Whitley Warriors’ run of good form continued on Sunday evening as they came away with the win against an ever-improving Nottingham Lions side. The Warriors lost the corresponding fixture here last year which saw the Solway Sharks confirmed as champions.
With that in mind Whitley travelled with a strong team of fifteen skaters and two goalies, which included Jack Wakefield backing up Josh Crane, the latter getting the start, and Jay Lucas made his long-awaited Warriors debut having spent some time with Billingham after coming through the junior development at Hillheads.
The visitors got off to the worst possible start when falling behind after just 22 seconds. A fast paced start to the game saw some good transitional play from the Lions, with the puck falling kindly to Zach Yokoyama it created an odd man rush, and when the Lions’ import picked out the onrushing Toby Fisher with a clever dropped pass, the puck drilled low past a cold Josh Crane in the net.
Understandably it took Whitley a while to regain their composure but they turned the game around by the mid-point of the opening period. Some good play from the Warriors saw them flood the offensive zone with numbers. Phil Edgar’s pass along the blue line eventually finding Harry Harley in a deep position wide on the left. The defenceman’s booming shot was tipped home on the doorstep by Ross Douglass, who continued his exceptional form to start the campaign with the equaliser at 9:03.
Just over a minute later the Warriors had the lead when straight from a faceoff another huge shot from the point from Harley found Edgar on the edge of the crease. Lion’s goalie Luca Sheldon did well to close the shooting angle down, but the Canadian forward picked out Dean Holland to stab home at the back post for a 2-1 lead.
Whitley just about edged the first period outshooting their hosts 17-11 and there was more of the same in the middle session.
Another strong win by Edgar at the faceoff saw the puck played back to Harley who in turn fired against the end boards. His pass was then collected by Holland who out-muscled one Lions defenceman before taking it past two more as he heading towards the net for a well executed wraparound goal. The Warriors top line was doing all the damage with Holland grabbing his second goal of the evening and both Harley and Edgar notching their third assists of the game.
Warriors were now edging away with a comfortable two-goal lead but the Lions are a side that no one should take lightly any more. That was proved when the Lions won a defensive zone draw and proceeded to break out with speed. Toby Fisher centreing a perfect pass for Jack Crowston to finish top shelf at the back post and make it a one goal game again.
But Whitley would go into the second intermission with their two goal lead restored when Phil Edgar notched a shorthanded marker with Connor Lewis serving an interference penalty. Dean Holland stole the puck off the Lions man on the point, losing his stick in the process, so all alone he played the puck with his skate blades for the fast charging Edgar to race onto and deke past Sheldon.
Shorthanded goals are always exciting to see in hockey but relatively rare, so when the Lions grabbed one early into the final period through Yokoyama, the home fans were given a treat, especially as Nottingham were back in the contest again. In a similar move to Holland, Yokoyama stole the puck on the blue line and raced away to score having deked Crane before finding the net.
With Owen Davis still in the box serving a tripping penalty, Whitley were able to convert on the same powerplay to cancel out the shorthanded goal they had just given up. A good pass out from the left wing found Shaun Kippin who got his shot off but Sheldon’s save and subsequent rebound was crashed home by Anthony Wetherell.
Less than a minute later Whitley made the game safe when Phil Edgar scored his second of the night and recorded his fifth point. Dean Holland’s assist was his fourth of the game, as the pair proved to be the difference between the sides. A looping puck was controlled well by Holland along the right wing boards, before he sent a pass to pick out Edgar to slot home through Sheldon’s legs.
When the sixth goal went in, Lions coach Matt Bradbury used the opportunity to bring on Matty Bloor to replace the now agitated Luca Sheldon who had faced 40 shots up to that point. Any chance of Whitley easing up though was soon dismissed as they continued to pepper the Lions net with a flurry of shots. Bloor facing 14 efforts in the near fifteen minutes he was on the ice.
Nottingham did get one back late on though, to make the scoreline a bit more respectable. Dan Martin converting on the powerplay when collecting his own rebound off Crane’s pads with little over three minutes to go. But it wouldn’t be enough to prevent the Warriors taking another step closer to a cup semi-final berth as they now go into the Northern Challenge Cup double header with Edinburgh Capitals next weekend.
Warriors: Phil Edgar (2+3), Dean Holland (2+2), Ross Douglass (1+0), Anthony Wetherall (1+0), Harry Harley (0+3), Adam Finlinson (0+1), Shaun Kippin (0+1).
Lions: Zach Yokoyama (1+2), Toby Fisher (1+1), Jack Crowston (1+1), Dan Martin (1+0), Alex Cleves (0+1).
Man of the Match
Warriors: Dean Holland
Lions: Michael Berehowskyj