Whitley Warriors achieved a 6-3 win over Blackburn Hawks at Blackburn Ice Arena on Sunday evening.
Making the trip to face the Lancashire outfit with twenty skaters and netminders Richie Lawson and Jordan Boyle, Whitley found themselves up against James Neil’s seventeen-man line-up which included shot stopper Harrison Walker, Player-Coach James Neil and Czech Alternate Captain Petr Valusiak.
With this the first meeting between the two sides this season, the opening minutes of the first period provided a chance for the teams to get the measure of each other. Latvian defenceman Rolands Gritāns carved out one of the best opportunities early in the game but Walker was on hand to make a glove save. Blackburn then went on a breakaway but could only manage a high shot and were soon in on goal again courtesy of Joe Greaves, with Lawson quick to make a save. The Warriors eventually gained a lead on 6:26 when forward Callum Watson picked up Alternate Captain Jordan Barnes’ rebounded shot to find the target, leading to a furious reaction from Blackburn’s defencemen. Watson then tried to snatch his second of the game, spinning with the puck in search of the net to no avail. Whitley continued their offensive work to double their tally on 13:34 as left winger Ben Campbell went one-on-one with Walker to slip the puck through the five-hole, forward Phil Edgar assisting. In response, Valusiak pounced on a defensive error from the visitors to strike the underside of the bar, making it 2-1 on 16:09, though there was much discussion as to whether or not the puck had crossed the line. Forward Aaron Davies came close to equalising moments later and the Hawks followed with further attacking play through forward James Riddoch. This play prompted a hooking offence from Barnes to see Blackburn awarded a penalty shot but Riddoch stepped up only to have his shot prevented by a kick save from Lawson to keep the score line at 2-1. Undeterred, Valusiak levelled the scoring soon after when he made the most of a two-on-one breakaway, first finding Greaves who returned a pass to assist on 18:47. Gritāns then robbed Valusiak of possession to disrupt the Hawks’ momentum and, with just thirty four seconds of the first period remaining, Edgar drilled the puck home from the high slot to make it 3-2, Campbell and blue liner Harry Harley assisting.
Eager to widen the margin between themselves and the Hawks, the Warriors started the second period with two quick goals; Captain Dean Holland netted just fifteen seconds into the middle stanza with support from skilled forward Adam Finlinson and defenceman Josh Maddock before Edgar grabbed his second of the encounter just fifty nine seconds later to make it 5-2. Forward Callum Queenan then received the puck from Holland on the edge of Walker’s crease and fired but could not find the target. A high sticks call against forward Lee Pollitt awarded Whitley a power play on 26:30 and with fourteen seconds of their advantage remaining, Queenan buried the puck to extend his team’s lead to 6-2 on 28:17. Thirteen seconds after the Hawks returned to full strength, Whitley went shorthanded as forward Niall Ryder incurred an elbowing penalty to give Blackburn their first power play of the game. A shot from versatile forward Jared Dickinson came close for the home side but Holland was quick to counter, firing at Walker who coolly saved. After successfully killing their penalty, the Warriors were forced into defence once more when Player-Coach Neil skated from his defensive zone to trouble Lawson at the other end of the ice, almost executing a wraparound before Davies went one-on-one with the netminder. Shortly afterwards, Gritāns gained possession to skate into his offensive zone where he released a shot, hitting the bar in the process. Barnes then set up Edgar in the dying minutes of the period but the Canadian missed his mark to leave the score line at 6-2 at the end of the second stanza.
Taking to the ice with a four-goal lead, the Warriors found themselves with greater possession and more time on the puck. This allowed the outfit to test Walker in the opening minutes of the period but the netminder remained resolute to make life difficult for Longstaff’s line-up. A hooking penalty for versatile defenceman Samuel Warnock on 50:53 presented Whitley with a power play and the visitors took the opportunity to replace netminder Lawson with Boyle to allow their backup shot stopper some ice time. Though unable to find the net, Whitley were certainly not short of chances, Maddock trying a shot from just inside of the blue line and Barnes firing at Walker’s net straight from the faceoff. Soon after, Watson attempted to seize the puck but Neil outsmarted the Warrior to accomplish a fantastic goal in which he was assisted by netminder Walker to take the score line to 6-3 on 54:29. A poor turnover from Whitley then allowed Blackburn to go on a two-on-one breakaway but no sooner had the Hawks missed this chance than forward Ben Richards almost claimed a seventh goal for the Warriors. Forward Shaun Kippin followed with a shot at Walker which caused an unexpected outburst from Dickinson whose crosschecking offence was followed by the Hawk dropping the gloves with Kippin with eight seconds remaining in the contest. In consequence, both players picked up penalties of 2+2 for fighting whilst Dickinson served an additional two minutes for his initial misdemeanour. These penalties had little bearing on the game however, and the Warriors were pleased to see out their 6-3 victory over the Hawks which leaves the side just one point behind Solway Sharks with three games in hand on the Dumfries outfit.
Shots on goal
Petr Valusiak (2+0), James Neil (1+0), Aaron Davies (0+1), Joe Greaves (0+1), Harrison Walker (0+1)
Phil Edgar (2+1), Ben Campbell (1+2), Dean Holland (1+1), Callum Watson (1+0), Callum Queenan (1+0), Harry Harley (0+2), Jordan Barnes (0+1), Josh Maddock (0+1), Rolands Gritāns (0+1), Adam Finlinson (0+1), Ben Richards (0+1)
Man of the Match
Hawks: Ethan Mayoh
Warriors: Phil Edgar