Whitley Warriors achieved a 4-3 home victory against Steven Duncombe’s Blackburn Hawks on Sunday evening.
With a strong squad at their disposal, though heading into this fixture without first choice netminder Richie Lawson, the Warriors took to the ice against the sixteen-man Hawks whose line-up included Czech forward Petr Valusiak, Player-Assistant Coach James Neil and Alternate Captain James Royds.
Striving to test netminder Harrison Walker through forwards Callum Watson and Dean Holland as the period unfolded, Whitley found their chances dealt with by Blackburn’s composed defence and were made to absorb some pressure themselves as play became end-to-end. Though a delay of the game penalty for Hawks’ defenceman Ollie Lomax allowed Whitley a power play on 2:34, the Warriors could not beat Walker and were therefore pleased to be awarded a second opportunity with the additional skater when some crafty work from forward Kyle Ross in Blackburn’s defensive zone drew a late hit from Alternate Captain Bobby Streetly less than two minutes later. Unable to capitalise once again, Whitley were disappointed that the deadlock remained in spite of their efforts. Forced back into defence at even strength, Alternate Captain Sam Zajac battled for the puck, claimed possession with confidence and drove forwards to outwit the Hawks before trying his luck in front of Walker’s net. Though unsuccessful, Zajac’s work ethic spurred on the Warriors and the side eventually bagged a 1-0 lead when forward Shaun Kippin played the puck to Latvian defenceman Rolands Gritāns whose blue line shot arched beyond Walker on 10:01. Encouraged by this goal, Watson snapped a shot at the netminder before ‘D’ man Harry Harley attempted a blue line shot of his own without success. Continuing to counter, Blackburn were in no mood to give up and it showed as the side equalised just twenty seconds before the first interval when Whitley’s attempts to muscle the Czech off the puck failed, allowing the Hawk to beat Boyle.
As play resumed for the second stanza, both teams began to vie for possession but Blackburn appeared to have greater confidence in their ability following their equaliser late in the first period. With play once again moving rapidly between zones, Warrior Martin Crammond incurred a penalty of 2+2 for slashing on 26:24 to allow Blackburn a four-minute power play. Whilst clearing their defensive zone effectively, the Warriors also picked their moments in offence and the perfect opportunity arose when left winger Ben Campbell pounced on the Hawks’ loss of possession to bring Walker back into the action. Just over a minute before Whitley returned to full strength, Blackburn went shorthanded as defenceman Ross Kennedy’s interference penalty was instantly followed by a faceoff violation from Valusiak. Despite this, the Warriors could not make the most of their many attempts, even on their eventual 5-on-3 power play, as Walker withstood the onslaught to leave the score at 1-1. Soon after these penalties terminated, the Hawks were handed the advantage when ‘D’ man Josh Maddock was sidelined for holding after striving to keep Valusiak out of the game. Killing this penalty, the Warriors continued to trouble the Hawks’ defence and their offensive work finally paid off when Campbell collected the puck from the boards behind Walker’s net to cut back in front of the shot stopper and score on 37:59; Longstaff and Kippin assisting. No sooner had Whitley edged ahead though than Blackburn were back on level terms as forward James Riddoch broke clear of the Warriors’ defence with fifty one seconds of the period remaining to guide the puck into the net which Boyle had vacated to deal with the situation head on.
Following their last minute goal before the break, Blackburn returned with renewed belief and found the target just seventy six seconds into the final period, Valusiak with his second goal of the evening after rushing at Whitley’s defence to send the outfit behind for the first time in the game. Unnerved by the Hawks’ 3-2 lead, the Warriors began to build in offence and a perfect pass from Longstaff to Campbell allowed the winger to fire past Walker on 44:56, defenceman Ross Connolly also assisting. Back on level terms, Whitley wasted no time in bombarding Walker again, forward Ryan Sample moving swiftly into his offensive zone and attempting to drive the puck past the netminder who calmly saw off the danger. Though shot after shot went unpunished, the Warriors persevered as Longstaff dug out the puck along the boards to sweep a pass towards goal which was greeted by Campbell who netted from close range on 50:12. Narrowly ahead with a 4-3 lead, Whitley were disappointed to pick up an interference penalty soon after but were relentless in defence to break down the Hawks’ chances. Fifty two seconds after the home team returned to full strength, Sample made a hard hit on Streetly along the boards to earn himself a match penalty for a check to the head which saw the Warriors reduced to four men for the duration of the period in consequence. Throwing all of their efforts into defence, Whitley battled to maintain their lead but, after a timeout was called by Blackburn on 59:40, the Hawks pulled Walker from his net to allow themselves an additional skater and a 6-on-4 advantage as a result. After their initial struggle to hustle the puck down the ice for an empty net goal, the Warriors were left no choice but to keep possession along the boards as the final buzzer sounded to confirm their 4-3 victory.
Shots on goal
Ben Campbell (3+0), Rolands Gritāns (1+0), David Longstaff (0+3), Shaun Kippin (0+3), Ross Connolly (0+1)
Petr Valusiak (2+0), James Riddoch (1+0), James Neil (0+2), Luke Boothroyd (0+1), Bobby Streetly (0+1), Ross Kennedy (0+1)
Man of the Match
Warriors: Ben Campbell
Hawks: Lee Pollitt