A youthful Whitley Warriors team went down 6-1 to Solway Sharks in the NIHL North Cup on Sunday evening, despite putting up a brave fight and showing plenty of determination to record a positive result in the final game on home ice this season. With the score line 3-1 to Solway heading in to the final period, Warriors were unable to find a route back to parity and eventually succumbed to a final score that failed to reflect a whole-hearted battle from the Maroon and Gold.
The previous evening had seen Warriors travel to Shropshire to take on Telford Tigers in league action, anxiously seeking a morale-boosting victory to enhance the chances of the club finishing in the top four and securing a play-off qualification position. Goals from Andre Payette and David Longstaff saw Whitley take a 2-0 lead inside the opening 10 minutes of the first period, only for Telford to come back strong and notch three unanswered strikes to lead 3-2 at the first interval.
Things went from bad to worse early in the second period when the home side added a fourth goal timed at 24:20, but Callum Watson made it 4-3 when he found the net from close range towards the end of the middle session giving the away side hope of a comeback. Try as they may, Warriors were finding it tough to create any clear chances on the Telford goal, and the game was sewn up for Tigers in the final 10 minutes with Callum Bowley scoring a hat trick to complete a disappointing 7-3 road loss. Defeat means Whitley must now rely on other results going their way to have a hope of play-off action in April.
Sunday night saw Warriors back on home ice for the final time this season, and with nothing but pride to play for against Solway Sharks in the cup, Whitley player/coach David Longstaff chose to use the game as an opportunity to give more ice time to younger members of the Warriors roster. In what would be only his third senior appearance for the Maroon and Gold, forward Jamie Ord was selected to make a home debut in front of friends and family at Hillheads. Another Warrior youth graduate, Anthony Wetherell, was included in the match day line up with Richie Lawson rested between the pipes – Jordan Boyle starting as netminder. Captain Dean Holland was also given a break, with popular power forward Jordan Barnes being entrusted to skipper the team. Player/coach David Longstaff elected not to ice, instead taking up a coaching role from the bench.
Solway have unquestionably been this season’s outstanding team in all competitions, with Martin Grubb’s charges already crowned NIHL North Moralee Conference Division One champions, adding to their NIHL North Cup success. The Dumfries-based Sharks arrived on Tyneside full of confidence, having eased past Solihull Barons 4-1 the night before on home ice and being unbeaten thus far against their hosts throughout the 2016/17 season. North East native James Hutchinson took his place once more on the Solway blue line with classy import Juraj Senko also available to make an appearance.
Whitley began the first period brightly, looking to roll through four lines and give everyone adequate ice time to impress. The visitors were handed the man advantage when Alan Yarrow was given a penalty for interference and just moments later Solway were handed a 5 on 3 power play period with Jordan Barnes also adjudged to have sinned in the eyes of referee Wardell. The Warriors penalty kill was digging in admirably around their own goal, limiting Solway to shots from the blue line despite their numerical advantage. As Yarrow returned to the ice giving Whitley another defensive body, Andre Payette seemed to have legally thwarted a move down the Sharks’ left only for referee Wardell to again call against the Warriors and hand Payette a 2 minute roughing minor. Solway were looking to be in danger of overplaying and wasting their powerplay opportunity when Barnes returned to bolster the Whitley penalty kill, but with Payette looking on from the penalty box Solway finally grabbed the opening goal. A fine block from Jordan Boyle saw the netminder sprawled on the ice, but as the puck fell loose Daniel Abercrombie tapped home a powerplay goal for Solway at 8.05. Warriors continued to run through their lines with short, sharp shifts maintaining an intensity to their game but fell 2-0 behind when Duncan Speirs wristed home an effort from the face off circle at 16.20.
The middle session began much like the first with Whitley continuing to use their full compliment of players and force pressure back on to the Sharks’ defence. Warriors created arguably their first real gilt-edged chance 2 minutes in to the middle session, with good work from Martin Crammond forcing a turn over deep in the Sharks zone. The puck fell invitingly on the stick of Andre Payette, the Canadian controlling before attempting to force in at the near post only for Hepburn to stand tall in his goal and divert the effort wide. As the home team continued to force mistakes out of the Solway players, confidence was visibly growing amongst the ranks. Captain Jordan Barnes was becoming more influential on proceedings and almost notched a picture book goal at 31 minutes; collecting the puck next to his own net before going coast to coast and firing a shot hard and low that needed saving by the pads of Hepburn. With the ice continuing to tilt towards the Solway goal, Warriors finally got the goal their play had deserved with Callum Watson latching on to a puck forward from Liam Smedley; skating inside and lifting a back handed effort high beyond Hepburn for 2-1 timed 35.37. Despite Warriors clearly being in the ascendency, Solway were keeping Boyle honest with efforts from quick breakout plays, and Solway notched their third goal of the night when Duncan Speirs found space in front of the net and fired in for a 3-1 scoreline timed 38.52.
In a pre-planned move Warriors made a change between the pipes for the final period, with Rory Dunn taking over netminding duties from Jordan Boyle in the Whitley goal. It wasn’t long before the experienced Dunn was called upon to make a fine save, batting away a fierce shot from inside the slot by Stevie Moore to keep Warriors only 2 goals behind. Home debutant Jamie Ord nearly found himself in position to open his account with the clock showing 48 minutes, skating round a static Andrews on the Sharks D but seeing his attempted shot blocked by the legs of the retreating James Hutchinson.
A game that had been competitive but on the whole well mannered burst in to life at 52.04 when Solway found their way to goal for a fourth occasion, Scott Henderson skating down the right and shooting the puck below the blocker of Rory Dunn. As the visitors began to celebrate, Warriors’ alternate captain Shaun Kippin seemed to take exception to the actions of a Solway player, sparking off an altercation between the two sides that resulted in Kippin being handed a 10 minute misconduct penalty for incitement, a game misconduct and a further match penalty from the officials.
The same incident had also seen Andre Payette become involved in the fracas, with Payette being punished for his actions with a match penalty for fighting leading to the Canadian being ejected from the game. As Kippin and Payette made their way back to the home dressing room experienced winger Alan Yarrow was also handed out punishment for his actions, with “The Rocket” receiving 10 minute misconduct for incitement.
The resulting period of play following the incident left Solway enjoying a prolonged 5 on 3 powerplay opportunit, and the Sharks put to bed their dogged opponents by striking on a further two occasions. Marc Fowley made it 5-1 timed at 56.06 before grabbing his second marker of the evening and completing the scoring just 31 seconds later. The 6-1 score line seemed harsh on a young Warriors team that had continued to apply pressure on their visitors, but in the end it was Solway who took their share of the cup spoils having made the most of the opportunities to fall their way.
Man of the match for Whitley Warriors went to winger Callum Watson, with the man of the match for Solway Sharks being named as Marc Fowley.
A Fan’s View by Craig Thorp
“Warriors can be very proud of their efforts tonight. In a game with nothing but pride at stake, the team worked hard and showed they weren’t prepared to just lay down and allow Solway to take the win in their own barn.
“It was a great opportunity for younger lads like Jamie Ord, Anthony Wetherell, Ross Douglass and Liam Smedley to log some serious game time under their belts and nobody can suggest those players looked out of place at this level. Had Warriors not run into penalty trouble early in the game then this contest could have played out very differently. At even strength Whitley rolled through their four lines well, taking charge of the second period and on another day against a team without the ability that Solway possess, the important moments of the game could certainly have gone the way of the Maroon and Gold.
“This season has been a testing one but nobody should lose focus of the fact that the standard of opposition has most certainly increased. With other sides in the league bringing in experienced imports, everyone connected with Whitley Warriors should be proud of their achievements. Competing night after night composed of a team of loyal, local lads and one feisty Canadian, the team have shown tremendous heart and faced the highs and lows head on. Was this the last time we see Andre Payette pulling on a Warriors shirt at home? Hopefully not, but if it was to be the “Wild Thing’s” final chapter it was only fitting the Warriors faithful were afforded the opportunity to sing his name and applaud Andre off the ice.
“Billingham next Sunday represents the final game of the league campaign and possibly one final chance for Warriors to book a ticket for the end of season play offs in Sheffield. For that to happen results need to go their way but regardless of whether or not a top four finish is attained the players, staff and fans can all hold their heads high and know they gave it their all.”
Warriors – 1
Sharks – 6
Shots on goal
Warriors – 30
Sharks – 40
Warriors – Callum Watson 1+0, Liam Smedley 0+1
Sharks – Marc Fowley & Duncan Speirs 2+1, Daniel Abercrombie & Scott Henderson 1+0, Darren Stattersfield 0+3, Kim Miettinen 0+2, Juraj Senko & Connor Henderson & James Hutchinson & Kieran Hair 0+1
Warriors – 98
Sharks – 0
Man of the Match
Warriors – 6 Callum Watson
Sharks – 34 Marc Fowley
Referee – Steve Wardell
Linesman – Haydn Hunter
Linesman – Craig Davison