Weekend Preview 25/26 January: Hawks At The Double
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars face a critical weekend in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 as another ‘double header’ sees them take on the team just below them in the League table home and away as the jockeying for playoff places starts in earnest.
Blackburn Hawks arrive on Teesside this evening looking a shadow of their former selves. League and Playoff Champions in the not too distant past, the Hawks are struggling every bit as much as their hosts this afternoon to make any kind of impact on this year’s Moralee Conference. Electing to go with just one import in Petr Valusiak, Blackburn’s small squad have amassed just six points so far this season to leave them floundering four behind their opponents this weekend. They do have three games in hand however, the importance of these two games will not be lost on Player/Coach James Neil as he seeks to overhaul the Stars in a bid to make their playoff berth slightly easier. The Hawks were boosted last weekend by a somewhat surprising semi-final victory over Sutton Sting in the Midlands Cup, they will do battle with Solihull Barons to try and claim their first silverware for a few years next month.
Billingham will look at recent performances and know that, with a full squad and the right attitude, they have every chance of opening up the gap between themselves and Blackburn over the course of this weekend. Whilst the last four games has yielded three defeats, the spirit shown in each has been much improved and a win or two would allow the Stars to concentrate on picking off Sutton in fourth place rather than glancing over their shoulders. Last weekend’s North Cup semi-final loss, whilst expected on form, was aided by a short bench yet again – a problem the coaching team hope will not hamper their efforts this weekend as several key players return to the line-up. Daniel Šilar, Shaun Galloway, Tom Keeley and Darren Stattersfield are available for selection, and Joe Dowdle has recovered sufficiently from a knock he took last Saturday to have resumed training. Andy Finn is a doubt for tomorrow’s game in Lancashire and Mark Watson remains on the treatment table.
General Manager Allen Flavell is under no illusions as to the importance of this weekend:
“No doubt about it – we have to get some points on the board this weekend. The format of the playoffs gives us every incentive to be as high up the table come the end of the regular season as we possibly can be, so we cannot to drop points to those around us now. We need to show the same battling characteristics that we have in recent games and hope that we get some better luck both with player availability and also on the ice. We’ve had some interesting encounters with the Hawks over the years, they seem to be in the same boat as ourselves this season, but we need to make sure it’s us that comes out on top.”
It’s another double header, this time in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1, this weekend as Billingham host Blackburn Hawks tonight at the Forum (face off 6pm) then travel over the Pennines tomorrow for the second instalment (face off 5.30pm). Tickets for tonight’s game can be bought from the box office from 5pm priced at £12 adults, £7.50 concessions, £35 family [2+2].
Solway Sharks v Nottingham Lions, Saturday 3.30pm
Billingham Stars v Blackburn Hawks, Saturday 6pm
Sutton Sting v Whitley Warriors, Saturday 7.30pm
Whitley Warriors v Sutton Sting, Sunday 5pm
Blackburn Hawks v Billingham Stars, Sunday 5.30pm
Nottingham Lions v Solihull Barons, Sunday 7.30pm
All images courtesy of Linda Crabtree.