Weekend Preview: Stars v Comets 061121 / Stars v Sharks 071121
BILLINGHAM STARS hope to enjoy a little home comfort this weekend with two games at the Forum, Dundee Comets the visitors tomorrow evening in a rearranged North Cup encounter before Solway Sharks return to Teesside for the first of their National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 fixtures on Sunday evening.
Dundee make the long trip South this afternoon as a somewhat unknown quantity, with the Scottish National League yet to get underway, the Comets have been restricted to Cup and challenge games thus far this season. In the Cup they have played just one game, a 5-3 road loss in Dumfries a creditable result against Solway Sharks back in September, so tomorrow's game marks a return to competitive action for the Scots after a series of challenge games to keep the squad in the right frame of mind ahead of their SNL start. They enjoyed a happy homecoming a fortnight ago when they played Kirkcaldy Kestrels in their first home game since the start of the pandemic, an 8-2 win the perfect preparation for coach Richard Hartmann ahead of tomorrow's clash.
Solway will make their second appearance in front of the Forum faithful this season when they skate out for Sunday's League encounter. The Sharks have made a statement in the first few months that they are going to be the team to beat, upsetting preseason favourites Whitley Warriors on three occasions and all with a shorter bench than they would have liked. Unfortunately for the rest of the League, Solway have gone part-way to addressing their lack of bodies with key signings in Slovakian forward Peter Gápa and Ayrshire-born Steven Moore, Gápa returning to the club last week just in time to help them secure a 4-3 win over Solihull Barons. Moore has yet to ice as work commitments have kept him away, but both give the Stars something else to think about as they figure out how to overcome a Sharks outfit that have beaten them twice already in the Cup this season.
A couple of victories over basement side Nottingham Lions has seen Billingham leapfrog into third place in the League standings, a position not many would have thought possible before the season got underway. Staying there will be a challenge this weekend with Solway emerging as the early season frontrunners, but momentum is with the Stars and upsets are clearly not beyond them this year. Getting the second of the top two places in the Cup round robin required to progress is not out of reach yet either, but a win over the Comets tomorrow is essential to keep the pressure on Whitley who currently occupy that spot. A full bench should be available to coach Stephen Foster for both games, who will be hoping to take full advantage of home ice this weekend.
General Manager Allen Flavell is intrigued by how the season is shaping up:
“It’s going to be an interesting weekend. We don’t know much about Dundee, but if our experience of them from a few years ago is any kind of marker, we know they’re going to play very hard and we have to be prepared for that. Solway obviously we know much more about and they certainly look like being real contenders this campaign, but we’ve already seen some very close and very odd results across the board so far, the League is not quite the foregone conclusion that everyone seemed to think it would be back in August. Literally every team is capable of turning in a good result on any given night, it just depends who wants it more – from a Stars point of view we have to make sure we battle for the whole 60 minutes.”
Billingham host Dundee Comets in the North Cup tomorrow evening before welcoming Solway Sharks to the Forum in a National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 fixture on Sunday. Both games face off at 5.30pm, tickets are priced at £12 adults, £7.50 concessions, £35 family [2+2].
Solway Sharks v Nottingham Lions, Saturday 7pm
Sheffield Scimitars v Solihull Barons, Saturday 7.30pm
Whitley Warriors v Widnes Wild, Sunday 5pm
Billingham Stars v Solway Sharks, Sunday 5.30pm
Billingham Stars v Dundee Comets, Saturday 5.30pm
Solihull Barons v Blackburn Hawks, Sunday 5.30pm