Match Preview 29th September: It's Derby Day!
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars return to National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 action on Sunday evening when pre-season title favourites and local rivals Whitley Warriors visit the Forum.
It is early days in the Moralee Conference, but with the season less than a month old Whitley currently occupy the top spot that was predicted during the summer. With the consistency of having Player/Coach David Longstaff back on board for his fifth season at the helm, the Tynesiders continue to build on their core of loyal local players. The loss of stalwarts Shaun Kippin and DJ Good, plus the defection of Sam Zajac to new National League side Leeds Chiefs, was more than compensated for by the return of some old favourites in Dan Pye, Adam Finlinson and Callum Queenan. The Warriors then pulled off a coup of sorts by securing the services of long-time Solway Shark Ross Murray, a player more used to getting booed by the Hillheads crowd than cheered. Last week Whitley lost another loyal servant in Martin Crammond, who quit following their 3-2 penalty shot win over Sutton Sting, but with one of the largest rosters in the League Longstaff should not find it difficult to rejig his lines to cover the hole left by Crammond.
The Warriors may be top of the nascent League table, but their early season has not gone entirely to plan. They have taken the points as expected from Sutton home and away, and thrashed Nottingham Lions in the League opener, however they stumbled on home ice against Solway a fortnight ago, allowing a two-goal lead to slip late in the game and letting in the Sharks for the overtime win. The Sharks then got the better of them again in the Cup last weekend, and their squeak past the Sting the following evening may have prompted some nerves in the Warriors camp.
Billingham are still bedding into the new season and must address some defensive frailties exposed last Sunday when Solway demolished a 4-1 first period Stars lead with seven goals against a solitary reply. On the flip side Billingham’s forward lines appear to be clicking, scoring 20 goals over the weekend including 13 on the road at Dundee Comets. As the side transitions it is down to coaches Stephen Foster and Michael Bowman to find the right combinations, and whilst they appear to have got it right up front, they need consistency at the back. This Sunday should see an almost full squad available with the exception of Andy Finn. A late decision will be made on Tom Keeley as he returns from illness.
General Manager Allen Flavell senses the buzz in the dressing room as the derby approaches:
“It’s great to get a derby game so early in the season, there is nothing better to get both sets of players and fans fired up. Perhaps our friends from up the road will still be smarting from the last game between us when we snatched the points in overtime? Whatever they are feeling, the pressure of being favourites is on them – they have a very strong side on paper and many expect them to win silverware this year. Fortunately for us games are not won on paper and hopefully we can push them all the way.”
Billingham take to the ice for the first Tees-Tyne derby of the season at the Forum on Sunday evening as they welcome Whitley Warriors in a National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 clash, face off 6.40pm. Tickets can be bought from the box office from 5.30pm priced at £12 adults, £7.50 concessions, £35 family [2+2].
Solihull Barons v Blackburn Hawks, Sunday 5.30pm
Billingham Stars v Whitley Warriors, Sunday 6.40pm