Whitley Warriors had mixed fortunes last weekend with their unbeaten start to the season coming to an end at Dumfries on Saturday, before bouncing back to claim both points at home the following night against Solihull Barons.
Going into the clash with Solway Sharks, Warriors were still without captain Dean Holland but were able to welcome back utility player Steven Chalmers from injury and forwards Callum Queenan (work commitments) and Anth Wetherell, who took part in last weekend’s Great North Run. Jordan Boyle got the start in goal. Solway were able to ice four strong forward lines, with some exceptionally gifted juniors stepping up this season. Impressively, the Sharks iced without a single import in their line-up.
Dumfries has never been the happiest of hunting grounds for the Warriors, such is the form of the Sharks on home ice. But a very strong start from the visitors looked promising in the early exchanges, led by experienced forward Shaun Kippin who put in a captain’s performance and demonstrated a great example to his own younger teammates.
However, despite the bright start for the Warriors, they soon found themselves a goal behind when pantomime villain Callum Boyd got lucky with a speculative effort on goal at the near post that saw the puck roll onto its side and creep over the line between Jordan Boyle’s skates, a cruel blow to the Warriors who were matching their opponents up to that point. A little over four minutes later and the visitors found themselves two goals down, when an excellent shot from Lewis Houston seemed to be edged home by former Whitley forward Ross Murray, although the goal was credited to the former.
Before the period was over the Sharks were three goals to the good when talented youngster Kyle Carruth showed composure beyond his years to delay shooting the puck, taking the time to wait for the ice to open up before seeing his effort beat Boyle in the Whitley net for his first goal in senior hockey, the feat coming in only his third outing for the Sharks and deservedly helping him earn the man-of-the-match award for his side.
With the Warriors disappointed to be down by three goals after just twenty minutes of play, coach David Longstaff opted to bring Josh Crane into the Whitley net and his skaters responded by arguably being the stronger team throughout the remaining forty minutes.
The Warriors were much the better side in the middle period and outshot the Sharks 16-7 but in Callum Hepburn found an almost impenetrable barrier in the home net. When the Sharks added to their lead at 30:59 it came some what against the run of play. With Crane committed on his near post, the puck was played across his crease and onto an open Jonathon McBean who rifled home a shot over the goalie’s stacked pads.
Still the Warriors didn’t give up and at 34:35 were awarded a penalty shot when Stuart Kerr hauled down Anth Wetherall when faced with an empty net. With Hepburn leaving his crease, Wetherell had an unmissable chance in front of goal so Kerr did the only thing he could do in that situation and took one for the team. Up stepped Canadian import Phil Edgar who converted the penalty with a perfectly executed shot, going top shelf and giving a stranded Hepburn no chance of stopping it.
That goal seemed to inspire the Warriors and particular Edgar, who netted again just twelve seconds into the final period with a smart finish. The Kitchener, Ontario native had a great game, and aside from his two goals worked exceptionally well defensively on both the forecheck and backcheck.
However, the Sharks made the game safe with three minutes left when Scott Henderson scored an unassisted goal.
All things considered it was a great performance from Whitley against a very strong Sharks team, who will take some stopping from winning more trophies this season. But the Tynesiders can take a lot of positives from the defeat from the way they played over the final two periods, the fact they outshot their opponents and took considerably less penalty minutes.
Shots on goal
Callum Boyd (1+1), Lewis Houston (1+0), Kyle Carruth (1+0), Jonathon McBean (1+0), Scott Henderson (1+0), Richard Bentham (0+1), Kell Beatie (0+1), Ross Murray (0+1)
Man of the Match
Sharks: Kyle Carruth
Warriors: Musa Musaiev
The Warriors were back on home ice on Sunday when taking on a strong Solihull Barons side but were made to work hard once again for the victory.
Whitley were without Rihards Grigors from the trip to Dumfries but were able to welcome back Czech-forward Matěj Valíček for his seasonal debut. Josh Crane got his first start of the campaign in goal. Solihull iced with three forward lines and five defencemen with regular custodian Sam Hewitt in net but were without imposing captain Marcus Maynard on the blue line.
In what was another close game throughout, the fans witnessed a third straight home game where there was no score in the opening period. Both sides had chances though with the Warriors edging their opponents 13-10 in shots and Callum Queenan in particular went close to breaking the deadlock.
However, it would take until three and half minutes left in the middle session for the game to explode into life. Adam Finlinson deceived Sam Hewitt with an individual piece of brilliance when completing a wraparound at the back post.
The Barons though went straight down the other end of the ice for an instant response and got one when Niklas Ottosson took Harry Harley out of the game with a brilliant piece of skill before drilling a low shot across Josh Crane and into the far bottom corner of the net. The Warriors lead had lasted all of 44 seconds, and now they had it all to do again.
A minute later the home side’s chances improved massively when Hewitt was called for tripping and the Warriors went on the powerplay. But 24 seconds into the man advantage a poor give away from Harley saw Matt Maurice pounce on the loose puck and finish well on the resulting breakaway to give the Barons a lead which they would also fail to hold on to.
With 22 seconds left on the same powerplay and 9 seconds left in the period, Kyle Ross finished a fine pass from Phil Edgar to draw the sides level once again. With forty minutes of hockey played there was still nothing separating the two sides, although Hewitt was much the busier of the two goalies having faced 25 shots to Crane’s 7.
In a game of fine margins, the Warriors were able to score twice in less than two minutes to settle the contest early in the third period. Adam Finlinson grabbed his second of the night when he found the net off a Phil Edgar feed, then Finlinson turned provider when he passed to Musa Musaiev at the edge of the zone for the Ukrainian to unleash a powerfully driven shot which was tipped home by Edgar.
Finlinson got his third point of the night on that final strike, while Edgar had a hand in all his team’s goals for a four-point game.
There was no further scoring in the final 15 minutes as the Barons seemed to run out of steam having conceded those two quick-fire goals, while the Warriors closed out the game in a mature manner and once again outshot Solihull 23-9.
Shots on goal
Adam Finlinson (2+1), Phil Edgar (1+3), Kyle Ross (1+0), Matty McDonald (0+1), Steven Chalmers (0+1), Musa Musaiev (0+1).
Niklas Ottosson (1+0), Matt Maurice (1+0), Max Soden (0+1)
Man of the Match
Warriors: Harry Harley
Barons: Sam Hewitt