Festive cheer as Warriors defeat derby rivals

Sam Zajac

Sam Zajac. Photo by IceHockeyMedia

Christmas came early for Whitley Warriors on Sunday evening as the Tynesiders picked up a resounding 7-3 derby victory over Billingham Stars in NIHL North 1 Moralee action. A double from Shaun Kippin and further goals from Jordan Barnes, Dean Holland, Kyle Ross, Harry Harley and Ben Richards helped Warriors to a deserved victory over their local rivals in front of a bumper crowd at Hillheads ice rink.

Warriors picked up a narrow 4-3 away victory when the two teams met down at the Forum in October when Adam Finlinson proved to be the match winner, and David Longstaff’s team went in to the derby on the back of last weekend’s spirited home defeat to league leaders Sheffield Steeldogs. Recent addition to the blue line Sam Zajac went straight into the line-up for the Maroon and Gold, returning to Whitley Bay from Swindon Wildcats having also iced for Braehead Clan in the Elite League during his time away from Hillheads. Canadian Phil Edgar made a welcome return from injury, whilst Ryan Sample also added extra firepower to the Warriors forward lines.

A season of surprising struggles thus far saw Billingham travel north up the A19 low on morale. It’s often said that the form book gets thrown out of the window when it comes to derby clashes, and with only two league victories to their name against the league’s bottom club Deeside Dragons, Stars were hoping for a much-needed change in fortunes at Hillheads. Languishing second bottom in the standings, underachieving Billingham were still able to travel with a talented roster boasting the skill of Chris Sykes and the prolific point scoring of captain Michael Elder.

As winter arrived outside the rink bringing with it snow and sub-zero temperatures, a white-hot atmosphere inside welcomed the two teams to the ice for the first period. A scrappy opening ten minutes saw both sides struggling to find any sort of attacking rhythm, with no clear opportunities of note meaning minimal work for netminders Lawson and Flavell. The Maroon and Gold struck the first blow timed at 11:27 following good work on the blue line by Sam Zajac, the new man picking out a pass to the unmarked Shaun Kippin on the left wing. As Kippin skated in from the left, the centre unselfishly squared across the crease for the on-rushing Jordan Barnes, who tapped home for 1-0 Warriors. Billingham had started the game in determined fashion, however, and levelled the game less than two minutes later on the powerplay thanks to Latvian forward Deniss Baskatovs.

Conceding the equalising goal seemed to stir a renewed intensity from Whitley, who restored their lead almost immediately. As Billingham forward Baskatovs rued a glorious chance to put Stars ahead, play quickly switched to the other end of the rink. Warriors captain Dean Holland chased hard for a loose pass to the left by DJ Good, showing his strength to outmuscle the Stars D before dangling his way in from the half boards and sweeping around Flavell for 2-1 timed 14:41. The period scoring was completed in spectacular fashion in the final minute of play thanks to a rasping slap shot effort from Shaun Kippin. Exchanging passes with David Longstaff, Kippin gained the Stars defensive zone before unleashing an unstoppable shot into the top corner at 19:19.

Shaun Kippin celebrates his goal
Shaun Kippin celebrates his goal. Photo by IceHockeyMedia

Whitley began the middle session on the front foot and found themselves with a five on three powerplay opportunity inside the first two minutes, Billingham picking up slashing and interference penalties early on. Astonishingly though it would be the visiting Stars who grabbed the first goal of the period, and a short-handed one at that. As Chris Sykes returned to the ice giving Billingham four skaters, the forward was released by Baskatovs and Sykes made no mistake in punishing Whitley for a 3-2 score line timed 22:51. Warriors restored their two-goal cushion following a patient powerplay opportunity around the Stars’ goal at 31:47, the puck being worked to Harry Harley low to the left of the Stars goal whose shot found its way beyond Flavell. Whitley were cranking up the pressure on the visitors and struck for a fifth time thanks to Shaun Kippin once more, the assists going to Jordan Barnes and David Longstaff with 32:44 on the clock.

Billingham would have been forgiven for thinking it simply wasn’t going to be their night, but credit to Stars who continued to try and find a route back in to the contest. Confusion reigned all around the rink when Dan Pye was handed a two minute penalty for tripping by referee Alex Stewart at 33:44. Pye had clearly prevented Billingham’s Callum Davies releasing a clear shot on goal, an offence punishable by the award of a penalty shot, but as the officials called for a face off to be contested, Warriors thought they had escaped further punishment. After consulting with his two linesmen, ref Stewart eventually correctly awarded Stars the penalty shot, only for Davies to fail in his efforts to better Richie Lawson. Stars did grab another goal back thanks to a second of the night for Deniss Baskatovs on the powerplay once more at 35:58, but Warriors made the score 6-3 just before the end of the second period. A speculative Kyle Ross effort from the blue line eluded Flavell through heavy traffic in front of the Stars net, before nestling in the goal for a 6-3 score line timed 39:29.

Kyle Ross scores
Kyle Ross scores. Photo by IceHockeyMedia

Truth be told, Whitley looked to have broken the spirit of their visitors and in a fairly routine final period Warriors were in full control of proceedings. Any hope Billingham and their supporters had of launching the most unlikely of comebacks were extinguished almost immediately in the third when Warriors struck for the seventh and final time. On the man advantage once more, Whitley were able to pin the Stars’ penalty kill unit inside their defensive zone by cycling the puck around in a sharp manner, eventually finding Sam Zajac with time and space to shoot from the high slot. As the shot arrowed towards goal, young playmaker Ben Richards was able to grab the final touch and finish off Billingham once and for all at 41:51.

With the game now well and truly in the bag, Warriors opted to give the younger members of their roster some ice time with the likes of Ross Douglass, Jamie Ord, Anthony Wetherell and Will Robson all handed a chance to shine in competitive action. The 7-3 derby victory was nothing more than the Maroon and Gold deserved, their extra cutting edge and quality showing over the course of the sixty minutes ensuring the local bragging rights remained on Tyneside once more.

Man of the Match sponsored by Morrisinghs for Warriors went to the ever-improving Kyle Ross, with Scott Ward nominated for Billingham Stars.

The next home game at Hillheads sees Warriors entertain Solihull Barons on Sunday 7th January 2018. Face off for the first home game of 2018 is at the usual time of 5:00pm.


Warriors – 7
Stars – 3

Shots on goal
Warriors – 48
Stars – 41

Warriors – Kippin 2+2, Ross 1+1, Barnes 1+1, Holland 1+0, Harley 1+0, Richards 1+0, Longstaff 0+4, Good 0+2, Zajac 0+2
Stars – Baskatovs 2+1, Sykes 1+2, Moss 0+1, Elder 0+1

Man of the Match sponsored by Morrisinghs
Warriors – 13 Kyle Ross
Stars – 10 Scott Ward

Penalty minutes
Warriors – 16
Stars – 16

Referee – Alex Stewart
Linesmen – Craig Davison, Vince Tait