Weekend Report: Sharks v Stars 271121 / Comets v Stars 281121
Billingham Stars came away from a long weekend on the road empty-handed as National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 and North Cup points went begging.
A trip to League leaders Solway Sharks on Saturday was always going to be a tough matchup, but Billingham went into the game buoyed by the debut of 16-year-old Finn Bradon. Some unfamiliar lines took to the ice as the Stars shook things up, Bradon taking the right-wing slot on the second line. An end-to-end first period finally sparked to life on 12 minutes when Richard Bentham found the top corner from the blue line, Patriks Grigors sitting out a slashing call to give the home side the extra man and they capitalised in fine style. Their tails up, Solway began to apply some pressure and nosed further ahead in the 15th minute when Peter Gápa fired over a prone Thomas Brown in the Stars net. Roused, Billingham got back on the front foot and narrowed the gap just 28 seconds later when Michael Elder found Chris Sykes perfectly placed in front of the net to finish through Calum Hepburn’s pads.
The Stars were their own worst enemy when Sharks Ross Murray was penalised for tripping in the 25th minute, lazy play in their own zone leading to the home side stealing possession and Steven Moore slotting home the shorthanded effort. A response needed, Billingham fought hard to get themselves back into the game and it was debutant Bradon who found Jack Emerson out front for the one-timer in the 33rd minute to bring the visitors back within one. It would be all square going into the final stanza as Sykes returned the earlier favour for Elder to level the game in the 37th minute.
For all their hard work to that point the Stars unravelled in the third period, Solway getting on the board on 42 minutes with an easy tap-in at the back stick for Gápa (goal awarded in error to Scott Henderson). Billingham had the perfect opportunity to take back control of the game when Kell Beattie was handed a five-minute major for boarding, but it was the hosts who bagged their second shorthanded effort in the 49th minute through Liam Stenton. The Sharks had just returned to full strength when Gápa made it six in the 52nd minute, then Henderson fired straight through Brown for the hosts’ fourth unanswered goal on 53 minutes. Sykes backhanded a rebound past Hepburn in the 56th minute but Solway had the final say, a Moore deflected effort making the final score 8-4.
Man-of-the-Match for the Stars was Tommy Spraggon.
Scott Henderson 2+3; Peter Gápa 2+0; Steven Moore 2+0; Liam Stenton 1+2; Richard Bentham 1+0; Stuart Kerr 0+2; Iain Bowie 0+1; Christian Johnson 0+1; Kieran Hair 0+1; Ross Murray 0+1
SOG: Calum Hepburn 24 (9 / 7 / 8)
Chris Sykes 2+1; Michael Elder 1+2; Jack Emerson 1+0; James Moss 0+1; James Hellens 0+1; Patriks Grigors 0+1; Finn Bradon 0+1 Callum Wilkinson 0+1
SOG: Thomas Brown 33 (10 / 14 / 9)
Billingham headed north for their penultimate North Cup game on Sunday, electing to give Jacob Hammond the start between the pipes. Looking to avenge a 1-6 reverse at the Forum earlier this month the Stars got on the offensive early in the game, eventually rewarded when Joe Walls opened the scoring in the 12th minute. Within two minutes the visitors had doubled their lead, Lewis Crisp feeding Lewis Hall to give Billingham some breathing space at the break. Just before the buzzer, Cameron McGiffin landed blows on an unwilling Sykes and got an early shower for his troubles.
On a five-minute penalty kill at the start of the second, the home side took advantage of their guests’ continuing power play woes and got themselves on the board shorthanded through Joel Gautschi. Crisp gave the special play unit a boost when he restored the two-goal advantage in the 25th minute, but the Comets scored two quick goals in the 34th minute through John Dolan and Lewis McIntosh to once again make it a tie game heading into the final twenty.
Perhaps a weekend of travel was starting to tell but Billingham had no answer when Dundee pulled out a two-goal lead with two more very quick goals in the 52nd minute, nine seconds separating goals from Archie Holmes and a second from McIntosh. Despite outshooting their opponents, the Stars were thwarted by Comets netminder Liam Griffin and had to suffer their second road loss of the weekend.
Man-of-the-Match for Billingham was James Moss.
Lewis McIntosh 2+0; John Dolan 1+0; Archie Holmes 1+0; Joel Gautschi 1+0; Scott Geddes 0+1; Bernard Brown 0+1
SOG: Liam Griffin 30 (9 / 9 / 12)
Lewis Crisp 1+1; Joe Walls 1+0; Lewis Hall 1+0; Callum Wilkinson 0+1
SOG: Jacob Hammond 23 (9 / 9 / 5)
New assistant coach Rob Wilkinson took some positives, but homed in on special play as the area of greatest development need:
“In both games we were geared up to do really well in the final period but it’s got away from us. We seem to be overthinking our power play and spending too much time talking about it, and against Solway in particular it destroyed our game. It killed our momentum and we couldn’t recover. Hockey is a game of momentum and we have to be able to concentrate for 60 minutes, you can’t turn it on and off. Positively I think five-on-five we were fine and we more than held our own, we have to build on that going forward.”
The Stars return to the Forum for the first derby of the season on Teesside when they take on Whitley Warriors in the North Cup next Sunday 5th December, face off 5.30pm.
Solway Sharks 8 Billingham Stars 4
Sheffield Scimitars 5 Nottingham Lions 1
Whitley Warriors 5 Sheffield Scimitars 3
Solihull Barons 12 Blackburn Hawks 5
Widnes Wild 5 Solway Sharks 6 (after overtime and penalty shots)
Dundee Comets 5 Billingham Stars 3