Weekend Report 25th-26th January 2020
Ultimate Windows sponsored Billingham Stars didn’t take the opportunity to widen the gap between themselves and the team chasing them down in the National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 table as they took two from four points in their weekend mini-series against Blackburn Hawks.
A thriller at the Forum on Saturday saw the Stars almost blow a four-goal lead to eventually overcome their Lancastrian guests with just two seconds remaining in overtime. With bodies back a stronger bench took to the ice but, in what was to become a theme over the weekend, early penalties hampered the progress of both sides. Matthew Campbell was sitting out an interference minor when Craig Thurston picked out James Moss for the breakaway, Moss taking the puck onto his backhand to lift past Blackburn netminder Harrison Walker for the short-handed opener on 7.56. Billingham were two men down in the 11th minute but again the Hawks were caught out on the breakaway, this time Callum Davies put his backhand effort into the roof of the net to double the lead on 10.59. The home side were dominant but wasteful with their chances, what should have been a comfortable first period advantage cut in half on 18.29 when Joe Greaves tipped home a Petr Valusiak effort.
Billingham go the perfect start to the middle session when Tomáš Rubeš eventually got hold of a rebound to fire into an unguarded net on 22.19. A bullet of a slap shot from Greaves on 23.44 brought the visitors back into it, but the hosts looked irresistible once more and were unlucky not to have more goals before they eventually added a fourth on 34.23 with a power play effort, Moss coming in from the corner to slot under Walker. Some excellent tape-to-tape passing set up Michael Bowman for the one-time blast into the near corner on 35.56 before Jack Emerson broke from his own zone and finished high past Walker for what looked like a game-winning lead on 37.59.
Blackburn had other ideas and were able to take advantage of several minor penalties handed out to the Stars as the home team imploded in the final ten minutes of regulation time. Billingham had two men in the box when Lee Pollitt started the comeback on 51.35 with a shot into the bottom corner, then just 20 seconds later James Royds closed the gap still further. Greaves made it a one-goal game on 53.20 with his hat trick marker, another power play goal scored on the rebound, then Player/Coach James Neil completed a remarkable turnaround with a short-handed effort on 57.05 when he rounded the defence to pick his spot past netminder Thomas Brown’s glove to take the game into overtime.
The win snatched from their grasp, Billingham could have been forgiven for letting their heads drop but to their credit they dominated the bonus period and got their reward with just two seconds left, Moss’ blast from out left tipped in at the death by Chris Sykes for a 7-6 win.
Man-of-the-Match for the Stars was James Moss.
James Moss 2+3; Michael Bowman 1+1; Tomáš Rubeš 1+1; Chris Sykes 1+0; Jack Emerson 1+0; Callum Davies 1+0; Dylan Hehir 0+2; Craig Thurston 0+2; Andy Finn 0+1; Shaun Galloway 0+1; Michael Elder 0+1
SOG: Thomas Brown 36 (12 / 6 / 16 / 2)
Joe Greaves 3+0; James Neil 1+1; James Royds 1+1 ; Lee Pollitt 1+1 ; Petr Valusiak 0+3; Aaron Davies 0+1 ; James Riddoch 0+1 ; Jared Dickinson 0+1
SOG: Harrison Walker 39 (18 / 21); Niks Trapans 26 (19 / 7)
A different game entirely in Blackburn on Sunday evening as a shorter Billingham bench were slow out of the blocks and found themselves behind after just 34 seconds as Valusiak showed his strength to force his way past his man and wrap the puck around Brown for a lead the home side never gave up. Niggly penalties made it difficult for either side to get going, the Stars in particular failing to capitalise on the chances that came their way. Instead it was Pollitt who doubled the advantage on 15.48 when he potted home a Royds rebound after Billingham had failed to clear their lines.
The Hawks got another good start to the second session, Aaron Davies lifting over Brown for a 3-0 lead. The visitors finally capitalised on a power play on 26.03 when Daniel Šilar jammed the puck home after a goalmouth scramble. The Stars were enjoying plenty of the puck but the quality of finish was lacking and Niks Trapans in the Blackburn net was not being made to work too hard, the period closing out with the two-goal advantage intact.
It was much the same tale in the final stanza, Billingham with possession but no end product. Royds finally put the game to bed on 56.07 when he got the final tap past Brown, the Hawks’ three-point weekend closing the gap to the Stars to three points but with three games in hand.
Man-of-the-Match for Billingham was Thomas Brown.
James Royds 1+1; Lee Pollitt 1+1; Petr Valusiak 1+1; Aaron Davies 1+0; James Neil 0+1; Tom Revesz 0+1; James Riddoch 0+1
SOG: Niks Trapans 39 (13 / 12 / 14)
Daniel Šilar 1+0; Chris Sykes 0+1
SOG: Thomas Brown 40 (14 / 11 / 15)
Speaking after Sunday’s game Coach Stephen Foster bemoaned a chance lost:
“We had a lot of game play tonight but we started slow. We had decent time on the puck but we failed to create good quality chances where last night we were deadly. Our power play execution compared to last night just wasn’t there, we tried to rush the play and lacked confidence on the puck. We’ve let the Hawks back in now so we need to start picking up points elsewhere.”
The Stars travel to Solihull Barons for their next National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 encounter on Sunday 2nd February, face off 5.30pm.
Solway Sharks 8 Nottingham Lions 0
Billingham Stars 7 Blackburn Hawks 6 (after overtime)
Sutton Sting 3 Whitley Warriors 10
Whitley Warriors 7 Sutton Sting 2
Blackburn Hawks 4 Billingham Stars 1
Nottingham Lions 1 Solihull Barons 11
Image credit: Steve Pollitt