Weekend Preview 29 Feb/1 Mar: Double Bubble!
ULTIMATE WINDOWS-sponsored Billingham Stars have an unexpected home double header in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 this weekend as both Solihull Barons and Solway Sharks visit the Forum in search of valuable points as the two battle it out for second place.
Up first this evening are the Barons in a fixture rearranged from the 9th when Storm Ciara wreaked havoc across the country. Solihull currently sit four points behind the Sharks in third place, but this fixture is their game in hand over the Scots and they will be looking to close the gap and ultimately overtake Solway for – in theory – a slightly easier playoff grouping. Billingham are well aware where the Barons offensive threat will come from, the challenge comes in stopping them in their tracks and exploiting their two perceived weaknesses – defensively they are not as strong as they are going forward, and they are by far the League’s biggest ‘bad boys’ with over 500 minutes in penalties incurred so far this season.
Tomorrow will see the Sharks visit the Forum as they continue to try and keep their noses in front of Solihull. The season thus far has been a disappointing one for the Dumfries-based outfit – although they wrapped up the Scottish National League title last weekend, they crashed out of the North Cup at the semi-final stage and will almost certainly lose out on the main prize of the Moralee Conference trophy this weekend as Whitley Warriors require just a single point to confirm what has been inevitable for some weeks now. Solway have had to cope with the loss of a good deal of their squad however, so as ‘disappointing’ as their season may seem, they have had many obstacles to overcome and still have the playoffs as a chance to secure one of the three NIHL North pots on offer. Jaakko Heiskanen’s replacement Viktor Nestrasil will take to the ice tomorrow as the Sharks look to continue their 100% record against the Stars this season.
Billingham are in a dogfight with Blackburn Hawks to avoid the dreaded sixth playoff berth and a perceived tougher group, but to do so they will need to cause an upset in one of their four remaining regular season games. The positive is that they are all home games, with Coach Stephen Foster looking to make the Forum a difficult place to play in advance of the end-of-season showpiece. The Stars have failed to register a point against either of this weekend’s opponents but will take heart from improved performances of late. The Teessiders will be without Ben Davison and Jack Emerson this evening, whilst unavailability may also keep out Andy Finn from one or both games.
General Manager Allen Flavell is in an upbeat mood as the playoffs get closer:
“It’s going to be a tough weekend for us as both these teams need the points just as much as we do. The dressing room is in a positive frame of mind however – we know we have the tools and the talent, if we can put it all together on the ice then we can give anyone a game. It’s also good for us to be finishing the regular season with this long home stand, travelling can take its toll so we have the opportunity to put on a late show for our fans and build ourselves up nicely ahead of the playoffs. Once those come around the League is done and anything can happen!”
There are two National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 games at the Forum this weekend. Tonight the visitors are Solihull Barons (doors 5pm, face off 6pm) whilst tomorrow it’s the turn of Solway Sharks (doors 5.30pm, face off 6.30pm). Tickets are priced at £12 adults, £7.50 concessions, £35 family [2+2].
Sutton Sting v Nottingham Lions, Saturday 4.30pm
Billingham Stars v Solihull Barons, Saturday 6pm
Solway Sharks v Blackburn Hawks, Saturday 7pm
Solihull Barons v Whitley Warriors, Sunday 5.30pm
Blackburn Hawks v Nottingham Lions, Sunday 5.30pm
Billingham Stars v Solway Sharks, Sunday 6.30pm