Ultimate Windows sponsored Billingham Stars

Ultimate Windows sponsored Billingham Stars battled in vain with a short bench in this weekend’s NIHL North Cup semi-final against derby rivals Whitley Warriors, eventually succumbing 13-5 on aggregate as a shortage of defencemen again proved their undoing.

It was back to the bare bones for the Stars at the Forum on Saturday but, wanting to negate Whitley’s traditional fast start, the home side came out full of intent with a Jack Emerson effort just over before two minutes had been played. They got a break with the opener on 4.31 as Craig Thurston threw his shot at the net and Warriors netminder Richie Lawson pulled off what appeared to be a great stacked pad save, but with Tomáš Rubeš lurking for the rebound the puck slipped under Lawson and Thurston wheeled away to celebrate. An unsavoury incident on 10.43 saw the end of Warriors’ Jordan Barnes as he put young defender Joe Dowdle into the boards, however the subsequent five-minute power play was evened out to some extent by Matthew Campbell’s fighting penalty for taking Barnes to task. Just over a minute later Billingham were on the penalty kill as Andy Finn was despatched on a roughing minor and the visitors capitalised almost instantly, Rolands Gritans potting home a Ben Campbell rebound on 12.12. The momentum seemingly tipped, Warriors bagged a couple of goals towards the end of the period as Ben Campbell skated clear and shot low on 16.44, then just seven seconds from the buzzer Harry Harley extended the lead to two.

A far tighter second session saw just one goal, a classy top corner effort from Whitley captain Dean Holland on 21.56 to give the Tynesiders a comfortable advantage.

With nothing to lose, the Stars narrowed the gap on 41.24 when Cal Davies found Michael Elder who picked his spot past Lawson’s glove. Just two minutes later however the three-goal cushion was restored when Holland’s blue line effort beat screened Billingham netminder Thomas Brown for a power play marker on 43.32. 2-5 the first leg final score, and much to do for the Teessiders if they were going to have a chance of making the final.

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

Stars Stats:

Michael Elder 1+0; Craig Thurston 1+0; James Moss 0+1; Chris Sykes 0+1; Callum Davies 0+1; Tomáš Rubeš 0+1

SOG: Thomas Brown 62 (22 / 17 / 23)

Warriors Stats:

Dean Holland 2+2; Harry Harley 1+2; Ben Campbell 1+1; Rolands Gritans 1+0; Phil Edgar 0+1; Callum Queenan 0+1

SOG: Richie Lawson 27 (9 / 9 / 9)

Any hope that Billingham had of causing an upset on Tyneside on Sunday looked fanciful when the side lost yet more key players. Mark Turnbull replaced Brown in goal after the young netminder picked up a knock in Saturday’s game. The Stars started brightly enough, Lawson pulling off a split glove save with less than a minute gone to deny James Moss, but the hosts forced home the opener on the night when Holland forced the puck home on 8.28 in a scramble in front of Turnbull. Down to just three regular defencemen after Matthew Campbell picked up an early injury, Billingham nevertheless fought their way back into the reckoning and were justly rewarded with a top-drawer equaliser on 18.05 when Elder laid the puck off to Callum Wilkinson for a one-time slapshot into the bottom corner.

Billingham’s resistance under relentless pressure lasted until the halfway point of the game, Harley beating Turnbull at his near post on 30.38. It was 3-1 just over a minute later as Rolands Gritans found Callum Queenan on the back stick for a tap in. Hope flickered when James Hellens picked out the top corner on 35.11 for his first senior goal on his 100th senior appearance, but it was soon snuffed out as Callum Watson’s shot crept past Turnbull 41 seconds later. Harley put the game to bed on 38.06 when he found the gap over Turnbull’s shoulder for 5-2.

The short bench beginning to tell, the home side were further ahead on 41.56 when the Stars lost possession in their own zone and Phil Edgar was on hand to slot home. Ross Douglass poked one under Turnbull on 44.06, the Warriors swapping Lawson for Jordan Boyle in the net just seconds later. A tripping call against Jack Emerson was punished from the face off as Gritans found the top corner, prompting a Billingham time out. The tie long gone, the visitors never stopped working and bagged a late consolation as Moss fired into an unguarded net with Boyle covering the initial shot from Rubeš. 8-3 the score at the buzzer, 13-5 on aggregate sees the Warriors through to the final against Murrayfield Racers who turned over Solway Sharks in the other semi-final.

Man-of-the-Match for the Stars was Mark Turnbull.

Warriors Stats:

Harry Harley 2+1; Dean Holland 1+3; Callum Watson 1+2; Rolands Gritans 1+1; Callum Queenan 1+1; Ross Douglass 1+0; Phil Edgar 1+0; Ben Campbell 0+2; Ben Richards 0+1

SOG: Richie Lawson 24 (13 / 6 / 4); Jordan Boyle 10

Stars Stats:

James Moss 1+1; James Hellens 1+0; Callum Wilkinson 1+0; Tomáš Rubeš 0+2; Michael Elder 0+1; Chris Sykes 0+1; Craig Thurston 0+1

SOG: Mark Turnbull 65 (12 / 36 / 17)

Speaking after Sunday’s game Coach Stephen Foster again praised his younger players:

“We looked good in the first tonight, we held our own and the plan was to push on from there. But there are positives to take out of the weekend. The only line that didn’t concede tonight was our youngest line – we need their commitment from all our lines. They showed their potential and that they are the way forward.”

Billingham are back in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 action next weekend with back-to-back games against Blackburn Hawks, a home tie on Saturday 25th January (face off 6pm) followed by a trip to Lancashire on Sunday 26th January (face off 5.30pm).


Weekend Results:

North Cup Semi-Finals:

Billingham Stars 2 Whitley Warriors 5

Solway Sharks 5 Murrayfield Racers 4

Whitley Warriors 8 Billingham Stars 3

Murrayfield Racers 6 Solway Sharks 4


Image credits: Linda Crabtree (Forum) / Colin Edwards Photography (Hillheads)