Last Chance Saloon!
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars are in the last-chance saloon of National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 playoff contention when they face Sheffield Steeldogs and Blackburn Hawks this weekend.
Sheffield visit the Forum this evening knowing nothing less than two points will do in their pursuit of back-to-back League titles. The Steeldogs sit two points off top spot in third place, but suffered a crushing blow on Thursday night when they were handed a 13-2 thrashing by new leaders Hull Pirates on Humberside. By far their biggest defeat of the season, Sheffield will not want the rot to set in at this crucial stage of the campaign and the Stars could find themselves on the receiving end of the Steeldogs backlash. However games between the two sides have generally been hard-fought and relatively close despite the gap in the table, and Sheffield will be wary of taking their lowly opponents too lightly.
Tomorrow’s visit to Blackburn is the more important fixture of the weekend, the Hawks sitting three points ahead of their visitors with two games to play between the two sides. If Billingham are to deprive their Lancastrian rivals of the last playoff berth then a win tomorrow is a must, they must also win the return fixture next weekend and hope that Blackburn drop points with their game in hand. The Hawks have not had the best start to 2019, sacking Player/Coach Steven Duncombe and bringing in a raft of new players before the transfer deadline has made little difference as they have picked up just two points since Duncombe’s departure. New Player/Coach James Neil will be all too aware of the significance of the tie however, and will be looking to put the playoff argument to bed at the first attempt.
The Stars have put up plenty of positive performances in recent games, especially from their younger players, but the fact remains that they have failed to pick up enough points and find themselves in a precarious position regarding the end-of-season playoffs. Fail to win tomorrow and the chance of securing that all-important eighth spot has all but gone, meaning Billingham will miss out on the playoffs for the first time in three years. The story this weekend, as it has been for much of the campaign, will be dictated by what side the Teessiders can ice with injuries and unavailability still taking their toll. Today the Stars will have issues at the back, most notably an injury concern over Lithuanian import Edgar Protčenko, however Phil Pearson from Bradford Bulldogs will guest between the pipes this evening and James Flavell should be available for tomorrow’s game. Michael Elder, Craig Thurston, Cain Taylor, Jack Emerson, Richie Thornton, Andy Finn and James Hellens should all return to ensure a much larger bench than recent games.
Billingham’s General Manager Allen Flavell is hoping that the luck that has eluded his side for much of the season will be with them this weekend:
“I haven’t given up hope of a playoff spot, but the reality is we need the win over the Hawks as a minimum from the weekend. We have the talent, we know we can put in the performance, we just need the bounces to go our way for a change. We’ve been undone by so many things this season, it would be nice if we could get just a little bit of luck at the right time to get us over the line.”
The Stars host Sheffield Steeldogs at the Forum in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 this evening (face off 6pm) followed by a trip over the Pennines to face Blackburn Hawks tomorrow (face off 5.30pm). Tickets for tonight’s game can be bought from the box office from 5pm priced at £10.50 adults, £6.50 concessions, £32 family [2+2].
Billingham Stars v Sheffield Steeldogs, Saturday 6pm
Solway Sharks v Hull Pirates, Saturday 7pm
Telford Tigers v Blackburn Hawks, Saturday 7pm
Sutton Sting v Whitley Warriors, Saturday 7.30pm
Blackburn Hawks v Billingham Stars, Sunday 5.30pm
Hull Pirates v Solway Sharks, Sunday 5.30pm
Sheffield Steeldogs v Sutton Sting, Sunday 5.30pm
Nottingham Lions v Telford Tigers, Sunday 7.30pm
Images courtesy of Linda Crabtree.