Match Preview 16th February: Derby Date for Stars
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars get back into National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 action after an unexpected weekend off with a last trip of the regular season up the A19 to champions-elect Whitley Warriors tomorrow afternoon.
With all North division games falling victim to Storm Ciara last Sunday, the Warriors title party will have to wait until next weekend regardless of tomorrow’s result. A hard-fought win at third-placed Solihull Barons on Saturday, where Whitley came from 3-0 down to secure a 4-7 road victory, should reasonably have set up last Sunday’s home game against Blackburn Hawks and another expected two points. The Hawks’ inability to travel means that although they are five points ahead of Solway Sharks with two games in hand, the Sharks have no League fixture this weekend so the Moralee Conference title is more likely to be wrapped up in a fortnight’s time after their North Cup final against Murrayfield Racers next weekend. As the overwhelming favourites to take both the Cup and the League trophies in the space of a few weeks, the Warriors will be looking at the upcoming playoff campaign as a chance to secure the treble as the form of their nearest challengers fades in the closing weeks of the season, however they will have to do without in-form Phil Edgar who has picked up a six-match suspension for a check to the head in last Saturday's game.
Languishing back in fifth and without a derby win all season, Billingham are at least spared the indignity of watching their nearest neighbours secure their first silverware tomorrow afternoon. The Stars remaining chance to redeem what has been a disappointing campaign is a decent run in the playoffs, however they need to find some form on a consistent basis if they are to make any impact. Likely to be in the tougher of the two playoff groups, Billingham will find themselves up against Whitley once more and will see tomorrow as a chance to make the Warriors think. They will need to do something different however, Whitley have found the Stars easy pickings this season, with only the first game between the two at the Forum back in September any sort of contest, and all games at Hillheads in particular have been comfortable for the Tynesiders. Billingham should at least have a full roster to select from, Joe Walls and Mark Watson returning to the squad after a few weeks’ out through injury.
General Manager Allen Flavell appreciates it has been tough to stay with his side’s local rivals this season:
“You have to hand it to Whitley, they set their stall out at the start of the season and they haven’t wavered from their stated objectives. They said they would win everything this year and so far it looks like they’re going to bag the treble. We know we haven’t come up to scratch this season, it’s been disappointing for everyone involved, but we have a chance at the end of the campaign to at least show what might have been and put up a good fight in the playoffs. We have to find some form if we’re going to do that, and where better to start than a local derby? Having the presence of Dave Thomas will give the rest of the lads that bit more confidence, and although Whitley hasn’t been the happiest of hunting grounds lately there is no better motivation than putting a dent in their progress if we can.”
Billingham travel to Tyneside for the final Tyne –Tees derby of the regular National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 season against Whitley Warriors tomorrow evening, face off 5pm.
Whitley Warriors v Billingham Stars, Sunday 5pm
Images courtesy of Colin Edwards Photography