It wasn’t the start to the season the Dragons wanted or expected, as they fall in both weekend tilts against the Billingham Stars, 7-2 at Billingham and 8-3 at Deeside.
The Dragons were short-benched for both games this weekend, missing several key players due to injuries and other commitments. It would get even worse during the games, as Charlie Spridgeon was taken out of action with an injury early in the second period on Saturday, and James Parsons was lost to another injury on Sunday.
The Billingham Stars finished second in the league last season, and made it to the final four playoff weekend in Altrincham. With Solway taking the step up to the National League, Billingham are likely the favourites to win the NIHL1 North this season. A very tough test for the Dragons to begin the season, especially of the back of a hard preseason match-up with the Bristol Pitbulls.
It was a solid first period for the Dragons up in Billingham, though not without it’s wobbles. They allowed a shorthanded goal on their first power play of the evening, and went to the locker rooms down 2-1, with all to play for in the second.
Unfortunately, the second period was all Billingham. After losing Spridgeon to an injury less than three minutes in, the Dragons allowed 5 goals, including two on the power play, in the space of fifteen minutes. Nothing went their way, and they went to the locker room down 7-1, disappointing after such a close first period.
The third period was much better. They battled back and Brodie Jesson scored his first goal as a Dragon, bringing the scoreline to 7-2.
A short-benched and hard fought game against a good team, it was nevertheless not the way the Dragons wanted this game to go.
Due to the injury to Spridgeon, as well as losing DJ Thompson to his first team for the day, the Dragons were even more short-benched than at Billingham. Luckily, head coach Mike Clancy was holding an event at the Den for the team GB U18 girls team, and GB Senior Women’s captain Jodie Alderson-Smith was there to speak about her experiences playing for GB. She would end up suiting up for the Dragons, making her NIHL1 debut.
The Dragons would allow three goals in the first period alone, including another shorthanded goal, before captain James Parsons puts one home, assisted by Alderson Smith and MJ Clancy.
The second period was the best period of the weekend for the Dragons, as despite losing Parsons to an injury (for which Patriks Grigors would be ejected from the game), Ross Kennedy scored two goals of his own to tie the game at 3.
Unfortunately, less than two minutes later, the Stars found the back of the net again, and the Dragons once again went to the locker room down a goal and worried about their injured teammate.
The Dragons went into the third confident, but exhaustion had set in, and mistakes started happening. Another shorthanded goal for the Stars came in this period, as well as three others, including a power play goal with just over a minute left to make the final score 8-3.
Overall, it wasn’t the weekend the Dragons needed, but it gave the team lots to learn from, and it set the bar for what the Dragons need to do to finish in the top four this season, something still very much attainable. The season is only two games old, and there is plenty of time to turn things around.
The Dragons are expecting several players back next weekend, to bolster the team as they go into games 3 and 4 of the season.
The Dragons travel to Hull on Saturday to face the Jets, playing in their first NIHL1 season after a very strong NIHL2 campaign last season. The Jets are currently 1-1 on the season, with a win against Billingham and a loss to Blackburn.
Then the Dragons face Whitley Bay at home on Sunday for the first time this season. The Dragons will be looking for revenge after the playoff loss last season. The doors open at 4:30, the puck drops at 5:15, and tickets are available online now!