The BCD Solway Sharks travelled across country to Billingham on Sunday for what turned out to be an NIHL National Cup thriller and an eventual four-three victory after sudden-death overtime.
The likelihood of a Solway win didn’t look too promising in the first period as the Sharks found it difficult to get going against a fast, eager and hard-pressing Billingham side. It was of little surprise to see the home side take the lead when Latvian forward Deniss Baskatovs (03:51) expertly converted Richie Thorntons’ pass from close range. With their tails up Billingham looked to extend their lead and Calum Hepburn made several saves to keep his side in the game. The Stars were finally rewarded for their endeavour in the fourteenth minute when Callum Davies (13:52 PP) scored a powerplay goal from the left that beat Hepburn at his near post and that was the way the scores would remain until the first intermission.
After the break the home side re-commenced their attacks on the Solway goal and it was to be Baskatovs (26:14) who extended their lead to three when he converted ex-Shark Darren Stattersfield’s pass. Someone really has to tell the Sharks that we don’t need to give the opposition a three goal start in the cup. Luckily, before the buzz inside the Forum had subsided, Solway did wake up and Stevie Moore (26:37) pounced to net the rebound when Billingham netminder Mark Watson could only parry Connor Henderson’s shot. Play flowed back and forth from then until Solway got a deserved break three minutes from the second interval when Iain Bowie (37:00) showed a deft touch to redirect Vaclav Kolarik’s shot past Watson and into the Stars net.
The final period began with Solway on the front foot and soon they were on level terms when an excellent passing move down the rink involving Joe Coulter and Iain Bowie created the opportunity for Ross Murray (41:52) to convert from the slot. For the remainder of the period there was not much to choose from between the teams. Billingham certainly had more possession of the puck but the Sharks played a canny road game and always looked dangerous on the break. In the closing minutes both netminders, Mark Watson and Calum Hepburn, showed their worth with saves that kept the two teams level and ensured that the supporters would be treated to three-on-three sudden-death overtime.
With so much space on the ice during overtime possession is crucial and Solway gained the upper hand when they won the puck from the opening face-off. For over ninety seconds they probed but couldn’t find a chink in the Stars armour. When the Sharks did eventually lose possession Billingham tried for a quick line change and this was to be their undoing. A D-man was stopped on the boards as a team-mate entered the ice ahead of him and Iain Bowie (61:45 pictured) pounced. The Solway sniper picked his pocket and turned for goal with the stolen puck. He still had a lot to do but his speed took him clear of the defender and a cool head allowed him to close in on goal before lifting the puck over the keepers dive and into the roof of the net.
A point was the least that each team deserved from the game and the home side got that and the Sharks got two to remain on top of out group in the round-robin stage of the competition.
Videos courtesy of Billingham Stars TV