Ultimate Windows sponsored Billingham Stars

BILLINGHAM STARS and their fans will make a long-awaited short trip up the A19 on Sunday afternoon for the first Tyne-Tees derby since February last year to take on preseason favourites Whitley Warriors in the National Ice Hockey League Moralee Cup (North).

Sunday's game will be Whitley’s home opener after a 4-7 victory on the road at Widnes Wild in a League fixture last weekend. What better way to start at Hillheads for the team widely predicted to take all the honours this season than with a derby battle against your nearest neighbours, and Warriors will be hoping to make it a happy homecoming by taking all the points as they start their campaign for a trophy they narrowly missed out on in season 2019-2020. On paper Whitley look untouchable – they have quality throughout the squad and have made standout signings in Steven Chalmers (from Hull Pirates), Adam Wood (from Streatham) and Dean Bowater (from Nottingham Lions). Their major coup however was in the signing of Great Britain forward Robert Farmer, an outstanding talent with experience of playing at the very highest level of international hockey. Last icing for Lausitzer Füchse in the second tier of German hockey, Farmer is responsible for scoring two of the most important goals in Great Britain’s history with the game-tying goal against Hungary that saw GB promoted to the elite league of the sport, then another tying goal against France the following season that forced the game into overtime and ultimately led to GB avoiding relegation back to Division 1A. With a team that could easily challenge in the National League, it will be a huge shock if Whitley do not take home all the silverware on offer this year.

Billingham will face no tougher test this season – with a young side still learning their trade and no ‘super star’ signings to boast, the challenge will not come any harder than a visit to a packed Hillheads with the home crowd expecting goals and glory. The Stars showed last weekend that they will be no pushovers however, the youngsters showing resilience and maturity to trouble perennial challengers Solway Sharks on the way to a narrow opening day defeat last Sunday. Coach Stephen Foster will look to ice a similar bench to last Sunday, barring any injuries to any of the junior Stars who open their own Under-18s campaign tomorrow with a home game against Manchester Storm.

General Manager Allen Flavell is relishing a derby game so early in the new season:

“We were really pleased with how the boys approached last Sunday’s game, and the effort was there for all to see. Solway are one of the best-drilled sides we will face this season and to keep pace with them was really encouraging for the coaching staff. Yes we made one or two mistakes, but that’s to be expected with such a new side. We are already seeing signs of improvement and the team will only get better with time and games. This weekend is going to be very tough, but we always look forward to a derby game and getting one under the belt this early will help our lads develop and give the fans plenty to talk about! We must maintain our discipline in what is always a hostile atmosphere, stay out of the box and hope to capitalise on any errors the Warriors make. In many ways we have nothing to lose, our lads are playing without fear and as long as we keep our heads who knows what might happen?”

Billingham travel to Tyneside to face local rivals Whitley Warriors in the North Cup on Sunday afternoon, face off at Hillheads is 5pm.

 

Weekend Fixtures:

NIHL(N)1:

Nottingham Lions v Widnes Wild, Sunday 5pm

Blackburn Hawks v Solway Sharks, Sunday 6pm

North Cup:

Solway Sharks v Whitley Warriors, Saturday 7pm

Whitley Warriors v Billingham Stars, Sunday 5pm

Midlands Cup:

Solihull Barons v Sheffield Scimitars, Sunday 5.30pm