Whitley Warriors achieved the first derby win of their 2018-19 campaign on Sunday evening with a 5-3 win over local rivals Billingham Stars.
As Whitley made the short trip to The Forum with a strong squad at their disposal, this fixture saw the return of defencemen Josh Maddock and Liam Smedley to the side, although suspended Captain Dean Holland, injured Canadian Phil Edgar and versatile forward Ryan Sample were amongst those missing for the outfit. By comparison, Billingham had a short bench of sixteen men which included starting netminder Mark Watson, young prospect Ethan Hehir and Lithuanian defenceman Edgar Protčenko.
Facing off, the Warriors found a short spell of their early offensive work levelled when the Stars hunted down possession to bring netminder Richie Lawson into the action at the other end of the ice, with forwards Cain Taylor and Hehir appearing to be a real threat for the home team. Gaining a power play when Stars’ Captain Michael Elder was sidelined for delaying the game, the Warriors maintained pressure on Watson’s net to cause Billingham’s defence some concern but the Teessiders killed their penalty in spite of this. With play fast and furious, the hard hits followed and it was Stars’ forward Alex Preston who felt the full force of the game’s physicality after a collision along the boards. Remaining focused, the Warriors continued to seek the opening goal of the game and, just moments after hitting the bar, the side achieved this feat when blue liner Harry Harley scored on the backhand following neat build up play from forwards Callum Watson and DJ Good. Play becoming fiery, Taylor clashed with defenceman Ross Connolly to see both earn themselves two minutes for roughing on 8:03. Working hard to retaliate, the Stars sought to counter and the side drew level shortly afterwards when Protčenko’s shot deflected off Lawson’s right shoulder and into the net following a pass from fellow defenceman James Hellens. Determined to regain their lead, the Warriors continued to battle for the puck, with Ben Campbell appearing particularly dangerous when progressing into Billingham’s defensive zone. As such, it was unsurprising when the left winger burst Watson’s net with a wonderful shot on 13:49 after hard work from Player-Coach David Longstaff and Connolly. With both teams continuing to build in equal measure, there was an increasing tension between the outfits, not least between Alternate Captain Jordan Barnes and Stars’ ‘D’ man Matthew Campbell. However, as play progressed into Whitley’s defensive zone once again, it was Alternate Captain Sam Zajac who was next to engage in a heated exchange as he crossed paths with Hehir to see both players awarded minors for crosschecking and roughing respectively on 20:00.
Resuming play for the second period, the Stars’ motive to equalise was clear as the outfit took just under four minutes to find the back of Lawson’s net, with Hehir guiding the puck home as Elder fired a shot in. Shortly afterwards, Billingham were awarded a power play when forward Kyle Ross made way for hooking but, as the Warriors killed this penalty and began to enjoy longer spells of possession, Whitley recovered their lead on 27:43 when Campbell wove through the Stars’ defence to pick out stand-in Captain Shaun Kippin who made it 3-2. With the hard-hitting nature of the game intensifying, Billingham’s blue liner Ben Davison boarded Ross which prompted a reaction from young forward Ross Douglass. Subsequently, Davison received 2+10 for boarding whilst Douglass was handed a minor for roughing. Thirty five seconds later, the Warriors extended their lead to two goals as Campbell utilised his skill; rounding the net and carving a path towards goal before firing past Watson for a second time. After some excellent offensive work from Whitley, the Stars fought back to reap the rewards of their determination when Taylor unleashed a shot into the roof of Lawson’s net on 34:48 following a slick pass from Canadian Kevin Boyd. A tripping call against Elder then saw Billingham work incredibly hard on the penalty kill to maintain the 4-3 score line ahead of the final period.
Going into the third stanza, the rivals were aware of the fragile margin separating them and both were eager to find a way to win. Whilst the Warriors strove to build on their performance, it was the home team who appeared most threatening as Lawson and his defence endured a prolonged period of pressure. A slashing penalty for defenceman Martin Crammond then saw Whitley placed on the back foot but, soon after, an unpunished trip against Latvian blue liner Rolands Gritāns prompted the Warriors to seek their own retribution as the puck found its way to Campbell who broke clear of Billingham’s defence to complete his hat trick with a shorthanded goal on 52:15. The score line 5-3, the Stars were relentless in offence, with Lawson called into action on several occasions; forward James Moss trying a long range shot whilst Boyd and Hehir zipped paths through Whitley’s defence in their efforts to bury the puck. With time fast running out and the Warriors unyielding, Billingham sensed an opportunity to claw back a goal when Connolly made way for tripping on 58:11. Calling a timeout, the Stars pulled Watson from his net in place of the additional skater and began their onslaught whilst Whitley came close to an empty net goal in the dying moments of the game. However, with neither side able to score in the final minutes, the Warriors were overjoyed to claim their 5-3 road victory and their first derby win of the season.
Shots on goal
Edgar Protčenko (1+0), Cain Taylor (1+0), Ethan Hehir (1+0), James Hellens (0+1), Michael Elder (0+1), Kevin Boyd (0+1)
Ben Campbell (3+1), Shaun Kippin (1+0), Harry Harley (1+0), Ross Connolly (0+2), Sam Zajac (0+1), Callum Watson (0+1), DJ Good (0+1), Jordan Barnes (0+1), David Longstaff (0+1)
Man of the Match
Stars: Edgar Protčenko
Warriors: Richie Lawson