WHITLEY Warriors opened up their season with a challenge game against league champions Billingham Stars at Hillheads on Sunday.
And even though the Teesside outfit ran out 5-1 winners, coach Garry Dowd felt there was grounds for optimism.
The home side created the first real chance of the game and Jamie Tinsley made sure the opportunity was not wasted as he deposited the puck beyond former Whitley keeper James Flavell with less than four minutes played.
However, it was a lead that lasted less than five minutes as the visitors took advantage of a powerplay to equalise.
The Warriors were penalised for having too many players on the ice and it was former Manchester Phoenix forward Stephen Wallace – returning to his home town club – that drilled home the equaliser.
There was no further scoring in the opening period, but the league champions began to impose themselves after the break.
Ritchie Thornton stole forward to score after a sustained spell of Stars pressure at 29.46 and less than two minutes later they were further in front courtesy of James Moss.
The visitors extended the advantage to 4-1 with a long range drive from Ben Davison on 47 minutes that found its way through a crowded goal mouth and scoring was complete at 56.52 when Thornton netted his second while the champions had a man advantage.
Afterwards player/coach Garry Dowd was upbeat about his side’s performance and confirmed he had added another defender to the squad.
“To be honest the only negative thing about the night was the 5-1 score line and I wasn’t too bothered about that,” he said.
“For me it was all about getting the players on the ice in a game situation and seeing where we needed to improve.
“You could tell Billingham are in advance of in terms of fitness and preparation, so it gave us a good indication of where we need to be and I thought we were able to match strides with them for half of the game.”
“Those two quick second period goals certainly took the wind out of our sails,” admitted Dowd, “because we had been very competitive up until then; and once they hit the front, we found it difficult to get back into the game.”
However, there was some good news for Dowd after the game with defender Ally Brummitt agreeing to sign on for the coming season, when it had appeared previously that work commitments would rule him out.
“He isn’t going to be available for every game,” said the coach, “but having Ally when he can make it will certainly increase the depth of our squad and give us a very good defender on some nights.”
Dowd played GB under-18 forward Harry Harley in defence and was impressed with the performance of the youngster.
“He had an excellent game for us at the back,” he said, “and certainly showed his versatility, however I thought netminder Ritchie Lawson was our man of the match.
“I said before the season that having Ritchie with us from the start would be a boost and he showed just why tonight with some top drawer saves to prove that he is one of the best keepers in the league.”
The Warriors begin their National League campaign away to Coventry Blaze on Saturday night, but will be without a number of players.
“Dean Holland will be suspended,” confirmed Dowd, “while Jordan Barnes and Martin Crammond will both be unavailable, but I’m confident we will still have a squad that can get us off to a winning start.”
Meanwhile, the Warriors have picked up another sponsor and will have the name of Norham Garage on their helmets for the 2012/13 campaign.