Match Preview: Stars v Warriors 051221
BILLINGHAM STARS welcome local rivals Whitley Warriors to the Forum for the first time this year on Sunday evening for the final North Cup group stage fixture and what will be the first of three meetings between the two sides this month.
The favourites for silverware in all competitions at the beginning of the season, Whitley’s campaign is perhaps not panning out quite as planned. Although they sit comfortably in second place in the League behind Solway Sharks, Sunday's game is effectively a dead rubber as the Warriors were squeezed out of Cup contention when Dundee Comets unexpectedly pipped them to the second semi-final slot. The fact that the Tynesiders sole success in the Cup competition was the home game against the Stars back in September is a huge surprise, back-to-back defeats against the Comets sealing their fate and meaning the Warriors will miss out on at least one of the three trophies on the table. On paper Whitley have one of the strongest squads in the division and have the luxury of being able to call on any two from three ‘imports’ as well as having an embarrassment of riches between the pipes with four netminders on the roster. If selected, Billingham defenceman Patriks Grigors could line up against his older brother Rihards on Sunday, the former Fife Flyer and Murrayfield Racer having signed for the Warriors last month.
Two defeats on the road last weekend have not dampened the Stars spirits, with plenty of positives to take for Billingham’s young side. When five-on-five Billingham have shown that they can compete with any team in the League, however in recent weeks their special play units – and in particular their power play – have failed to ‘click’ and remain areas for the coaches to work on. The Teessiders continue to bring through players from their junior ranks, 16-year-old Finn Bradon making his bow in last Saturday’s game and making an immediate impression by registering his first point with a laser pass to set up Jack Emerson for the Stars second goal against Solway. Unfortunately that would be the last full game for Emerson as he suffered a lower body injury the following night against Dundee and faces a lengthy spell on the sidelines. Emerson’s absence will mean further changes to Billingham’s forward lines after last weekend’s tinkering, with Lewis Crisp also unavailable for Sunday's derby clash.
General Manager Allen Flavell cannot wait for the first derby game on Teesside:
“It doesn’t matter whether there’s nothing or everything at stake, the derby is what the fans and the players look for on the fixture list and it’s been a very long time since we hosted the Warriors at the Forum. Even though it’s only been a few months, our younger guys have already improved so much since we played Whitley at Hillheads in September and we are looking forward to giving them a better game this time. Obviously they are stacked with talent but it’s a derby game and with a bit of puck luck we will always have a chance of causing an upset. This is also our annual ‘Teddy Toss’ game collecting toys and gifts for children in hospital over Christmas, so whatever the result it’s bound to be a great game!”
Billingham welcome Whitley Warriors to the Forum for their final North Cup fixture on Sunday evening, face off 5.30pm (doors 4.30pm). Tickets are priced at £12 adults, £7.50 concessions, £35 family [2+2].
Solway Sharks v Blackburn Hawks, Saturday 7pm
Widnes Wild v Nottingham Lions, Sunday 5.30pm
Blackburn Hawks v Solihull Barons, Sunday 6pm
Billingham Stars v Whitley Warriors, Sunday 5.30pm