Whitley Warriors claimed another home win against Widnes Wild on Sunday, to continue their unbeaten start to the 2022-23 season in a seven-goal thriller at Hillheads.
But once again they were made to work hard for a 4-3 success that counts towards both the NIHL 1 North and NIHL Cup competitions.
Going into the clash, the Warriors were still without several experienced players. Captain Dean Holland, utility-player Steven Chalmers and forward Callum Queenan were all unavailable, while long-time injury victim Jordan Barnes isn’t expected to be back until December. They were however able to welcome back goaltender Josh Crane and forward Ross Douglass.
Canadian forward Phil Edgar and Latvian defenceman Rihards Grigors got the nod as the two imports again, while last week’s man-of-the-match Musa Musaiev, switched the blue line for the right wing on the top unit alongside Shaun Kippin and Edgar. That in turn freed up a spot on the defensive pairings for Connor Lewis to get some regular ice time and the youngster put in an impressive display. Jordan Boyle started between the pipes once again while Josh Crane was on the bench.
Widnes were able to ice three lines including new signing Joe Coulter, with additional forwards also taking shifts. Miles Finney got the start in goal.
In what was a goalless opening period the home side out-shot the visitors 17-8 but couldn’t seem to find a way past Finney.
The Warriors top line were combining well though and we saw flashes of skill from Musaiev as he linked up with Kippin and Edgar. There was also some persistent work from Adam Finlinson down the right wing on the second unit along with his centre Kyle Ross who almost squeezed home the opening goal, but he too was denied by Finney.
Lewis Crisp, who had an exciting debut last week, went close to opening the scoring, when played in following the end of a Wild powerplay but once again Finney stood tall.
In the second period though, the game finally sprang into life. Thomas Fraser had a stinging effort saved from the right wing before Rihards Grigors finally broke the deadlock when his shot from the point hit a couple of skates on the way through and was deflected past a wrong-footed Finney in the Widnes net.
In what was a close game the Warriors thought they had a match-winning lead when they then netted a quick-fire double 34 seconds apart.
Phil Edgar opened his account for the season when he picked out the top corner with a great shot following some good work between Shaun Kippin and Musa Musaiev, with the young Ukrainian getting his first point for the team. Lewis Crisp then scored his first senior goal for the Warriors, and it must be said a goal his hard work over the first two games has deserved. Crisp’s initial shot trickled between Finney’s legs and the young forward was able to finish his own rebound.
The home side however ran into penalty trouble during the second half of the middle session. With Finlinson already serving a hooking penalty, Adam Wood was called first for interference and then slashing meaning the Wild had a 5-on-3 powerplay for 56 seconds.
A nice heads-up pass by Mikey Gilbert picked out German import Daniel Haid for an easy finish at the back post. Haid needed only 24 seconds of the double-man advantage to get his side back in the contest.
With 57 seconds left on Adam Wood’s first penalty, the Warriors found themselves on another 5-on-3 penalty kill when Ross Douglas was adjudged to have boarded his opponent. This time though the Warriors were able to kill the penalties off and had seemingly weathered the storm. However, with just 42 seconds left in the period, Joe Coulter scored his first goal for the Wild when he tapped home at the back post. Haggar’s shot from the point seemed to bobble up as it went through a crowd of players, hit Jordon Boyle and loop away from him for one of the easiest finishes Coulter will have all season.
As the sides returned for the third period, the Wild sensed they could get something from the contest and at 50:33 they did just that.
Haggar broke down the left wing, for a 2-on-3 rush, but despite Whitley having plenty of players back, were unable to track Rhys Edwards going to the back post. Edwards, who was making his senior debut for the Wild, was left open, and picked out with a good pass across goal, for him to spear the puck home with his stick for a skilled finish and tie the game at 3-3. Joe Coulter was involved in the build-up and recorded his third point of the night.
But with a little over four minutes remaining, Phil ‘The Thrill’ Edgar netted what proved to be the game winner when he went top shelf for his second goal of the night and with it, the much-needed points in both competitions. Both sides had a player in the box, setting up a 4-on-4, and when Dylan Hehir picked off a Wild pass he fed Edgar, who took it all the way round the outside of the crease, allowing Finney to commit himself and go down before picking his spot.
Warriors: Phil Edgar (2+0), Rihards Grigors (1+0), Lewis Crisp (1+0), Shaun Kippin (0+1), Musa Musaiev (0+1).
Wild: Joe Coulter (1+2), Daniel Haid (1+0), Rhys Edwards (1+0), Richard Haggar (0+2), Mikey Gilbert (0+1).
Man of the Match
Warriors: Harry Harley
Wild: Miles Finney