Stars In The Title Race...!
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars will try to influence the National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 title race this weekend with games against the top two, starting with tomorrow night's clash with Telford Tigers at the Forum.
Currently sitting on top of the pile, League leaders Telford can afford no slip-ups as just two points separate the top three. Not the biggest of squads, the Tigers have two top lines that most other teams envy with three forwards in the top ten points scorers list. The offensive threat is not confined to the guys up front as former Great Britain international defenceman Jonathan Weaver is the fourth Telford player in the top ten with 50 points so far. The Tigers have their noses in front of rivals Sheffield Steeldogs and Hull Pirates by virtue of results in overtime, proving that despite a relatively small bench they are more than capable of going 60 minutes plus to win games. Confidence going into tomorrow's game should be sky-high after the Shropshire outfit reached the North Cup final last weekend, and they know they have beaten the Stars comprehensively in almost every game they have played thus far this season.
Sunday sees Billingham take a trip down to Sheffield to take on the Steeldogs, the South Yorkshiremen breathing down the necks of Telford in second place and poised to take advantage of any slip-ups. Like the Tigers, Sheffield also got through their North Cup semi-final last weekend, a major psychological boost for the Steeldogs coming from behind to defeat Hull in a penalty shoot-out. The Dogs have two home games this weekend against teams in the lower half of the table, so will be looking for a maximum return to keep the pressure on Telford and also maintain their slender lead over third-placed Pirates. Sheffield may have won all of their games against the Stars this campaign, but not by huge margins so they must remain focused on the task ahead.
To a certain extent the pressure is off Billingham this weekend as nobody outside of Teesside expects them to get anything out of either match. The Stars’ overall game is starting to click now however, and although the gap between themselves and their illustrious opponents seems large, if Billingham can put a 60-minute game together then a shock is not out of the question. Certainly neither side can afford to take the Stars for granted, especially as the Teessiders are just as much in need of the points with playoff places still to be decided. The coaches will need to rejig the pieces of their jigsaw as they deal with some absences – Cain Taylor is injured, whilst Tom Keeley, Richie Thornton and Andy Finn are unavailable. Additionally captain Michael Elder misses Sunday’s game at Sheffield. On the plus side, with no junior games this weekend, the younger members of the squad that have come on leaps and bounds this season will be available for selection.
The Stars’ General Manager Allen Flavell is simply asking that his side show what they can do this weekend:
“Games against the top three are always going to be tricky for us, but we have shown that when we get it together on the ice for the whole game we are more than capable of giving anyone a run for their money. The problems start when we switch off – we cannot afford to do that against these teams, as we have learned to our cost this season, if you switch off even for a few minutes they will pounce and there is no coming back. We have shown in patches that we can live with these teams, now we just need to do it for 60 minutes and see what happens.”
Billingham will play the top two in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 this weekend, Telford Tigers the visitors to the Forum tomorrow (face off 6pm), followed by a trip to Sheffield Steeldogs on Sunday (face off 5.30pm). Tickets for tomorrow's game can be bought from the box office from 5pm priced at £10.50 adults, £6.50 concessions, £32 family [2+2].
Sutton Sting v Nottingham Lions, Saturday 3.30pm
Billingham Stars v Telford Tigers, Saturday 6pm
Hull Pirates v Blackburn Hawks, Saturday 6pm
Sheffield Steeldogs v Solihull Barons, Saturday 7.30pm
Whitley Warriors v Hull Pirates, Sunday 5pm
Sheffield Steeldogs v Billingham Stars, Sunday 5.30pm
Solihull Barons v Sutton Sting, Sunday 6pm
Telford Tigers v Solway Sharks, Sunday 6pm
All images courtesy of Colin Edwards Photography