Whitley Warriors accomplished a fantastic 6-2 cup victory over local rivals Billingham Stars at The Forum on Sunday evening.
Though defenceman Liam Smedley and forward Jamie Ord were amongst those on Whitley’s absentee list, the Warriors travelled to Billingham with a line-up of eighteen skaters and netminders Richie Lawson and Jordan Boyle at their disposal as they prepared to take on the Stars who matched their visitors in number.
After a heated warm-up between the local rivals, the Warriors took to the ice for face-off, the side taking control of possession from the outset to trouble netminder Mark Watson and his defence. Canadian Phil Edgar, left winger Ben Campbell and forward Callum Queenan were amongst those utilising their skill to enhance Whitley’s attacking play in the early stages. Long range shots fired in from the blue line saw hardworking forward Ross Murray come close to tapping the puck past Watson whilst ‘D’ man Rolands Gritāns also appeared a real threat, cutting through Billingham’s defence to fire into the centre of his offensive zone, only for his shot to be saved. Campbell then forced possession from young defenceman Dylan Hehir to unleash a close range shot which struck Watson. A hooking call against ‘D’ man Josh Maddock then reduced Whitley to four men and Billingham were keen to make the most of their power play but just forty one seconds later, Gritāns and Stars’ Captain Michael Elder clashed behind Lawson’s net to see the duo punished for roughing and charging respectively. This eased the pressure on the Warriors and, with Maddock’s penalty served, Whitley continued to attack, forward Ben Richards playing the puck to Alternate Captain Jordan Barnes who skated into his offensive zone to bury a low shot to Watson’s left on 9:28. Spurred on by their 1-0 lead, the Warriors continued to cause problems for the Stars’ defence; Campbell snatching the puck from Hehir to the right of Watson’s net and striving for a goal to no avail. Towards the latter stages of the period, Billingham began to search for an equaliser, forward Chris Sykes seeking to surpass Whitley’s defence but Gritāns remained strong to see off the danger, leaving the game at 1-0 as the sides filed in at the first interval.
Resuming play for the second period, the Warriors continued to cycle the puck well in their offensive zone, Captain Dean Holland working particularly hard to carve out a chance for his team as he wove through the Stars’ defence and doubled back on himself to test netminder Watson before finally striking the bar. Punctuating play with some hard hits along the boards, the Warriors fought well for possession and forward Ross Douglass was particularly effective in making his presence felt. A backhanded shot for Richards then flew wide of the net to leave Whitley with a precarious 1-0 lead as Billingham began to bring Lawson into the game, Czech forward Daniel Silar setting his sights on goal. Campbell, Douglass and Edgar remained determined to get onto the scoresheet and countered whilst forward Callum Watson loomed close to Billingham’s net, poised for a tap-in. With play falling back into the Stars’ hands time and again, Billingham appeared most threatening when hunting for a breakaway goal and the perfect opportunity arose for Silar only for the Czech to find his attack broken down by defenceman Dan Pye. Feeling that Pye had unlawfully prevented his chance, Silar remonstrated with the Warrior to earn himself a ten-minute misconduct penalty on 35:47. Whitley then added insult to injury for their local rivals when Holland played the puck to blue liner Harry Harley who unleashed a fabulous shot to double the Warriors’ lead thirty four seconds later. Whilst the Stars were deflated by this turn of events, Whitley headed in with their two-goal cushion intact at the second interval.
Returning to the ice with the desire to leave their victory beyond doubt, Whitley began the third period in style as Murray received a pass from Edgar to sweetly tap the puck around netminder Watson on 41:22, versatile Warrior Kyle Ross also assisting. Maintaining this pressure, Whitley continued to agitate their opposition, forward Niall Ryder provoking a crosschecking penalty from defenceman Darren Stattersfield to give his team a power play on 44:24. Whilst a hooking call against Barnes just twenty nine seconds later meant that Whitley’s advantage was short-lived, Holland could not be deterred from firing into the roof of Watson’s net after Queenan picked out Ross on the blue line to assist their captain. A high sticks offence from forward James Moss on Richards then saw a power play fall in Whitley’s favour and Holland linked up with Queenan to play in Gritāns who faked a shot before netting, making it 5-0 on 48:05 to prompt a timeout from Billingham. A slashing offence for Stattersfield was then matched forty one seconds later by a tripping call against Richards to see both teams reduced to four men. This had little effect on the visitors though as Harley’s rebounded shot was collected by Ross who rocketed the puck over netminder Watson from the right wing to extend Whitley’s lead to six. Following this goal, the Warriors’ discipline began to slip. Defenceman Dan Pye was sidelined for holding thirty nine seconds later to give the Stars a power play and it was not long before forward Callum Watson left the ice following a ten-minute misconduct penalty after a heated exchange with Sykes. Still on the power play, Billingham finally hit the target when forward Callum Davies made the most of build-up play from defenceman Thomas Keeley and Czech Tomáš Rubeš on 53:13. Placed under increasing pressure as a result, Lawson pulled off some outstanding saves to prevent the Stars from chipping away at their deficit with Rubeš and Silar amongst those striving for a goal. Ryder then dropped the gloves with Sykes close to Watson’s net, resulting in penalties of 2+2 for fighting for both players whilst the Warrior collected an additional two minutes for goaltender interference. Thirty five seconds later, Murray was dealt a roughing penalty, causing play to resume in Billingham’s offensive zone. Scrambling for the puck in front of Lawson’s net, Elder struck the post and Davies pounced on his captain’s rebounded shot to beat Lawson for a second time. A slashing penalty was called against Lawson in the aftermath of this goal to add to Whitley’s penalty woes but, gradually regaining his composure, the netminder worked hard to keep the score line at 6-2, snatching Silar’s shot out of the air before his defence cut down the Stars’ attempts to play the puck back towards his net. With time fast running out, the Warriors were overjoyed to collect two points from their 6-2 cup victory which reduces the gap between themselves and NIHL North Cup leaders Solway Sharks to just three points ahead of next weekend’s fixture against Murrayfield Racers.
Shots on goal
Callum Davies (2+0), Michael Elder (0+1), Tomáš Rubeš (0+1), Thomas Keeley (0+1)
Kyle Ross (1+2), Dean Holland (1+2), Harry Harley (1+1), Jordan Barnes (1+0), Rolands Gritāns (1+0), Ross Murray (1+0), Callum Queenan (0+2), Phil Edgar (0+1), Ben Campbell (0+1), Ben Richards (0+1)
Man of the Match
Stars: Callum Davies
Warriors: Rolands Gritāns