Whitley Warriors battled for a full sixty minutes on Sunday evening to record a respectable 2-1 defeat against unbeaten league leaders Sheffield Steeldogs.
Taking to the ice with nineteen skaters at their disposal, the Warriors found themselves without defenceman Josh Maddock, forward Ben Richards and youngster Anthony Wetherell as they confronted Sheffield’s seventeen-man team whose absentees included forward James Spurr, left winger Liam Charnock and junior Aaron Jepson.
Taking to the ice with speed, both teams showed that they were up for the contest and it was not long before Whitley picked up the first penalty of the game as Latvian defenceman Rolands Gritāns made way for holding on 1:11. Working hard to kill this penalty, the Warriors cleared their defensive zone to maintain the deadlock and were awarded a power play of their own just twenty seconds after returning to full strength when defenceman Lewis Bell was sidelined for slashing. Strong on the power play, Whitley placed their opposition under pressure, winning the faceoff in their offensive zone to find Alternate Captain Sam Zajac on the blue line whose long range shots continued to cause problems for shot stopper Dmitri Zimozdra and his defence. Frustrated, the Steeldogs were forced to battle for the puck and found themselves repeatedly tried by Whitley’s offensive play before going shorthanded for a second time when interference from defenceman Thomas Relf saw Bell mistakenly sinbinned on 8:31. Whitley’s power play proved short-lived however as, just fifty seconds later, the Warriors incurred a bench minor for too many men. Play becoming more even, Bell’s penalty terminated to present Sheffield with a short five-on-four situation but the outfit were stopped in their tracks by Whitley’s sturdy defending. Shortly afterwards, the game took a fiery turn when blue liner Ross Connolly was pushed into the post of Richie Lawson’s net, prompting a reaction from the Warrior. With play moving rapidly between zones, the Warriors soon felt that they had opened the scoring when left winger Ben Campbell fired the puck against the bar whilst lying full stretch to the right of Zimozdra’s net. Pouncing on the rebound, the Warriors scrambled to bundle the puck home but no goal was given and Whitley were disappointed to head in at the break on level terms.
Suffering a setback just fifty five seconds into the second period when versatile forward Ryan Sample was sinbinned for charging, the Warriors continued to work incredibly hard in defence to contend with the Steeldogs on the power play. Returning to full strength unscathed, Whitley continued to challenge Zimozdra but the netminder proved to be unyielding. Stand-in defenceman Martin Crammond raced into Sheffield’s defensive zone, only for his effort to be saved, before Steeldogs’ forward Nathan Salem unleashed a shot which flew over Lawson’s head at the other end of the ice. Player-Coach David Longstaff then played in Alternate Captain Jordan Barnes to force another save whilst forwards Callum Watson and DJ Good united to outwit Sheffield’s defence, though to no avail. With play intense throughout, it was unsurprising that the pace began to take its toll on both teams but neither side were willing to give up on the chance of victory. As the period came to a close, Holland took exception to an unpunished holding offence against line mate Campbell and, seeking his own retribution with a check from behind, the captain earned himself a penalty of 2+10 just twenty five seconds before the second interval to present Sheffield with a power play.
After applying their efforts to kill this penalty early in the third period, the Warriors conceded just thirty five seconds after returning to full strength when Slovakian winger Adrian Palak carved a path into Whitley’s defensive zone and achieved a goal after an attempted wraparound on 42:10. Undeterred, the Warriors set their sights on an equaliser, with Campbell, Zajac and forward Ross Douglass amongst those challenging Sheffield’s defence. Fighting for possession and defending with unwavering energy, the Warriors showed no signs of relenting and reaped their rewards when Campbell collected Gritāns’ purposefully deflected pass and drove forwards to level the scoring on 51:49. With defenceman Ross Connolly drawing a late hit from forward Cameron Brownley moments after this goal, Whitley were handed the advantage but failed to execute their chances. An unpunished hit from Alternate Captain Ashley Calvert on defenceman Phil Edgar then prompted Sample to take his revenge by clipping Bell. Keen to avoid overtime, the Steeldogs made it 2-1 as Slovakian winger Milan Kolena teamed up with Player-Coach Ben Morgan on the power play to pick out forward Duncan Speirs who buried a superb shot beyond Lawson on 56:44. Though receiving a bench minor fifty three seconds after conceding, Whitley bore down on Sheffield’s defence with hopes of a shorthanded goal but then lost Edgar to the sin bin for interference. Voicing his frustrations, forward Shaun Kippin simultaneously picked up a ten-misconduct penalty to leave the Warriors exasperated. Calling a timeout with just twelve seconds left to play, Whitley struggled for one last attack which fizzled out as the final buzzer confirmed the Warriors’ narrow loss to the league leaders.
Sitting in sixth place with ten points from fourteen league games, Whitley will be in action again next weekend when the Warriors take on Nottingham Lions at Hillheads from 5pm.
Shots on goal
Ben Campbell (1+0), Rolands Gritāns (0+1), Sam Zajac (0+1)
Adrian Palak (1+0), Duncan Speirs (1+0), Ben Morgan (0+1), Milan Kolena (0+1)
Man of the Match
Warriors: Dean Holland
Steeldogs: Dmitri Zimozdra
Referee: Andrew Allsopp
Linesman: Craig Davison
Linesman: Mark Bone