Ultimate Windows sponsored Billingham Stars

BILLINGHAM STARS caused the upset of the National Ice Hockey League (N) Moralee playoffs first round when they comprehensively defeated third seeds Widnes Wild over two legs to book their place at the Final Four showdown in Leeds next weekend.

Widnes looked to be living up to their ‘favourites’ tag in the opening exchanges of the first leg at the Forum on Saturday but their early pressure came to nothing and from the moment Finn Bradon poached the Stars opening goal from close range in the fifth minute Billingham seized the initiative and took the game to their guests. Getting traffic onto Harrison Walker’s net was always the gameplan and it paid off in the 14th minute when Chris Sykes’ drop pass found Michael Elder whose laser shot somehow found it’s way through Walker’s glove for the second.

The Stars piled the pressure on at the start of the second session and moved further ahead in the 22nd minute with two quickfire goals. First James Moss gathered the puck just inside the blue line and fired past Walker’s glove, then eight seconds later Bradon skipped round his man and fed Shaun Galloway for a simple tap-in. Widnes looked out-of-sorts and Billingham had the nous to capitalise, Elder bagging his second just before the halfway mark.

Five down after 40 minutes, Wild had it all to do but could not get a foothold in the game. Moss poked the sixth under Walker at the second attempt in the 44th minute before Widnes finally got themselves off the mark on the powerplay in the 46th minute through a blue line effort from Richard Haggar. The Stars were keen to put the tie to bed however, Alex Preston out front for the seventh in the 57th minute and then Galloway finished a complete performance 14 seconds from time for an almost unbelievable 8-1 final score and a healthy lead to take into the second leg.

Man-of-the-Match for the Stars was Thomas Brown.

 

Stars Stats:

James Moss 2+1; Michael Elder 2+1; Shaun Galloway 2+0; Finn Bradon 1+1; Alex Preston 1+0; Chris Sykes 0+4; Lewis Hall 0+1; Joe Dowdle 0+1

SOG: Thomas Brown 50 (17 / 12 / 21)

Wild Stats:

Richard Haggar 1+0; Liam Charnock 0+1

SOG: Harrison Walker 48 (15 / 25 / 8)

 

With the proverbial mountain to climb on Sunday in Widnes, the home side were expected to throw the kitchen sink at Billingham but the anticipated onslaught never materialised as the Stars shut down their hosts and played out a scoreless first twenty on Merseyside.

The pace picked up in the second session, both sides opening up and creating chances. Thomas Brown was predictably the busier of the two netminders, but it was Walker who was the first to have to pick the puck out of the back of his net when Bradon again got the opener when he knocked in at the near post in the 27th minute. An already improbable task now looking impossible, Wild had to respond quickly and Bez Hughes scrambled the puck home in the 30th minute to give a glimmer of hope. The Stars gave danger man Vlads Vulkanovs too much space to pick his spot in the 33rd minute, but the fight was knocked back out of the home side when Elder broke clear on the penalty kill in the 36th minute and squared to Callum Wilkinson for the tap into the empty net.

A miracle was needed for the hosts in the final session. With the deficit still seven goals they managed just one when Liam Charnock forced his second attempt under Brown in the 53rd minute. Billingham were happy to play out the remaining minutes by keeping their opponents out wide and restricting their opportunities. The buzzer eventually sounded on a 3-2 win for Widnes on the night but nowhere near what they needed, the Stars progressing to the finals next weekend comfortably by an aggregate score of 10-4.

Man of the Match for Billingham was James Moss.

 

Wild Stats:

Liam Charnock 1+2; Vlads Vulkanovs 1+1; Bez Hughes 1+0; Michael Gilbert 0+1; Thomas Stubley 0+1

SOG: Harrison Walker 32 (12 / 11 / 9)

Stars Stats:

Finn Bradon 1+0; Callum Wilkinson 1+0; Patriks Grigors 0+1; Shaun Galloway 0+1; Michael Elder 0+1

SOG: Thomas Brown 51 (19 / 16 / 16)

 

A special BigRedMachine Radio audio package will be available later in the week with post-match reactions from both Saturday's and Sunday's games.

 

Billingham will take part in the Final Four event in Leeds at the weekend where they will contest the first semi-final against Solway Sharks on Saturday 23rd April, face off 4.30pm. Whitley Warriors will face Solihull Barons in the second semi-final with the final taking place on Sunday 24th April.

 

Weekend Results:

NIHL(N)1 Playoffs First Round Aggregate Scores:

Billingham Stars 10 Widnes Wild 4

Solway Sharks 14 Nottingham Lions 2

Whitley Warriors 21 Blackburn Hawks 2

Solihull Barons 11 Sheffield Scimitars 5

 

Images courtesy of Linda Crabtree and Colin Edwards, CJE Photos. Access the image gallery on the Stars Facebook page by clicking here. The CJE Photos gallery is available here.