Ultimate Windows sponsored Billingham Stars

BILLINGHAM STARS were on the road for the third time on the spin on Sunday evening as they tried to take home the points from National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 third-placed side Widnes Wild.

A late change to the first line was required when Callum Wilkinson - along with Ben Davison - had to miss the trip after testing positive for COVID-19. Alex Preston made the step up to replace Wilkinson as the Stars picked up where they left off last week, harrying the home side and pressing for an opener. Joe Walls and Tommy Spraggon both went close as Billingham edged the opening exchanges, but Wild grew into the game and were soon creating good opportunities of their own, Thomas Brown in the Stars net tipping a Richard Haggar effort over the bar in the seventh minute. The end-to-end nature of the period saw chances come and go for both sides, Vlads Vulkanovs with perhaps the best opportunity but his laser hit the post and Brown came up big to stop the rebound. Late chances fell to Finn Bradon and Preston but with both netminders in good form, the session closed out scoreless.

A scrappy opening to the second stanza saw both sides struggle to get control of the puck and limited quality chances. Finally the deadlock was broken in the 26th minute, stand-in Alternate Captain Chris Sykes winning a battle on the boards and squaring the puck to Michael Elder who’s wrist shot was too deadly for Widnes netminder Harrison Walker. Stung into action, the home side tried to force an immediate equaliser but Brown was equal to efforts from both Tom Stubley and Vulkanovs. Billingham really should have extended their lead when first Bradon with a one-on-one opportunity and then Preston off the base of the post both failed to find the back of the net. It looked like they would rue those missed opportunities when Mikey Gilbert took advantage of a lucky bounce in front of Brown to make it a tie game in the 34th minute, but three minutes later the Stars one-goal advantage was restored when Sykes, alone behind the net with no available support, took a punt himself and deflected the puck off Walker for an unlikely second.

A lively start to the final period saw the pendulum swing back towards the hosts, their relentless hunt for another equaliser realised in the 44th minute when Billingham lost the puck in their defensive zone and it fell to Stubley in the sweet spot who finished under the bar. Tired legs and minds creeping into the Stars play, Widnes got the go-ahead goal four minutes later through the incoming Nathan Britton at the near post who slotted home the pass from behind the net. At first Billingham seemed to find the energy to respond but with their shooting sticks seemingly still in the locker room they could not find the finish. That lack of quality in front of the net would cost the visitors dear as Wild secured the points and guaranteed themselves a third-place League finish late in the game, goals from Joe Greaves and the ever-dangerous Vulkanovs in the final four minutes giving the scoreline a somewhat flattering look but nevertheless condemning the Stars to their first defeat in five games.

Man-of-the-Match for Billingham was Patriks Grigors.

 

Wild Stats:

Vlads Vulkanovs 1+1; Michael Gilbert 1+1; Joe Greaves 1+1; Nathan Britton 1+0; Tom Stubley 1+0; Liam Charnock 0+2; Tom Brierley 0+1; Richard Haggar 0+1; Chris Wilcox 0+1; Daniel Haid 0+1

SOG: Harrison Walker 45 (11 / 16 / 18)

Stars Stats:

Chris Sykes 1+1; Michael Elder 1+1; Alex Preston 0+1

SOG: Thomas Brown 60 (13 / 24 / 23)

 

Stars Head Coach Stephen Foster was disappointed to see his side’s recent good run come to an end:

“When we came out 0-0 at the end of the first I thought we were in a good position, then 2-1 up at the end of the second we’re thinking we’ve got a great chance and the boys were really positive, but it just didn’t quite happen for us in the third. Perhaps there were some tired legs out there, the younger guys who play for our Under-18s have had a very busy weekend starting on Friday and a lot of travel. Collectively though we just didn’t get it done, we gave them far too many good chances and they punished us. We’ve been building towards the playoffs for the last five-six games now and on a really good run so obviously the third period tonight was disappointing for us, but hopefully we can learn from that and move on.”

Billingham have a home and away double header weekend next up in National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 with a trip to Solway Sharks on Saturday 2nd April (face off 7pm) followed by their final home League game of the season against Widnes Wild on Sunday 3rd April (face off 5.30pm).

 

Weekend Results:

NIHL(N)1:

Widnes Wild 5 Blackburn Hawks 2

Solway Sharks 9 Sheffield Scimitars 1

Solihull Barons 2 Whitley Warriors 4

Widnes Wild 5 Billingham Stars 2

Sheffield Scimitars 12 Blackburn Hawks 3