Match Preview: Stars v Warriors 121221
BILLINGHAM STARS return to National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 action on Sunday evening for the second of their three December meetings with local rivals Whitley Warriors in a rearranged fixture at the Forum.
Last Sunday’s dead rubber in the North Cup gave little insight into the relative progress of either team as both sides played out a relatively tame 60 minutes, certainly by the standards of a more typical derby fixture. Whitley travelled missing a few key players, notably Dean Holland, Callum Watson and Richie Lawson, and the fans were deprived of a Grigors family reunion as older brother Rihards was not selected to line up against Stars defenceman Patriks. Should the Warriors travel at full strength on Sunday, they will pose an additional threat and have the fillip of last Sunday’s 1-4 win to take into the game. The Tynesiders need both points if they are to keep up the pressure on leaders Solway Sharks, the Dumfries outfit currently in control at the top of the table having opened up a six-point gap on the Warriors with an 8-2 victory over Blackburn Hawks last Saturday. The Warriors do have two games in hand over their Scottish rivals, but cannot afford to let the Sharks disappear out of sight and could take advantage of Solway’s involvement in the Cup semi-finals to make a dent in their advantage with a win on Sunday.
For Billingham the challenge is to keep their neighbours under more sustained pressure on Sunday evening, and to take their chances when they come along. Small defensive lapses cost the Stars last weekend, and proved once again that they cannot afford to gift teams with the talent of Whitley any opportunities. A 1-1 game through 40 minutes last Sunday will give Billingham the belief that they can live with the top teams, however they will need to up the intensity and keep a closer eye on playmaker Rolands Gritans if they are to get the result that would move them up to joint third place in the table. Their rejigged lines have had an additional week to gel and some of the bodies missing from last week’s squad will return, although Jack Emerson will remain on the sidelines for some months to come.
General Manager Allen Flavell does not believe that his Stars will allow last Sunday’s result to affect their performance this week:
“Last Sunday felt a little flat in places and perhaps not quite the derby atmosphere we are used to. We felt a little hard done by in the first period as 0-3 wasn’t really a true reflection of the balance of the game, but it is up to us to learn from those little mistakes and take this game as a chance to put things right. The mood in camp is good, nobody is going to let the Cup result weigh them down as we know we’ve got this immediate opportunity to get ourselves back on track. Whitley have an excellent squad and are battling it out at the top of the table but we have every confidence in ourselves… it’s our barn, no one will be coming to the Forum this season and taking points easily. The coaches want 60 minutes from the guys and if we get that, then with a noisy crowd behind us we know we can push these guys all the way.”
Whitley Warriors are the visitors to the Forum on Sunday evening for a National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 fixture at the rearranged face off time of 7pm. Tickets are priced at £12 adults, £7.50 concessions, £35 family [2+2].
Billingham Stars v Whitley Warriors, Sunday 7pm
Moralee Cup Semi-Finals:
Solway Sharks v Widnes Wild, Saturday 7pm
Widnes Wild v Solway Sharks, Sunday 5.30pm