Tuesday, 17 October 2017

NIHL Weekend Action

Stars shot down by Solway as Sharks sink teeth into cup clash

Solway Sharks      7
Billingham Stars    2

Travelling to Dumfries with an absentee list made up of defencemen Andy Finn, Richie Thornton, Thomas Keeley and Darren Stattersfield, forward James Moss and injured netminder James Flavell, Billingham Stars were hopeful that they could compete with Solway Sharks in their latest cup fixture to build confidence ahead of an important derby game against Whitley Warriors. The Sharks, on the other hand, were looking to recover from their recent cup result against Blackburn Hawks after losing out on the road by four goals to two and, as such, took to the ice with their usual line-up, missing only young Houston brothers Luke and Lewis and blue liner Scott Cooper whilst left winger Adam Robinson made his return to the side after icing with Meaford Knights in the GMHL last season.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Continuing their close rivalry, it was unsurprising that the opening moments of this period saw both sides challenging for the puck to test their respective netminders, though without success as Stars’ starting shot stopper Mark Watson and Shark Calum Hepburn saw off some early attempts to ensure the deadlock remained intact with over half of the stanza played. It was only then that referee Andrew Miller was called into action to dish out the first penalty of the evening as Solway’s captain Struan Tonnar was forced to sit out two minutes for a slashing offence. Whilst unable to execute their chances with the additional man, Billingham did not let up in their quest to open their account, player-coach Michael Bowman finding the target just eight seconds later to fire his team into the lead. Disappointed to have fallen behind, the Sharks sought a goal of their own and, working hard to test Watson, eventually hit home as young blue liner Stuart Kerr played a pass to skilled left winger Steven Moore who worked his magic to draw level on 15:21. Finding the score line even as a result, the Dumfries outfit were eager to apply further pressure to Watson’s net in the hope that they might take the lead prior to the first interval. Though outshooting the Stars by seventeen to nine, Solway found it difficult to accomplish this feat and, as such, were left little choice other than to content themselves with their equaliser as the first period came to a close.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Carrying the spark of their momentum into the middle stanza, the Sharks blazed onto the ice to seize a second goal, this time Czech defenceman Vaclav Kolarik linking up with alternate captain Ross Murray to see forward Iain Bowie print his name on the scoresheet with just over a minute of the period played. Shortly after, Billingham’s enforcer Callum Pattison incurred a two minute penalty for holding to see Solway benefit from their first power play of the game, young forward Daniel Abercrombie achieving his third cup goal of his campaign with support from Moore and Charvat at the exact moment Pattison’s penalty terminated. The Sharks now leading by three goals to one, it was not long after that Pattison once again found himself sinbinned, the Star serving time for roughing on this occasion. Failing to add to their tally as they contended with Billingham on the power play, Solway were then gifted a penalty shot as ‘D’ man Dave Thomas brought down Bowie but the forward was unable to make it count as Watson proved a pair of safe hands in his bid to keep his team in the game. However, dismayed to have missed this chance, Bowie was hungry for his second goal of the evening and hit home less than three minutes later following neat play from Moore and Kerr who also achieved their second assists of the game. As Solway continued to dominate possession, it was not long after that Watson was picking the puck out of his net for a fifth time as Kolarik surpassed Billingham’s blue line over a minute later courtesy of Bowie and Kerr. Realising their need to respond to this goal, Billingham immediately unleashed an effort of their own as Sykes chipped away at his side’s deficit with help from Bowman. Despite this, netminder Hepburn remained largely unchallenged whilst Watson was made to contend with Solway’s offensive play at the other end of the ice but neither team could add to the scoreboard further, allowing the Sharks to head in on the right side of the 5-2 score line.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Heading into the third period, the Stars were aware that they would have to work hard to take points from this game, particularly as Solway showed no signs of relenting. With just over three minutes of the period played, Stars’ blue liner Thomas received another minor for hooking much to the frustration of player-coach Bowman who joined his team mate in the sin bin to serve a ten minute misconduct penalty. Whilst this was not the best start to the final stanza of the period for the Teessiders, Solway were left disappointed when forward Connor Henderson cancelled out this advantage fifty three seconds later to see the Stars return on a short power play. However, unable to make the most of this chance, Billingham were then made to pay for their lack of discipline as Pattison sat out yet again to allow Solway another power play which Bowie happily capitalised on to earn his hat trick forty four seconds into this advantage; Murray and Kolarik again picking up assists. Less than two minutes later, the Sharks were able to add a seventh to their tally, this time new signing Robinson getting in on the action as he found himself integrated into play by young forward Scott Henderson and captain Tonnar just before the halfway point in the period. Shortly afterwards, with Billingham realising that there was very little they could do to get back into the game, Terry Ward opted to replace Watson with netminder Callum Reynolds on 51:07 to present the youngster with some valuable ice time. With tension growing alongside Billingham’s frustration at their five-goal deficit, it was not long before the two side’s clashed, Pattison crosschecking Bowie to see the duo both sidelined for roughing, though the Star earned himself an additional two minutes for his first offence. These penalties served, Solway worked hard in front of goal, peppering Reynolds with fourteen shots in total but, try as they might, the Sharks could not beat the young shot stopper and equally, Billingham failed to counter in the final moments of the game to leave the score line at 7-2 on the final buzzer.

Looking back on his team’s cup victory, Sharks’ Head Coach Martin Grubb revealed: “Games with Billingham are always decent games and can go either way but I felt after the first period we dominated the game, even if it wasn’t as high quality as usual. We played with speed and moved the puck pretty well and it was also nice to get a couple of power play goals. With one game, we knew we could play at a higher tempo and the challenge is to find and maintain consistency now.”

Warriors’ derby delight as Stars plummet to eighth place

Billingham Stars   3
Whitley Warriors   4

Lining up with a strong roster which included captain Michael Elder, alternate captains Chris Sykes and Callum Davies, and Latvian imports Deniss Baškatovs and Artūrs Ozols, Billingham were without only forward James Moss, player-coach Richie Thornton, defenceman Darren Stattersfield and usual first choice netminder James Flavell. Likewise, Whitley Warriors’ player-coach David Longstaff also had a skilled line-up at his disposal and, though young forward Ross Douglass, defenceman Will Robson and the versatile Stuart Tomlinson were unavailable for this clash, young prospect Jamie Ord made the trip to feature in the first NIHL North encounter of his campaign. 

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Facing off against each other for the first time this season, Billingham Stars and Whitley Warriors hurled themselves into this hard-hitting contest but the opening minutes of the game proved frustrating for both as the rivals fought closely for possession of the puck to challenge their respective netminders Mark Watson and Mark Turnbull at either ends of the ice. Whilst the Hillheads outfit were not without their chances at the start of the game and were forced to contend with the Stars’ physical presence, the side’s passing play was not to the standard it has been in recent weeks and thereby provided an opportunity for Billingham on 8:13 when Warriors’ defenceman Josh Maddock played the puck into the path of tough guy Callum Pattison to allow the forward to pick out Luke Brown who punished Whitley’s mistake. Desperately searching for an equaliser to ensure that the game would not skip away from them, the Warriors were then pleased when Stars’ forward Scott Ward made way just over two minutes later for clipping to hand their visitors a power play. Unable to make their efforts count, though testing Watson on more than one occasion, the Warriors then incurred a penalty to award Billingham the advantage as defenceman Kyle Ross was found guilty of a high sticks offence to take a seat in the sin bin forty seven seconds later. With Ross restored to the ice, there was some confusion over whether or not he should assume his role immediately which allowed the Stars to find the net for a second time; Elder capitalising on Whitley’s confusion with assists from alternate captain Sykes and ‘D’ man Dave Thomas. Just under two minutes after this penalty was served, long-serving Warrior Martin Crammond was sidelined for a hooking offence to see his team successfully kill a second penalty, the side effective when shorthanded. As Crammond only found himself returning to play in the last minute of the period, there was no time for Billingham to extend their lead, nor for Whitley to open their account, leaving the hosts the happiest of the two teams.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Acknowledging their need to recover lost ground, the Warriors were determined to get onto the scoresheet and did so with just fifty one seconds of the period played as forward Callum Watson converted some fast paced play from team mates Jordan Barnes and Shaun Kippin to bring Whitley within a goal of their rivals. Eager to restore their previous two-goal lead, Billingham reacted quickly as Elder rocketed a shot beyond Turnbull on 22:55 after receiving a pass from hardworking alternate captain Davies; Ward also picking up an assist. Less than three minutes later, the Stars found themselves shorthanded as defenceman Andy Finn sat out for holding to see Whitley handed the additional man. Though struggling to utilise this opportunity, the Warriors recognised their need to reply following another fruitless power play and claimed their second of the game to make it 3-2 when Barnes collected the puck from Maddock to race into Billingham’s defensive zone and fire home a fierce shot, with support arriving from Watson. Feeling that their visitors were beginning to creep back into this game, Billingham were then disappointed to go shorthanded just before the halfway point in the period as forward Jack Emerson was shown to the sin bin by referee David Farren for a high sticks offence. Continuing to build momentum as the Stars’ spirits declined, the Warriors found it difficult to beat Billingham’s defence and shot stopper Watson, the netminder remaining sturdy between the pipes to keep Longstaff’s line-up at bay. However, the Stars soon returned to full strength and were keen to secure their lead, with Elder, Baškatovs and Sykes causing problems for Whitley’s defence, the latter appearing certain to make his mark on the game only to be denied by Turnbull. Though countering this with attacking play of their own, the Warriors could not draw level ahead of the break and, as a result, went in trailing by a single goal.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Going into this period with the knowledge that this game was now within their reach, the Warriors were spurred on to increase their pressure on Billingham’s defence, with forwards Watson, Adam Finlinson and Philip Edgar amongst those seeking an equaliser. As such, it was much relief to Whitley when one of their many efforts finally made an impact, this time Kippin slamming the puck beyond strong netminder Watson on 43:44, following some neat play from fellow forward Ben Richards and player-coach Longstaff. Whilst the Stars did not let up their attack against Turnbull, Whitley equally threw all they had at Watson; both shot stoppers outstanding to ensure their side did not fall behind. A penalty against Thomas in the fifty first minute allowed the Warriors to persist in their quest to get ahead in the game but again, the Stars’ defence were unshifting and, though under pressure, killed the penalty successfully. Undeterred, the Warriors’ hard work and perseverance finally paid off just over three minutes later when some clever work from Edgar saw the Canadian import pause to make a careful pass to Holland who presented Finlinson with the chance to unleash a shot which defeated Watson and handed Whitley a deserved lead for the first time in the encounter. Calling a timeout with just over a minute remaining in the period, Billingham’s aim was to snatch a goal to take the game into overtime and it was not long after that the Stars opted to pull Watson from his net to ice an additional skater as the side faced off in Whitley’s defensive zone. Striving for an empty net goal, Whitley parried the puck away with difficulty as Billingham turned their attention to their own target and a second faceoff saw the Warriors get the puck out of their own zone once again, only for Longstaff to call a timeout with just sixteen seconds remaining to make for a nerve-wracking finale. With Watson returning to the ice, the Stars’ held onto possession behind their net as Whitley counted down the seconds; the puck only just released prior to the final buzzer which signalled the Warriors’ hard fought triumph over their closest rivals.

Reflecting on what was a difficult game for his team, player-coach David Longstaff shared: “I thought it was probably our worst performance of the season until the last period. Our transition was very poor and we had to rely on Mark Turnbull. Two points is the most important thing though and I’m not sure we can play as bad in our own end again so I’m sure it’ll be a one off.” Also taking time to consider Billingham’s difficult double header, alternate captain Chris Sykes noted: “It was a bad weekend for the Stars. It seems we are in a tough position at the minute but we are working hard to get out of this and move forwards. Stick with us, Stars fans.” 

For more photos from IceHockeyMedia, please visit: http://www.icehockeymedia.co.uk/.        

Friday, 13 October 2017

NIHL Weekend Preview


Saturday 14th October 2017
Solway Sharks vs. Billingham Stars (National Cup)

Sunday 15th October 2017
Billingham Stars vs. Whitley Warriors

Fixture:    Solway Sharks vs. Billingham Stars        
Date:        14th October 2017    
Venue:     Dumfries Ice Bowl   
Faceoff:  7:00pm

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Facing each other in a third NIHL National Cup fixture this weekend, Solway Sharks and Billingham Stars will both be determined to achieve maximum points on Saturday but for very different reasons. Whilst the Dumfries outfit go into this meeting requiring a win to edge ahead of close competition Blackburn Hawks, the Stars will meanwhile be hoping to add to the single cup point they snatched in last month’s overtime loss to Solway to begin to contend in the competition. Although fixtures involving these two sides were closely contested in the NIHL North’s Moralee Conference last season, Billingham Stars were only able to win one league fixture against the treble winners and also failed to pick up a victory against Martin Grubb’s men in the NIHL North Cup, their results ranging from a narrow 4-3 loss in October to an 8-1 road defeat in January.

So far playing nine games across all competitions, Billingham have managed to collect a total of three points; their only league win against Scott McKenzie’s Dragons on the opening day of the season. The Sharks, by comparison, have played eleven games across both competitions, losing on just three occasions as they missed out against Telford Tigers, Hull Pirates and Blackburn Hawks to claim a collective total of sixteen points in all. With Solway’s  Iain Bowie and Ross Murray currently at the top of Group A’s points production charts, it is clear that Billingham will be in for a challenging clash but it is one that they will no doubt embrace as they look for a victory to carry momentum into their derby game against Whitley Warriors on Sunday. Past encounters between these two sides have often been feisty affairs peppered with controversy and conflict, making Saturday’s game a must-watch as the Stars head out in search of better fortunes whilst the Sharks aim to bounce back from last weekend’s disappointing defeat to Duncombe’s Hawks with a win over one of their closest rivals.

Speaking to NIHL Northern Trio ahead of this game, Head Coach Martin Grubb took time to consider the Sharks’ previous clashes against the Stars:

Games against Billingham are always tight affairs and this season has proven that so far. We will need to be ready to play sixty plus minutes. It’s our only game so we have to go hard and ensure we bounce back from a bad third period last Sunday. Both teams know each other well and will be looking to get the win. We will focus on our game plan and make sure we follow it to get the points.

Solway’s alternate captain Ross Murray also took time to consider this encounter:

Now that we are over a month into the season, how have Solway coped with the competition so far?

I think by our standards we have had an average start to the campaign. When we turn up, we seem to dominate teams but, at other times, we tend to start slow or drop to other teams’ levels which we cannot do, as we found out in Hull.

In what ways does the Sharks’ team differ from the treble-winning side last year?

It’s always hard losing one key guy, never mind three, but we have always had plenty of depth in our system at Solway. It gives the guys who weren’t in a big role in the team a chance to show what they have. We have two new solid imports at the back who are eager to make a name for themselves and, with Bowie getting back into the squad, he’s showing everyone why he’s one of the best in the NIHL.

What do you make of the cup competition’s new format?

I like the cup setup this year. It’s great that someone will be crowned UK champion. The only thing is, it would maybe be good to play some different teams, other than home and away twice in a three team group; it can get pretty boring.

What do you expect from Saturday’s game against Billingham Stars, given the recent form of the Teessiders?

The Stars will be out to put an end to their terrible start but I can’t say I’m surprised by it. When Solway and Billingham have met before, I think both teams have played pretty anti-hockey games. Hopefully we can get a good start and play a solid sixty minute game unlike the weekend before in Blackburn. Both teams have a tendency to cancel each other out but we will see what Saturday brings.

Fixture:    Billingham Stars vs. Whitley Warriors  
Date:        15th October 2017    
Venue:     The Forum
Faceoff:  6:30pm

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Playing against each other for the first time this season in one of the most highly anticipated fixtures in NIHL North’s Division One, Billingham Stars and Whitley Warriors will go head-to-head this weekend as the local rivals set their sights on a prize greater than points, with bragging rights the real honour at the end of this encounter. Results between these two outfits were extremely mixed last season as the Stars opened with a narrow 5-4 cup win at Hillheads before losing 6-5 at home in the same competition one week later. At the turn of 2017, Billingham then opened with a 4-1 loss to the Warriors in a combined fixture before enjoying a 3-1 cup victory on the road to complete January’s schedule. Building on this success, the Stars were then pleased to triumph over their rivals for a third time, only to end their season on a poor note, losing by six goals to three in Teesside as Whitley bounced back on the final day of their 2016-17 campaign.

Whilst Billingham’s string of recent defeats, combined with the prospect of the bragging rights, will motivate the side to claim two points in front of a home crowd on Sunday, Whitley will also hope to pick up a win away from home after suffering a respectable 6-3 loss to Telford Tigers last weekend, the side having played with pace and power to edge ahead in the contest twice before ultimately losing out in the final period of the game. Since embarking on their latest campaign, Whitley Warriors’ alternate captain Shaun Kippin, player-coach David Longstaff, forward Ben Richards and Canadian import Philip Edgar have topped the points scoring charts for their team; the quartet have so far accumulated twenty two goals and forty seven assists in comparison to the fourteen goals and twenty three assists tallied collectively by Billingham’s top four points scorers Deniss Baškatovs, Chris Sykes, Michael Bowman and Artūrs Ozols over the course of six league games. As such, both teams appear to have a great deal of firepower at their disposal, though Billingham have found it difficult to demonstrate this against tough competition, having recently faced former EPL teams Sheffield Steeldogs and Hull Pirates. However, as with all derby games, form will certainly be put to one side as these close rivals prepare to improve on their current league positions, with Whitley just one place above the Stars going into this battle but also five points better off than the Teessiders. Always unpredictable and packing a punch, this game never fails to attract a large crowd and will surely not disappoint when the two sides faceoff on Sunday.

Looking forward to this derby fixture, player-coach David Longstaff shared:

I would think it should be a great game. Billingham have been very unlucky with the fixtures so far. They’ve played all of the old EPL teams and last year’s champions so they’ll see this as a real opportunity to win against a team that finished lower than them last season.

Adding to this, Warriors’ alternate captain Shaun Kippin observed:

Derby games are always the highlight of the season for me. Anyone can beat anyone and form goes out of the window. We will need to be at our best because Billingham have a lot of firepower. We’ve worked hard in training this week and hope to come home with the bragging rights this weekend.

Considering Billingham’s upcoming double header, Stars’ alternate captain Chris Sykes observed:

Saturday sees us off to Solway again for the cup. It seems we’ve played the same teams every weekend for the first few weeks! However, it is a cup game so we will be running all of our lines and letting the ‘young guys’ get a skate so we will see how we do. Sunday’s the big one. The one we all want to watch. The one we want to be a part of! It’s derby day at The Forum and we are more than ready.

Last but not least, Billingham’s blue liner Ben Davison also contributed his thoughts ahead of Sunday’s derby game:

I think Sunday will be one of the fastest paced derby games people will have seen. Every team has stepped their game up this season to try and match the new structure’s league talent. Whitley have had a good run of games; I expect them to come out all guns blazing. It’s been a tough start to the season, facing the ex-EPL teams but hopefully, we take the lessons we’ve learnt from playing the higher teams this weekend and come away with a must-needed victory. Our form on paper looks terrible; however, I think the games tell a different story. We’ve been very unlucky on occasions, our big break is coming and hopefully the morale will keep us rolling from there. Mistakes and poor decision-making on the puck this season will, and has proven to be, costly. Hopefully, one hundred and twenty minutes of smart hockey from us this weekend will be the end of our bad spell and there’s no better way to kick start that than with a win over your local rivals at home so I’m really looking forward to these games. Also, please remember Billingham’s Food Bank collection on Sunday night!

For any fans attending the Billingham Stars vs. Whitley Warriors game at The Forum on Sunday evening, there will be a collection for Billingham Food Bank should you wish to donate. For more information, visit Billingham.foodbank.org.uk/give-help/donate-food.  

For more photos from IceHockeyMedia, please visit: http://www.icehockeymedia.co.uk/.        

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

NIHL Weekend Action

Sharks overpower Barons to snap up victory

Solway Sharks      4
Solihull Barons       2

Playing host to Solihull Barons for the first time this season, Solway Sharks took to the ice with a strong squad, their usual core bolstered by the presence of young forward Kieran Hair and Houston brothers Luke and Lewis as they set out with their hopes pinned on maximum points. The Barons, meanwhile, travelled to the Dumfries Ice Bowl with fourteen skaters and sturdy netminder Daniel Brittle as they looked to improve on their precarious league position, the side hovering just above the automatic relegation spot with two points from five league games. 

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Facing off against the Barons, Solway knew that this would be no easy game and this proved to be the case as the Sharks set out to gain momentum, challenging shot stopper Brittle at every opportunity only to find Solihull worthy contenders, their chances prevented as MacKriel’s men sought to open the scoring themselves. However, the visitors soon found their offensive play hindered when captain Josh Bruce made his way to the sin bin following an interference call from referee Robin Elliot on 5:37. Failing to make the most of this power play opportunity, Solway continued to battle with the Barons’ tricky defence, bombarding Brittle with shots whilst netminder Calum Hepburn had little to deal with at the other end of the ice. Slightly wasteful in front of goal despite their domination, it was a relief to the home team when they finally made it onto the scoresheet with just over fifteen minutes of the period played, forward Iain Bowie linking up with alternate captain Ross Murray who did not miss his mark to fire his team into the lead. Having waited so long for a goal, the next arrived almost three minutes later when Murray returned the favour for Bowie to see the in-form forward achieve his twelfth league goal of the season. Dismayed to find themselves trailing by two goals after enduring the Sharks’ offensive play for so long, the Barons filed from the ice with much work to do to get back on track whilst Solway were pleased with their lead after battling to achieve it.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Resuming play for the second period, Solihull were keen to gain a foothold in this game to ensure they were still in with a chance of claiming a victory. Working hard in the opening stages of the period, MacKriel’s men were able to halve their deficit as young prospect Matthew Maurice slotted beyond Hepburn courtesy of skilled forward Philip Mulcahy on 25:28. However, it was not long after this goal that forward Luke Brittle was shown to the sin bin for a slashing offence to reduce Solihull to four men. Rewarded with the power play, Solway struggled against the Barons’ penalty kill and were then disappointed to see youngster Daniel Abercrombie sidelined for delaying the game just under a minute later. This penalty proved to be no issue at all for the Sharks however, as Barons’ ‘D’ man Daniel Harrison then took a seat in the sin bin for high sticks to rule out any advantage expected on Brittle’s return to the ice. With these penalties breaking up the flow of play, neither team was able to alter the scoreboard and the visitors only ran into further penalty trouble as young blue liner Jacob Smith was also shown to the sin bin for delaying the game on 32:11. Unable to extend their lead with the additional man, Solway pursued a third goal but Brittle remained strong to hold off the onslaught only for the Barons’ lack of discipline to catch up with them once again, forward Luke Brittle incurring a holding penalty with just six seconds of the stanza remaining.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
The score line 2-1 as Solway returned with a power play, MacKriel’s men worked hard on the penalty kill to prevent the Sharks from grabbing a goal with the advantage but once again the Dumfries outfit dominated possession to pepper netminder Brittle with shots. Unsuccessful in their efforts to edge even further ahead in the contest, the Sharks’ persistence was rewarded with another power play which they were eager to make the most of as Harrison served two minutes for tripping on 49:27. Sustaining their pressure on Brittle’s net, Solway soon found the target as forward Connor Henderson teamed up with Abercrombie to see Czech defenceman Vaclav Kolarik fire home with just over fifty minutes played. Disappointed to fall behind by two goals yet again, Solihull sought a second goal to reduce the gap once more and were handed the perfect opportunity just under four minutes later when Sharks’ import Marek Charvat incurred a roughing penalty to see his team go shorthanded. Seeking possession, the Barons began to build momentum to test Hepburn and were finally able to hit home fifty two seconds later, Luke Brittle on hand to assist Swedish import Niklas Ottosson. The score line 3-2 and far too close for comfort in the final stages of the game, Solway returned to full strength to target a fourth goal but, try as they might, the side could still not find a way past sturdy netminder Brittle and it was only when a tripping offence was called against Maurice that the unrelenting Sharks could secure their victory, Charvat punishing the Baron’s misdemeanour with just two seconds of Solway’s power play remaining following a pass from Bowie. In response to this goal, Daniel Brittle shot the puck at alternate captain Murray which saw an exchange of words between the duo before Solihull’s captain Bruce stepped in to drop the gloves with the Shark. Both players throwing themselves into a strong fight which resulted in a win for Murray and roughing penalties of 2+2 for both, play resumed only for the final buzzer to call time on Solway’s 4-2 win which saw the side move into second place ahead of Blackburn Hawks prior to their cup fixture against the Lancashire outfit. Reflecting on this victory, Head Coach Martin Grubb revealed: “We knew this would be a tough game and that was the case. I felt we were in control for most of the game but we weren’t clinical enough in front of the net. Solihull were always dangerous. We found a way to get ourselves in front, play with the lead and got the result we wanted.”

Dogs steal show as Stars stay seventh

Sheffield Steeldogs     7
Billingham Stars            4

Making the trip to Ice Sheffield for the second time this season, Billingham Stars were unable to travel with a full roster as forwards James Moss and Jack Davies found themselves on the absentee list alongside defencemen  Richie Thornton, Ben Davison, Dave Thomas and Ross Hanlon whilst first choice netminder James Flavell also missed out through injury once again. Their line-up made up of fifteen skaters and shot stoppers Mark Watson and Callum Reynolds as a result, the Stars were also pleased to be able to ice young blue liner James Hellens who recently made his NIHL North debut with the Teessiders against Blackburn Hawks. Likewise, the Steeldogs also boasted a team of fifteen skaters which included player-coach Ben Morgan, captain Lewis Bell, Slovakian import Milan Kolena and former Sutton Sting alternate captain Lloyd Gibson whilst excellent netminder Brandon Stones took his place between the pipes.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Aware of the difficulties of this contest, Billingham headed out onto the ice with hopes that they could contend with their tricky opposition but it did not take the Steeldogs long to make their mark on the game as youngster Jamie Scott linked up with fellow defenceman Tim Smith to allow experienced left winger Andrew Hirst to strike the puck beyond Watson with just under three minutes played. With the Stars under pressure from the first faceoff, the side were forced to endure Sheffield’s attacking play before gaining possession to carve out an opportunity of their own as Latvian defenceman Artūrs Ozols fired a shot wide of Stones’ net, only for the home team to reclaim possession and appear dangerous in offence. Persevering with the Steeldogs dominance however, the Teessiders set out to prove that they were still very much in the game as alternate captain Chris Sykes went bar down to beat Stones following passing play between Latvian forward Deniss Baškatovs and player-coach Michael Bowman on 11:21. Keen to ensure that their hard work did not go to waste, the Steeldogs worked to restore their lead and, outshooting their visitors by twenty one shots to seven in this opening period, it was little surprise when the side edged ahead once more, Gibson the man on target on this occasion as Hirst and Smith picked up assists. This the last of the action prior to the first interval, Sheffield left the ice with a narrow 2-1 lead whilst the Stars were more than happy with their start to the game under the circumstances.

Feeling that they should have more to show for their efforts on Watson’s net, the Steeldogs aimed to extend their lead on their return to the ice and did so less than four minutes in when forward Charlie Thompson punished Billingham’s defence with support arriving from Kolena and Gibson. Finding it difficult to recover after this goal, the Stars quickly conceded another just forty four seconds later, Hirst collecting the puck from Gibson to integrate Kolena, the Slovakian achieving his fourth league goal of the season. Though aware of their need to respond to the Steeldogs’ quick fire offensive play, the Stars struggled to create opportunities of their own as Sheffield continued to dominate with skilled forwards Adrian Palak and Cameron Brownley trying their luck without success. Rallying to retaliate against Morgan’s high tempo team, the Stars were finally able to chip away at their deficit, Sykes with a standout goal courtesy of Baškatovs and Keeley. These celebrations were cut short though as, just over two minutes later, neat build up play from Brownley and alternate captain Ashley Calvert presented an opportunity for Palak to bury the puck to make it five for the Steeldogs. As a result, tensions began to fray and, just over sixty seconds later, Star Josh Nertney dropped the gloves with ‘D’ man Thomas Relf to see both players earn 2+2 for fighting. This incident only seemed to spur on Sheffield however, and it was not long after that Watson was again picking the puck from his net, Brownley slotting over the red line with assistance from player-coach Morgan to make it 6-2. However, with the game becoming a fiery one, the work of referee Miller was far from over as Billingham’s forward Scott Ward incurred a minor penalty for a high sticks offence whilst Steeldog Thompson was also shown to the sin bin for his retaliation to this incident, the youngster dealt two minutes for roughing besides a ten minute misconduct penalty with only forty seconds of the period remaining.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Starting the third and final stanza with hopes to claw back some lost ground, the Stars saw off another of the Steeldogs’ attacks as Gibson set his sights on goal, only to shoot wide and allow Billingham to claim possession to challenge Stones at the other end of the ice. With the early stages of this period far more even than that of the previous two, Billingham were able to enjoy more possession which Ozols attempted to convert, though to no avail as his effort was parried away from Sheffield’s defensive zone to allow the home team to advance; Palak taking control of the puck to come close to claiming his second of the evening. Finding themselves shorthanded on 52:10 following a bench minor for too many men, Sheffield were forced to defend as Billingham strove to make the most of their power play and, though returning to full strength unscathed, the outfit were then disappointed to concede a goal five seconds after the termination of their penalty as Elder lit the lamp with assists from Ozols and alternate captain Callum Davies to make it 6-3. With time fast running out, Billingham were determined to close the gap between themselves and their opposition but defenceman Andy Finn came closest, striking the post as the clock counted down. It was Sheffield who were able to extend their tally first though as Morgan and Gibson teamed up to allow Kolena to achieve his second of the game on 59:24 but Billingham were eager to have the final say and hammered home just seventeen seconds later through forward Jack Emerson as Elder and Davies collected assists to see the game end 7-4.

Warriors tussle tricky Tigers but Telford hold on for victory

Whitley Warriors 3
Telford Tigers     6

Preparing themselves for the challenge ahead, Whitley Warriors lined up with a strong roster, missing only long-serving forward DJ Good, defencemen Craig Johnson and youngsters Anthony Wetherell, Jamie Ord and Will Robson, as captain Dean Holland resumed his place in the team after missing out on Whitley’s last two home games whilst the surprise return of Warrior Ryan Sample was a very welcome one. By comparison, Tom Watkins’ Telford Tigers were missing several players from their regular line-up, with suspended defenceman Jonathan Weaver, forward Callum Griffin, former Star Jack Watkins, right winger Joe Miller, alternate captain Matthew Price and the versatile Dale White all unavailable for this game.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Taking to the ice for the first period, Whitley Warriors proved to be more than up for the challenge, battling in the opening minute for possession before forward Shaun Kippin raced into Telford’s defensive zone to instantly find player-coach David Longstaff whose rebounded shot was turned into Sample’s path, the returnee burying in a flash to see the home team take the lead with only 1:35 on the clock. Battling across all areas of the ice, Whitley were able to contend with the Tigers whose offensive efforts arose through strong leader Jason Silverthorn, experienced forward Rick Plant and player-coach Watkins whilst defenceman Corey Goodison also strove to make an impact, though to no avail. The Warriors buoyed by their rather unexpected lead, Longstaff’s line-up continued to impress with their clinical passing play and strong defensive work as they set their sights on a second. Meanwhile, striving for an equaliser, Tigers’ player-coach Watkins was then frustrated to incur a minor for slashing and vented his feelings to referee Robin Elliot, prompting a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct to increase his punishment to four minutes. Enjoying possession to challenge Telford’s defence, Whitley were initially unable to find the back of the net with the additional man in this time but, just eight seconds after Watkins was restored to the ice, Sample doubled his side’s lead in style as he flicked the puck beyond netminder Sam Hewitt following clever build up play from Kippin and blue liner Harry Harley. Just thirty one seconds later though, the Warriors found themselves on the back foot when young ‘D’ man Liam Smedley was shown to the sin bin for a high sticks offence. With the game having been so close when both teams were at full strength, the Warriors found themselves at a distinct disadvantage and it showed as just thirty seconds later forward Adam Taylor beat netminder Mark Turnbull from distance following linkup play between defenceman Daniel Rose and captain Silverthorn. A hooking penalty for Telford’s youngster Jed Moreland soon followed but this proved to be no advantage at all for Whitley as forward Ben Richards made way for a slashing offence on 17:27 and, as Moreland was restored to the ice in the meantime, a second penalty for the home team, courtesy of an interference offence from forward Martin Crammond, saw the Tigers presented with a five-on-three situation. Only too happy to capitalise on this opportunity, ‘D’ man Rose punished Turnbull from just inside the blue line with support from on-ice leaders Silverthorn and Watkins to level the game at 2-2. Whilst Richards made his return to the ice as a result of this goal, there was a change of netminder for the home team as Turnbull was replaced with usual first choice Richie Lawson with fifty seconds remaining of the period.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
With Crammond’s penalty terminated forty five seconds into this stanza, it was not long before Telford’s newest recruit Kim Miettinen was sidelined for holding with 21:38 on the clock. However, struggling to capitalise on their power plays, the Warriors found themselves battling to maintain possession and therefore could not add to their tally with the advantage. Increasing their efforts on goal as a result of their offensive failings with the additional man, Whitley began to apply pressure to Hewitt but the Tigers were equally as eager to get ahead in the game, prompting some strong defending from Longstaff’s men at the other end of the ice. Repeated saves from Lawson and some intrepid defending enabled Sample to successfully incorporate Longstaff into play, his work outfoxing Telford’s blue line and allowing Kippin to rush through on goal to hammer home Whitley’s third of the evening on 27:15. Less than two minutes after regaining their lead, Warrior Josh Maddock was considered guilty of a high sticks offence which rewarded the visitors with a power play and, whilst working hard to kill this penalty effectively, the Hillheads outfit were then disappointed to concede an equaliser almost three minutes later, youngster Brodie Jessen receiving the puck from blue liner Rose to surpass Whitley’s defence alongside Taylor who effortlessly buried his second goal of the evening. Like the Warriors though, the Tigers had no sooner achieved this goal before they went shorthanded, Goodison sitting out for interference with just under thirty five minutes played. Once again, Whitley failed to make the most of their power play, though they were certainly not without chances to get ahead in the game for a third time, and watched as the Tigers returned to full strength only to incur yet another minor penalty in the final minute of the period as Miettinen was made to sit out for illegal equipment, presenting the Warriors with the additional man on their return to the ice.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Despite playing out most of their advantage after the second interval, the Warriors could not punish Hewitt for a fourth time and, as the visitors continued to bombard Whitley’s defence under Silverthorn’s guidance, the side found themselves labouring to keep up with Telford’s pace which was further exacerbated by a minor slashing penalty for Kippin on 45:07. Again finding it difficult to contend with the Tigers when shorthanded, Longstaff’s line-up strove to execute their usually effective penalty kill but, against a strong Telford side, their tactics failed to have the desired impact as Watkins tore the puck through Whitley’s defence to give his side the lead for the first time in the contest with support from Plant and Goodison. Aware of the challenge they were confronted with as they aimed to overturn their deficit, the Warriors’ energy began to dwindle as they strove to sustain their pace which had been in keeping with the Tigers’ tempo in the first two periods of the game. An interference call against blue liner Jordan Stokes saw Whitley once again placed on a power play but they were soon to regret their failure to capitalise on this opportunity as just two seconds after returning to full strength, Telford were able to establish a two-goal cushion through Silverthorn as Stokes made amends for his previous misdemeanour by playing the puck to Plant who worked hard to assist his captain. This goal prompting a timeout for the Warriors fourteen seconds later, Longstaff opted to pull netminder Richie Lawson in the hope to claw back a goal and build momentum to push for overtime. However, this decision did not pay off as the puck trickled beyond ‘D’ man Dan Pye with Taylor in hot pursuit, the forward racing up the ice and playing a pass to recent signing Warren Tait whose shot landed an empty net goal for his side to see the game end 6-3 in his team’s favour.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Sharing his thoughts on the outcome of this game, player-coach David Longstaff told NIHL Northern Trio: “I thought we were great for forty odd minutes. I was a little bit disappointed that all of our players didn’t perform but you have to give Telford a lot of credit. I told our players we have to learn from teams like Telford; they do all the little things right that it takes to win.”

Stars struck by Pirates as Hull hit eleven

Hull Pirates         11
Billingham Stars   1

Icing much the same team as they did against Sheffield Steeldogs, except for the addition of defenceman Ben Davison, who made his return to the side after serving a two-game suspension, and the absence of forward Alex Preston who was called upon to captain Billingham Stars’ Under 20s team on Sunday, the Teessiders were keen to achieve something from their double header going into this fixture. Meanwhile, the Pirates had fourteen skaters at their disposal, their team including experienced left winger Matthew Davies, on-ice leader Jamie Chilcott and young alternate captain Samuel Towner whilst netminder Ashley Smith took his place between the pipes ahead of faceoff.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Hoping to make a positive start to this game after losing out to Sheffield Steeldogs on Saturday, Billingham Stars were disappointed to find themselves on the back foot with less than three minutes played as a delayed hooking penalty against Latvian forward Deniss Baškatovs provided the Pirates with the chance they needed to open their account; an unassisted effort from forward Lee Bonner beating netminder Mark Watson. The home team continuing to dominate, the Stars had their work cut out to defend against the onslaught which ensued and, as such, it was little surprise when Hull doubled their lead on 7:18 through right winger James Archer who made the most of play from Davies to slot home his fifth league goal of the season. Buoyed by their excellent start to the game, the Pirates then added a third to the scoreboard just over a minute later as forward Josh Gent involved himself in the action following creative offensive work from Towner and Bonner. Demonstrating skill and pace to cause further problems for the Stars whose blue liners were repeatedly put to the test, the Pirates continued to set their sights on goal and though denied by Watson time and time again, the side were able to conclude their period with a fourth as Towner printed his name on the scoresheet after defenceman Lee Haywood teamed up with Gent to send their alternate captain through on goal with less than two minutes of the stanza remaining.

Stunned by their four goal deficit, the Teessiders were eager to get their game back on track but matters rapidly worsened when Towner notched his second of the evening on 22:21, Bonner receiving a pass from blue liner Thomas Stubley to set up his line mate on this occasion. Fifty seven seconds later, a hooking penalty for Billingham’s forward Scott Ward saw Hull go on their first power play of the game and the side needed no invitation to convert their advantage, Davies the man on target as captain Chilcott and right winger Bobby Chamberlain notched assists. This goal prompting a change of netminder for the Stars as Callum Reynolds took the place of Watson, it was not long after that the Pirates incurred their first penalty of the game, picking up a bench minor for icing too many men. This proved to be of no help to the Stars however as, just thirteen seconds after conceding this penalty, the Pirates were able to claim a shorthanded goal, Bonner slipping beyond Billingham’s defence to punish Watson following a neat pass from Towner to make it 7-0. With the Pirates penalty not yet over, the Stars found themselves reduced to four men when ‘D’ man Matthew Campbell made way for tripping and, although Terry Ward’s team were able to kill this penalty without conceding another, the visitors found themselves on the back foot once again when Jack Emerson was sidelined for a hooking offence on 34:47. Though unable to make this power play count, the Pirates were able to build on their possession to hit the back of the net just under two minutes later when Archer and Davies worked with Chamberlain to destroy Billingham’s defence, the latter firing beyond Reynolds to make it an uncomfortable introduction to the game for the youngster. The Pirates’ attacking play was far from over in this period though and, just thirty five seconds later, Reynolds was again retrieving the puck from his net as youngster Cain Taylor achieved his first league goal of his season with the help of his captain. The score line now 9-0 to leave the Stars utterly dejected, Hull then went shorthanded in the final twenty seven seconds of the period as Haywood was sent to the sin bin for holding to see Billingham begin their third and final period on the power play.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Unable to grab a consolation goal with this advantage, the Stars then lost Michael Bowman to the penalty box following a hooking call against their player-coach just three seconds before the Pirates were restored to full strength. Just fifty seven seconds later, Hull took their tally into double figures as Chamberlain achieved his second of the evening courtesy of Bonner and Davies. The game now well and truly beyond the Teessiders, damage limitation and a consolation goal were all that was left on their agenda. Persevering in spite of everything, it took Billingham just over ten minutes after Hull’s tenth goal to achieve their first of this encounter, Bowman linking up with alternate captain Chris Sykes to see Baškatovs finally beat Brown who had previously little to do throughout the game. Less than three minutes later, the Stars found themselves shorthanded once again, this time Davison sitting out for crosschecking. Killing the penalty with success, Billingham were then frustrated to concede an eleventh just fourteen seconds later, their efforts going to waste as Davies and Archer combined for a third time to see Chamberlain accomplish his hat trick in the dying minutes of the game to confirm the Stars’ 11-1 loss. Considering Billingham’s recent defeats, alternate captain Chris Sykes acknowledged: “This double header was tough and we just didn’t perform the way we should or the way we know we can. It was a tough weekend all round. We have a lot of injuries again and some people are playing injured but we battled hard and gave what we could. It just didn’t go the way we wanted. It’s a new week and we have two more games coming up though so back to training this week.”

Sharks suffer first cup defeat as Hawks swoop on points

Blackburn Hawks    4
Solway Sharks          2

Missing only Houston brothers Luke and Lewis, Solway Sharks had much the same team as they iced against Solihull Barons in front of a home crowd on Saturday evening, with young forward Kieran Hair playing his second game of the season for the side whilst Solway’s usual core of strong captain Struan Tonnar, skilled left winger Steven Moore, hard-hitting alternate captain Ross Murray, goal scorer Iain Bowie and experienced blue liner James Hutchinson were amongst those available for the side. On the other hand, Steven Duncombe’s Hawks were just slightly greater in number, boasting two more skaters than that of their visitors as forward Aaron Davies, Slovakian import Jozef Ištocy and young prospect James Royds were amongst those lining up for the Lancashire outfit.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
As Solway faced off against the Hawks with a view to grab two points and further cement their place at the top of the NIHL National Cup Group A standings, Blackburn were equally as eager to achieve maximum points to challenge the Dumfries outfit for the top spot, finding themselves only two points behind the Sharks prior to this fixture. The opening stages of the game saw Solway set out to test the Hawks’ starting netminder Niks Trapans, the outfit edging possession and shots on goal whilst shot stopper Calum Hepburn dealt comfortably with the few attempts which fell his way at the other end of the ice to ensure the deadlock remained intact whilst his side sought a way to get ahead in the game. Though handing the Sharks a power play on 13:18 after a hooking offence was called against Rick Bentham, Blackburn were able to work effectively in defence to prevent Martin Grubb’s men from taking the lead with the additional man but it was not long after Bentham’s penalty was served that the Sharks finally opened their scoring, youngster Daniel Abercrombie punishing Trapans on 18:21 following hard work from Moore and Czech import Marek Charvat to go in at the break with a narrow 1-0 lead. 

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia – Ian Hanlon
Returning for the second period, Blackburn were keen to equalise but a second hooking penalty, this time against alternate captain Luke Boothroyd, saw Solway claim a second power play. Again failing to capitalise with the advantage, the Sharks worked hard to make amends for their inability to contend with Blackburn’s penalty kill and it was not long before Trapans was again picking the puck from his net as Bowie snatched his eighth cup goal of the season with support from Scott Henderson and Czech defenceman Vaclav Kolarik. Realising their need to respond before the game skipped away from them, the Hawks immediately hit back to score just thirty seconds after Solway as James Riddoch picked up a pass from fellow forward Lee Pollitt to see line mate Ištocy fire past Hepburn. With play far more evenly matched than previously, Blackburn were eager to find an equaliser but this proved to be no mean feat and the side endured a further setback with close to thirty seven minutes played when Duncombe found himself sidelined, the player-coach committing the Hawks’ third successive hooking offence to reduce his team to four men. Yet again though, the Sharks found themselves up against Blackburn’s tough penalty kill and were forced to battle to create offensive play but once more, the side’s power play was ultimately fruitless to see Solway head in with a tentative one-goal lead at the second interval.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Opening the third period with another power play as Blackburn’s captain Ollie Lomax made way for interference less than two minutes in, the Sharks were keen to capitalise, having already frittered away three power plays but as Duncombe’s outfit worked hard to kill the penalty and Trapans remained largely unchallenged, Solway were disappointed not to make use of their additional man to extend their lead. With the workload of both netminders manageable, the two contenders struggled to add to their tallies and a fifth penalty for Blackburn, this time a bench minor for icing too many men, saw Solway gain another advantage. However, this too was squandered much to the regret of the Sharks when the home team drew level on 52:39 as Aaron Davies achieved his second cup goal of the season after making the most of a pass from alternate captain James Neil. Just over a minute later though, Solway’s missed chances were punished further as Neil then linked up with Duncombe to send Royds through on goal and the youngster wasted no time in executing his shot to present his team with a 3-2 lead. Hugely disappointed to have gone behind at this stage in the game, the Sharks quickly realised that Blackburn were enthused by their successive scoring when the Hawks claimed a fourth on 55:37 as young defenceman Lewis Baldwin also fired home to establish a two goal cushion for his team with less than five minutes for Solway to react. However, in the moments that followed, the Sharks’ efforts were unsuccessful as Blackburn clung to their momentum to maintain their offensive threat. After calling a timeout just over three minutes later in an attempt to rally his players, Grubb eventually opted to pull netminder Hepburn when the time was right but this had little impact on the game, the final buzzer calling time on the 4-2 score line to see Solway leave empty handed and Bentham awarded a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct timed at 60:00.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Looking back on this defeat, Solway’s Head Coach Grubb expressed his disappointment at this result, stating: “I had said pre-game that Blackburn were full of confidence and would look for a reaction to their Saturday night result and I am disappointed that our players didn’t take that warning. We played well enough for two periods, then decided not to turn up for the third and handed them the game. Our power play was woeful and our inability to score hurt us so we need to look at ourselves this week and find a way to improve.”

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