Ultimate Windows sponsored Billingham Stars

Ultimate Windows sponsored Billingham Stars finished off their preparations for the new National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 season with a solid 6-3 challenge game victory over League rivals Sutton Sting at the Forum on Saturday night.

A new-look squad took to the ice for the Stars, illustrated by the presence of Thomas Brown between the pipes. New coaches Stephen Foster and Michael Bowman selected a full bench and rolled with four lines throughout to give everyone ice time ahead of the new League season. Sutton arrived on Teesside boasting new import Adrian Palak, a proven talent in the League after spells at Deeside Dragons and Sheffield Steeldogs, to accompany fellow Slovakian Stanislav Lascek.

Billingham started brightly and almost nicked an early opener when Jack Emerson slid the puck across for Shaun Galloway in the third minute, but Galloway’s effort went just wide. The fans did not have long to wait however, on 3.31 the returning Cal Davies tipped a Tomáš Rubeš shot high past Sting keeper Nicholas Winters to get the first goal of the new campaign. Rubeš was settling in well and pinged the base of the net in the 11th minute after getting the better of the Sutton defence. At the other end Brown was equal to the Sting attack, an athletic kick save denying a Charlie Saunders blast in the 12th minute. Player/Coach Bowman doubled the lead on 12.59 when his shot on the spin ricocheted in off the crossbar. Brown was finally beaten on 16.46 when Palak’s shot through traffic evaded the young netminder, but the dying minutes of the period belonged to the home side as Michael Elder and James Moss went close.

Sutton were almost back on level terms at the start of the middle session when a wrist shot from Palak on the power play was well saved by Brown between the pads. Back at full strength, Rubeš found Craig Thurston with an excellent zone-to-zone pass, Thurston’s effort creeping across the line and into the far corner on 23.40 to extend the lead. Scott Morris hit the underside of the bar for the visitors in the 27th minute, and four minutes later the metalwork again saved the Stars as Palak found almost the same spot. Billingham rode their luck and moved further ahead on 34.09 when Moss lifted his own rebound past Winters after collecting a loose puck in the zone. A double save from Brown late in the period kept the gap at three going into the final stanza.

Sting pulled one back on 40.38 as the home side failed to clear their lines and left Sam Jones free to tap home a rebound at the back stick. The Stars were in no mood to relinquish their lead however, and the three-goal cushion was re-established on 45.09 when Davies dug the puck out of the corner and found Elder just inside the blue line to rifle it home just inside the near post. Just over a minute later Sutton once more narrowed the deficit when Lascek poked the puck underneath Brown to test the hosts’ nerves. Billingham had their chances to make the game safe – Daniel Silar with a shot off the mask in the 51st minute and Galloway seeing his effort cleared off the line in the 55th – but it was a final minute empty net goal that finally sealed the win, the Stars stealing the puck from the face off and Thurston finding Moss to steer it home.

Man-of-the-Match for Billingham was Thomas Brown.

Stars Stats:

James Moss 2+0; Callum Davies 1+1; Craig Thurston 1+1; Michael Bowman 1+0; Michael Elder 1+0; Tomáš Rubeš 0+2; Andy Finn 0+1; Daniel Silar 0+1

SOG: Thomas Brown 37 (13 / 10 / 14)

Sting Stats:

Sam Jones 1+0; Adrian Palak 1+0; Stanislav Lascek 1+0; Scott Morris 0+2; Josh Yeardley 0+1

SOG: Nicholas Winters 31 (10 / 12 / 9)

New Coach Stephen Foster believes his side showed the character they need for the season ahead:

“It was really important for us to get the win tonight and get the belief there right from the start. They came out hard, particularly in the third period, but we managed to weather the storm and that shows good character going forward. We’ve got a big squad and we managed to roll with four lines tonight. That might not happen every week, but tonight we’ve gone with short shifts and given everyone ice.”

Billingham travel to Solihull Barons for their opening National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 fixture next Sunday 15th September, face off 5.30pm.

 

Weekend Results:

NIHL(N)1:

Whitley Warriors 11 Nottingham Lions 0

Challenge Games:

Blackburn Hawks 2 Widnes Wild 3

Billingham Stars 6 Sutton Sting 3

Widnes Wild 5 Blackburn Hawks 10

 

Images courtesy of Linda Crabtree