Match Report: Stars v Sharks 12/09/21
BILLINGHAM STARS pushed old rivals Solway Sharks all the way in the NIHL North Cup as their young side went down 3-5 in their first competitive game for 18 months.
Solway arrived on Teesside with just 13 skaters but off the back of an opening night 2-0 victory over Sheffield Scimitars in the League. By contrast the Stars were able to ice almost a full bench, handing senior debuts to under-18s Tommy Spraggon, Ben Greenhalgh and Lennon Thomas. The Sharks started on the front foot and put their hosts under immediate pressure, netminder Thomas Brown making a first minute save to keep the visitors at bay. Billingham responded positively and were rewarded for some good early forechecking when Jack Emerson won a battle in the corner and centred for Chris Sykes to roof the rebound in the fourth minute. Perhaps shocked to find themselves behind, Solway were almost back on level terms less than a minute later when Kieran Hair broke down the left wing and forced the pad save from Brown. The Sharks were handed a glit-edged opportunity to even things up in the seventh minute when Sykes was sent to the box for slashing and they took full advantage, Struan Tonnar squeezing the puck past Brown with only seven seconds gone on the penalty. The visitors moved ahead in similar circumstances three minutes later when Scott Henderson rifled home straight from the face off after Emerson was despatched for tripping. Despite late chances for the home side, Solway kept their noses in front going into the break.
Billingham struck first once again early in the second period, captain Michael Elder threading a pass in the 23rd minute to set Alex Preston on his way and he made no mistake. A cagey second session ensued, Sharks’ Calum Hepburn the slightly busier of the two goaltenders, especially when his side found themselves killing a 5-on-3 penalty situation towards the halfway mark. The Stars failed to capitalise however, and it was Tonnar on the mark in the 31st minute to edge the visitors back in front.
A long weekend could have told on a short Solway bench but they applied themselves to the task, pouncing on an error in the defensive zone in the 48th minute and setting up Tonnar for his hat trick marker. Billingham did not give it up easily and pulled one back in the 53rd minute, Callum Wilkinson taking his time before firing low past Hepburn to set off alarm bells on the Scots bench. The Sharks caught a break when Emerson was called for tripping a minute later, and once again the Solway special play unit delivered as Gordon Horne found the top corner to make the game safe. A late decision to pull Brown in favour of the extra skater came to nothing and the match closed out 3-5.
Man-of-the-Match for Billingham was Tommy Spraggon.
Chris Sykes 1+0; Callum Wilkinson 1+0; Alex Preston 1+0; Joe Walls 0+1; Jack Emerson 0+1; Michael Elder 0+1; Joe Dowdle 0+1
SOG: Thomas Brown 44 (19 / 9 / 16)
Struan Tonnar 3+0; Scott Henderson 1+1; Gordon Horne 1+0; Iain Bowie 0+3; Ben Walker 0+1; Kell Beattie 0+1; Richard Bentham 0+1
SOG: Calum Hepburn 37 (10 / 14 / 13)
Coach Stephen Foster was delighted with the effort put in by his fledgling Stars:
“It would have been nice to come out on the right side of the result, the effort that the boys put in certainly deserved something out of the game. We have one of the youngest rosters in the League and the experience will come with more games, they will learn with every minute played. The junior system here has provided us with players with great chemistry and now is their chance to shine. They are the future of the Stars, we don’t want to just bring in players at the expense of developing our kids. We are investing in our juniors here and there are exciting times to come.”
Billingham travel to Whitley Warriors for a North Cup clash on Tyneside on Sunday 19th September, face off 5pm.
Solway Sharks 2 Sheffield Scimitars 0
Solihull Barons 6 Nottingham Lions 4
Widnes Wild 4 Whitley Warriors 7
Billingham Stars 3 Solway Sharks 5
Blackburn Hawks 5 Widnes Wild 4
Sheffield Scimitars 9 Blackburn Hawks 1
Photos courtesy of Linda Crabtree and Colin Edwards (CJE Photos) as credited.