Weekend Preview 9/10 November 2019: Cup Points Up For Grabs
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars will aim to close the gap on the top two in the NIHL North Cup round-robin table with two games this weekend.
Today sees the Stars travel to Solway Sharks for their second match-up of the season, the Dumfries-based outfit having shaded their first encounter 7-9 at the Forum back in September. Solway are sitting pretty in both the League and Cup competitions as it stands, unbeaten in both, heading the Cup table and well-placed in the League perched just a point behind leaders Whitley Warriors but with a game in hand. Despite being the most successful of the ‘original’ NIHL North clubs over recent seasons, no one expected the Sharks to be doing quite so well at this stage of the campaign after a summer where they haemorrhaged players and rivals Whitley looked to be the team to take the honours. That assumption has been tested by Solway inflicting three early season defeats on the Warriors, and the Sharks have resumed their familiar position at or near the top of both tables.
Tomorrow Dundee Comets will make the long journey south to become the first team from Dundee to visit the Forum for many years. New to the North Cup competition this season, the Scottish National League outfit have yet to win a point from their three games played, including a 4-13 loss to the Stars on home ice in September. Coming up against the ‘big guns’ of the Moralee Conference gives Player/Coach John Dolan the chance to test his side against teams a step up in quality from the SNL, and they will be looking to cause an upset at some stage.
Billingham are looking to bounce back from the disappointment of a home derby defeat to Whitley last Sunday that saw their local rivals stroll out of Teesside with both Cup points after a 2-6 victory. The Stars’ defensive strategy largely worked for 40 minutes before the game opened up a little too much in the third period and the Warriors put their hosts to the sword. Putting an emphasis on defence shackled the Stars’ offensive threat last Sunday, a tactic that is unlikely to be repeated this weekend. Billingham should be boosted this weekend by the return of Shaun Galloway and Matthew Campbell, but Tom Keeley will be unavailable for some weeks and Scott Cooper has left the club for personal reasons, meaning once again there will be some gaps to fill at the back.
General Manager Allen Flavell wants to see a reaction after last Sunday’s derby display:
“The coaches have had a few words to say to the lads in training this week, we just didn’t step up to the plate last Sunday and that’s not something we expect in a derby game. We’ve gone through what happened to learn from our mistakes but it’s done now and we move on. The tougher game this weekend looks to be at Solway – they are always such a strong team and you only have to look at their results to see that they’re going to be in the mix once again. But our offence can match anyone this year – we proved that when we had the Sharks on the ropes in our first game against them, unfortunately for us we tied up and let them back into the game because we didn’t keep a close enough eye on their danger men. Sunday looks like it should be more straightforward but we know from our game in Dundee that they can be a tough proposition if they put it together for 60 minutes. That said I am looking at this weekend as a possible four-pointer – we know we can do it if we play to our strengths.”
The Stars are in North Cup action with two games this weekend, a trip to Solway Sharks tonight (face off 7pm) is followed by the visit of Dundee Comets to the Forum 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].
Blackburn Hawks v Solway Sharks, Sunday 5.30pm
Dundee Comets v Murrayfield Racers, Saturday 5.30pm
Solway Sharks v Billingham Stars, Saturday 7pm
Whitley Warriors v Murrayfield Racers, Sunday 5pm
Billingham Stars v Dundee Comets, Sunday 6.30pm
Images courtesy of Linda Crabtree