Ultimate Windows sponsored Billingham Stars

ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars return to the drawing board as their National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 season hits a critical juncture that may shape the rest of their campaign.

Billingham will play the top and bottom sides this weekend, starting with a trip to League leaders Solway Sharks this afternoon. The Sharks are wobbling a little as they try to keep their noses in front of title favourites Whitley Warriors and are now just a single point ahead, however Whitley have two games in hand. Their record this season is unblemished except for two road losses which may end up costing them the League crown, the second of which came last weekend at Sutton Sting. Without Head Coach Martin Grubb who is in Lithuania with the Great Britain Under 20s, the Scots came unstuck against a Sting outfit that had overturned the Stars just 24 hours earlier and came away on the wrong end of a 4-2 score line. They have been unbeatable in Dumfries however, and Billingham will need to improve all aspects of their game to avoid the 8-2 drubbing they took on their last visit in December.

Sunday will see Nottingham Lions make their first visit of the season to the Forum. Still winless and pointless, the Lions nevertheless continue to win friends and plaudits for their approach in recent seasons which has seen them refuse to take the drop back to a lower level in order to blood their talented youngsters in Division 1. Although many of their defeats have looked heavy on paper, they have shown flashes of genuine competitiveness and have pushed several teams close. The general consensus is that a result is not too far away for Nottingham, and they may sense an opportunity arriving on Teesside to play a Billingham outfit short on confidence and seemingly out of ideas.

There has been plenty of soul-searching in the Billingham camp this week as the team try to navigate their way out of what has become a crisis of sorts. Their poor December could perhaps be explained away by having to play the top two twice, however that does not excuse the insipid way in which they capitulated to Sutton last Saturday, a game the coaches had earmarked as a ‘must win’. A better performance, preferably two, would go a long way to restoring conviction and boosting morale as the side enters the home straight with the playoffs on the horizon. The Stars should have a few bodies back this weekend after surviving with the bare minimum at the back for some time now, although the Under 18s are in action at the Forum this evening which will mean the juniors will not travel to Dumfries today. Andy Finn is expected to return to the blue line, whilst Tom Keeley and Darren Stattersfield have resumed training.

General Manager Allen Flavell believes his side can get through their recent troubles and live up to preseason expectations:

“It has been a tough six weeks or so. We know we are capable of so much more than we are delivering and we know how frustrating that is for everyone, players and fans alike. There can be no excuses for the Sutton performance but we must put it behind us and concentrate on putting things right. This weekend gives us another shot at Solway, and whilst it would be easy to take the Nottingham game as a given, they probably smell blood and for that reason alone we cannot afford to take our foot off the gas and just expect to win. Our preseason target was not just to be an also-ran, we have the players, we need to kick up several gears.”

Billingham travel to National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 leaders Solway Sharks this afternoon for a 7pm face off, tomorrow Nottingham Lions will be the visitors to the Forum for a 6.30pm face off. Tickets for tomorrow’s game can be bought from the box office from 5.30pm priced at £12 adults, £7.50 concessions, £35 family [2+2].

 

Weekend Fixtures:

NIHL(N)1:

Sutton Sting v Solihull Barons, Saturday 4.30pm

Solway Sharks v Billingham Stars, Saturday 7pm

Blackburn Hawks v Whitley Warriors, Sunday 5.30pm

Solihull Barons v Solway Sharks, Sunday 5.30pm

Billingham Stars v Nottingham Lions, Sunday 6.30pm