Tuesday, 20 February 2018

NIHL Weekend Action

Hull sinks Sharks as Pirates plunder points

Solway Sharks     5

Hull Pirates          8

Lining up with sixteen skaters which included alternate captain James Hutchinson, the defenceman making his return from injury, and young blue liner Liam Stenton who was able to make his senior debut for Solway Sharks in this fixture, Martin Grubb’s men opted for shot stopper Kyle Johnston to take his place between the pipes over usual first choice Calum Hepburn. Hull Pirates, meanwhile, travelled to the Dumfries Ice Bowl with fifteen skaters, the side led by captain Jamie Chilcott whilst goaltender Adam Long was given the start in net over Joseph Gent.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia – Ian Hanlon
Starting the game with a bench minor for too many men just fifty four seconds after faceoff, Solway Sharks found themselves working hard on the penalty kill from the outset to prevent the Pirates from taking an early lead. In spite of these efforts, Hull were able to open their account approximately three minutes after Solway returned to full strength, the side getting ahead in the fixture through forward Lee Bonner after a neat pass from right winger James Archer. Eager to draw level as soon as possible, the Sharks bagged an equaliser just over a minute later when Iain Bowie fired the puck home following some hard work from fellow forward Connor Henderson on 7:21. Keen to recover their lead, the Pirates sought a second goal, utilising their possession to pile the pressure onto netminder Johnston in the hope that they could surpass Solway’s defence, the young shot stopper working hard to keep his team in the game. Though the Sharks saw off consecutive attacks from Jason Hewitt’s relentless Pirates, Hull’s perseverance soon overpowered the Dumfries outfit once again, the side doubling their tally on 17:30, this time Archer the man on target as Bonner turned assist alongside alternate captain Samuel Towner to send his team in with a narrow 2-1 lead at the first interval.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Heading back onto the ice for the second stanza, Solway were keen to find another equaliser but it wasn’t to be as Archer beat Johnston to bag his second goal in the contest, making it 3-1 with 22:04 on the clock, Bonner assisting once again. Just over three minutes later, Hull further extended their lead as forward Jordan Fisher netted following passing play between Bonner and Towner. Frustrated to be so far behind in the contest at this stage in the game, the Sharks looked to get back on track and began to create some chances in their offensive zone to test Long and build momentum whilst equally working hard to halt their opposition’s attacking play at the other end of the ice. With the period progressing and Solway’s determination not diminishing any, the home side were pleased to chip away at their deficit on 34:44 when left winger Steven Moore teamed up with Duncan Speirs to see the forward achieve his twentieth league goal of the season. Just seventy four seconds later, the puck was again in the net for Solway as Connor Henderson assisted Bowie’s efforts for a second time to see Grubb’s men go within one goal of the Pirates. The momentum now increasingly with the Dumfries outfit, young forward Lewis Houston accomplished his first goal for the Sharks just thirty eight seconds later to see Solway notch three goals in less than two minutes to make it 4-4. Moments later, referee David Emmerson dished out the first penalties of the game as Czech defenceman Marek Charvát headed to the sin bin to serve 2+10 for a check to the head. Soon after this penalty, right winger Bobby Chamberlain was sidelined for a slashing offence to level the playing field. Eleven seconds later, and just four seconds before Charvát’s minor had been served, Archer incurred a penalty for interference to join Chamberlain in the sin bin and to present Solway with a five-on-three power play. Unwilling to waste this chance to get ahead in the game, the Sharks struck for a fifth time to stun the Pirates, Speirs working with defenceman Kyle Horne to set up skilled left winger Moore who made his shot count on 39:12 to allow his team to head in with an astonishing 5-4 lead at the second break.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Returning for the third and final period, Hull recognised their need to get back into this contest as quickly as possible, having fallen behind in the middle stanza. Searching for a goal and building pressure around Johnston’s net as before whilst the Sharks strove to counter their play, the Pirates eventually levelled the scoring on 46:51 when defenceman Thomas Stubley hit home, player-coach Hewitt and captain Chilcott assisting on this occasion. Less than three minutes later and just before the halfway point in the period, the puck was again in the net as Bonner fired home an unassisted effort to restore his team’s lead with his second goal of the evening. Shortly afterwards, Solway’s deficit was increased further when Bonner linked up with Towner to see the alternate captain print his name on the scoresheet on 52:20; Bonner bagging his fourth assist of the encounter to accompany his two goals. This goal prompted a timeout from the Sharks who were aware that the game was suddenly slipping from their grasp but this team talk could not stay Hull’s attacking play, the side making it 8-5 just fifty six seconds later to place the points out of Solway’s reach. A high sticks offence against Bonner soon followed but, even with the additional skater, the Dumfries outfit found it difficult to add to their tally and watched the Pirates return to full strength only to go shorthanded themselves on 58:09 as ‘D’ man Scott Cooper was shown to the sin bin for high sticks. Finishing the game with the extra man, Hull were pleased to claim their 8-5 victory on the final buzzer, this result allowing the Pirates to continue their battle for the top spot.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Speaking after this game, Sharks’ Head Coach Martin Grubb reflected: “We started slowly, Hull had lots of possession and we had Kyle Johnston to thank for keeping us in the game in the first thirty minutes. We were then able to compete better, started to take the game to Hull, took the chances we created and showed great character to lead after two periods. We knew how tough the third would be but a mixture of running out of steam and too many mistakes meant that we were punished and you cannot do that against a quality hockey team. The disappointing thing was I felt we could have limited our turnovers and mistakes to give ourselves a chance but there were also plenty of positives which we will take forward into our remaining games.”

Solway triumph in Dragons’ den as Sharks snap up win

The Dragons       3

Solway Sharks     6

Making the trip to Deeside with the same side as that which faced Hull Pirates on Saturday evening with the addition of young defenceman Ben Coughtrie, Solway Sharks were more than prepared for the Dragons to put up a fight as they headed out onto the ice, opting for first choice netminder Calum Hepburn to resume his place between the pipes. By comparison, The Dragons lined up with sixteen skaters, including captain James Parsons, experienced forward Marc Lovell and alternate captain Chris Jones, besides starting shot stopper Dominic Jolly.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Building up possession in the early stages of this encounter, Solway Sharks immediately set out to test netminder Jolly with the objective to put their opposition under pressure from faceoff. Though the Dragons worked hard in defence to counter this play, it was not long before the Sharks capitalised on their initial efforts, the side scoring on 4:31 as young forward Scott Henderson struck the net following a pass from captain Struan Tonnar. Pursuing their next goal as a result of this success, Solway doubled their lead with another from Scott Henderson less than four minutes later, this time Connor Henderson and defenceman Scott Cooper teaming up to assist the goal scorer. Ensuring that the Dragons had no time to recover their equanimity after this goal, the Sharks unleashed a third as junior Lewis Houston added to the scoreboard courtesy of alternate captain James Hutchinson and fellow forward Joe Coulter. Disappointed to be three goals down, the Dragons continued to demonstrate their excellent work ethic to prevent Solway’s offensive play for a time but in the end, it was not enough to see off a fourth goal from the Dumfries outfit as Connor Henderson received the puck from Czech defenceman Marek Charvát to allow forward Iain Bowie to net on 12:22. The score line now 4-0, the Sharks were comfortable in their lead but the Dragons continued to apply their efforts to try their luck against Hepburn. Failing to pull a goal back against their visitors before the first interval, the Deeside outfit headed in with the aim to get back into the contest in the second period.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Returning to the ice for the middle stanza, the Dragons were determined to notch a goal and it showed as alternate captain Jones fired home within the space of two minutes following creative play from defenceman Ross Kennedy. Just forty nine seconds later, the home team added a second to their tally to make it 4-2 on 22:44, forward Owen Bennett the man on target following passing play between defenceman Kenneth Williams and forward James Shaw. Less than two minutes later, the Dragons incurred a bench minor for too many men to see the Sharks handed a power play. Not about to let this opportunity pass by without making it count, Solway took just over a minute to find the net with the additional man as Houston achieved his second of the evening with a superb unassisted effort on 25:46 to punish the Dragons’ misdemeanour. Just thirty two seconds later, the Sharks beat Jolly for a sixth time as Houston turned assist alongside Bowie to allow Coulter to print his name onto the scoresheet. Their deficit increased to four goals once more, the Dragons continued to battle with their visitors in the hope that they could still take something from this game. Despite their attempts to defeat Hepburn for a third time in this period, the home team could not find a way past the Sharks’ defence to see their attacking play prove fruitless as Solway remained focused on grabbing another goal to ensure that the points stayed out of the Dragons’ reach. However, the Dumfries outfit could not add to the scoreboard subsequent to Coulter’s goal to go in at the second period with a 6-2 lead.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Aiming to begin the third period in the same fashion as the second, the Dragons were pleased to be awarded the advantage when Sharks’ two-way player Josh Grieveson headed to the sin bin for holding sticks on 41:43 to see the home team gain a power play. Failing to capitalise on this chance to reduce their deficit though, the Dragons were forced to contend with Solway’s creativity as Martin Grubb’s men returned to full strength with their sights set on another goal. Close to the halfway point in the period, a slashing penalty for ‘D’ man Williams handed the Sharks a power play but this time, the visitors failed to net on the advantage to allow the home team to be restored to five men without further concession. With their efforts in vain as the Welsh outfit continued to work hard in defence to ensure that there was no way past Jolly for a seventh time, the Sharks were then stunned to see the Dragons bag themselves a third goal on 55:25, this time Chris Jones claiming his second of the game with an unassisted shot to make it 6-3. Moments later, both sides ran into penalty trouble as Jones undid his good work with a trip against Solway’s blue liner Stuart Kerr who also earned himself a minor for diving. These penalties served with little time remaining in the game, neither side were able to alter the score line before the final buzzer sounded to confirm the Sharks’ win.

Considering his team’s victory over The Dragons, Solway’s Head Coach Martin Grubb shared: “We knew Deeside would come to play, would be aggressive and work hard, and that’s exactly what they did, and we didn’t. I thought the players had the wrong attitude and our performance was completely unacceptable but credit to Deeside for their performance. The only positives were the two points and that we played our young guys all night, including two Man of the Match performances from Lewis Houston and a very good debut weekend for sixteen-year-old Liam Stenton.”

Sheffield eclipses Stars to stay top dog in battle for silverware

Billingham Stars          1

Sheffield Steeldogs      5

Heading into this fixture with a squad of nineteen, including player-coach Michael Bowman, captain Michael Elder, junior defenceman James Hellens and young forward Ethan Hehir, Billingham Stars set out to contend with the Steeldogs who made the trip to The Forum with player-coach Ben Morgan, stand-in captain Tim Smith and Slovakian forwards Adrian Palak and Milan Kolena amongst their sixteen skaters whilst shot stopper Dmitri Zimozdra took his place between the pipes ahead of netminder Brandon Stones.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Aware of the threat that Sheffield Steeldogs posed going into this fixture, Billingham Stars aimed for a sturdy start against the former EPL outfit as both sides battled for possession in the early stages of the game with a view to build some momentum in front of goal. A crosschecking call against blue liner Ben Davison on 7:17 placed the Steeldogs on a power play and, though unable to find the net with the additional skater, Sheffield scored just under a minute after the Stars returned to full strength, Slovakian winger Palak presenting his team with the lead just beyond the halfway point in the period following a pass from Smith. Shortly after this goal, the Steeldogs suffered a setback as defenceman Jamie Scott was sidelined for hooking to award Billingham a power play of their own. Failing to make the most of this opportunity, the Stars could not achieve an equaliser on the advantage and watched Sheffield return to full strength with their lead intact. Whilst netminder Mark Watson pulled off some excellent saves to ensure his team did not fall too far behind, the Teessiders were forced to contend with their visitors’ tricky defensive work which prevented them from making the most of any chances which fell their way. As such, neither team were able to add to the scoring, allowing Morgan’s men to head in with a narrow 1-0 lead at the first interval.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Looking to build on their positive start to the game, the Steeldogs were disappointed to find themselves shorthanded just fifty seven seconds into the middle stanza when Smith made way for tripping. Though striving to make the most of this power play, the Stars struggled to beat Zimozdra who proved sturdy in net and then found themselves reduced to four men less than a minute after Smith’s penalty had terminated; forward Jack Davies warming a seat in the sin bin for boarding. Punishing netminder Watson just fifteen seconds into this power play, the Steeldogs were pleased to double their lead on 24:06 as Morgan notched his ninth league goal of the season following quick play from Kolena and forward Ashley Calvert. Just over two minutes later, Watson was again picking the puck from his net as Palak received a pass from young forward Cameron Brownley to snatch his second goal of the game to make it 3-0. With the Stars frustrated to see their deficit growing, it was not long before the two teams clashed, alternate captain Chris Sykes and Slovakian import Kolena each incurring minors for slashing and crosschecking respectively. Though these penalties made no difference to the scoreboard, the Stars were able to get off the mark just fifty three seconds after returning to full strength as player-coach Bowman fired an unassisted shot beyond Zimozdra to make it 3-1 on 31:55. Battling for a second goal whilst Sheffield remained relentless in their pursuit of a fourth, the Teessiders found their efforts to get back into the game thwarted by Sheffield’s skilled defence and neat offensive play; Billingham managing to record just half as many shots as their visitors in this period. As such, it was no surprise that the Steeldogs reaped the rewards of their hard work in front of Watson’s net in the latter stages of this stanza as Calvert netted courtesy of forward James Spurr and alternate captain Smith to see Sheffield file from the ice with a 4-1 lead at the second break .

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Returning to the ice for the third and final period of the game, Billingham Stars sought to chip away at their three-goal deficit whilst the Steeldogs were comfortable in their lead as they headed out with the aim to secure two points. With the period well under way and neither side scoring, a hooking penalty for Spurr on 47:55 provided Billingham with another power play but the Stars could not carve a path through on goal to beat Zimozdra and found that they were no further forward in their attempts to get back into the game when the Steeldogs returned to five men. Just eighteen seconds after this chance had passed them by, Billingham went shorthanded as alternate captain Callum Davies made way for interference.Aiming for a goal with the additional man, Sheffield could not beat Watson whilst on the power play and instead found the net just over a minute later when Smith teamed up with left winger Liam Charnock to see Brownley bag himself a goal to take the score line up to 5-1 on 53:18. With little time remaining in the period for Billingham to turn the game around, the Stars were unable to battle back against the Steeldogs’ unrelenting offensive play which saw the outfit working hard against the Stars’ defence as they looked to get even further ahead in the contest. As the game came to an end with no further alterations to the scoreboard, the Steeldogs could content themselves with another win to go top of the table with forty nine points whilst the Stars remain in eighth position, still five points behind Blackburn Hawks.

Looking back on Billingham’s loss, alternate captain Chris Sykes admitted: “Sunday was a tough game. With no game on Saturday, it was hard to get going on Sunday. Even though you’d expect to be fresh-legged, it’s hard work. The Dogs are a great team and top of the table for a reason. We played some good hockey and some scrappy hockey. Flav is still injured but Watson is doing good. We just need to get back into our swing and we will be fine.”

Warriors tame Lions as Whitley shutout Nottingham on road

Nottingham Lions    0

Whitley Warriors      5

Travelling to Nottingham with a short bench of fifteen skaters and netminders Richie Lawson and Mark Turnbull, Whitley Warriors found themselves without forwards Ryan Sample, Callum Watson and Adam Finlinson, experienced defenceman Dan Pye, versatile blue liners Stuart Tomlinson and Will Robson and youngsters Anthony Wetherell and Ross Douglass as they headed out onto the ice against Nottingham Lions who had a strong squad at their disposal, the side lining up with nineteen skaters besides netminders Sam Gospel and Thomas Hovell.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Setting out to achieve two points from this fixture, Whitley Warriors were faced with Matt Bradbury’s hardworking Lions who headed out onto the ice knowing that they were capable of causing problems for the Hillheads outfit after pushing Solihull Barons into overtime to earn a point on Saturday evening. Gaining a power play on 7:36 when Whitley’s alternate captain Jordan Barnes headed to the sin bin for hooking, Nottingham set out to try their luck against shot stopper Turnbull but failed to contend with the Warriors’ penalty kill to see no alterations to the scoreboard. This was a chance that the Lions would rue however, as close to three minutes after returning to full strength, Whitley were able to open the scoring through captain Dean Holland who capitalised on play from forward Martin Crammond and Canadian import Philip Edgar on 12:22. Immediately setting their sights on another, the Warriors doubled their lead just under three minutes later when forward Ben Richards bagged himself a goal following neat work from blue liner Harry Harley and power forward Barnes. With the Lions working to get back into this fixture and the Warriors aiming to extend their lead, it was little surprise when the two sides clashed ahead of the first interval as Nottingham’s alternate captain Adam Andrews and Whitley’s captain Holland were both shown to the sin bin for roughing on 19:28. These penalties running over into the middle stanza, the Warriors headed in moments later with a two-goal cushion to keep their opposition at bay whilst the Lions trailed off the ice with the knowledge that they had much work to do in the second period to get back into the game.   

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
With these penalties terminated early in the second period, both sides returned to full strength but it was not long after that the Warriors went shorthanded, this time the Hillheads outfit earning themselves a bench minor for too many men. Awarded their second power play of the evening, the Lions strove to get onto the scoresheet but were unable to surpass netminder Turnbull as David Longstaff’s men once again worked hard to break down Nottingham’s play on the penalty kill. Returning to full strength to pepper Gospel’s net, the Warriors were faced with the home team’s difficult defence and it was only on 34:26 that the visitors were able to make it 3-0, Richards accomplishing his second of the encounter as blue liners Josh Maddock and Sam Zajac bagged assists on this occasion. Just over three minutes after this goal, the Lions suffered a further setback when forward Cameron Pywell was sinbinned for tripping to allow the Warriors a power play. Unable to make the most of their additional man ahead of the break, Whitley went in with just one more goal than that of the previous period.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Eager to make amends for their failure to capitalise on the power play, the Warriors scored their fourth of the contest with just over a minute of the third period played, Richards completing his hat trick on 41:21 with support from alternate captain Shaun Kippin and player-coach Longstaff. Realising their need to increase their attacking play in this stanza, the Lions called Turnbull into action on several occasions but it was not enough to beat the netminder and Whitley were quick to quash their opposition’s offensive play to create their own chances in front of Gospel’s net. Despite their many attempts to increase their lead, Longstaff’s line-up were not able to make it 5-0 until just beyond the halfway point in the period as youngster Jamie Ord linked up with fellow forward DJ Good to see the long-serving Warrior claim his third league goal of the season. Now trailing by five goals, the Lions were aware that any chance of a comeback would be slim but even grabbing a consolatory goal proved a struggle for the side and, as such, Whitley were able to leave the National Ice Centre with two points from their 5-0 victory. Commenting on his team’s success in Nottingham, player-coach David Longstaff noted: “We did enough to win the game, a lot of players got ice time on Sunday and looked good.”

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

Thursday, 15 February 2018

NIHL Weekend Preview


Saturday 17th February 2018
Solway Sharks vs. Hull Pirates

Sunday 18th February 2018
The Dragons vs. Solway Sharks
Billingham Stars vs. Sheffield Steeldogs
Nottingham Lions vs. Whitley Warriors

Fixture:    Solway Sharks vs. Hull Pirates
Date:        17th February 2018  
Venue:     Dumfries Ice Bowl
Faceoff:  7:00pm

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Preparing to confront Hull Pirates for a third time this season, Solway Sharks will head into this encounter with the aim to accomplish their first win over the former EPL side, having so far recorded two 6-3 losses to Jason Hewitt’s men. First making the trip to Hull in October, Solway found themselves trailing by three goals at the end of the first period after Pirates’ player-coach Hewitt and forward Jordan Fisher printed their names on the scoresheet. Despite the Sharks’ efforts to get back into the game with a goal from young forward Scott Henderson, Hull extended their lead to 6-1 to leave Solway struggling to narrow this margin, the Dumfries side unable to make a comeback though managing to score two quick goals in the fifty fifth minute of play. Playing host to the Pirates over a month later, Martin Grubb’s outfit then found themselves behind when Hull established a two-goal lead eight minutes into the first period. Solway fought back, scoring two goals just forty four seconds apart early in the middle stanza to equalise and, even after Hull regained their lead, the Sharks drew level for a second time. In the end, however, it was the Pirates who triumphed as skilled forward Matty Davies completed his hat trick between goals from right winger Bobby Chamberlain and player-coach Hewitt. Hoping to avoid such a fate on Sunday, Solway will look to get back to winning ways after suffering a 3-1 road defeat to Whitley Warriors last weekend. Currently sitting in fourth position with thirty seven points from twenty nine games, the Sharks find themselves seven points behind Hull Pirates, having played four more games than Hewitt’s team. As such, to maintain their present position and to prevent further competition from Solihull Barons who continue to make good progress, Solway will aim for two points in what will be an extremely testing game as the Pirates set their sights on a win in the hope that they can remain in the fight for silverware.

Speaking ahead of this fixture, Sharks’ Head Coach Martin Grubb reflected:

The games against Hull have been our hardest games so far and this game will be no exception. They have so much depth and experience in their line-up that they are hard to play against but we know we have to be aggressive and compete all over the ice if we are to get a result.

Also looking forward to this game, Pirates’ defenceman Chris Wilcox admitted:

This weekend is another big one for us following a disappointing exit from both of the cups we were involved in. On Saturday, we travel to face Solway in what will be another tough game for us. They are a well-drilled team and tough to break down in their own rink. On Sunday, we have another huge game against Telford. Unfortunately, we came out on the wrong side of the result last time we met them but we had a slow start and that hurt us. We have had a good week at training and addressed some things which will hopefully help us this weekend. We are confident that if we play our game and work hard, we should get two good results.

Fixture:    The Dragons vs. Solway Sharks
Date:        18th February 2018  
Venue:     Deeside Leisure Centre
Faceoff:  5:45pm

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Following their home clash with Hull Pirates on Saturday evening, Solway Sharks will make the trip to Deeside to take on The Dragons for a third time this campaign. Recording a 13-2 victory over the Welsh outfit in their first road trip of the season, Martin Grubb’s twelve skaters were able to dominate against their opposition’s eighteen-man squad as forward Iain Bowie managed a hat trick against the side whilst defenceman Kyle Horne, forward Connor Henderson, Czech blue liner Marek Charvát and alternate captain Ross Murray each delivered two goals to overwhelm the Dragons whose key offensive efforts arose through captain James Parsons and alternate captain Matthew Wainwright. Playing in front of a home crowd against the side in November, the Sharks found the Welsh team to be shortbenched as the Dragons travelled with just thirteen skaters; two less than that of the Dumfries outfit. Triumphing by fourteen goals to nil on this occasion, Solway’s forward Connor Henderson and Czech defenceman Vaclav Kolarik each achieved hat tricks against their visitors whilst Horne, Charvát, Hutchinson and Murray were again amongst those on the scoresheet. Taking into account these past encounters and the Dragons’ twelve-game losing streak, the Sharks will be disappointed with anything less than two points from this fixture but will equally look to avoid complacency as they take on Gary Shaw’s hardworking side on Sunday. Having recorded some heavy defeats of late, including last Sunday’s 23-4 loss to former EPL outfit Hull Pirates, the Dragons will continue to battle on, though aware of the challenge awaiting them. At present, the Deeside-based team reside at the foot of Division One with just two wins from twenty nine games; their only points this season collected against Solihull Barons and Nottingham Lions. As a result of this, the Dragons will at the very least hope to compete with the Sharks on home ice this weekend, knowing that they have nothing to lose as they head into this fixture.

Adding to his earlier comments, Solway’s Head Coach Martin Grubb observed:

The Dragons are a team who have had a tough season but are a hardworking side who deserve respect and will be looking to win at home. We need to ensure we are ready to battle hard and play our game as we go looking for two road points.

Fixture:    Billingham Stars vs. Sheffield Steeldogs
Date:        18th February 2018  
Venue:     The Forum
Faceoff:  6:30pm

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Heading into their final clash against Sheffield Steeldogs this season, Billingham Stars approach this home fixture with hope that they can again contend with their visitors after taking a point from a 4-3 overtime loss against Ben Morgan’s team in October. Despite missing out on the points twice to the Steeldogs at Ice Sheffield, first suffering a 7-3 defeat in September before losing out two weeks later by seven goals to four, the Stars were able to compete with Sheffield in their most recent outing against the side in what was an incredibly fiery game at The Forum. Racking up one hundred and sixty penalty minutes in this meeting, the outfits battled their way through the game as Billingham first established a two-goal lead courtesy of power play goals from alternate captain Chris Sykes and defenceman Matthew Campbell before Slovakian import Adrian Palak pulled back a goal for the Steeldogs in the second stanza. The Teessiders then responded with a third goal through player-coach Michael Bowman but failed to hold onto their lead in the third period, conceding a power play goal to left winger Liam Charnock and an equaliser to forward Cameron Brownley to head into overtime; the game finally settled when Slovakian forward Milan Kolena netted to take both points for his team. Knowing that they have the ability to challenge Sheffield, the Stars will take heart from the Steeldogs’ recent road results which saw Morgan’s men lose 4-1 to Whitley Warriors at Hillheads before narrowly escaping with the points at Hobs Moat Road after a hard-fought 3-2 victory over Solihull Barons last weekend. With this in mind, Billingham will look to avenge their previous defeats to Sheffield with a win on Sunday but this will be no easy task as the Steeldogs cannot afford to be defeated this weekend with so much at stake at the top of the table. 

Looking ahead to Billingham’s upcoming contest against Sheffield, Stars’ alternate captain Chris Sykes observed:

The Steeldogs are a team who are fighting for the top spot and are a possible playoff opponent for us so this Sunday at The Forum is a massive game for both teams. We know what they are like, who they have and what they are capable of. It will be a tough game and hard work but we pushed them into overtime last time so hopefully we can come out on top.

Also taking his time to look ahead to the Steeldogs’ upcoming fixture against Billingham, defenceman Tom Barry shared:

We all feel ready for this weekend after coming off a big win on Sunday. We expect both games this weekend to be tough. We know that this is the business end of the season and even dropping one point could be the difference between first and second. Sunday’s game against the Stars is going to be tough. They had a good game last time we played them as they were winning 2-0 for the majority of the game. They have got some really skilled players and they all know how to play as a team really well. With there not being many games left of the season, we have to play every game like it’s a cup final. We have to focus on what we can control and not worry about what other teams are doing in order to give us the best chance of winning the league. I think over the next few weeks, we as a team need to put everything we can into each and every game.

Fixture:    Nottingham Lions vs. Whitley Warriors
Date:        18th February 2018
Venue:     National Ice Centre
Faceoff:  7:30pm

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Travelling to the National Ice Centre on Sunday to face Nottingham Lions for one last time this season, Whitley Warriors will head into this game buoyed by their recent home victories against Sheffield Steeldogs and Solway Sharks but equally aware of the threat that Nottingham Lions pose, having lost out to Matt Bradbury’s men once already this campaign. After beating the Lions 4-1 in a close contest on home ice in September, the Warriors then managed a 5-2 road win over the outfit almost a month later before suffering a narrow 3-2 defeat at Hillheads in their previous outing against the side in November. In this clash, Whitley’s Canadian import Philip Edgar opened the scoring with less than four minutes played, only for Nottingham to hit back on the power play through alternate captain Marc Levers before forward Joseph Aston bagged a further two goals for his side which left Whitley trailing even after a blue line shot from Warriors’ defenceman Dan Pye. Looking to avoid a result of this nature as they head out onto the ice on Sunday, the Warriors will be prepared to face the Lions who will be hungry for victory, the side having picked up just one point from their last six games, with their most recent win against The Dragons last month. After pushing Billingham Stars into overtime two weeks ago, Nottingham’s hardworking team know that they have what it takes to contend with tough opposition but will once again be put to the test, the Warriors ready to battle for a win as David Longstaff’s line-up continue to strive for fifth place with the knowledge that Solihull could extend the gap between themselves and Whitley this weekend. With this set to be another entertaining clash between two strong sides, the Warriors will be prepared to contend with Nottingham’s defensive prowess and strong work ethic to ensure that they do not leave the Lions’ den empty-handed.

Commenting ahead of this clash, player-coach David Longstaff noted:

We’ll be missing several players but it will give other players in our team a chance to show what they can do.

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

Monday, 12 February 2018

NIHL Weekend Action

Barons vanquish Warriors as Solihull triumph on home ice

Solihull Barons                      7

Whitley Warriors                      3

Travelling to Hobs Moat Road with a squad of nineteen players, Whitley Warriors were missing forwards Ryan Sample and Stuart Tomlinson, defenceman Sam Zajac and Dan Pye and youngsters Anthony Wetherell and Ross Douglass as they lined up against the shortbenched Solihull Barons who, by comparison, had a team of sixteen skaters and lone netminder Daniel Brittle at their disposal.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Facing off against the Barons, Whitley Warriors were hopeful of achieving maximum points from this clash but were under no illusions as to the challenging nature of this contest which became apparent with just 1:41 on the clock as Adam Brittle linked up with fellow forward Josh Bruce to see his captain capitalise. Moments later, the home team were handed a power play when Warriors’ alternate captain Shaun Kippin was shown to the sin bin by referee Jurijs Solovjovs for roughing. Successfully killing this penalty, Whitley were then dismayed to incur a second minor just thirty four seconds after Kippin’s return to the ice, this time power forward Jordan Barnes making way for slashing. Though working hard to return to full strength unscathed, it was not long after that the Warriors ran into further penalty trouble, Kippin sidelined for hooking just beyond the halfway point of the period to allow Solihull the advantage once again. However, the Barons’ advantage did not last long as just thirty one seconds later, defenceman Daniel Harrison headed to the sin bin for a slashing offence to level the playing field. This penalty did not hold Solihull back for long as just twenty seconds after Whitley’s return to full strength, Barnes was considered guilty of preventing a goal scoring opportunity to see the Barons handed a penalty shot. Not about to waste this chance, forward Luke Brittle beat netminder Richie Lawson to double his side’s lead. Attempting to battle with their opposition to get back in the game, Whitley were pleased to be awarded a power play when shot stopper Daniel Brittle conceded a minor penalty for tripping but, unfazed by this, the Barons strove for their third goal and achieved it, this time Adam Brittle breaking free of Whitley’s defence to play the puck to forward Edward Eaton who provided his team with a 3-0 lead ahead of the first interval.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Returning for the second period, the Warriors were disappointed to see their lack of discipline continue as forward Adam Finlinson picked up two minutes for interference on 23:49 to reduce his side to four men once more. Shortly after this penalty was served, both Barons’ defenceman Dave Rogers and Whitley’s captain Dean Holland were made to sit out for roughing. Just over a minute later, Solihull’s Luke Brittle joined his teammate in the sin bin, the forward also considered guilty of roughing, to hand Whitley the additional skater. Not distracted from their initial endeavour, the Warriors battled for the puck on the power play and were able to find the target for the first time in the game through Canadian Philip Edgar; player-coach David Longstaff and skilled blue liner Harry Harley with assists. With play far more even than the first, Whitley began to seek out their second goal in the contest but it was the Barons who were next to alter the scoreboard as forward Elliot Farrell notched his second league goal of the season on 33:34 courtesy of Matthew Maurice and Andrew Whitehouse. Frustrated to find themselves three goals behind their opposition once again, the Warriors continued to fight to reduce their deficit and were successful in their efforts as the period drew to a close; forward Callum Watson receiving the puck from netminder Lawson to set up Edgar who bagged his second goal of the evening with less than two minutes remaining to make it 4-2 going into the final stanza.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Heading into the third period with a two-goal lead, the Barons were eager to continue their hard work and were handed the perfect opportunity to extend their lead when Warriors’ stand-in defenceman Martin Crammond made way for slashing on 43:41. Striving for a fifth goal, Solihull were able to find the net with just twenty four seconds of this penalty remaining as forward Thomas Soar printed his name on the scoresheet following assistance from Eaton. Still aiming to take something from this game, the Warriors continued to fight in front of goal and their efforts paid off just over three minutes later when Edgar completed his hat trick following passing play between blue liner Harley and captain Holland to take the Warriors within two of their opposition once again. Any hopes of a comeback for the visitors was soon dashed however, as, just forty two seconds later, ‘D’ man Harrison played the puck to Maurice to make it 6-3 on 49:21. Unwilling to give up in their attempt to claw back some lost ground, the Warriors continued to test Brittle but as the game drew to a close, this task became increasingly difficult and the side found themselves further hindered on 57:00 when Barnes was sinbinned following a slashing offence alongside Kippin who was handed a ten-minute misconduct penalty in the same instance. Calling a timeout, Solihull sought to make the most of this power play and it was therefore little surprise when Luke Brittle snatched his second of the game following neat play between Soar and Eaton with just six seconds of the Barons’ advantage remaining. Unable to recover from this, the Warriors endured the last moments of the game to see Solihull claim their 7-3 victory on the final buzzer.

Tigers tear apart Billingham as Stars shine fades

Billingham Stars          3

Telford Tigers                12

Lining up with nineteen skaters and netminders Mark Watson and Callum Reynolds in the absence of first choice shot stopper James Flavell, Billingham Stars were faced with Telford’s nineteen-man squad as the Tigers lined up with their usual core, including Canadian captain Jason Silverthorn, alternate captain Rick Plant, forward Scott McKenzie and versatile defencemen Daniel Rose and Dale White.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Starting the game with Watson in net, Billingham Stars set out to contend with the Tigers and, in the opening moments of the game, both teams worked hard to achieve possession to test their opposition’s defence. A slashing call against alternate captain Chris Sykes allowed the Tigers their first power play of the game on 7:13 but try as they might, Telford could not beat the Stars with their additional man and instead watched Billingham return to full strength, only to find themselves shorthanded just over two minutes later when ‘D’ man White was sidelined for tripping. Successfully killing this penalty, the Tigers increased their offensive play to defeat Watson as White returned to the ice to find the target just forty eight seconds later, Silverthorn and Plant grabbing assists in the process. Moments later, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for forward Jack Davies then saw Billingham go shorthanded once again and just over a minute later, Telford doubled their lead, this time Silverthorn linking up with Plant to present McKenzie with a goal scoring opportunity on 16:28. The score line 2-0, Billingham were keen to stay out of the sin bin but minor penalties for Stars’ blue liner Andy Finn and Tigers’ forward Adam Taylor for tripping and diving respectively further disrupted play. Just ten seconds before these penalties were served, Telford’s forward Warren Tait was made to sit out for interference to allow Billingham’s power play to run into the second stanza.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Unable to make the most of this advantage on their return to the ice, the Stars were then frustrated to see Latvian forward Deniss Baškatovs sent to the sin bin for tripping on 22:36. Not about to squander this chance, the Tigers netted seventeen seconds later as alternate captain Jonathan Weaver played a pass to Silverthorn who added a third goal to Billingham’s deficit. Struggling to challenge Tigers’ shot stopper Denis Bell, the Stars then suffered a further setback when Jack Davies was sent to the sin bin for crosschecking to hand Telford the additional skater. Again, Tom Watkins’ team wasted no time, the side scoring their third consecutive power play goal of the evening as McKenzie printed his name on the scoresheet for a second time courtesy of Weaver. Now four goals down, Billingham failed to respond to the Tigers’ attacking play and it was unsurprising when their visitors made it 5-0 less than two minutes later, defenceman Daniel Mitchell slotting the puck beyond Watson on this occasion with support from McKenzie. This goal prompted a timeout from the Teessiders but their team talk appeared to make little difference as thirty eight seconds later, the Stars were again picking the puck from their net as Tait buried his shot to make it 6-0, following passing play between Slovakian forward Filip Supa and ‘D’ man Nick Oliver. Just over a minute later, Billingham opted to pull Watson from his net to allow young backup Reynolds some ice time and the Stars were relieved to be awarded a power play of their own when Weaver was sinbinned for a slashing offence shortly afterwards. Striving for a goal, the Stars found the net for the first time in the game on 32:53 when Baškatovs beat Bell after some neat work from forwards Jack Emerson and James Moss. Soon after this goal, both teams lost a man to the sin bin as Stars’ defenceman Ross Hanlon and Tigers’ young forward Brodie Jesson each made way for interference. Despite this penalty, the Shropshire outfit remained composed to alter the scoreboard as Silverthorn snatched his second of the game to make it 7-1 whilst Plant and Weaver each grabbed their third assists of the evening. Just three seconds after both penalties were terminated, Telford then notched another as Tait teamed up with Supa to see defenceman Rose claim his fourth league goal of the season. The score 8-1, the Stars failed to claw back another goal and instead filed from the ice with much work to do in the third period, having had just three shots on Bell’s goal to the fifteen attempts on Billingham’s net.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Knowing that damage limitation would be key in this period, the Stars headed out onto the ice aware of the challenge ahead. As such, it did not take long for Telford to add a ninth to their tally as White claimed his second of the game following a pass from Silverthorn. Shortly afterwards, the Stars were handed a power play as Tigers’ defenceman Oliver was made to sit out for tripping. Unable to make this chance count however, the Stars soon found themselves reduced to four men when Jack Davies was shown to the sin bin for roughing just before the halfway point in the period. Whilst the Tigers could not find a way past Reynolds with the additional skater, it took the side just nineteen seconds after the termination of Davies penalty to take their goal count into double figures, Supa setting up Rose who achieved his second of the game on 51:23. Looking to retaliate, the Stars managed to find the net less than three minutes later when Finn scraped a second for Billingham with support arriving from Baškatovs and Moss to prompt a change of netminder for Telford who switched Bell for backup shot stopper Ryan Lewis. Moments later, Rose bagged his hat trick following a pass from McKenzie to make it 11-2 but with the game coming to a close, Tigers’ defenceman Mitchell then incurred a crosschecking penalty which awarded Billingham a power play. Just twenty seconds into this advantage, the Teessiders struck the target as Latvian blue liner Artūrs Ozols collected another for his team; Sykes and fellow alternate captain Callum Davies assisting on 58:04. Just ten seconds later, the Tigers were able to have the last word in the contest as White secured his hat trick after some skilled play from Silverthorn to wrap up the scoring at 12-3.

Warriors harpoon Sharks in close home clash as Solway leave empty-handed

Whitley Warriors         3

Solway Sharks            1

Lining up with twenty skaters, first choice shot stopper Richie Lawson and backup netminder Mark Turnbull, Whitley Warriors found that they were missing only versatile defenceman Stuart Tomlinson and youngsters Anthony Wetherell and Ross Douglass. Solway Sharks, by comparison, headed out onto the ice with a squad of fifteen players which included captain Struan Tonnar, skilled left winger Steven Moore, Czech defencemen Marek Charvát and Vaclav Kolarik, two-way player Josh Grieveson and netminder Kyle Johnston who was given the start between the pipes over usual first choice shot stopper Calum Hepburn.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia – Ian Hanlon
Starting the game with pace and power, Whitley Warriors immediately sought to test Sharks’ netminder Johnston from the outset, the youngster working hard to keep the puck out of his net following some quick fire shots from David Longstaff’s line-up, with captain Dean Holland amongst those striving for a goal. Increasing their possession following some early attempts from Whitley, Solway appeared dangerous in front of Lawson’s net as the shot stopper was called into action whilst his defence also worked hard to prevent the Dumfries outfit from scoring. As the period progressed, play became end-to-end, both teams working hard to break the deadlock with neither succeeding despite coming close. With Whitley enjoying several opportunities to get on the scoresheet and defending well, the side were able to outshoot their visitors by nineteen shots to ten. A power play was then handed to the Warriors on 18:41 as Kolarik made way for crosschecking to award his opposition the advantage but Whitley could not snatch a goal before the first interval to see both teams file from the ice with nothing to show for their efforts.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia – Ian Hanlon
Returning with forty one seconds of their power play remaining, the Warriors found that they were still unable to capitalise after the break but the side were soon presented with a second chance just thirteen seconds later when a delayed tripping penalty against Connor Henderson allowed Whitley to claim their first goal of the game; Ben Richards setting up fellow forward Adam Finlinson who fired the puck beyond Johnston to claim his sixth league goal of the season. Shortly afterwards, Sharks’ forward Scott Henderson was sidelined for tripping to present Whitley with another power play but again Longstaff’s men found it difficult to contend with Solway’s penalty kill to miss out on doubling their lead. Continuing to be an evenly matched battle between two tough teams, neither side could find the back of the net as the midpoint of the game approached with neat defensive work and sturdy netminding keeping the score line at 1-0. A slashing call against Richards on 32:53 then saw Martin Grubb’s hardworking team presented with a power play but the Warriors utilised quick line changes to parry the puck away from their defensive zone to ensure their misdemeanour could not be punished by the Sharks. Though both teams scrapped for the puck and switched between zones with rapidity, neither were able to find the net in the final stages of the middle stanza and as such, Whitley headed in with their narrow 1-0 lead at the second break.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia – Ian Hanlon
With the points still all to play for and the Warriors’ lead a fragile one, both teams were eager to make the most of their possession but, continuing to fight for every puck and defending to the best of their ability, scoring was made an incredibly difficult task though both outfits had their chances. The Sharks were finally awarded for their efforts however, the side accomplishing a delayed penalty goal after a slashing call against Warrior Callum Watson saw forward Iain Bowie link up with Connor Henderson who picked out Moore to see the left winger’s deflected shot beat Lawson on 50:20. Disappointed to find their lead cancelled out with less than ten minutes remaining in the game, the Warriors realised that they must retaliate quickly. Winning a faceoff in Whitleys offensive zone, long-serving Warrior DJ Good played the puck out to experienced defenceman Sam Zajac who rocketed a shot towards Johnston’s net which was tipped in by forward Martin Crammond. The score line 2-1, both teams continued to compete; Solway determined to draw level for a second time whilst Whitley were eager to make their lead a more comfortable one. With the game still close, getting on the scoresheet again proved a difficult task for both teams and as play progressed without any scoring, the Sharks opted for a timeout on 58:30 in the hope that they could grab a goal to take the game into overtime. Deciding not to pull netminder Johnston in the first instance, though the faceoff was in their offensive zone, Solway ensured that possession was theirs before calling Johnston back to the bench for the additional skater. This tactic was to result in further misfortune for the Dumfries outfit however, as Johnston made his way off the ice only for Zajac to gain possession, the defenceman setting the puck on course for goal which, though slow to trickle over the line with Solway’s defence bearing down upon it, made the score line 3-1 just seven seconds before the final buzzer sounded. 

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Speaking after this game, player-coach David Longstaff noted: “I thought we controlled long spells of the game but Solway are a very good team and very well-coached so it’s always very tricky with only a one-goal lead.” Adding to this, Head Coach Martin Grubb shared: “Whitley is always a tough place to get a result and it was even tougher with the short bench we had. I thought Whitley were better than us in the first period, then we made a few system changes and grew into the game but we missed too many chances when we created them. Once we scored, we should have used that as a springboard but we conceded straightaway and, in the end, we didn’t do enough to win the game.”

Stars knock Lions for six as Billingham get back on track

Nottingham Lions        0

Billingham Stars          6

Making the trip to Nottingham with sixteen skaters and lone netminder Mark Watson, Billingham Stars found themselves without forwards Josh Nertney, Scott Ward and Alex Preston, first choice shot stopper James Flavell and defencemen Andy Finn and Darren Stattersfield. The Lions, meanwhile, had seventeen skaters at their disposal, including captain Elliot Perrin, alternate captains Marc Levers and Adz Andrews, experienced forward Paul Stanley and starting netminder Sam Gospel.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Heading into this game against a tough Nottingham outfit, Billingham Stars were eager to make it four wins from four against the Lions but with both teams appearing dangerous in front of goal, the opening moments of this encounter proved a stalemate in which neither could score; Matt Bradbury’s team fighting hard in defence whilst Stars’ netminder Watson was equally put to the test as both sides looked to open their accounts. It was not until 9:37 however, that the first goal of the game arrived as alternate captain Chris Sykes scored his thirty eighth league goal of the season after a neat pass from player-coach Michael Bowman. Having taken so long to find their first goal, Billingham added a second to their roster just over a minute later when Sykes turned assist for captain Michael Elder to make it 2-0. Momentum now in their favour, the Stars strove for possession against the undeterred Lions’ who then conceded a third when youngster Ethan Hehir sent fellow forward Jack Davies through on goal with success on 16:26 to allow Billingham to file from the ice with a 3-0 lead at the first interval.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Returning to the ice with hopes to get themselves back into this game, Nottingham were pleased to be handed a power play on 23:50 when Stars’ ‘D’ man Ross Hanlon was shown to the sin bin for charging. With the Lions unable to find the target on the advantage, it was not long after that both teams ran into penalty trouble as the sides clashed, defenceman Luke Thomas reacting to a trip from Billingham’s blue liner Ben Davison which resulted in the pair dropping the gloves to each earn 2+2 for fighting whilst Davison incurred an additional minor for his initial offence. Just over two minutes after these penalties were served, the game became fiery once more, this time Hanlon incurring 2+10 for a check to the head which resulted in a further battle with forward Paul Lofthouse to see the duo receive penalties of 2+2 for fighting. Also involved in this incident were alternate captains Sykes and Levers who exchanged blows to be handed the same punishment for their actions. Despite these penalties, the Stars were not distracted from their original objective and were able to add a fourth to their tally in consequence; Bowman firing an unassisted effort beyond Gospel to cause further problems for Nottingham. Fired up, Billingham bagged themselves a 5-0 lead just seventy two seconds later when Latvian Deniss Baškatovs teamed up with fellow forward James Moss to see Jack Emerson print his name on the scoresheet. Dismayed to have fallen so far behind in this encounter, the Lions realised that their penalties had proved costly, the side outshot by eighteen to eight in this stanza. With all penalties now served and neither team finding the net in the final three minutes of the period, Billingham headed in at the break with their comfortable lead whilst Nottingham were aware that their chances of claiming so much as a point from this game would be slim due to the margin separating them from the Stars.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Spurred on by their performance in the second period, the Stars raced onto the ice to grab a sixth goal, Emerson collecting his second of the game on 41:22 following neat play from Baškatovs and Moss once again. Twenty five seconds later, Nottingham’s defenceman Tyler Poole was called to the sin bin for kneeing and was instantly joined by forward Cameron Pywell who picked up a minor for abuse of an official to hand Billingham a five-on-three situation. Faced with the Lions’ strong defence, the Stars failed to capitalise despite their power play to leave the scoreboard unchanged. Continuing to persevere in the hope that they could grab a consolatory goal at the very least after returning to full strength, Nottingham battled for the puck but were again forced to contend with the Stars’ strong offensive work. Presented with a power play at the halfway point in the period when blue liner Davison made way for holding, Bradbury’s men could not make their additional skater count and just forty four seconds after Billingham’s return to full strength, the Lions went shorthanded themselves as defenceman Joseph Gretton picked up a minor for roughing on 52:55 to see the advantage switch hands. Just thirty two seconds later though, the Teessiders found themselves reduced to four men to cancel out their power play as defenceman Thomas Keeley was shown to the sin bin for tripping. These penalties disrupting play, the Lions suffered an additional setback when captain Perrin was sidelined for crosschecking. Again, the Stars were unable to find a way beyond Gospel on the power play allowing the home team to return to full strength on 58:05; Nottingham then calling a timeout just twenty one seconds later to discuss their next course of action. With both teams striving for a goal in the final moments of the game and neither successful in their exploits, the final buzzer sounded to confirm Billingham’s 6-0 win to leave the Stars five points behind Blackburn Hawks who won on penalty shots against Telford Tigers on Sunday evening. 

Reflecting on Billingham’s double header, Stars’ alternate captain Chris Sykes admitted: “Saturday wasn’t our best performance at all, far from it. We lapsed in concentration for seven to eight minutes in the second period and the game got away from us after a good first period. Sunday was a better showing from us and a nice 6-0 win, so another shutout. It was a mixed weekend but two out of four is good.”

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