STARS ON COURSE; Leach pleased with injury-hit side Ice hockey.
BILLINGHAM Stars player-coach Simon Leach said his injury-hit side "played well from start to finish" as they continued their play-off build-up with a 3-2 win at Blackburn Hawks.
Leach started with Andy Finn and Andy Thornton ruled out for the rest of the season, Dave Thomas unavailable and Jamie Pattison failing a late fitness test due to the lingering effects of concussion.
Stephen Wallace fired into the top corner to open the Ultimate Windows Stars' scoring on 18 minutes after being picked out by Dave Manning's pass.
Blackburn levelled the game on the hooter at the end of the first period when youngster Myles Dacres scored on the breakaway following a turnover.
The Hawks moved ahead in the second just as Billingham came back to full strength following a holding call on James Moss, Lance Derbyshire drilling his shot through traffic to beat an unsighted Richie Griffiths.
Moss pulled the Stars level on the powerplay, assisted by Michael Elder, and Cal Davies to close the second at two goals each.
A scrappy third period punctuated by two minute minor calls saw both sides fail to capitalise on their power plays until Michael Bowman tucked away the winner with less than 10 minutes to play.
"It was a good game and we played well from start to finish," Leach said.
"We outshot Blackburn on their own ice and came to win the game.
"I'm proud of the lads. We were short at the back and I've not played competitively for a while.
"From start to finish we were value for the win. Confidence is building now. Blackburn is a tricky place to go, and we could have won by more goals."
With Solway, Billingham, Sutton and Blackburn through to the play-offs, Leach feels the Stars are building well towards the post-season.
"We've come away having played a solid 60 minutes of hockey," he said.
"That's the kind of hockey we'll be looking for come play-off time.
"We turned the corner against Whitley and the boys have worked hard and always stayed positive.
"The belief is there and everyone's doing their job. I can't ask any more."
With first playing fourth in the play-offs, second-placed Stars look like facing Sutton Sting, who are third.
But Leach said his side must be ready for whoever they play.
He said: "I don't have a preference - anyone's capable of beating anyone, so I don't have anyone I want to avoid.
"Whoever we get we have to go in with the right frame of mind and be well prepared.
"We have a good team and sometimes we let ourselves down, but it's about how we react.
"We've stuck together and we've kept working hard."
Coventry are up next for the Stars on Sunday (6.30pm), with the game switched to Billingham Forum due to ice time pressure mounting up for the Blaze on their home pad.
Leach added: "We have to maintain our level of performance. If we can keep that intensity, we'll be a force to be reckoned with."
ON TARGET: Stephen Wallace scores Billingham Stars' opening goal in their 3-2 win at Blackburn Picture by IAN HANLON