Whitley Warriors suffered a 2-1 defeat at home to Dundee Comets within the North group of the Moralee Cup on Sunday evening to prevent the Hillheads outfit from progressing to the semi-finals of the competition.
Whitley lined up with nineteen skaters, opting for netminder Joshua Crane between the pipes whilst Latvian defenceman Rihards Grigors made way for fellow import Matěj Valíček. Also on the absentee list for the Warriors were forward Callum Watson, left winger Robert Farmer, on-loan Phil Edgar and youngster Connor Lewis. Meanwhile, the Comets travelled with eighteen players including youngster Jonathan McBean, former Murrayfield Racer Joel Gautschi and Finnish shot stopper Toni Tammi, although Player-Coach John Dolan was amongst those missing for the side.
Opening the period with a strong line of Latvian Rolands Gritāns, Captain Dean Holland and forward Callum Queenan, the Warriors looked to put some early pressure on netminder Tammi but found themselves shorthanded when forward Thomas Fraser was penalised for a tripping offence in Whitley’s offensive zone on 1:12. Seeking a shorthanded goal on the breakaway, Gritāns came close, taking control of the puck only to find his shot stopped by Tammi. Just over three minutes after his return to the ice, Fraser battled for the puck along the boards but, before he could resume possession for his team, forward Shaun Kippin dropped the gloves with defenceman Cameron McGiffin in a brief scrap which saw both players receive five-minute penalties for fighting to reduce their teams to four skaters. Both teams continued to fight for possession and as the period progressed, the Comets tested Crane who kept the puck out of his net, though one of Dundee’s deflected shots appeared close to finding the target. Forward Adam Finlinson tried to break the deadlock in response as he scrambled to slot the puck past Tammi within close range but the netminder could not be beaten. In the final minute of the period, Comet Garry Simpson was sidelined for holding to see Whitley head in after a goalless first period with the knowledge that they would begin the middle stanza on the power play.
Though operating with the advantage for one minute twenty five seconds, the Warriors could not put the puck past Tammi despite their best efforts to build on their offensive work in Dundee’s defensive zone. Defenceman Harry Harley fired the puck in from the blue line to force Tammi to make a save whilst Holland, Gritāns and Queenan continued to team up but the trio were unable to reap the rewards of their hard work. When Alternate Captain Sean Beattie was handed a penalty for tripping on 27:49, the Warriors worked on cycling the puck on the power play but the Comets’ defence held strong to erase every opportunity Whitley carved out. Determined to find the target, the home team persisted in this spell of attacking play and Gritāns finally netted glove side of Tammi after Dylan Hehir’s shot in the slot was flicked towards the Latvian by Holland to make it 1-0 on 37:34. Eighty three seconds later, Dundee went shorthanded again, this time Captain Billy Baxter guilty of tripping to give Whitley another power play. Though the Warriors sought to double their lead, it was the visitors who came closest, McBean breaking away to fire at Crane to no avail, allowing Whitley to head in with a narrow 1-0 lead at the second interval.
Looking to add to their slender lead, the Warriors began the third period with further pressure on Tammi; Holland tried to net on the wraparound before firing from distance, Queenan came close to flicking the puck into the net and an effort from Kippin was also stopped by the netminder. A bench minor for delaying the game was dished out to Dundee on 43:13 and served by right winger Cameron Hamill. Just over a minute later, experienced forward Gautschi was punished for hooking. This gave Whitley a short five-on-three power play on 44:53 which prompted a timeout for the home team who were eager to make the most of this opportunity. Comets’ netminder Tammi remained composed to deal with Whitley’s onslaught, the Warriors outshooting Dundee by 25 shots to 10 overall in this period. Still, the home team found themselves just one goal ahead of their opposition and it began to take its toll; a tripping penalty for McGiffin was swiftly followed up by a minor roughing penalty for Gritāns around the midpoint of the period and it was not long after both teams had returned to full strength that discipline slipped again, this time Valíček clashing with defenceman Charlie Scott in front of Tammi’s net on 55:29 to see both team’s reduced to four skaters again. Just forty one seconds into these penalties, Dundee equalised; McBean quickly regained possession after striking a shot against Harley to bury the puck to Crane’s right. It was at this point that Whitley opted to pull Crane from his net to ice an additional skater and, whilst frantically trying to maintain possession in search of their second goal, Captain Holland was struck by a high stick from McGiffin which provided his team with a power play on 56:41. The Warriors desperately hunted down a winning goal but the side saw chance after chance pass them by whilst simultaneously doing everything they could to prevent an empty net goal from the Comets. In the process, Alternate Captain Jordan Barnes took an incoming puck to the face as it was fired into Dundee’s defensive zone. With no change to the score line and the game seemingly heading into overtime, Kippin was handed a penalty of 2+2 for roughing and misconduct following his reaction to his initial punishment, causing the Warriors to return Crane to his net on the penalty kill. Shortly after resuming play, Hehir attempted to play the puck down the ice but a Comets’ interception resulted in Beattie unleashing a superb shot over Crane’s left shoulder to hand his team a 2-1 victory with just fifteen seconds remaining to ensure Dundee’s progression in the cup competition.
Shots on goal
Rolands Gritāns (1+0), Dean Holland (0+1), Dylan Hehir (0+1)
Jonathan McBean (1+0), Sean Beattie (1+0)
Man of the Match:
Warriors: Dean Holland
Comets: Toni Tammi