Weekend Report 9/10 November 2019
Ultimate Windows sponsored Billingham Stars had a mixed weekend in the NIHL North Cup, but their two points from four was enough to seal them a place in the semi-final stage of the competition.
Billingham arrived in Dumfries to take on Solway Sharks on Saturday night missing Callum Davies from the first line, Jack Emerson stepping up to fill the breach. An end-to-end first twenty ensued, Chris Sykes seeing his fifth minute effort smothered at the second attempt by Sharks netminder Gary Russell before his opposite number Mark Watson made an unorthodox save from Scott Henderson two minutes later. Craig Thurston hit the inside of the post as the clock ticked past seven minutes played, then the Stars were handed a man advantage when Liam Stenton was sent to the sinbin for a cross-checking minor. Despite setting up well, the special play unit was unable to convert and on returning to full strength Jaakko Heiskanen showed some nice hands in front of the net before placing past Watson for the opener on 10.53. Sykes went for the reply in the 14th minute when he pounced on a loose puck but his effort was straight at Russell.
The Stars came out full of purpose for the second session, James Moss not quite able to get his shot away in the 22nd minute. A nice Russell glove save stopped Tomáš Rubeš from finding the top corner a few minutes later, but the visitors were not to be denied and Jack Emerson finally got them off the mark on 24.13 when he went stick side on Russell. Solway hit back immediately however, Struan Tonnar finding the back of a dislodged net. Billingham continued to press but the Sharks opened up a gap when Lewis Houston evaded Watson's glove to go top corner on 34.04. Undeterred, the Stars harried their hosts and were rewarded on 38.39 when Thurston stripped the defenceman in possession of the puck and with space to play with he picked his spot past Russell to narrow the deficit. Once again the home side's response was immediate as just 15 seconds later Solway edged further ahead, Heiskanen unassisted making it 4-2 with twenty to play.
Billingham gave themselves renewed hope on 43.15 when captain Michael Elder rifled one home into the bottom corner, but the game turned on 50.49 when Peter Gápa got what proved to be the match winner with the Stars claiming a high stick. Distracted by their sense of injustice, Billingham let their hosts get the jump on them from the face off and Iain Bowie finished a nice move high into Watson’s net on 51.24. Scott Henderson compounded the visitors’ misery with a short-handed breakaway goal on 55.58, Michael Bowman’s tap past Russell on 56.28 no consolation for the Stars who had their fair share of a tight game but finally succumbed 7-4.
Man-of-the-Match for Billingham was Dylan Hehir.
Jaakko Heiskanen 2+1; Peter Gápa 1+2; Iain Bowie 1+1; Struan Tonnar 1+1; Lewis Houston 1+0; Scott Henderson 1+0; Kyle Horne 0+2; Ewan Anderson 0+1; Stephen Adams 0+1; Ben Coughtrie 0+1
SOG: Gary Russell 26 (9 / 13 / 4)
Michael Elder 1+1; Michael Bowman 1+0; Jack Emerson 1+0; Craig Thurston 1+0; Dylan Hehir 0+1; James Hellens 0+1; Daniel Silar 0+1; Tomáš Rubeš 0+1
SOG: Mark Watson 30 (8 / 12 / 10)
A long journey for the visitors meant Dundee Comets arrived on Teesside perhaps understandably short-benched on Sunday, nevertheless they started well and got the first real opportunity when Watson made a nice kick save from Player/Coach John Dolan with just over a minute gone. The Stars started to find their rhythm and Darren Stattersfield saw his point shot ricochet off the crossbar in the fourth minute. It was only a matter of time before Billingham broke their guests' resistance and on 6.38 Rubeš skipped around the last defenceman, his final touch trickling under netminder Dale Shearer for the opener. Just 20 seconds later it was two, Rubeš again the scorer. From that point the period was almost all one way traffic with Moss, Matthew Campbell and Rubeš again all going close. It took until 14.32 for the Stars to find a way through however, Thurston skating from his own zone and forcing his effort past Shearer’s arm at the near post. Despite more chances that's the way the period ended, a late Rubeš one-on-one opportunity for his hat-trick going wide on the backhand in the final minute.
It was a different story in the middle session, Dundee showing their intent from the first minute when David Pokorný almost forced the puck home on the wraparound. The visitors were on the board on 25 minutes when Andy Finn deflected a Garry Simpson punt towards the net in off his skate for a power play effort, but the Stars looked to have got back on track when Moss fired straight through Shearer on 26.42. The Comets were on a roll however, Pokorný rasping one into the top corner on 27.17, then Aaron Robertson made it a one-goal game on 32.39 when a defensive lapse let him in with Watson going the wrong way. Sykes gave the home side some breathing space on 34.29 when he coasted in from behind the net and let go with the wrist shot, but Lewis McIntosh ensured a nervy final period when he reduced the deficit again on 36.54.
Perhaps rattled, the hosts came out for the third stanza looking more like the team from the first, Daniel Silar pinging the post just before Sykes picked his spot for his second on 42.16. With Campbell sitting a contentious charging penalty, Moss and Elder robbed the Comets of possession and Moss finished a nice one-two in front of the net for a short-handed marker on 51.05. The penalty had almost expired when a careless dump did not find its way out of the zone, Simpson finishing on the backhand to put the visitors back in contention on 52.37, but just 14 seconds later the gap opened once again as Callum Wilkinson found the bottom corner for his first senior goal. Dundee weren’t quite finished, Dolan finishing a two-on-one break on 53.57 into the top corner, but Billingham saved the best for last, Moss with the laser to complete his hat trick on 54.42 and a 9-6 final score.
Man-of-the-Match for Billingham was James Moss.
James Moss 3+0; Tomáš Rubeš 2+1; Chris Sykes 2+0; Callum Wilkinson 1+1; Craig Thurston 1+1; Michael Elder 0+3; Jack Emerson 0+2; Callum Davies 0+2; Lewis Crisp 0+1; Daniel Silar 0+1
SOG: Mark Watson 28 (9 / 10 / 9)
Garry Simpson 2+1; Aaron Robertson 1+2; John Dolan 1+1; David Pokorný 1+1; Lewis McIntosh 1+0; Billy Baxter 0+2; Patriks Grigors 0+1
SOG: Dale Shearer 40 (14 / 17 / 9)
Speaking after Sunday’s game, Coach Stephen Foster admitted that Dundee had not made it easy for his side:
“They came with a short bench which meant they had to play their top players more. They never gave up and they’ve got great firepower going forward. From the second period we started to introduce some of our younger lads – we put Callum Wilkinson on the top line throughout, he worked hard, didn’t look out of place, and got his reward with a goal.”
The Stars return to National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 action next Sunday 17th November when they travel to Blackburn Hawks for a 5.30pm face off.
Blackburn Hawks 5 Solway Sharks 9
Dundee Comets 3 Murrayfield Racers 6
Solway Sharks 7 Billingham Stars 4
Whitley Warriors 5 Murrayfield Racers 3
Billingham Stars 9 Dundee Comets 6
Images courtesy of Colin Edwards Photography (Sharks) / Linda Crabtree (Comets)