The Building Craftsmen (Dumfries) Ltd. Solway Sharks got back to winning ways on Saturday evening with an excellent seven-two NIHL National Cup victory over the Billingham Stars at the Shark Tank.
There was very nearly a shock for the home support seconds into the game as a bobbling puck found Deniss Baskatovs in front of goal but the usually deadly forward failed to lift his rushed shot and could only watch in despair as the puck made contact with Calum Hepburn’s pads. After this early shock Solway pulled themselves together and gradually began to take a greater share of possession and territory but, if the truth be told, neither team was dominant and they often cancelled each other out.
The first powerplay of the game went in favour of the visitors just after the mid-way point in the period when Struan Tonnar received a minor for slashing and for the next two minutes the Stars laid siege to the Sharks goal but the defence stood strong, ably backed up with several fine saves from netminder Hepburn. As the home side returned to full strength Billingham were still very much on the offensive and Michael Bowman (12:24) found himself in the right place to prod home a loose puck from the edge of the crease to open the scoring.
Stung into action Solway stepped on the gas and were soon rewarded with a deserved equaliser when a Stuart Kerr shot from the outer edge of the right-hand face-off circle was redirected past the Stars keeper by Stevie Moore from the low slot. Both teams continued to attack when they had the puck as they searched for the go-ahead goal but the buzzer for the first interval sounded with the scores tied at one.
The Sharks began the second session very much on the font foot and quickly went ahead when Ross Murray collected a Vaclav Kolarik pass on the left-hand boards and progressed into Billingham territory before passing inside to Iain Bowie (21:19) who fired home from the slot. Solway continued to press and a prolonged period of pressure eventually gained them a powerplay when Callum Pattison was penalised for holding. With the man advantage the home side were able to take their time and pass the puck around the visitors “D” as they looked for an opening. That opportunity came when Stevie Moore and Marek Charvat combined to send the puck into the slot where it was met by a Daniel Abercrombie (27:28 PP) wrist shot and the Sharks had a three-one lead.
For a while the visitors were able to steady the ship but with five minutes left in the session Stevie Moore and Stuart Kerr combined to clear their lines and find Iain Bowie (35:12) on the left wing. With no-one in support the Solway marksman moved over the blueline and looked up to see a clear shooting lane ahead of him. That was all the encouragement he needed to let fly with a crisp wrist shot the rose over Watson’s shoulder and into the top right-hand corner of the net.
A minute later Billingham lost possession at centre-ice and the Sharks were on the attack again. This time it was to be Bowie and Kerr who combined to find Vaclav Kolarik (36:28) in free space on the left and he sent in a wrist shot of his own that equalled Bowie’s effort for power and laser-like accuracy. The Sharks had now scored five unanswered goals to lead five-one but from the restart they went into sleep mode allowing Michael Bowman to progress down the right wing before slipping a pass inside for Chris Sykes (36:42) to give the Stars some hope with a well taken goal.
After soaking up some Billingham pressure to start the final period Solway began to once more impress their will on the game and they extended their lead on the second of two powerplays when Ross Murray and Vaclav Kolarik worked the puck out to Iain Bowie (47:34 PP) on the blueline and his powerful slapshot found a way through traffic and past the unsighted Watson to make the score six-two. The Sharks continued to press and were in seventh heaven two minutes later. Patient play allowed Struan Tonnar to set up Scott Henderson for a shot at goal that was partially blocked but the rebound fell nicely for Adam Robinson (49:25 pictured) to pounce and score his first goal in Sharks colours.
The only real black spot on the evening was an injury that saw influential defender James Hutchinson leave the ice late in the first period. However, every cloud has a silver lining, in this case it was the assured performance of Stuart Kerr. The Solway youngster played with a confidence and calmness which quite rightly gained him the Man of the Match Award for the home side with Michael Bowman picking up that accolade for the visitors.
A gallery of photographs from this match can be found by following this link.