Warriors slay Dragons to book place in Semi Final

The puck sails toward the top corner of Deeside netminder Matt Croyle's net

The puck sails toward the top corner of Deeside netminder Matt Croyle's net. Photo by Charlie Mood.

Whitley Warriors held a two goal lead heading into the final match at Hillheads and managed to book their place in the Playoff Finals weekend. A chaotic hard-fought game saw Warriors defeat Dragons 7-5 (aggregate score 13-9).

Warriors finished the season in fifth place and would face the fourth placed Deeside Dragons in the Quarter Final. Dean Holland had a standout performance on Saturday at Deeside where he netted four goals.

Callum Queenan opened the scoring unassisted at 05.54 into the match. Oliver Howells received two minor penalties for charging and crosschecking at 14.01. It took 15 seconds for Dean Holland to convert on the powerplay with Harry Harley and Philip Edgar picking up the assists. Back to even strength, Ross Kennedy would pull one back for the Dragons with assists from Brodie Jesson and James Shaw.

Dean Holland picked up his second of the night with an assist from Edgar 21.55. Dragons would respond immediately with Andy McKinney netting at 22.15. Karl Bacon would finish the second period in the penalty box for a tripping at 39.36.

The final period would see Warriors score twice in the first minute with Holland picking up another powerplay goal with assists from Edgar and Queenan 40.22. Even strength Kyle Ross would score unassisted at 40.57. Holland would net his fourth goal with assists from Rihards Grigors and Queenan 46.06. Dragons would respond quickly with Ross Kennedy netting with assists from Jesson and Marc Lovell. Kennedy would get his hat trick late in the third with an assist from Cade King at 58.45.

First Leg Score: Deeside Dragons 4 – 6 Whitley Warriors

Deeside arrived at Hillheads knowing they must win by three goals to qualify for the Playoff Finals. However, Warriors ensured the Dragons were not resurrected this Easter Sunday and won a frenzied end-to-end game of hockey.

Whitley showed they were here to play and came out in force to start the first period. In the first minute, Queenan would find himself open backdoors but the pass was blocked. Adam Finlinson would get a breakaway opportunity only just missing the net. Jordan Barnes would also lay a huge hit on Karl Bacon into the boards. The offensive pressure was there and further showcased when Holland and Edgar linked up nicely at the blue line with Edgar forcing a save from Matt Croyle.

Marc Lovell was called for a delay of game 04.43 when he attempted to clear the puck only to clear the glass resulting in a young Warriors fan getting to take the puck home. Warriors powerplay was buzzing early on, creating a lot of opportunities but were unable to beat Croyle. The action really started when this powerplay ended.

Cade King laid a thunderous hit on Anthony Wetherell who went into the boards awkwardly and looked to land horribly on his ankle. Many at Hillheads felt this was a boarding as King went straight through the numbers on the back of the jersey but no call was given. Adam Wood would then be immediately called for boarding in the aftermath 06.45. Wetherell had to be helped off the ice with a broken skate blade while the refs attempted to diffuse the situation.

The fans would be left frustrated once again while Dragons tried to open the scoring on the powerplay. It looked like the puck was covered by either Wardell or the numerous Warriors who were piled up in the blue paint but a penalty shot was awarded for a delay of game at 06.54. The Dragons couldn’t convert on the penalty shot and the fans erupted when the puck hit the crossbar. As the game resumed Kyle Ross tried to skate the puck into the offensive zone only for his stick to be knocked out of his hands which drew further ire from the Hillheads faithful when slashing was not called. This was a truly electric atmosphere in the arena with the fans cheering everything.

This was a true end to end game of hockey as shown when Matty McDonald stopped Deeside from entering the Warriors zone with an impressive diving block only to get to his feet and feed the puck to Edgar, whose shot was frozen by Croyle. From the resulting face off Ross Kennedy entered the Warriors zone only to witness a great glove save from Wardell as we approached the halfway point of the first period.

Dean Holland ends up in the Deeside net
Dean Holland ends up in the Deeside net. Photo by Charlie Mood.

Holland would find himself in the thick of the action once again as he took the puck around the net, only to be thrown into the netting which toppled the goal over trapping Croyle underneath it and Oliver Howells called for hooking 9.53. Warriors powerplay once again looked threatening but would be cut short. This time Edgar had an on ice collision with Croyle and was given two for goaltender interference 10.50.

With more space on the ice 4 on 4, Ross was able to control the puck behind the net and set up Holland but as he was skating towards goal he was shoved into Croyle. It looked like Deeside clearly had a target on Holland’s back after his four goals the night prior. Callum Queenan would once again open the scoring from the resulting faceoff with Grigors and Ross claiming the assists 11.16.

Barnes would enter the offensive zone and fire a shot on net which Croyle stopped with the pads for Captain Kippin to pick the puck up around the back of the net and set up Wetherell who scored a nice wrist shot from the offensive zone faceoff circle 14.50. This garnered a loud cheer from the fans who appreciated that he was not only able to come back on the ice but score.

The drama was not finished there though. Shortly after Warriors second goal a nasty collision at centre ice would see Warriors go on the powerplay once more. This did look like a dirty hit and an attempt at a knee on knee which could have caused a serious injury but luckily there were no injuries and Ross Kennedy received two minutes for tripping 15.08. Edgar would get the powerplay underway with a low shot generating a pad save from Croyle and Dragons cleared the zone. Warriors entered the blue zone with Grigors stick handling well before flicking the puck past Croyle to put Warriors 3-0 ahead with a powerplay goal 16.25.

A hectic first period got even more bizarre when Warriors were trying to catch the Dragons on a breakaway when a stick was thrown on the ice from the Deeside bench. When the referees made a call on the play a water bottle was then thrown on to the ice. Queenan took the resulting penalty shot but Croyle managed to save it with his blocker. Warriors finished the first period very much on top and in control.

1st Period Scoring
Whitley 1-0 Deeside – 11:16, G Callum Queenan, A Rihards Grigors, Kyle Ross
Whitley 2-0 Deeside – 14:50, G Kyle Ross, A Shaun Kippin, Jordan Barnes
Whitley 3-0 Deeside – 16:25, PPG Rihards Grigors, A Kyle Ross

The second period brought a much calmer atmosphere and the puck did bounce around the offensive zone but Warriors were unable to convert. Deeside were also gaining more offensive zone possession, which led to Grigors receiving two minutes for slashing 24.18. On the penalty kill Wood took a slapshot from the defensive zone and Croyle was required to once again make a pad save.

There was a careless turnover by Warriors which maybe was a miscommunication on the blue line but Wardell was called upon to make a good save. Warriors would then break forward and have a 3 on 1 opportunity but were unable to convert. Dragons pounced immediately heading straight back down the ice scoring their first goal of the game. Brodie Jesson converted this one with assists from Petr Valusiak and Rhys Howells 27.35.

Warriors were straight back again trying to generate scoring but it would be the Dragons who scored after a beautiful passing play in the offensive zone saw Lovell set up Jared Dickinson 33.11. I did hear one spectator say this was a ‘loose game’ and another refer to it as ‘old-fashioned hockey’ it was just fast paced and chances were being created at both ends of the ice.

More offensive zone pressure would come when Barnes wouldn’t let up on the forecheck. With the pressure mounting and Dragons unable to clear their zone, it felt like something was going to happen when Wood would get called for tripping 36.01. Dickinson would then get called for hooking on the powerplay but before he could go to the box Edgar would score the goal of the night dancing around the defence and skating round Croyle to wrist the puck into a wide open net 37.06. Warriors aggressive penalty kill once again getting results.

The atmosphere was amazing all night and after that goal chants of dodgy keeper rang from the stands which Croyle took in good spirit and danced to the puck when it rolled to him playing up to the crowd. It was a joy to see someone engage with the crowd and have fun in the middle of the game.

Holland would restore Warriors 3 goal lead in the final minute of the second period with an absolute howitzer in the offensive zone. Oliver king would pass the puck to Edgar who would feed the puck to Holland for a rocket of the slapshot. Croyle didn’t stand a chance and must have been sick of the sight of Holland as he bagged his fifth goal of the weekend 39.01.

Deeside netminder Matt Croyle faced 62 shots over the 60 minutes of play
Deeside netminder Matt Croyle faced 62 shots over the 60 minutes of play. Photo by Charlie Mood.

2nd Period Scoring
Whitley 3-1 Deeside – 27:35, G Brodie Jesson, A Petr Velusiar, Rhys Howells
Whitley 3-2 Deeside – 33:11, G Chris Jones, A Marc Lovell
Whitley 4-2 Deeside – 37:06, DPG Philip Edgar
Whitley 5-2 Deeside – 39:01, G Dean Holland, Philip Edgar, Oliver King

Warriors were, uncharacteristically, slow out the gates to start the third period which was made worse when Grigors received two minutes for slashing 44.51. Dragons would net their first powerplay goal of the night when Jakub Hajek would set up Andy McKinney whose shot would get past Wardell 45.08.

Warriors would respond instantly when Edgar would play the puck around the boards for Holland to pick up behind the net and feed Queenan in front of net for him to claim his second goal of the night on a wrist shot 46.44.

Kippin would be the next to head to the box for hooking 48.52. But it was the Dragons turn to convert their powerplay into a 4 on 4 when Valusiar also got called for hooking at 49.58. On the 4 on 4 Holland went to the net only to be pushed into Croyle once again. This was a tough night for Croyle who made numerous great saves and took a lot of hard hits but still showed great sportsmanship.

Warriors looked like they were going to score again when Jamie Ord hit the crossbar as Warriors held the puck in the offensive zone. Wardell was also making great saves at the other end until a Warrior turnover in the defensive zone left Hajek controlling a bouncing puck and setting up Dickinson to pull one back 54.31.

Warriors were promptly given a penalty from the faceoff when Queenan was given two for holding 54.49. It wouldn’t take Deeside long to convert their second powerplay goal of the night with Kennedy passing to Jesson who set up Hajek to give Deeside their second goal in less than a minute 55.11.

Warriors didn’t hold back and with the fans cheering them on Edgar had a shot miss the net and Wood blocked a shot from Kennedy. Dragons would receive a penalty when James Parsons was adjudged to have slashed 57.54 in the game. On the powerplay Warriors once again piled on the pressure and Croyle struggled to control a bouncing puck but Dragons managed to clear the danger only for Louis Morgan to get called for tripping. He was not a fan of this decision and received an extra 10 minute major for abuse of an official and headed straight to the dressing room. Warriors would top the weekend off with a 5 on 3 goal when Grigors set up Harry Harley with 45.5 seconds remaining in the game.

3rd Period Scoring
Whitley 5-3 Deeside – 45:08, PPG Andy McKinney, A Jakub Hajek
Whitley 6-3 Deeside – 46:44, G Callum Queenan, A Dean Holland, Philip Edgar
Whitley 6-4 Deeside – 54:31, G Jared Dickinson, A Jakub Hajek
Whitley 6-5 Deeside – 55:11, G Jakub Hajek, A Brodie Jesson, Ross Kennedy
Whitley 7-5 Deeside – 59:14, PPG Harry Harley, A Rihards Grigors

Second Leg Score: Whitley Warriors 7 – 5 Deeside Dragons

Man of the Match
Deeside – Matt Croyle
Whitley – Rihards Grigors

Aggregate Score: Whitley Warriors 13 – 9 Deeside Dragons

Whitley Warriors will face Billingham Stars in Sheffield on Saturday afternoon in the Playoff Semi Final. Whitley Warriors would like to thank to all the Hillheads faithful – your support this season has been amazing and we look forward to seeing you again at Hillheads next year!

Rihards Grigors is presented with his Man of the Match award by Diminica Kiria and Luke Mwiga of Bright's International Programme
Rihards Grigors is presented with his Man of the Match award by Dominica Kiria and Luke Mwiga of Bright’s International Programme. Photo by Charlie Mood.