Whitley Warriors went down to a heart-breaking overtime defeat to Blackburn Hawks on Sunday evening following a pulsating game between two evenly matched teams. Unable to be separated following the regulation 60 minutes, it took a power play goal from Lewis Baldwin to win the game for Hawks and deny Warriors a first win of the season.
Prior to Sunday’s fixture, Warriors travelled to Dumfries on Saturday evening to take on last season’s treble winners, Solway Sharks, in a tough opening assignment. Summer recruit Phil Edgar travelled to the Scottish Borders with his new team mates as the Canadian import got his first taste of NIHL North One Moralee action. Despite travelling with a strong looking roster Warriors were missing key experienced figures in the shape of netminder Richie Lawson and influential forward Shaun Kippin, who missed the trip following a suspension.
Sharks took the first period 1-0 thanks to a solitary goal by returning forward Iain Bowie timed at 6.32, and were able to increase their lead early in the second when Czech import blue liner Marek Charvat combined with Stuart Kerr to fire home. Despite being behind on the scoreboard Warriors were competing well and pulled a goal back when a maiden competitive strike for Phil Edgar made it 2-1 assisted by Jordan Barnes. Any hopes of a Warriors equaliser were soon extinguished, however, when Iain Bowie notched his second of the game to make it 3-1 Solway at the end of the middle session. The scoreline would remain the same to see Warriors lose out to a spirited 3-1 defeat.
Returning to home comforts on Sunday saw the Maroon and Gold host Blackburn Hawks, eager to pick up their first points of the season in front of a passionate Warriors crowd. Shaun Kippin would once again miss out taking his place on Warriors top line, and in a further blow to David Longstaff and his team, Callum Watson was also absent. Mark Turnbull continued between the pipes having performed admirably at Solway the previous evening leaving Richie Lawson to return in a back up role.
Blackburn made the journey north on the back of a second consecutive 3-2 win at home to Billingham Stars in league and national cup competition respectively. Hawks were able to add significant quality to their squad over the summer months, with player/coach Steven Duncombe recruiting former EPL and Manchester Phoenix duo Luke Boothroyd and Stephen Fone. As well as adding new faces to freshen up a side that underachieved in the league last time out, Hawks retained the services of prolific point scorer Richard Bentham whilst also re-signing Slovakian forward Jozef Istocy.
Warriors began the opening period in tenacious fashion, looking to check hard and force pressure on the Hawks defence. An early hooking call against Robert Streetly saw the man advantage go to the home side yet it was Blackburn who had first sight of goal. Picking up the puck at centre ice on the penalty kill, James Royds wriggled beyond the last man to find himself one on one with Mark Turnbull, only for the netminder to stand big and deny the Hawks forward. The Warriors forward lines were working well and a superb flowing move on the 5 minute mark saw David Longstaff and Jordan Barnes combine to open space, allowing Ben Richards to nip in and shoot straight at Stuart Ashton in the Hawks goal.
It was oh so nearly 1-0 to Whitley after 15 minutes when a clever drop pass from DJ Good found Canadian Phil Edgar rushing to the slot but once again Ashton blocked the goal bound effort. The next passage of play saw Liam Smedley pick up a 2 minute slashing call and having gone close to taking the lead Warriors found themselves a goal down just 22 seconds later. With bodies in and around the goal, the Hawks power play unit were able to screen a powerful wrist shot from Luke Boothroyd that flew in to the net timed 15.22 and hand the visitors a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes of play.
Warriors found themselves with a golden opportunity to trouble the scorers as the middle period got underway, with Hawks on the penalty kill. Sustained pressure deep behind the Hawks net saw Warriors gain the initiative, and when Josh Maddock found David Longstaff the player/coach in turn fed Phil Edgar, with the Canadian placing beyond Ashton to level the score 1-1 timed 20.56. The line play of Barnes, Longstaff and Richards were causing the Hawks D all sorts of problems and the trio combined once again to send Richards sweeping in on goal only for the chance to be snuffed out.
Noise levels in the rink were starting to increase as belief grew amongst the home ranks, but Blackburn were still a threat on the break and Hawks went ahead once more when Richard Bentham scored at 24.42 following a turnover in the Warriors zone. Undeterred, those in maroon and gold continued to stick to the game plan refusing to panic and creating openings with slick interchanges. Finally, with 36.21 showing on the clock, Warriors got the picture book goal their play had deserved to level up at 2-2. Harry Harley moved the puck from his own blue line, and as Ben Richards moved in to space allowing Longstaff to take possession, the young forward continued unopposed to the back post where he would tap home completely free when fed by his player/coach.
With nothing separating the two teams heading in to a tense final 20 minutes, one moment of magic could be enough to make the difference and Warriors’ Phil Edgar looked in mood to be the man to claim the headlines. Firstly, Edgar wriggled his way from a tight spot along the boards using his body to shield the puck before teeing up Liam Smedley for a one-time slap shot which forced Ashton to make the save. Then moments later, Edgar had the Hawks D bamboozled by his slick, intricate stick handling to retain possession of the puck resulting in the Candian being tripped by James Riddoch.
Hearts were in mouths all around Hillheads at the 49th minute mark when Blackburn’s Jozef Istocy was first to a loose puck in the neutral zone and broke free from Harry Harley, but the Slovakian’s attempted trickery did not put off Turnbull in goal who stood tall as long as possible before sprawling and saving with his skate. The game was opening up with attack followed by counter attack now becoming the norm, but it was Whitley who were carving the clearer chances. When Edgar took aim and rifled a slap shot high towards the top corner, everyone in attendance must have expected the net to bulge, but Hawks netminder Ashton had other ideas and produced an eye catching glove save to prevent a goal. The final minute of the regulation 60 minutes saw Warriors go agonisingly close once more, as DJ Good saw his shot close in blocked by the pads of Ashton before a thunderous strike from Dean Holland was somehow stopped and smothered by the stand out Hawks netminder to send the game to overtime.
Now playing 3-on-3 hockey, both sides were stretched to their limits and the vast space available on the ice made for exciting viewing. The home side thought they had scored the winner inside the opening 2 minutes of overtime, only for referee Robin Elliott to correctly wash the goal out following the puck striking the face cage of Stuart Ashton prior to being lofted home.
That would prove to be the reprieve Hawks needed, and when Dean Holland was adjudged a 2-minute penalty for holding Blackburn regained the man advantage. With bodies tiring Hawks were able to pin back their hosts, crashing a shot from the blue line against the crossbar before seconds later Lewis Baldwin struck at 63.43 to win the game and break the hearts of a spirited Warriors roster. Defeat was cruel on a Maroon and Gold outfit that had given so much throughout, but Longstaff’s men could take solace from such a fighting performance and picking up their first point of the season.
Man of the Match for Warriors went to netminder Mark Turnbull who made a number of key saves during the contest. Away man of the match went to young forward James Royds for Blackburn Hawks.
Warriors are away next Sunday when they make the trip to face Deeside Dragons in NIHL North One Moralee action. The next home game at Hillheads is in two weeks, when Warriors play host to Nottingham Lions on Sunday 24th September 2017. Face off is at the usual time of 5pm.
Warriors – 2
Hawks – 3
SHOTS ON GOAL
Warriors – 52
Hawks – 29
Warriors – Phil Edgar & Ben Richards 1+0, David Longstaff 0+2, Josh Maddock and Harry Harley 0+1
Hawks – Lewis Baldwin 1+1, Luke Boothroyd & Richard Bentham 1+0, Aaron Davies & James Neil 0+1
MAN OF THE MATCH
Warriors – 26 Mark Turnbull (NM)
Hawks – 10 James Royds
Warriors – 10
Hawks – 8
Referee – Robin Elliott
Linesman – Stuart Steele
Linesman – Nicholas Gilroy