Whitley Warriors registered a 4-1 win over local rivals Billingham Stars in their last Moralee Cup game of the season after making the trip to The Forum on Sunday evening.
Travelling with seventeen skaters, Whitley Warriors’ absentee list included Captain Dean Holland, forwards Callum Watson and Thomas Fraser, utility player Adam Wood and left winger Robert Farmer, whilst the outfit opted for Czech import Matěj Valíček over Latvian defenceman Rihards Grigors and provided youngster Matthew Betham with his senior debut. Meanwhile, the Stars had eighteen players available for this fixture, including first choice shot stopper Thomas Brown, Captain Michael Elder and top points scorer Chris Sykes.
Shortly after facing off, Whitley were quick to seek their first chance of the game as forward Adam Finlinson came close to netting in the opening stages. A hooking penalty for Niall Ryder on 3:19 placed the Warriors on a penalty kill but the Stars could not break the deadlock with the additional skater and the side’s frustration began to show as the home team clashed with David Longstaff’s men in front of Dean Bowater’s net. Billingham began to see more opportunities fall their way, forward James Moss firing at Bowater who made the save and Latvian defenceman Patriks Grigors snapping a shot from just inside of the blue line to put the Warriors to the test again. Stand-in Captain Shaun Kippin soon found himself bearing down on net but was halted by forward Alex Preston who was penalised for tripping on 8:35. Whitley could not make the most of this power play but, slowly building momentum, the Hillheads outfit finally opened their account less than three minutes after the Stars had returned to full strength, Latvian Rolands Gritāns receiving a pass from defenceman Dylan Hehir before gliding through Billingham’s defence to stylishly curl the puck into the back of Brown’s net on 13:08, versatile Warrior Kyle Ross also assisting. An interference offence for Ross thirteen seconds later placed Whitley on another penalty kill but the side worked effectively to prevent Billingham from equalising and after the Warriors were restored to full strength, Gritāns worked his magic again, trying to play the puck behind him only for Brown to make the stop which rebounded against defenceman Ben Davison and into the back of the net on 16:42, making it 2-0, Finlinson with the assist. Less than two minutes later, Whitley bagged a three-goal lead when Gritāns came close to netting once more, his effort causing the puck to fall behind Brown for Finlinson to tap in. Beginning to assume more control of the game, the Warriors ended the period in possession, forward Callum Queenan firing a shot at Brown’s chest seconds before both teams left the ice for the first interval.
On returning for the second period, the Stars were determined to get onto the scoresheet and did so, putting Bowater under increasing pressure in the early stages before forward Callum Wilkinson drilled the puck past the netminder courtesy of defenceman Tommy Spraggon on 21:57. A series of penalties then followed for both teams: forward Joe Walls was sidelined for interference on 22:22 and was joined by teammate Joseph Dowdle sixty four seconds later; coincidental penalties for Billingham’s forward Sykes and Whitley’s defenceman Harry Harley then followed after the pair clashed in Whitley’s offensive zone, both players incurring slashing penalties on 23:34. Just after the midpoint of the period, Stars’ defenceman Grigors made a hit along the boards which saw the game boil over, resulting in the Latvian dropping the gloves with ‘D’ man Craig Johnson. In consequence, Grigors received a five-minute boarding penalty, a five-minute fighting penalty and a game misconduct whilst Johnson picked up a five-minute fighting penalty and a 2+10 misconduct penalty for incitement on 32:48. As play resumed, Gritāns continued to be dangerous in attack for the Warriors whilst youngster Betham struck the bar and a subsequent Stars attack culminated in the Teesside team chiming the post as play became end-to-end once more. As the period progressed to the final two minutes, Ryder followed up a long range shot from Whitley by slashing Brown which provoked a response from defenceman Davison to see the duo sit out for slashing and roughing respectively on 38:00. Nineteen seconds later, Whitley incurred another penalty to reduce them to just three skaters when Valíček was handed a crosschecking penalty but, despite this setback, the Warriors kept their 3-1 lead intact for the remainder of the period to go in at the second break with a two-goal cushion.
Making a strong start to the third period, Whitley claimed their fourth goal of the game when Betham teamed up with Kippin to assist the forward, earning his first point as a senior in the process on 42:00, Harley also assisting. The score line 4-1, Billingham sought a second goal and continued to put pressure on Bowater, Sykes and Moss both coming close. A slashing penalty for Ben Davison on 47:57 placed the home team on the back foot but the Warriors again struggled to make their power play count, and were provided with a second advantage on 52:51 when defenceman Benjamin Greenhalgh was sidelined for elbowing to give Whitley the additional skater. The Warriors worked hard and at speed in their efforts to beat Brown but were unsuccessful; Kippin winding a path through Billingham’s defence but finding himself unable to net, Finlinson trying his luck once again but finding his shot stopped by Brown and Gritāns’ hat-trick goal eluding him. Whilst battling for the puck along the boards in the Stars’ defensive zone as the game entered its latter stages, Finlinson struck Davison who was forced to leave the ice, prompting a high sticks penalty for the Warrior on 58:09. Whitley saw out the period with four skaters as a result but Billingham could not grab a second goal in the final stages, allowing the Warriors to claim a 4-1 derby win.
Shots on goal
Callum Wilkinson (1+0), Tommy Spraggon (0+1)
Rolands Gritāns (2+1), Adam Finlinson (1+1), Shaun Kippin (1+0), Dylan Hehir (0+1), Kyle Ross (0+1), Matthew Betham (0+1), Harry Harley (0+1)
Man of the Match
Stars: Joe Walls
Warriors: Rolands Gritāns