WHITLEY Warriors entertained Welsh outfit Flintshire Freeze knowing they needed a win to keep any pressure on Northern League leaders Fife Flyers.
And they got off to the perfect start when Callum Watson found the back of the net inside the opening minute, although the puck did deflect of Flintshire defender on the way.
Shots then rained down on the visitors goal, but netminder Phil Crosby was to have the night of his life and it was not until 9.14 that Whitley found the target again when Adam Reynolds doubled the lead; and within seconds it was 3-0 as Ritchie Thornton blasted an unstoppable shot past the impressive Crosby.
Home fans might have though the floodgates would open when Jordan Barnes netted three minutes into the middle session, but it was Flintshire who scored the next goal through Jamie Parsons to end hopes that Calvin Khass might get a shut-out on his first start of the season in the Warriors goal.
The only other marker of a lack-lustre second period came at 33.29, when a pass through the visitor’s goalmouth left Reynolds with a tap-in for his second.
However, Whitley saved their best for the last 20 minutes and constant pressure finally brought its reward as they managed to double their tally, while at the other end of the ice youngster Joseph Harley took over in goal for his first taste of senior action.
Shaun Kippin kicked things off with an excellent solo effort two minutes in and that was followed by a strike from Josh Maddock as the young defender scored for the second week running.
Nathan Ryder netted the goal of the night in the 51st minute when some deft stick-handling took him through the Flintshire rearguard and the rising shot that followed was too good even for a keeper in the form Crosby had shown all night.
Skipper Reynolds completed his hat-trick with a little under five minutes remaining, with Dan Spedding collecting his first senior assist in the build up to that goal on his debut; and that left Peter Zajac to round off the scoring when he took Whitley into double figures 90 seconds from time.
Despite the win over Flintshire, the Warriors look destined to be runners-up in the Northern League after Fife Flyers grabbed a last minute winner in Solway and will now head to the north east as champions on Sunday if they win in Sheffield the night before.
“Finishing second would be an improvement on our performance over the past couple of seasons,” said Warriors coach Simon Leach after last Sunday’s win.
“But we are looking forward to welcoming Fife to Hillheads twice in the next couple of weeks and for us the aim will be to try and finish the season unbeaten at home, which would mean beating the Flyers; and that would give us confidence going into the Northern League Play-Off Weekend the week after.”
The game against the Freeze may not have been a classic, but Leach chose to give debuts to a couple of youngsters, and had some senior players unavailable, so was still pleased with aspects of the performance.
“You have to give them (Flintshire) a lot of credit,” the coach said. “They have brought virtually a full squad up for the game, worked hard all night and in netminder Phil Crosby had a player who was at the very top of his game.
“They are an ENL Division two team and you could see the gulf in class, but that doesn’t detract from what was a real gutsy performance from them.”
However, Leach was delighted with the performance of his two debutants and thought they both contributed.
“Joseph Harley took over in goal for the last 20 minutes and has faced seven shots, but had to make a couple of good saves to stop them from scoring,” he said, “while Dan Spedding has slotted in well on our third line and managed to get himself an assist in his first senior game; so both of them can be very proud of their efforts tonight.”
Meanwhile, the Warriors were without DJ Good and Dan Harris, after the Whitley coach allowed the pair to link up with Newcastle Vipers for their game in Edinburgh; after the Vipers found themselves short on players for the trip.
“I had a phone call from Vipers coach Danny Stewart on Saturday night,” revealed Leach, “asking if the two lads could play because they were struggling to put out the minimum number of players.
“So we consulted with the lads before saying yes and they were both willing to help the Vipers out in the situation they found themselves in, so we agreed they could go.
“We took into consideration the opposition we had at Hillheads last night and that it would enable us to give even more ice time to the younger kids in our squad.
“However, it was a one-off, and I must stress that, because the agreement has always been that if we’ve got a game, we keep our players; but we made an exception on this occasion to help the Vipers out.”
Fife Flyers are the visitors to Hillheads on Sunday night (face-off 5pm) when the top two sides in the Northern League go head-to-head and Leach expects to have out a full strength squad as they protect that unbeaten home record.