Warriors set for Stars visit

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WHITLEY Warriors begin their 2012-13 ice hockey season on Sunday with a home exhibition game against league champions Billingham Stars, with a face-off at 5pm.

After several retirements over the summer, coach Garry Dowd has made two signings so far with Simon Hehir and Alex Lawson joined from Billingham and both are set to make their Whitley debut against their former team-mates.

“We will use the game to try different combinations and permutations so that we can see ahead of the season starting what our best lines will be,” said Dowd.

“Obviously we will have been doing that in training, but until you get into a game situation, you can’t really assess how these things will work.

“It isn’t a must win game and therefore gives us an ideal opportunity to look at our strategy against a side that was good enough to pip us for the title last season.”

With most of the retirements coming from defence – and Andrew Cook having left to join Sheffield Spartans as he is now at university in that city – Dowd is looking for summer signing Hehir to provide experience at the back.

“I have known Simon for a very long time and know exactly what he brings to the team,” added the coach.

“And I’m confident his presence will be a big boost to us, although we have been unlucky enough to lose Nathan Ryder for the first few weeks of the season as he suffered a broken arm recently.”

But the coach thinks his side can compensate for a lack of numbers at the back by playing what might be termed ‘Heineken hockey’ with a greater emphasis on attack.

“Back in the days of the old Heineken League, games were often high-scoring shoot-outs and the crowds used to love that type of game,” said Dowd.

“Obviously we will be looking to take care of defence and have one of the very best keepers in the league with Ritchie Lawson guarding our goal, but if we can bring back some entertainment with plenty of goals then so be it.”

Meanwhile off the ice, the Warriors have announced another major sponsor with confirmation that the Outdoor Fitness Centre will be looking after the off-ice training of the players.

“The fitness of the players is paramount over an eight-month campaign,” continued Dowd, “and by linking up with the Outdoor Fitness Centre, the Warriors should be some of the fittest players in the league this season.”

The Warriors’ Northern Cup fixtures were also announced last weekend, which has resulted in a fixture change.

Solway Sharks were due to play at Hillheads on September 16 in the National League, but that date has now been filled with a home cup clash with Billingham, and the Solway game switched to October 7, while Sutton Sting – the other side in the north east section of the Northern Cup – visit Hillheads on September 30.