slightly smaller pad to contend with in Lancashire after improvement work in the summer shortened the length of the surface. Coming off a mixed bag of results last weekend, Billingham are still plagued by issues at the back and need to shore up their leaky defence if the Stars want to profit fully from their potent forward threat. Billingham will travel on Sunday without the unavailable Tom Keeley and Andy Finn, whilst a decision will be taken by the coaches on some of the younger members of the squad as the Under-18s also play Sutton at Sheffield on Sunday morning.
General Manager Allen Flavell sees Sunday's game as two points very much up for grabs:
“We’re looking forward to playing on the novelty of a flat surface at Blackburn! We have struggled there over the years, not just because of the famous ‘hump’, but certainly a level playing field so to speak will help. I’m hoping we will have too much for the Hawks going forward – so it proved at the Forum last month when we put nine past them. Our offensive game is one of the best in the League when it clicks so that’s what we’re looking for. If the defensive aspects of our game can tighten up then I believe we can bring both points back to Teesside.”
The Stars return to National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 action on Sunday evening with a trip over the Pennines to the home of Blackburn Hawks, 5.30pm face off.
Solihull Barons v Solway Sharks, Saturday 5.30pm
Sutton Sting v Blackburn Hawks, Saturday 7.30pm
Whitley Warriors v Solihull Barons, Sunday 5pm
Blackburn Hawks v Billingham Stars, Sunday 5.30pm
Nottingham Lions v Solway Sharks, Sunday 5.40pm
Dundee Comets v Whitley Warriors, Saturday 5.45pm
Images courtesy of Colin Edwards Photography (Sharks) / Linda Crabtree (Comets)