Match Preview: Warriors v Stars 100422
BILLINGHAM STARS face their final regular National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 fixture this evening with the playoff picture all but complete and nothing but momentum to be gained from a local derby at Whitley Warriors.
An ultimately disappointing League campaign comes to an end for the Warriors this evening as their expected charge to a second successive title never really materialised and they will end up finishing a distance behind champions Solway Sharks regardless of the results in their final two games, the penultimate a loss at Solway last night. The promise of preseason, when Whitley signed the likes of GB international Robert Farmer, seems like a long time ago and the Tynesiders must now look to the playoffs as their last remaining chance to salvage some silverware. Personnel has been an issue for much of the season however, and these remaining weeks will be no different as the Warriors announced the release this week of arguably their best player this year, Rolands Gritans. Gritans – who can operate at either end of the ice as a defenceman or as a consistent goalscoring forward as needed – will be a massive miss with the playoff first round just a week away and likely opponents Blackburn Hawks one of only three teams to notch at least two victories over Whitley this season. The bottom two teams are not quite decided yet however, and the Warriors may yet face Nottingham Lions, a side they put to the sword just last Sunday: their 9-0 victory ample revenge for the surprise 3-2 defeat that the Lions inflicted on them last month.
For the Stars this evening is all about getting some momentum going after three defeats on the bounce, with next weekend’s playoff match-up against Widnes Wild just around the corner. Billingham seem to have lost their shooting sticks in recent games, a little more ‘puck luck’ in front of the net and any three of those losses may have been a different result. The coaches have been keen to see more traffic in front of opposition goaltenders, tomorrow evening presents their last opportunity to hone their shooting skills and turn chances into goals. This will be especially important as their playoff opponent Widnes boasts one of the League’s best netminders in Harrison Walker, who last Sunday turned in a Man-of-the-Match performance to ensure Wild made it four wins out of four over the Teessiders this campaign. Billingham have not had any change out of the Warriors either so far this season, and with Hillheads proving to be a particularly unhappy hunting ground, this will be the Stars last opportunity to prove a point to their often scornful near neighbours. Billingham will be missing several players this evening for various reasons, decisions will be taken close to face off regarding the squad that ices.
General Manager Allen Flavell thinks a long-awaited win over their local rivals would be the perfect springboard going into the first round of the playoffs:
“On paper this game means very little, but a local derby will never mean very little to the fans and we owe the Warriors a bloody nose. We really should have got something out of the game the last time we played them but – as has been the story lately – we just couldn’t find that finishing touch. There is no love lost between us and the lads would love to send our fans away from what is usually a hostile rink to visit with a smile on their faces. If we could get a win it would give us a massive boost with the games against Widnes coming up – we are not the favourites to progress given our record against the Wild but we have proved many wrong so far and I wouldn’t be writing us off just yet.”
Billingham travel to Whitley Warriors for their final National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee Division 1 game of the regular season this evening, face off at Hillheads is 5pm.
Solway Sharks 4 Whitley Warriors 2
Whitley Warriors v Billingham Stars, Sunday 5pm
Solihull Barons v Nottingham Lions, Sunday 5.30pm
Widnes Wild v Sheffield Scimitars, Sunday 5.30pm
Blackburn Hawks v Solway Sharks, Sunday 6pm