Weekend Report 21st-22nd December 2019
Ultimate Windows sponsored Billingham Stars were taught some harsh lessons by the National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 top two sides over the weekend as a couple of crushing defeats exposed their weaknesses, especially at the back.
Travelling to League leaders Solway Sharks on Saturday with just four of their regular defencemen, Billingham were up against it from the start as Marcus Murdoch was left alone to have two attempts on the backhand before finally poking home on 5.59. A horror show followed just 15 seconds later as Ewan Anderson potted the loose puck into the net. It wasn’t that the Stars did not have chances, Michael Elder forcing the scoop save from netminder Gary Russell in the eighth minute, but every time the Sharks broke forward they looked likely to score and so it was on 10.19 as Struan Tonnar hit the top shelf from close in to the near post. Billingham tried to tighten up but the period finished on another low note as Peter Gápa and Murdoch got around the backpedalling defence too easily, Murdoch finding the top corner on 18.27 to kill the game with forty minutes still to play.
Mark Turnbull replaced Mark Watson between the pipes for the Stars at the start of the second session, and they finally found a way through the Scots brick wall on 25.52 when Tomáš Rubeš found Elder out in front for a power play marker into the bottom corner. Their brief glimmer of hope was snuffed out just over a minute later when Gápa forced home to restore the four-goal advantage. The gap widened once more on 28.01 as Jaakko Heiskanen knocked one in off the post, then on 37.23 a slight deflection helped Anderson get his second. Rubeš got one back with just six seconds remaining but the damage had been done.
A couple of changes to the forward lines saw a much more resilient Stars play out the final twenty, however with such a commanding lead Solway had no need to push the game and seemed content to soak up any pressure applied. Despite numerous chances Billingham could not get past Russell again to give the score line some respectability, indeed it was the Sharks who rounded out the scoring on 57.55 with a nice Gápa backhand into the bottom corner to make the final score 8-2.
Man-of-the-Match for Billingham was Craig Thurston.
Peter Gápa 2+2; Ewan Anderson 2+1; Marcus Murdoch 2+0; Struan Tonnar 1+1; Jaakko Heiskanen 1+0; Scott Henderson 0+2; Iain Bowie 0+1; Ruairi Lockerbie 0+1; Liam Stenton 0+1
SOG: Gary Russell 33 (7 / 12 / 14)
Michael Elder 1+1; Tomáš Rubeš 1+1; Chris Sykes 0+2
SOG: Mark Watson 11; Mark Turnbull 26 (16 / 10)
The Stars welcomed back Callum Davies and Michael Bowman for the visit of Whitley Warriors to the Forum on Sunday night, but still woefully short at the back both Elder and Bowman reverted to the blue line. Carrying on from the previous evening, Turnbull had already turned one shot away in the first few seconds but the next was under his pad, Dean Holland opening the scoring for the visitors after just 25 seconds. It went rapidly from bad to worse as Jordan Barnes helped himself to a tap-in at the near post on 1.44. The home side attempted to steady the ship but to no avail as Ross Murray tipped in on 6.59. With a rout looking likely, Billingham called their timeout but it was the Warriors who kept their foot on the gas, moving further ahead on 10.20 when Adam Finlinson fired home from the point to register a power play goal. A Stars response was desperately needed in front of a full house, and finally it came on 13.08 when Craig Thurston fired into an open net for a power play marker of their own.
Watson replaced Turnbull at the start of the second and was called into action in the 26th minute with a sprawling double save to keep the hosts’ hopes alive. A bench minor for too many men on the ice called against Whitley should have been the platform to build on, instead a defensive howler let in Ben Richards for a short-handed goal and effectively game over on 28.52. The game’s high point came on 35.30 when former Warriors junior Joe Walls scored his first senior goal in some style, breaking to beat Whitley netminder Richie Lawson past the skate, but at 2-5 going into the interval a Herculean effort would be required to get anything out of the game.
An early breakthrough came on 40.39 when high man Chris Sykes put the puck past Lawson stick-side but that was cancelled out just 31 seconds later when Phil Edgar found the gap between Watson’s pads for 3-6. So it remained until the final four minutes when two late Warriors goals rubbed salt into the wounds, Ben Campbell splitting the defence on 56.38 and Barnes bagging his second on 59.03 to hand Whitley both points and all the festive bragging rights.
Man-of-the-Match for Billingham was James Moss.
Joe Walls 1+0; Chris Sykes 1+0; Craig Thurston 1+0; Ben Davison 0+1; Michael Elder 0+1; Matthew Campbell 0+1; Daniel Šilar 0+1
SOG: Mark Turnbull 13; Mark Watson 22 (11 / 11)
Jordan Barnes 2+0; Ben Campbell 1+3; Dean Holland 1+1; Phil Edgar 1+1; Adam Finlinson 1+1; Ben Richards 1+0; Ross Murray 1+0; Craig Johnson 0+2; Kyle Ross 0+2; Harry Harley 0+2; Rolands Gritans 0+2; Callum Watson 0+1
SOG: Richie Lawson 36 (13 / 15 / 8)
Stars TV post-game interviews following Sunday's Tees-Tyne derby:
Billingham will be at Hillheads for the return National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 fixture against Whitley Warriors next Sunday 29th December, 5pm the face off time.
Solway Sharks 8 Billingham Stars 2
Solihull Barons 9 Sutton Sting 3
Billingham Stars 3 Whitley Warriors 8
Images courtesy of Colin Edwards Photography