Whitley Warriors opened their 2021-22 campaign on Sunday evening with a 7-4 away win against Widnes Wild.
Making the trip with nineteen skaters, the Warriors were missing former EIHL left winger Robert Farmer, forward Ross Douglass and youngster Thomas Fraser but still boasted a strong line-up which consisted of starting netminder Mark Turnbull and new signings Adam Wood, Steven Chalmers and Dylan Hehir whilst 16-year-old Connor Lewis travelled to make his debut. By comparison, the Wild had eighteen players available, including Latvian winger Vladislavs Vulkanovs, Player-Coach Richard Haggar and shot stopper Harrison Walker.
The game did not start as the Warriors had hoped as Whitley conceded just thirty three seconds into the contest when Wild’s defenceman Kieron Furlong took a wide shot from distance to take Turnbull by surprise, Haggar assisting. Though stunned by this early goal, the Warriors grew into the game and a power play on 3:56 courtesy of Widnes’ left winger Liam Charnock allowed the side some reprieve. Eventually Whitley got back on track when defenceman Harry Harley opened his team’s account with support from Kyle Ross and Shaun Kippin on 9:17. This goal gave the Warriors the foothold they needed and the outfit went ahead on the power play ninety two seconds later when Czech Jakub Hájek was sidelined for tripping, this time Kippin the man on target after netting a pass from Captain Dean Holland. Less than three minutes after his return to the ice, Hájek incurred a hooking penalty to provide the Warriors with another power play and Whitley took the opportunity to make it 3-1, this time Alternate Captain Jordan Barnes pouncing on Chalmers’ rebounded shot to give his side a two-goal cushion on 14:42. The momentum with Whitley, Kippin skated in on the slot to narrowly miss out on extending his team’s lead but it was not long after that Barnes did just that, collecting his second of the evening from forward Adam Finlinson’s delayed pass on 18:46 to see Whitley 4-1 up at the break.
With the Wild unable to get back into the game despite gaining the additional skater following Kippin’s slashing offence on 21:30, and coming close to scoring through forward Kieran Beach, Warrior Barnes skated around the back of Widnes’ net to find forward Callum Watson who beat Walker glove side on 24:02. Just over a minute later, Holland was sidelined for slashing to present Widnes with the advantage again but the Warriors successfully killed this penalty and added to their tally just before the midpoint of the period through youngster Lewis who netted on his debut to make it 6-1 following support from defenceman Craig Johnson and forward Callum Queenan. A hooking call for defenceman Lee Kemp on 32:22 then seemed as though it would pile further pressure onto Widnes but that was not the case as David Longstaff’s men were caught on the breakaway, Latvian Vulkanovs beating defenceman Rolands Gritāns to reduce his side’s deficit to four goals on 32:53; he then supplied the puck to Player-Coach Haggar who capitalised to make it 6-3 just under four minutes later. Sensing that the home outfit were clawing their way back, Whitley forward Adam Finlinson raced down the ice to beat Walker thirty one seconds later, reinstating the four-goal gap. The game end-to-end in the latter stages of the second period, Widnes went two-on-two with the Warriors but Haggar was unable to get his shot away and Whitley retaliated with pressure on Walker’s net before the second interval.
In the early stages of the final period, the Warriors were keen to test Walker again, Holland firing first, Ross trying a quick shot and utility player Wood continuing to cause problems for Widnes in their defensive zone. Countering, Vulkanovs eased past forward Niall Ryder to force a glove save from Turnbull as play progressed and the Warriors recognised their need to regain possession, Holland working with teammates Phil Edgar and Watson whose shot was stopped by Walker. A tripping call for defenceman Tom Brierley on 46:03 provided Whitley with a fifth power play but the outfit could not execute their chances and soon found themselves on the back foot when Gritāns was sidelined for hooking after an effort on goal from Wild’s defenceman Thomas Stubley. Though appearing a real threat in Whitley’s defensive zone, the flow of Widnes’ play was disrupted when Queenan drew blood after a fall, requiring the ice to be cleaned. When play resumed, the Wild sought a power play goal without success, Turnbull denying Vulkanovs once more. Continuing their attack, the Wild eventually reaped the rewards of their perseverance after Whitley’s return to full strength, Turnbull making a blocker save which saw the puck fall into the path of Vulkanovs who wasted no time in making it 7-4 on 56:08. A missed opportunity for the home team soon followed; Haggar was unable to put the puck past Turnbull before Vulkanovs and Beach teamed up to send Whitley’s netminder scrambling. With pressure mounting on the Warriors, Whitley worked hard in defence in the final minutes to secure their 7-4 victory.
Shots on goal
Vladislavs Vulkanovs (2+1), Richard Haggar (1+1), Kieron Furlong (1+0), Thomas Stubley (0+1)
Jordan Barnes (2+1), Shaun Kippin (1+1), Adam Finlinson (1+1), Callum Watson (1+0), Connor Lewis (1+0), Harry Harley (1+0), Steven Chalmers (0+2), Phil Edgar (0+2), Callum Queenan (0+2),Craig Johnson (0+1), Kyle Ross (0+1), Dean Holland (0+1)
Man of the Match
Wild: Kieran Beach
Warriors: Jordan Barnes