Weekend Preview 21/22 December 2019: Tough Festive Schedule Ahead!
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars will do battle with the National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 top two over the course of this weekend as they seek to dent title hopes whilst at the same time closing the gap between themselves and fourth place.
It doesn’t get any tougher than a trip to League leaders Solway Sharks this afternoon, although the Stars will be buoyed by their recent performance against the Dumfries-based outfit at the Forum just a fortnight ago. Looking dead and buried at 1-4 going into the third period, Billingham made some tactical changes that had Solway on the ropes for the final twenty and almost completed what would have been a remarkable comeback, but in the end they came up just short, losing out by the odd goal in nine. To go one better this afternoon, the Stars will have to bring that A-game and then some – Solway have lost just once in all competitions this season. However they have suffered yet another player departure since the sides last met, talented youngster Lewis Houston heading south of the border to try his luck at a higher level with Leeds Chiefs of the National League.
Tomorrow Billingham welcome Whitley Warriors to the Forum in the first instalment of a festive two-parter as the Stars will make the return journey next Sunday. Confirming preseason expectations the Warriors are in the running for all trophies on offer, although they are perhaps not having it all their own way as they anticipated, Solway making sure they have a fight on their hands. Sitting pretty in second place in the League, the Warriors have two games in hand over the Scots but will nevertheless be hoping that the Stars can do them a favour this evening ahead of tomorrow’s Tees-Tyne derby. Whitley have been boosted this week by the return of fan favourite Shaun Kippin who has come out of retirement to lend his weight to the Tynesiders’ push for silverware.
If Billingham are to upset the odds this weekend and take any points at all, they will be doing it the hard way once again with key players missing throughout the squad. Fortunately the whole side saw ice last Sunday in the Teessiders’ road win over Nottingham Lions and that match-sharpness will be crucial with some players being asked to fulfil slightly different roles to cover the gaps. Amongst the unavailable and injured this weekend will be Tom Keeley, Andy Finn and Darren Stattersfield at the back, whilst Callum Davies will be a big miss up front. The Stars’ younger players have stepped up to the plate in recent times and they will have the opportunity to do so once again with the cancellation of this evening’s Under 18s derby against Whitley, the Tynesiders unable to fulfil the fixture after racking up194 minutes and five match penalties at Sutton last Saturday.
General Manager Allen Flavell knows it will be difficult but has faith in his Stars side:
“It’s all about the players that we can put out, and if recent performances are anything to go by then Solway and Whitley will not be taking us lightly. This weekend is probably the toughest we have all season, but these are the games that everyone wants to be involved in and there’s no doubt that the lads are up for it. If we have confidence in our own ability then there are no reasons at all why we can’t spring a surprise or two, and give our fans an early Christmas present!”
Billingham are in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 action in Dumfries this evening when they take on Solway Sharks (face off 5pm) before returning to the Forum for the big North East derby against Whitley Warriors tomorrow night (face off 6.30pm). Tickets for tomorrow’s game can be bought from the box office from 5.30pm priced at £12 adults, £7.50 concessions, £35 family [2+2].
Solway Sharks v Billingham Stars, Saturday 5pm
Solihull Barons v Sutton Sting, Sunday 5.30pm
Billingham Stars v Whitley Warriors, Sunday 6.30pm
Images couretsy of Linda Crabtree