Adam Finlinson was the derby day hero on Sunday evening, striking late on as Whitley Warriors recovered from 3-1 down to pick up a hard earned 4-3 victory away to Billingham Stars.
With the clock showing just over four minutes of play remaining and the game looking like overtime may be needed, Finlinson turned match winner with a superb wrist shot to take the points back to Tyneside.
Warriors made the short trip to take on their local rivals on the back of an encouraging display at home to Telford Tigers the previous Sunday, losing out 6-3 despite matching the only unbeaten team in league competition for the full 60 minutes. Coach David Longstaff welcomed back DJ Good to his attacking options, with Mark Turnbull continuing to keep his spot between the pipes ahead of Richie Lawson. Promising youngster Jamie Ord took to the ice in place of last week’s returning hero Ryan Sample, who missed the short trip down the A19.
Billingham Stars headed in to the contest having endured a frustrating start to their campaign thus far. Terry Ward’s outfit welcomed their neighbours having won only once in eleven competitive league and cup games; that being a comprehensive 11-3 opening day victory at home to Deeside Dragons. Changes to the roster over the summer had seen influential Swedish duo Dennis Bostrom and Daniel Palmebjork leave the Forum, with Stars drafting in Latvian Arturs Ozols to patrol the blue line and compatriot Deniss Baskatovs tasked with adding extra firepower. Former Warrior Callum Pattison came up against his former team for the first time since leaving Hillheads in 2013, with “Patto” adding much needed physicality to a Stars roster that had been good on the eye but lacked fight for too long.
With the puck dropping and a capacity crowd offering plenty of vocal support, the game got underway with Warriors looking to roll through their lines early on. A scrappy opening exchange saw the first chance fall at the stick of Michael Elder, but with the Stars forward quickly closed down his shot went wide of the Warriors net. Gradually the visitors were starting to gain momentum and push Billingham back in to their own zone, forcing the Stars D to rush their clearances. Whitley’s first meaningful effort on goal came after four minutes when Harry Harley unleashed a wicked slap shot that was saved by Mark Watson.
Warriors were growing in to the game but saw their good work undone by a lapse in concentration. As Callum Pattison picked up a loose pass from the Warriors D, he fed the on-rushing Luke Brown to tap in low for 1-0 at 8.13. Warriors came close to levelling the score on a power play opportunity soon after, Callum Watson seeing his wrist shot strike the post and bounce clear before Stars extended their lead. Having failed to convert earlier in the contest, Michael Elder made the most of his second opportunity, firing in for a 2-0 opening period at 15.35.
Longstaff’s charges came out fast in an effort to get back in the game, and the Maroon and Gold were rewarded for their intensity almost immediately. Just 51 seconds had been played of the middle session when Callum Watson struck at the second time of asking, assisted by Jordan Barnes. Whitley were hoping the goal would give them a platform to build from but Billingham weren’t prepared to offer any easy roads back to parity. Instead, Stars restored their 2 goal lead when Callum Davies deked his way through the neutral zone, teeing up Elder for 3-1 timed 22.55. Whitley were struggling for fluidity but giving everything they had to hit back, changing up line combinations to find a spark. The tactical shake up would pay dividends at 28.03, when Jordan Barnes was played in one on one by a stretch out pass from the Warriors blue line, staying calm and lifting top corner for 3-2 and a one goal game.
As Jack Emmerson sat a 2 minute penalty for high sticks, the Warriors special teams took the ice and created a number of opportunities only to be thwarted by Mark Watson. The away side were indebted to netminder Mark Turnbull around the half hour mark, when the young stopper sprawled to deny Chris Sykes on a short handed break away. Both sides were opening up and exchanging attack for counter attack, but 3-2 it would remain going in to the final 20 minutes of play.
Behind on the score board but undoubtedly still in the game, the Warriors roster skated out for the final period knowing they had created enough chances to suggest a turnaround could yet happen. The line combination of Longstaff, Kippin and Richards had been working well in recent weeks, so it was no surprise to see the trio link up once more and haul the Warriors level at 43.44. Player/coach Longstaff took up possession of the puck at centre ice, lifting his head and passing to Ben Richards. As the young forward gained entry to the Stars zone, he cleverly dropped a pass for the oncoming Kippin to take aim and fire beyond Watson for 3-3.
It was now all Warriors pressure, with energy and belief running through everyone in a maroon and gold jersey. A frantic spell of play saw Warriors almost take the lead on three separate occasions. Firstly, Callum Watson failed to connect to a Harry Harley pass across the crease with the goal gaping, with the resulting passage of play seeing Barnes and then Watson again denied from close range.
Overtime was beginning to loom large as the clock ticked ever closer towards 60 minutes. The stage had been set perfectly for someone to grasp the role of derby day hero for Warriors; step forward Adam Finlinson. Breaking forward from centre ice, the winger took control of a pass played to him by Dean Holland, cradling the puck, before using the retreating Stars D as a screen to send a screaming wrist shot in to the top corner timed 56.15. The travelling hoards went crazy in the stands, as Warriors took an unassailable 4-3 lead to secure a dramatic late victory over their local rivals.
Whilst the outcome had looked bleak for long spells of the game, Warriors continued to battle throughout and in the end got their reward for refusing to give up on derby day delight.
Man of the match for Whitley went to impressive netminder Mark Turnbull, who produced a string of saves to keep his side in the contest. The award for Billingham Stars went to D man Arturs Ozols.
Warriors next home game is Sunday 29th October 2017, when Solway Sharks are the visitors to Hillheads. Face off is at the usual time of 5.00pm