Match Preview 9th February 2020: Playoff Countdown Begins
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars will need to pull off a few surprise results if they are to avoid sixth place in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 and consequently a poor playoff berth, starting with tomorrow’s reverse fixture against Solihull Barons at the Forum.
Picking straight up from where they left off from last weekend in the Midlands, Solihull will be aiming for a similar performance to last Sunday. A masterclass in sharp shooting, the Barons were deadly in front of the net and left Billingham licking their wounds on the wrong end of an 8-2 score line. Overall play and possession perhaps not reflected in the final score, Solihull showed why they are creeping up on Solway Sharks in second place in the table – offensively the Barons have one of the strongest line-ups in the League and can rely on the likes of Thomas Soar and Niklas Ottosson to find the back of the net regularly. They would be challenging Whitley Warriors for the title, however at the back they are not quite as strong and have shipped almost twice as many goals as the Champions-elect. Whilst they are not going to be picking up the Moralee Conference trophy, they have made the Midlands Cup final where they face Blackburn Hawks next weekend, and are chasing down Solway hard for second place in the League which would give them a more favourable playoff draw. With two chances at silverware still up for grabs, the Barons are looking at a very successful season if they can retain their form.
The Stars have it all to do if they are to keep their noses in front of Blackburn, needing to pick up points from some of the ‘big boys’ in the run-in to the playoffs. They will need to do better tomorrow than they did at Hobs Moat Road last Sunday, where once again the forwards had difficulty turning possession into goals. Of particular concern to the coaching team at the moment is Billingham’s special play units – the power play is not only failing to score, but has also conceded three short-handed goals in the last three games. Coach Stephen Foster has recognised that this is not good enough, and will have looked at this area in training this week. New boys Lewis Jones and Dave Thomas, who both made their debuts last Sunday, are settling into their roles well and Foster expects them to make more of an impact as they get used to his systems. Foster and fellow Coach Michael Bowman will have the luxury of an almost full squad to select from for tomorrow’s game, Jack Emerson, Callum Davies, Matthew Campbell and Ben Davison all expected to return after missing last Sunday’s encounter.
General Manager Allen Flavell has his own targets for the final games of the regular season schedule:
“I have an idea of what I’d like from these last six games, the boys know what I want to see, so let’s see what we can do. Solihull scored some very nice goals last Sunday, their forwards were clinical and gave Tom [Brown] very little chance with their accuracy. Maybe there was a lesson in there for our guys – we need to be making opposition netminders work much harder. They all know this, but we seem to have lost a bit of confidence in front of the net. With a bit of belief I know we can get the results we deserve.”
Solihull Barons visit the Forum for a National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 clash tomorrow evening, face off 6.30pm. Tickets can be bought from the box office from 5.30pm priced at £12 adults, £7.50 concessions, £35 family [2+2].
Solihull Barons v Whitley Warriors, Saturday 5.30pm
Sutton Sting v Solway Sharks, Saturday 7.30pm
Whitley Warriors v Blackburn Hawks, Sunday 5pm
Nottingham Lions v Solway Sharks, Sunday 5.40pm
Billingham Stars v Solihull Barons, Sunday 6.30pm
Images courtesy of Keith & Jenny Davies