Solway Double Date!
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars have a weekend double header against old rivals Solway Sharks in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1, starting with a trip north of the Border tomorrow.
The Sharks are far and away the team that has best adjusted to life in the ‘new’ National League after years of being there or thereabouts in the previous third tier. Currently sitting comfortably fourth in the table, the same position that they finished last season, Solway have proved themselves the ‘best of the rest’ outside of the Big Three and are perhaps the only side capable of challenging the Telford/Sheffield/Hull monopoly at the top. Solway have lost just twice in the League to teams other than those at the top, and barring a spectacular loss of form they can expect to secure fourth place long before the campaign ends. The Dumfries-based outfit used to revolve their game plan around a rock-solid defensive core, but this year they opted for two import forwards and if they do have a perceived weakness it is at the back, relying as they are on three very young netminders. The Stars have actually beaten the Scots twice already this season, however both of those games were in the North Cup competition and made little difference to the final standings as the Sharks qualified for the semi-finals.
For Billingham the focus is all on picking up as many points as they can in the hope of securing a playoff berth. They have left themselves with plenty to do, but the task is not impossible and points this weekend would be a bonus. The team put up two well-drilled, hard-working performances last weekend against first-placed Telford and second-placed Sheffield, the younger members of the squad particularly stealing the spotlight as they battled it out against title-chasing opposition. Retaining that work ethic and sticking to their systems is what the coaching team is looking for this weekend, with the strong belief that two, if not four, points are not entirely out of the question this weekend. Once again the side will have to cope with the merry-go-round of player unavailability – Cain Taylor and Craig Thurston will undergo late fitness tests but are unlikely to feature, whilst captain Michael Elder and James Hellens are also missing. James Flavell will miss Sunday's game at the Forum, but Richie Thornton, James Moss and Jack Emerson should return for both matches. The management may pull rank on their junior squad members, who should play despite the Under-18s having games tomorrow and Sunday.
The Stars’ General Manager Allen Flavell is confident that a repeat of last weekend’s effort will yield points:
“We gave it absolutely everything last weekend and lived with the top two for long periods of both games. Our juniors especially stepped up to the plate, took their chance and showed everyone just how talented they are – it bodes well for our future. If we can apply ourselves in the same manner this weekend with these games against Solway, we just need a few bounces to go our way to get a result or two. We know we can beat these guys – we’ve done it twice – so we should have the belief to go on and make it three or four.”
Billingham face Solway Sharks twice in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 this weekend, a trip to Dumfries tomorrow afternoon (face off 7pm) followed by the return fixture at the Forum on Sunday evening (face off 6.30pm). Tickets for Sunday's game can be bought from the box office from 5.30pm priced at £10.50 adults, £6.50 concessions, £32 family [2+2].
Solway Sharks v Billingham Stars, Saturday 7pm
Telford Tigers v Hull Pirates, Saturday 7pm
Blackburn Hawks v Whitley Warriors, Sunday 5.30pm
Hull Pirates v Telford Tigers, Sunday 5.30pm
Billingham Stars v Solway Sharks, Sunday 6.30pm
Nottingham Lions v Sheffield Steeldogs, Sunday 7.30pm
Al images courtesy of Peter Best.