Weekend Report 23rd-24th February 2019
Ultimate Windows sponsored Billingham Stars will miss out on this season’s National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 playoffs barring an unexpected miracle after losing Sunday’s crucial clash with Blackburn Hawks.
The weekend started with the visit of title contenders Sheffield Steeldogs to the Forum on Saturday, an unfamiliar name between the pipes as Phil Pearson from Bradford Bulldogs stepped in to plug the gap. As expected the visitors made the early running, Pearson finding himself in the thick of the action from the first minute. Eventually Steeldogs opened the scoring on 5.07, a short-handed effort as Billingham gave the puck away in their defensive zone, Milan Kolena finding James Spurr on the near post. The Stars shook themselves off and started to make inroads of their own, James Moss blasting into Sheffield netminder Dmitri Zimozdra’s middle and then Craig Thurston undressed the Sheffield defence but put his final shot just wide. Steeldogs doubled their advantage on 11.49, the defence giving Duncan Speirs too much room to pick his spot in the far corner. Less than two minutes later it was three, Ashley Calvert collecting the puck from the face off and beating Pearson glove side. Billingham didn’t give up and were rewarded with a short-handed goal of their own just two seconds from the buzzer, Kristers Bormanis the high man who took it in close and waited for Zimozdra to go down before backhanding round him.
The second period started much more evenly, with opportunities for both sides to increase their tallies. Pearson had just denied Lewis Bell with his skate blade but could not quite get to Nathan Salem’s effort on 26.20 as the gap widened to three once more. Back came the Stars and a great pass from Cain Taylor on 28.56 found Ethan Hehir for the one-timer. The hosts were battling hard and had chances to make it a one-goal game but their hard work was undone by two quick goals before the 34-minute mark as first Kolena and then Calvert with his second stretched the gap and put the result beyond doubt.
A relatively quiet third period ensued, the points already in the bag for Sheffield. Billingham’s younger contingent saw plenty of ice once more, James Hellens and Josh Reynolds both troubling Zimozdra, but it was their guests who had the last word with two late goals, Adrian Palak potting home on 57.52 before Alex Graham rounded out the scoring in the final minute for a 2-8 final score.
Man-of-the-Match for the Stars was Phil Pearson.
Ethan Hehir 1+1; Kristers Bormanis 1+0; Cain Taylor 0+1
SOG: Phil Pearson 59 (21 / 19 / 19)
Ashley Calvert 2+1; Milena Kolena 1+2; James Spurr 1+1; Duncan Speirs 1+1; Alex Graham 1+0; Adrian Palak 1+0; Nathan Salem 1+0; Tom Relf 0+2; Andrew Hirst 0+2; Tim Smith 0+2; Lewis Bell 0+1; Cameron Brownley 0+1
SOG: Dmitri Zimozdra 28 (7 / 11 / 10)
Billingham Stars TV caught the post-game thoughts:
James Flavell returned for Sunday’s ‘do-or-die’ tie at Blackburn, both sides perhaps feeling the pressure as a scrappy first twenty played out. In what was to become a feature of the game, Billingham had plenty of chances but the quality of the final shot was poor and Hawks netminder Harrison Walker was not made to work anywhere near hard enough. At the other end the Stars had some issues clearing their zone and the Hawks always looked threatening on the break. It was the home side who eventually got the breakthrough on 15.44, Ross Kennedy firing a rebound high past Flavell to give Blackburn a slender lead at the interval.
The lead was doubled on 23.24, Robin Kovar firing straight past the glove. The Stars had chances to get themselves back into the game, but with play still looking disjointed from both sides it was difficult to get any momentum. Chris Sykes and Michael Elder both found Walker’s glove, but the hosts always looked the more likely to score more and they duly got the third on 35.04 - all the focus in the corner, the puck came out to Jack Murray free in front of the net to place past Flavell’s outstretched pad.
Billingham were handed a golden opportunity to mount a comeback before the 45-minute marker as first Craig Lutkevitch and then Luke Boothroyd were dispatched to the sinbin to give the visitors two extra men. Their shooting woes continued however, and the closest they came to getting a goal back was an Andy Finn blast from the point that Ethan Hehir couldn’t quite get to for the tip-in. A late rally saw Sykes hit the crossbar with five minutes to go, but the clock was against the Stars and the curtain came down on a 3-0 defeat, that last playoff place as good as gone.
Man-of-the-Match for Billingham was Michael Bowman.
Robin Kovar 1+1; Jack Murray 1+0; Ross Kennedy 1+0; Luke Boothroyd 0+2; James Riddoch 0+1; Lee Pollitt 0+1; Bobby Streetly 0+1
SOG: Harrison Walker 35 (14 / 11 / 10)
SOG: James Flavell 40 (12 / 17 / 11)
Speaking after Sunday’s game, the Stars’ Director of Coaching Terry Ward could not hide his disappointment:
“We created lots of chances tonight but we didn’t put those chances away and we didn’t do that. It was a scrappy game with the pressure on both teams to do well but we squandered the opportunities we were given. This weekend has been a snapshot of our season – no consistency in the team we can ice, players out, it’s been a nightmare to coach.”
Billingham have just one game next weekend when they host Blackburn Hawks at the Forum in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 on Sunday 3rd March, face off 6.30pm.
Billingham Stars 2 Sheffield Steeldogs 8
Solway Sharks 4 Hull Pirates 10
Telford Tigers 10 Blackburn Hawks 2
Sutton Sting 3 Whitley Warriors 11
Blackburn Hawks 3 Billingham Stars 0
Hull Pirates 9 Solway Sharks 5
Sheffield Steeldogs 7 Sutton Sting 0
Nottingham Lions 1 Telford Tigers 17
Images courtesy of Linda Crabtree (Steeldogs); Steve Pollitt (Hawks)