Season Ends With A Derby!
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars’ long and ultimately disappointing National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 campaign comes to an end prematurely this weekend, their ninth place finish meaning they will watch the end-of-season playoffs from the sidelines.
Playing for only pride, the final weekend gets underway with a trip to IceSheffield today to take on Sutton Sting. Sutton will finish just above the Stars after a schizophrenic campaign that has seen them take points off the likes of Solway Sharks, whilst also being on the receiving end of some real hammerings – a 19-0 loss to the same Sharks two weeks ago a case in point. The Sting have had to cope with some of their key players being absent at crucial times as they are on two-way contracts with Elite League outfit Sheffield Steelers, including talented junior Kieran Brown. However they have got the points when they needed to and have comfortably occupied the last playoff berth for some weeks. Sutton will not find out who their first round opponents – the League Champions – will be until the dying moments of the regular season on Sunday night, the top three sides are locked on the same number of points with the destination of the title still very much undecided.
Tomorrow’s final game of the season will see near neighbours Whitley Warriors make the short journey down the A19 for one last derby clash at the Forum before the Warriors head into their playoff battle with Solway next weekend. Whitley have had the better of their local rivals in each of their three previous meetings this season, the last being a 6-0 blanking at Hillheads just last weekend. The Warriors will want a better quality game with the Sharks waiting for them, last Sunday’s match was lacking in intensity so they will look to up their performance in readiness for what should be a tightly contested playoff series against a side they have got close to but not quite overcome yet this season.
A season to forget finally comes to an end for the Teessiders this weekend with the Stars players and fans forced to watch on as the playoffs get underway next weekend without them. For whatever reason, a season that started with so much promise had largely juddered to halt just a few months in and the team has struggled to make any impact despite having a talented squad on paper. Too many senior players have not been available and the club has looked to its emerging crop of youngsters to take the strain, their performances providing the highlights of an otherwise dismal campaign. Those youngsters will be torn this weekend - with important games at both Under 18 and Under 20 levels, the coaches will need to make some difficult decisions. It is hoped that Edgar Protčenko will feature this weekend despite picking up a knock last Saturday in Hull, Ben Davison will also return but Tom Keeley is side-lined with an upper body injury.
Billingham’s General Manager Allen Flavell wants the players to go out on a high:
“When we started this season, the playoffs were our minimum target and we’ve failed to reach them. It is imperative now that we look ahead to next season and use these final games to remind ourselves and our fans that we are better than we’ve achieved this year. It hasn’t worked out the way any of us planned or hoped, so we have a big summer ahead to put ourselves back on the map.”
The Stars end their National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 campaign this weekend with a trip to Sutton Sting this evening (face off 7.30pm) followed by the visit of Whitley Warriors to the Forum tomorrow (face off 6.30pm). Tickets for tomorrow’s game can be bought from the box office from 5.30pm priced at £10.50 adults, £6.50 concessions, £32 family [2+2].
Solihull Barons v Blackburn Hawks, Saturday 5.15pm
Hull Pirates v Telford Tigers, Saturday 6pm
Solway Sharks v Sheffield Steeldogs, Saturday 7pm
Sutton Sting v Billingham Stars, Saturday 7.30pm
Blackburn Hawks v Solway Sharks, Sunday 5.30pm
Sheffield Steeldogs v Hull Pirates, Sunday 5.30pm
Telford Tigers v Solihull Barons, Sunday 6pm
Billingham Stars v Whitley Warriors, Sunday 6.30pm
Nottingham Lions v Sutton Sting, Sunday 7.30pm
Image credit: Colin Edwards Photography