Match Preview 2nd February 2020: New Stars to Shine?
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars go into tomorrow’s National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 clash at Solihull Barons after a turbulent week that saw one player departure and two ‘new’ faces added to the squad as the race for the playoffs starts in earnest.
As yesterday’s deadline for transfers loomed, Billingham’s management had to move quickly to shake things up as a lacklustre campaign looked in danger of fizzling out completely. With well-documented issues at the back, it was obvious that was where efforts to strengthen needed to be concentrated and the Stars moved to secure the services of Lewis Jones from Nottingham Lions and also welcomed back popular defenceman Dave Thomas after more than a season away from the sport.
Moving up North is 23-year-old Jones who has plenty of League experience under his belt already with stints at Chelmsford, London Raiders, Haringey, Sheffield Senators, Coventry and – for the past season and a half – Nottingham Lions. Capable of putting up points, Jones will also cut an imposing figure as he adds some much-needed presence to Billingham’s defence. And when you talk about presence, defencemen do not come much more imposing than Dave Thomas who makes a welcome return to his number 24 jersey. A Bombers regular for many years, Thomas linked up with the inaugural Stars organisation in 2011 but work commitments limited his appearances over the following years. Thomas has always made an impact and the Stars will be looking forward to having him patrol the blue line once again.
On the flip side, Billingham have parted company with Czech forward Daniel Šilar by mutual agreement. Scoring 15 goals and totalling 36 points for the club during his time on Teesside, Šilar has decided to return home for the remainder of the season.
Jones and Thomas should be available for tomorrow’s long trip down to the Midlands to face a high-flying Solihull outfit who have second-placed Solway Sharks looking nervously over their shoulders. Always offensively strong, the Barons are especially tough to beat on their own ice. Just six points off the Sharks but with two games in hand, Solihull will want to push the top two as hard as they can and have a great chance to widen the gap between themselves and the chasing pack with games against fourth-placed Sutton Sting and fifth-placed Billingham this weekend.
By contrast the Stars will be hoping for a boost from their two new signings so that they can make a concerted push for an improved playoff berth. With just seven regular season games left, Billingham want to ensure they finish as high as possible to improve their chances in the post-season competition. To do that, they must solve their inconsistency riddle and put a run of 60-minute performances together, starting tomorrow at a venue where they were unlucky not to get anything from their first League game of this campaign. The Stars will need to do without Jack Emerson and Matthew Campbell who are both unavailable, whilst Ben Davison sits this one out with a lower body injury.
General Manager Allen Flavell knows the Barons are a team in form:
“Solihull are looking really good at the moment – they beat Solway just a few weeks ago and they look like they might even catch them in the League. They have plenty of guys capable of putting the puck in the net, so it’s pleasing that we were able to strengthen our blue line in time to face them! I’m looking forward to seeing what our new boys have to offer, both are big guys that will give us some muscle which is what we’ve been lacking. We needed to change things as we get into the home straight and hopefully we’ve made the right changes to get us moving up the table.”
Billingham travel to Solihull Barons for National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 encounter tomorrow evening, face off at Hobs Moat Road is 5.30pm.
Solway Sharks v Whitley Warriors, Saturday 7pm
Sutton Sting v Solihull Barons, Saturday 7.30pm
Whitley Warriors v Solway Sharks, Sunday 5pm
Blackburn Hawks v Nottingham Lions, Sunday 5.30pm
Solihull Barons v Billingham Stars, Sunday 5.30pm
Image credit: IceHockeyMedia