Whitley Warriors achieved a 6-3 home win against local rivals Billingham Stars in their last derby game of the regular season on Sunday evening.
With twenty skaters and netminders Richie Lawson and Jordan Boyle at their disposal, Whitley Warriors had a short absentee list which included forward Adam Finlinson, defenceman Gary Walker and suspended Canadian Phil Edgar. Meanwhile, the Stars made the journey with nineteen players in their line-up, including youngsters Dylan Hehir, James Hellens and Joseph Walls, whilst Alternate Captain Callum Davies, defenceman Matthew Campbell and forward Jack Emerson were amongst those unavailable for this fixture.
Applying pressure in Billingham’s defensive zone immediately after face-off, Whitley Warriors iced left winger Ben Campbell alongside forwards Ross Murray and Callum Queenan in their efforts to grab an early goal. Whilst unable to beat netminder Thomas Brown in their first shift, the trio returned to the ice and continued with their offensive work which sparked a clash between Murray and forward James Moss in front of the Stars’ net. Channelling his anger in the aftermath of this confrontation, Murray seized control of the puck and swept a low shot beneath Brown on 3:07 to present his side with a 1-0 lead. Building on this, forward Callum Watson picked out versatile forward Kyle Ross who struck the bar in his effort to double Whitley’s tally. After a collision with defenceman Dave Thomas, Captain Dean Holland’s resulting high sticks penalty on 6:37 gave Billingham a power play which the Stars were unable to capitalise on. Forwards Anthony Wetherell, Ross Douglass and youngster Thomas Fraser worked hard after gaining ice time following Whitley’s opening goal which Billingham countered by seeking a breakaway. Forward Niall Ryder trailed Chris Sykes from one end of the ice to the other as the Star attempted to level the scoring and it was not long after that Billingham made it 1-1, Sykes playing a backhand pass to Moss who beat shot stopper Richie Lawson at his left post on 12:52. Responding to this, Latvian defenceman Rolands Gritāns attempted to recover his side’s lead, turning on the trickery as he skated through the Stars’ defence, only to find his efforts thwarted. Soon after, Campbell put Whitley ahead for a second time, firing an unassisted shot from the high slot on 17:56 to give the Warriors a 2-1 lead at the first interval.
Striving to pick up from where they left off, Whitley looked to extend their lead in the opening minutes of the second period and were presented with the perfect opportunity when Stars’ defenceman Stuart Jackson was sinbinned for holding on 24:06. Although unable to make their additional skater count, the Warriors continued their onslaught, Campbell failing to find the target with his third successive rebound before blue liner Harry Harley struck the post. After further attacking play, the Warriors hit the target for a third time in the contest when Campbell glided through Billingham’s crowded defensive zone, dropping his shoulder as he went around ‘D’ man Andy Finn, to bury the puck to Brown’s left on 30:38, giving Whitley a two-goal lead. Just under five minutes later, the left winger achieved his hat-trick as quick-thinking Wetherell played the puck into Campbell’s path which the left winger flicked home for 4-1. Fifty eight seconds after this goal, Campbell fired in a long range effort which Queenan tipped into the net to give Whitley a four-goal lead. Placing increasing pressure on the Warriors in response, Billingham attempted to reduce their deficit as Moss found Sykes at Lawson’s right post but he was prevented from tapping the puck past the netminder to leave the score line at 5-1 at the end of the second period.
An altercation between Murray and Thomas early in the third period resulted in the pair dropping the gloves and, after breaking free of Thomas’ hold, Murray gained the upper hand before toppling the Star to the ice, both players receiving penalties of 2+2 for fighting in consequence. Twenty eight seconds before these penalties ceased, Walls and forward Tomáš Rubeš broke clear of Whitley’s defence to face Lawson unchallenged; Walls played the puck to Rubeš who netted with ease on 46:26 to make it 5-2. At the midpoint of the period, Alternate Captain Jordan Barnes went toe-to-toe with Thomas and eventually overpowered the defenceman. This incident resulted in the Warrior serving an additional two minutes for roughing further to the penalty of 2+2 for fighting that both players incurred. Buoyed by their power play, Billingham went within two goals of Whitley as forward Craig Thurston turned to fire the puck past Lawson on 52:13. Retaliating, forward Ben Richards bore down on Brown’s net and unleashed a shot into the top corner to make it 6-3, Harley and Lawson assisting. Sixteen seconds later, Watson was punished for crosschecking but the Stars’ power play terminated when Thurston was sidelined for tripping on 55:12. Despite gaining a short power play on Watson’s return, Whitley could not add to their lead, although Fraser teamed up with Barnes in an effort to find the net. With neither side adding to the scoreboard in the dying minutes, the Warriors secured their 6-3 victory which is their eighth derby win across all competitions this season.
Shots on goal
Ben Campbell (3+1),Ross Murray (1+1), Callum Queenan (1+1), Ben Richards (1+0),Anthony Wetherell (0+1) Harry Harley (0+1), Richie Lawson (0+1)
James Moss (1+1), Craig Thurston (1+1), Tomáš Rubeš (1+0), Chris Sykes (0+1),Dylan Hehir (0+1), Joseph Walls (0+1)
Man of the Match
Warriors: Ben Richards
Stars: Andy Finn