Match Preview 7th September: Sutton First Up For Stars
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars will kick off a brand new season of ice hockey on Teesside tomorrow evening when they warm up for the coming National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 campaign with a challenge fixture against Sutton Sting.
After a frustrating and disappointing 2018-2019 season that saw the Stars miss out on the playoffs with a lowly ninth-place finish, there have been plenty of changes in the dressing room. Head Coach Tom Brown ultimately paid the price for underachievement, and Billingham moved quickly to secure the services of former Bombers netminder and Stars coach Stephen Foster. Foster was at the helm when the Stars won their last League title in 2012, the playoff crown added just weeks later as Billingham conquered all-comers on their way to the double. Foster has been out of the game ever since, but has been tempted back to join a new coaching team that will see him share coaching duties with Michael Bowman as the popular forward resumes the Player/Coach mantle he last held two seasons ago.
There have been changes on the roster too. Consistently one of the best netminders in the League, James Flavell has retired after 14 seasons of senior hockey leaving huge skates to fill. Mark Watson and Thomas Brown will continue between the pipes, whilst Mark Turnbull has joined from local rivals Whitley Warriors to provide healthy competition for the number one slot. The Stars were rocked early in the summer when top scorer Chris Sykes announced his departure to new National League side Leeds Chiefs, and he has been followed to Elland Road by up-and-coming young forward Ethan Hehir. Firepower was needed to replace these two talented scorers, so the management have recruited two import forwards that they hope will provide the goals in Tomáš Rubeš and Daniel Silar. Both Czech natives, they have experience stateside and are proven point scorers, Rubeš in particular impressing at Milton Keynes Thunder last season. Billingham will see some familiar faces return to the squad as Scott Cooper joins from Widnes Wild and Lewis Crisp makes his senior debut after spending his last two junior seasons at Whitley Bay. Overall the squad is a healthy mix of youth and experience as the Stars look to develop their juniors further.
Stephen Foster is confident that the new roster has the right blend to make an impact this season:
“There are a lot of good lads in the dressing room, some I know from the last time I coached here, and a lot of young lads. It made my decision to come back very easy – I’ve always enjoyed coaching and I want to help get the Stars back to where they belong. We’ve got a good balance to the squad and the two new Czech guys have settled in really well, both into the team and into their lines. The whole team is looking fit which will be important should we need to go with fewer lines in the tight games. We want exciting hockey back at Billingham and we look ready to go!”
Tomorrow’s ‘friendly’ will see fellow North 1 side Sutton Sting visit the Forum as both teams prepare for a new League campaign and a revamped Cup competition. Sting were a bogey team for the Stars last year until a mind-boggling comeback at IceSheffield on the final weekend of the season saw Billingham score seven unanswered final period goals to take the game into overtime, then steal the points with the game winner from Craig Thurston. Always a little more low-key than others during the summer, Sutton have nevertheless recruited well and should give the Stars a stern test ahead of the League opener against Solihull at Hobs Moat Road next Sunday. Billingham will have a full bench to select from as the squad fights for places in Foster and Bowman’s new-look side.
The Stars begin their 2019-2020 campaign tomorrow evening when Sutton Sting visit the Forum for a challenge game, face off 6pm. Tickets can be bought from the box office from 5pm priced at £10 adults, £6 concessions, £30 family [2+2].
- Whitley Warriors v Nottingham Lions, Sunday 5pm
- Blackburn Hawks v Widnes Wild, Saturday 5.30pm
- Billingham Stars v Sutton Sting, Saturday 6pm
- Widnes Wild v Blackburn Hawks, Sunday 5.30pm