Whitley Warriors endured a 7-6 aggregate defeat at the hands of Murrayfield Racers over the two-legged NIHL North Cup final.
Whitley Warriors made the trip to Murrayfield on Saturday with twenty skaters and netminders Richie Lawson and Jordan Boyle at their disposal. Whilst forward Adam Finlinson made his return to Whitley’s line-up, the Warriors’ absentee list included forward Niall Ryder, suspended Canadian Phil Edgar and defenceman Gary Walker. Meanwhile, the Racers had fifteen skaters available for the clash, with Captain Joel Gautschi, Alternate Captain Callum Boyd and forward Garry Simpson amongst those lining up for the home team.
Whilst unable to capitalise on their power play after a hooking penalty for forward Ben Richards on 3:40, Murrayfield gained a 1-0 lead when forward Shaun Kippin was sinbinned for crosschecking less than two minutes later, defenceman Martyn Simpson beating netminder Lawson glove side after finding himself in space on 8:39, assisted by forward Garry Simpson and seventeen-year-old defenceman Ethan Reid. A hooking penalty for versatile forward Ross Borwick just after the halfway point of the period handed Whitley a power play and, whilst unable to make their additional skater count, the Warriors’ advantage was extended when Reid was sidelined for tripping just one second before Borwick’s return to the ice. Encouraged by this, Whitley equalised through left winger Ben Campbell who received the puck from Captain Dean Holland to fire over shot stopper Mark McGill on 14:19, Latvian defenceman Rolands Gritāns also assisting. A holding penalty for ‘D’ man Josh Maddock then left Whitley shorthanded in the final two minutes of the period but the side worked hard to prevent the Racers from reclaiming their lead ahead of the interval.
Though the Warriors successfully killed the remainder of Maddock’s penalty in the first minute of the middle stanza, the Racers edged ahead of Whitley just fifty nine seconds after their visitors returned to full strength, this time Latvian forward Rolands Dietlavs picking out forward Garry Simpson who fired over Lawson on 21:40. When forward Steven Clark incurred an interference penalty just after the midpoint of the game, the Warriors gained a power play but could not make their efforts count. Both teams then ran into penalty trouble shortly afterwards, the Racers picking up a penalty of 2+2+10 for right winger Michael Ireland’s attempted spear on 35:58 whilst Alternate Captain Jordan Barnes was sidelined for roughing. However, it was only when both sides had returned to full strength that Murrayfield achieved a two-goal cushion, forward Garry Simpson easing the puck beneath Gritāns’ stick to successfully set up Boyd who made it 3-1 just one second before the break.
Whilst beginning the third period on the back foot when Maddock was sidelined for interference on 40:55, Whitley’s work ethic showed when Holland snatched the puck from defenceman Martyn Simpson to achieve a shorthanded, unassisted goal on the breakaway on 41:52 to take his team to within a goal of the Racers. The Warriors were not so fortune approximately three minutes later when Gritāns’ tripping penalty gave Murrayfield the power play they needed to make it 4-2 as forward Garry Simpson bagged his second goal of the evening by burying Alternate Captain Rihards Grigors’ rebounded shot on 46:46. Whitley struggled to respond in front of the net and a late hit from forward Ross Douglass on 58:32 left the side shorthanded but Murrayfield’s advantage did not last long as Boyd levelled the playing field when he was sidelined forty seven seconds later for a slashing offence. With neither side able to score again in the latter stages of the period, the Racers took a 4-2 lead into the second leg of the NIHL North Cup final.
Shots on goal
Garry Simpson (2+2), Martyn Simpson (1+0), Callum Boyd (1+0), Ethan Reid (0+1), Rihards Grigors (0+1), Ross Borwick (0+1), Rolands Dietlavs (0+1)
Dean Holland (1+1), Ben Campbell (1+0), Rolands Gritāns (0+1)
Man of the Match
Racers: Garry Simpson
Warriors: Richie Lawson
With a 4-2 deficit to overturn going into the home leg of the NIHL North Cup final on Sunday evening, Whitley Warriors boasted the same line-up that they had at their disposal in their previous clash whilst the Racers travelled with fifteen skaters, though making the trip without forwards Rolands Dietlavs, Steven Clark and Lewis Gold to name but a few.
With the game evenly matched in the opening stages, both netminders were set to work early in the contest and, as play returned to Whitley’s offensive zone, left winger Ben Campbell was charged by Captain Joel Gautschi, allowing the Warriors a power play on 3:16. Just forty seconds later, Latvian defenceman Rolands Gritāns joined the Racer in the sin bin, making it difficult for both teams to find the net whilst reduced to four men. However, just before Gritāns’ return to the ice, forward Shaun Kippin was sidelined for the same offence to enhance Murrayfield’s advantage, giving the side a 5-on-3 power play. Working hard to kill these penalties, the Warriors began to gain some momentum and capitalised on this as defenceman Harry Harley fired into the top corner on 8:06 after receiving a pass from forward Ben Richards to present his team with a 1-0 lead. Just over two minutes later, forward Callum Queenan was dealt a penalty of 2+10 for a check from behind, leaving Whitley shorthanded again and just sixty two seconds after successfully killing this penalty, the Warriors had their work cut out once more when defenceman Kyle Ross was deemed to have slashed a stick out of his opponent’s hands. After clearing their zone, the Warriors returned to full strength and sought a goal through the pairing of left winger Ben Campbell and Captain Dean Holland but to no avail. Some skilled play from Adam Finlinson saw the forward attempt to play the puck to Alternate Captain Jordan Barnes from behind the net but netminder Mark McGill was quick to squash Whitley’s attack once more. Subsequently, tempers flared when a trip on Holland went unpunished and the two sides engaged in a heated confrontation which was quickly extinguished. Seizing possession in the latter stages of the period, Gritāns skated through his offensive zone and around McGill’s net in his effort to snatch a wraparound goal but he missed his mark, leaving the score line at 1-0 to the Warriors who were trailing 4-3 on aggregate.
An even start to the second period saw Whitley attempt to extend their lead whilst the Racers continued to look dangerous as forward Garry Simpson patiently waited for the puck to fall his way on the edge of the Warriors’ defensive zone. Unable to beat McGill at the other end of the ice despite several chances for Campbell, Holland and Finlinson, Whitley were dismayed when forward Ben Richards was called to the sin bin for holding on 28:01. Just twenty three seconds later, Queenan was sidelined for a high sticks offence, giving Murrayfield a 5-on-3 power play. Energised by their successful penalty kill, the Warriors began to build momentum and looked increasingly threatening in front of goal to provoke a holding offence from versatile forward Alex Christian on 31:35. Though gaining the one-man advantage at this crucial moment, the Warriors were left deflated when possession fell to Alternate Captain Callum Boyd on a breakaway seventy two seconds later, allowing him the chance to bury his shorthanded effort which restored Murrayfield’s two-goal lead on aggregate and prompted a time out from Whitley. Fifty six seconds after Christian’s return to the ice, the Racer incurred a penalty for tripping and left his team shorthanded again but the Warriors could not make their power play count, instead finding themselves forced into defence as netminder Richie Lawson made some important saves to keep his side in the clash. Murrayfield’s Garry Simpson then picked up a penalty for high sticks against defenceman Josh Maddock on 39:32, leaving his team with just four men as they headed in at the break with a two-goal lead on aggregate.
As Garry Simpson’s penalty ran into the third period, Campbell wasted little time in making an impact, rocketing a shot past McGill forty three seconds into the period to give his side a 2-1 lead which reduced Whitley’s deficit to one goal on aggregate. Gaining momentum, the Warriors bagged their third goal just under five minutes later when Holland swept the puck around McGill to draw level. Increasing the pressure, the Warriors put McGill to the test, Campbell, Holland and forward Callum Watson working hard to find the net only to be kept at bay by Murrayfield’s diligent defence. A high sticks penalty for Gautschi just past the midpoint of the period gave Whitley some hope that they could capitalise on the power play again but just sixty nine seconds later, Gritāns incurred a holding penalty to see the playing field levelled. Effective on the penalty kill once more, the Warriors were hugely disappointed when Gritāns was punished on exiting the sin bin after colliding with his advancing opposition. As Whitley pounced on the puck whilst shorthanded, Campbell raced towards goal only to be clipped by Gautschi on 55:50. With both teams reduced to four men in consequence, right winger Michael Ireland gained possession and cut a path towards Lawson’s net before executing superbly to make it 3-2 on 56:13, giving his side a 6-5 lead on aggregate. Unwilling to accept defeat, Holland received a pass from Watson as he crossed into his offensive zone and did not hesitate to find the target, providing his team with a 4-2 lead which levelled the scoring over the two legs to push the game into a five-minute period of three-on-three overtime.
With Campbell, Gritāns and Ross starting on the first line against Racers Boyd, Gautschi and Latvian defenceman Rihards Grigors, the Warriors began to advance on McGill’s net, Campbell firing a shot high. Several chances followed for Whitley with Holland and Gritāns also posing a threat but a poor turnover shortly after a faceoff in the Warriors’ defensive zone proved costly, the puck falling to Boyd who was placed perfectly in front of Lawson’s net to secure the game-winning goal on 63:14, thereby handing the NIHL North Cup title to Murrayfield.
Shots on goal
Dean Holland (2+0), Harry Harley (1+1), Ben Campbell (1+0), Craig Johnson (0+1), Callum Watson (0+1), Rolands Gritāns (0+1), Ben Richards (0+1)
Callum Boyd (2+0), Michael Ireland (1+0)
Man of the Match
Warriors: Dean Holland
Racers: Mark McGill