Whitley Warriors achieved a 5-3 cup victory at Hillheads on Sunday evening in what was an incredibly heated clash against Murrayfield Racers.
Though missing defenceman Liam Smedley and forward Ben Richards whilst Player-Coach David Longstaff again fulfilled his role from the bench, the Warriors were boosted by the presence of skilled forward Adam Finlinson who was available to play his first game for Whitley this season. Meanwhile, travelling with seventeen skaters, the Racers’ line-up included Captain Joel Gautschi, Alternate Captain Callum Boyd and netminder Mark McGill.
Battling for possession early in the first period, it did not take the Warriors long to make an impact, Latvian defenceman Rolands Gritāns supplying young forward Anthony Wetherell with the puck which he slotted into the bottom of McGill’s net on 2:40. Though the game was scrappy as both teams fought for possession along the boards, the Warriors were encouraged by their opening goal and sought to test McGill again, left winger Ben Campbell and forward Callum Watson appearing particularly sharp in their offensive zone. Forward Adam Finlinson was also quick to make an impression, his speed and tenacity challenging Murrayfield’s defence. Captain Dean Holland came into possession of the puck shortly afterwards and was tripped by defenceman Alex Christian who consequently handed Whitley a power play. Trying to make the most of their additional skater, the Warriors came close to snatching a second goal, defencemen Harry Harley and Gritāns firing in from the blue line to no avail. Soon after this penalty was killed by the Racers, both teams ran into trouble as Finlinson and seventeen-year-old ‘D’ man Ethan Reid were sidelined for hooking on 7:25. With the Racers growing into the game and enjoying prolonged spells of possession to leave Whitley chasing the puck and battling in the corners, the Warriors began to slowly find their chances few and far between. A call for a hand pass against Whitley then moved play into Murrayfield’s offensive zone but Johnson clashed with winger Sean Donaldson in the aftermath, causing the blue liner to pick up a slashing penalty on 12:25. Right winger Michael Ireland took full advantage of his team’s power play, beating netminder Richie Lawson as players clashed in front of his net on 13:13. Eight seconds later, Watson was made to warm a seat in the sin bin for interference and this time Captain Gautschi skated through his offensive zone on the power play before unleashing a shot which he buried to Lawson’s left on 14:19. Trying to get back on track after rapidly falling behind, the Warriors began to push play into their offensive zone, forward Callum Queenan skating at speed with the puck which he left in front of McGill’s net for Watson but the move did not pay off. Though increasing their attacking play, Whitley could not prevent Murrayfield from forcing a save from Lawson as the first period came to an end and the home team were relieved to head in just one goal behind their visitors.
After a tough first period, the Warriors were keen to get back into the game but a delay of the game penalty for Johnson on 22:44 left the side with a penalty to kill yet again. In spite of this, Whitley were able to see off the danger in front of Lawson’s net to maintain their one-goal deficit but, just twenty one seconds before Johnson’s penalty was over, Gritāns was punished for crosschecking after battling with players in the corner of his defensive zone. Whilst working hard to kill this successive penalty, the Warriors were faced with some hard-hitting play from Murrayfield who were keen to capitalise with their additional skater. Defenceman Martyn Simpson boarded Wetherell without consequence and Boyd then had a one-on-one chance on goal and slashed Lawson in the aftermath to see versatile defenceman Kyle Ross retaliate only to be pushed off balance by the Racer. Watson chased the puck into his offensive zone and tracked Boyd whom he instantly boarded. Not content with this retribution, Watson continued to pursue Boyd and flipped him onto the ice, causing Latvian defenceman Rihards Grigors to drop the gloves with the Warrior; the duo throwing countless punches at each other for a prolonged period and neither managing to pull the other to the ice. This led to both players receiving penalties of 2+2 for fighting whilst Watson picked up an additional two minutes for a late hit on 26:21. Moments later, Reid was sidelined for hooking and, though the Racers killed this penalty, Murrayfield were punished further when forward Steven Clark boarded defenceman Josh Maddock. This led to a retaliation from Canadian Phil Edgar and subsequently Maddock who got to his feet but only the Racer was sidelined, incurring 2+10 for boarding on 31:05. Thirty two seconds later, Gritāns fired into McGill’s net to level the scoring. Watson’s fight having afforded Whitley some momentum, the side made it 3-2 on 34:23, this time the puck trickling into the net courtesy of Edgar after build-up play between Johnson and Holland. Nineteen seconds later, Campbell deftly fired past McGill after a neat pass from Queenan to give Whitley a two-goal cushion. Relentless, blue liner Harry Harley skated towards goal on 35:51 and rocketed a shot over McGill’s left shoulder to take the score line to 5-2, forward Niall Ryder and fellow defenceman Maddock assisting. The Warriors then picked up an interference penalty in the final minute of the period when Alternate Captain Jordan Barnes sought to make Boyd accountable for his actions, the Racer having leapt to make a hit against a Warrior who fortunately moved out of the way in time.
Confident in their control of the game heading into the third period, the Warriors began to try for a sixth goal in the early stages but could not make any of their chances count and paid the price as Alternate Captain Boyd cut through Whitley’s defence to place an unassisted shot behind Lawson on 44:20. Conscious of their two-goal lead, Longstaff’s men continued to strive for a goal but could not beat McGill, though Finlinson came close, winding a path to the net but releasing a shot rather than making a pass to see the netminder make the save. An interference penalty on Alternate Captain Scott Geddes then reduced Murrayfield to four men just before the halfway point of the period but Whitley could not capitalise. Subsequently, an injury to defenceman Jack Wright after a collision with forward Ross Murray saw the twenty-year-old helped off the ice. Holland incurred a holding call soon after but before his penalty terminated, tempers flared yet again, this time Ross pushing Boyd into the boards to see the Racer hit back with a slash which Finlinson responded to by tripping the forward. Barnes was keen to make Boyd pay for his actions and the two tangled, Barnes easily getting the upper hand as the Racer was reluctant to fight. Applauding Barnes sarcastically as he skated away, Boyd was crosschecked to the ice by Ryder to see the duo punished on 58:11; Barnes picking up a match penalty for fighting whilst Ryder was dealt a roughing penalty. Calling a timeout, Murrayfield sought to grab a fourth goal to make the conclusion to the game a difficult one for the Warriors but it was not to be and a Racers’ bench minor for too many men meant that there was no way back for the outfit to see Whitley claim their 5-3 cup win.
Shots on goal
Rolands Gritans (1+1), Anthony Wetherell (1+0), Phil Edgar (1+0), Ben Campbell (1+0), Harry Harley (1+0), Craig Johnson (0+1), Dean Holland (0+1), Josh Maddock (0+1), Niall Ryder (0+1), Callum Queenan (0+1)
Michael Ireland (1+0), Joel Gautschi (1+0), Callum Boyd (1+0)
Man of the Match
Warriors: Anthony Wetherell
Racers: Ethan Reid