Whitley Warriors got back to winning ways on Sunday with a victory over Blackburn Hawks. They were also in action on Saturday when they made the trip North to Dumfries to take on title rivals Solway Sharks but the Warriors narrowly missed out in an eleven-goal thriller.
The Sharks returned to the top of the standings with their 6-5 win and are likely to stay there until the two sides meet again at the end of the season at Hillheads. The Warriors arrived with just thirteen skaters, and were without Jamie Ord, Callum Queenan and Steven Chalmers. Josh Crane got the start in net with Mark Turnbull on the bench. Solway named a full strength team and even surprised many by including Peter Gápa into the line up, with the Slovakian import signing on a short-term deal.
Whitley took the lead just three minutes in when a shot from distance by Matty McDonald rebounded into the path of Phil Edgar to score, following some good work behind the net by Dean Holland. Two minutes later and Solway were level, Gápa netting a delayed penalty goal from Ric Bentham’s pass, the former doing well to take the puck around two Whitley defencemen before firing past Josh Crane.
Whitley should have gone back in front when they had the puck in the net again, but a convenient kick from goalie Calum Hepburn saw the net off its moorings and the goal disallowed. Adam Wood shot from distance with the rebound controlled well by Shaun Kippin who played it across goal for Matty McDonald to put into the net but a sprawling save from Hepburn saw his leg kick the net off and the goal was disallowed.
Solway then took the lead at 12:28. With the Warriors on the powerplay Lewis Houston blocked a Harry Harley shot, and with the pair of them getting caught up mid ice, the puck fell nicely for Jonathan McBean to deke Crane and slot home at the back post. But the Warriors did go into the break level with a delayed penalty on Liam Danskin, a booming slap shot by Rihards Grigors from the blue line went through traffic and was tipped home by Ross Douglass.
Whitley got off to a great start to the second period when they converted on the powerplay just 38 seconds into the session. Harley’s shot from the point hit the post and the rebound was put home by Douglass. The Visitors then found themselves two goals to the good as the Sharks ran into further penalty trouble. Once again it was a shot from the point by Harley with Phil Edgar on hand to stab home.
However, the Sharks were not down for long and grabbed a goal back 40 seconds later with a powerplay goal of their own. Stuart Kerr’s shot from the point rebounded to Connor Henderson who looked up and played in Scott Henderson at the back post for a tap-in.
Whitley had a great opportunity to restore their two-goal lead when Scott Henderson was called for tripping but instead saw themselves caught out on the break with former Warriors forward Ross Murray firing home a short-handed marker after collecting Dean Holland’s loose pass.
Both sides had chances to retake the lead, including a 3-on-1 opportunity for the Sharks but then disappointment for the Warriors turned to despair as they conceded two further goals in the final three minutes of the period. Gápa scored his second of the night on the powerplay from Scott Henderson’s clever feed while Kell Beatie made it 4-2 soon after from Henderson again.
Whitley found it hard to get back onto level terms as Solway remained resolute in the final period but when David Longstaff pulled Josh Crane for an additional skater with three minutes to go the bold move paid off, Dean Holland scoring from the point with a rocket of a shot with 1:21 remaining.
Solway were able to see off that final Warriors charge to take the much sought after points and to regain top spot. It’s hard to believe it will be another four months before these two sides meet again in the league. Many think that could be the title decider, and if it proves to be the case, what a way to end a campaign. But that also requires both sides not to drop any further points in the meantime and that will be a tough ask indeed in what is becoming a much more competitive league.
Warriors: Phil Edgar 2+1, Ross Douglass 2+1, Dean Holland 1+3, Harry Harley 0+2, Shaun Kippin 0+1, Rihards Grigors 0+1.
Sharks: Peter Gápa 2+0, Scott Henderson 1+2, Ross Murray 1+0, Jonathan McBean 1+0, Kell Beattie 1+0, Stuart Kerr 0+1, Lewis Houston 0+1, Ric Bentham 0+1, Conner Henderson 0+1, Struan Tonnar 0+1.
Man of the Match
Warriors: Phil Edgar
Sharks: Peter Gápa
Whitley were back to winning ways on Sunday as they took on a difficult Blackburn Hawks team. The home side welcomed back Liam Smedley for his first game in the Maroon and Gold since March 2020, while U18s forward Owen Yarrow, son of former Warriors enforcer Alan, made his senior debut alongside new signing Lennon Thomas.
The Warriors took the game to the Hawks right from the first puck drop and got an early lead with just 3:47 gone, Harry Harley firing home near post high over Alex Oldale’s blocker from Adam Finlinson’s pass.
But the Hawks were playing well defensively and looked to catch Whitley on the break where possible. At 9:22 they did exactly that when Devids Jurinenovs finished on a breakaway that Warriors goalie, Josh Crane had no chance of stopping.
Whitley were soon back ahead though and with both teams having a man in the box it meant the sides played 4-on-4. Harley’s feed from the right wing was put across goal for Phil Edgar at the back post to tap into an empty net and make up for missing a similar chance moments earlier.
Hawks continued to soak up the Warriors pressure well though and looked dangerous on the break. They frustrated the home side until 29:58 when they eventually added a third goal through Phil Edgar who fired home from Kyle Ross.
However, with those celebrations having barely finished, Blackburn got a goal back just 20 seconds later when Jacob Lutwyche stabbed home a James Riddoch pass.
Whitley would increase their advantage going into the second intermission though. Lennon Thomas’ shot from distance was turned home by Adam Finlinson at 34:50, while just over a minute later, Phil Edgar played in Dean Holland from a left wing position with a one-timer, which the Warriors captain drilled low past Oldale.
Whitley put the game out of Blackburn’s reach early into the third period when Finlinson scored his second of the night from Shaun Kippin’s clever pass across the crease.
While the scoreline was getting away from the Lancashire side, their commitment and effort remained and they continued to make life difficult for the Warriors.
Whitley did add two more goals to their tally late on though, Harry Harley scoring on the powerplay with less than ten minutes remaining, before Adam Finlinson completed his hat-trick just under five minutes later.
It was the correct response by Whitley to get back to winning ways having lost their previous three games. The Warriors will meet the Hawks again next weekend, this time in Blackburn.
Warriors: Adam Finlinson 3+1, Phil Edgar 2+4, Harry Harley 2+2, Dean Holland 1+1, Adam Wood 0+2, Kyle Ross 0+2, Shaun Kippin 0+1, Lennon Thomas 0+1.
Hawks: Devids Jurinenovs 1+0, Jacob Lutwyche 1+0, Luke Watson 0+1, James Riddoch 0+1, Rui Tait 0+1, Malachi Budd 0+1.
Man of the Match
Warriors: Adam Finlinson
Hawks: Alex Oldale