Billingham Stars endured a thoroughly miserable weekend as the depleted side crashed to heavy defeats against league leaders Solway Sharks and in-form Blackburn Hawks.
Billingham travelled to Dumfries in National Ice Hockey (N) Moralee Conference on Saturday knowing that a win would take them above their Scottish opponents and into pole position.
It took the Sharks just over two minutes to open the scoring, Struan Tonnar grabbing the opening goal.
Solway duly put a second on the scoreboard in the 16th minute, Tonnar again the man on the spot to put the puck in off the post.
A minute later an ill-advised defensive clearance fell straight to sharp shooter Iain Bowie, who let fly with a wrist shot to put the Sharks 3-0 up at the interval.
The second period opened in the same way as the first had ended – with the Stars on the back foot.
Billingham-based Craig Thurston added number four for the home side in the 24th minute, and it got immeasurably worse for the visitors when forward Stephen Wallace left the ice injured a minute later. Wallace did not return and looks doubtful for some weeks.
A finger injury to Callum Davies compounded the Stars misery, the session closing 4-0.
A second Bowie goal in the 42nd minute put any lingering hopes of a Stars comeback well and truly to bed.
Billingham denied Sharks netminder Gary Russell his shut-out when stand-in forward Martyn Davies forced the puck home on a Stars power play in the 51st minute, Billingham holding out for the remainder of the game with the home side taking the points on a 5-1 score line.
Man-of-the-match for the Stars was Michael Bowman.
Billingham returned to the Forum on Sunday evening with the daunting challenge of facing a full strength and in-form Blackburn Hawks with further additions to an already lengthy injury list..
The writing was on the wall from very early in the game as former EPL forward Adam Brittle opened the scoring for the visitors after just over a minute on the clock.
Billingham cancelled the goal out with an immediate response from Emerson, but Daniel Mackriel restored the advantage seconds later to make the score 1-2 with less than two minutes played.
The Hawks went further ahead with exactly nine minutes played, a Ric Hughes effort leaving Stars netminder Watson fuming with his non-existent defence.
An Adam Brittle wraparound goal in the 16th minute gave the scoreline a one-sided look with only one session played, the period closing 4-1 and Billingham looking desperate.
A shocking middle period for the Stars put them on the road to their heaviest defeat of the season.
An effort from Mackriel in the 23rd minute was followed up almost immediately by a goal from Aaron Davies to make it 6-1.
Adams got himself on the scoresheet in the 29th minute followed by ex-Manchester captain Jake Nurse two minutes later. A sorry second session was complete when Mackriel grabbed his hat trick with just under 35 minutes gone..
A 9-1 final score lifts Blackburn to fourth in the table and leaves Billingham with many questions to answer and only a week to recover.
Man-of-the-match for the Stars was Andy Finn.
Billingham Director of Coaching Terry Ward was understandably dejected after a torrid weekend.
He said: “A very poor weekend for the team – we obviously had a lot of injuries.
“Went to Solway and picked up more injuries to bring into a home game against Blackburn and be embarrassed by the score line, purely down to injured bodies and then having to play others out of position because there was no one else to take those places.
“Against Blackburn we were at sea, we lost Andy Munroe taken ill just before the game, which upset the balance defensively.
“We are looking out for replacements to strengthen the squad.
“This week will be about picking up the pieces – we’ll get everybody back into training, we must get that winning mentality back. We’ve got to give everything we have in next weekend’s games.”
Billingham travel to Sheffield Spartans on SaturdayJanuary then host Whitley Warriors in the big North-East derby the next day.
at the Billingham Forum on January 12 (face off 6.30pm). Tickets can be bought from the box office from 5.30pm on game night priced at £7.50 adults, £5 concessions, £22 family [2+2].