Match Preview: Warriors v Stars 191221
BILLINGHAM STARS play the last – and arguably the toughest – of their three-game mini-series against local rivals Whitley Warriors on Tyneside tomorrow evening in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1.
Already two up in this pre-Christmas derby bonanza, Whitley will welcome the large home gate that always comes with a Tyne-Tees game and the opportunity to put up a good show for their own fans after a few weeks on the road at the Forum. Last Sunday’s victory gave the Warriors the points they needed to narrow the gap on League leaders Solway Sharks, and they will be looking to another win tomorrow to exert real pressure on a Solway team that have wobbled in recent weeks by their own high standards. Whitley welcomed back key players in Dean Holland and Adam Wood last Sunday, and although still without marquee signing Rob Farmer they still possess plenty of offensive threat, especially from defenceman-turned-forward Rolands Gritans.
Before the season started, the general consensus was that Billingham would struggle massively this season and that the Teessiders could expect to be on the wrong end of some one-sided scorelines. It is testament to the way the Stars youngsters have risen to the challenge and the systems deployed by the coaches that three-goal defeats to the preseason favourites are seen as disappointing. Such has been the progress made however that the mood is just that – one of wanting to put the last two results ‘right’. Billingham’s coaches feel that their young charges are more than capable of living with the best the League has to offer, and far from aiming to just survive, the ambition has grown now to getting points where they seemed unlikely just a few short months ago. Tomorrow is just such a game, a hostile atmosphere awaits the Stars, but mentally they are stronger than their last visit to Hillheads and should be boosted by the return of prospect Finn Bradon to the squad.
General Manager Allen Flavell knows that his Stars can’t expect a warm welcome at Hillheads tomorrow:
“It’s a derby game and it’s at Whitley Bay which can be an intimidating place for anyone but when it’s the two remaining North East sides going head-to-head it can get even meaner. We didn’t deal with the atmosphere particularly well last time we travelled up the A19, it was the first road game and more importantly the first senior derby game for a lot of our lads and that really showed in the first period when we got caught in the headlights somewhat. We are far better prepared this time, and even though we’ve lost these last two games at home we feel we’ve learned a lot about both ourselves and the Warriors, hopefully we can use that knowledge to spring a surprise or two. We can leave it all on the ice as we have a festive break coming up, we just need to believe in ourselves.”
Billingham make the short journey up to Whitley Bay tomorrow evening for the last in their December mini-series for a National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 fixture, face off 5pm. Travelling fans are reminded that COVID protocols are in operation at Hillheads.
Solihull Barons v Widnes Wild, Saturday 5.30pm
Whitley Warriors v Billingham Stars, Sunday 5pm
Widnes Wild v Sheffield Scimitars, Sunday 5.30pm
Nottingham Lions v Solihull Barons, Sunday 7pm