A bumper crowd gathered at Hillheads Ice Rink on Sunday evening to see Whitley Warriors beat local rivals Billingham Stars in the NIHL North.
Warriors were able to name a strong roster as the only senior players missing from their line-up were Martin Crammond, who had taken part in the Great North Run earlier that day, and Nathan Ryder ,who is out of action long term following shoulder surgery.
Whitley ran into penalty trouble once the game got under way as forward Jamie Tinsley was penalised for cross checking just three minutes in, which gave Stars an early powerplay opportunity which they successfully converted when Stephen Wallace fired home after being set up by blue liner Andy Finn.
Warriors were not rocked by Billingham’s early goal though and they created several opportunities of their own.
So it was no surprise when Mark Good found the back of the net after some brilliant link up play between himself and his brother DJ on 11 minutes.
Whitley ran into more penalty trouble during the first period, however their penalty killing units were able to match everything Billingham’s offense created.
Warriors started the second period superbly as Karl Culley fired them into the lead with 24 minutes on the clock.
The home side got a powerplay of their own after 27 minutes of play and the experienced ‘D’ man Rob Wilson made the most of the man advantage as he made it 3-1 just before the half hour mark.
Stars quickly upped their offensive game and Stephen Wallace’s trickery almost saw him net for Billingham just before the 35-minute mark, however, Stars did not have to wait long for their second goal of the evening as James Moss managed to find a way past Warriors’ in-form goaltender Richie Lawson shortly afterwards.
Warriors took their slender 3-2 lead into the final period, where Ross Hanlon and Jamie Tinsley both received minor penalties.
But again Whitley’s penalty killing unit was able to successfully negotiate six minutes of Stars powerplay action with Lawson making a number of smart stops.
With under two minutes left in the game referee Boynton disallowed a Billingham goal as he had already blown his whistle for an infringement before Stars had been able to get the puck over the line, to the dismay of the vocal contingency of Billingham fans who had travelled to Tyneside.
Stars continued to press and they pulled their netminder late o,n which allowed them to have the extra outskater in an effort to tie up the game.
However, the defence remained strong which allowed Whitley to claim a superb 3-2 victory over their bitter rivals in the first Tyne Tees derby of the 2013-14 campaign.
Lawson’s fine performance in goal was recognised as he was selected as Warriors’ man of the match.
After the contest, Warriors Coach Simon Leach said: “We expected it to be a close game but we didn’t start very well and it took us a while to get into the game.
“If you take into account how many penalties we killed tonight and what it takes out of the players I thought we deserved to win the game.
“We did a good job in the second period, getting a couple of goals and in the third when we needed to stick together we did and killed quite a few penalties, the penalty killing was exceptional tonight.”
Warriors’ next game is on Saturday, September 28, when they travel to Sheffield to take on the Spartans.
The club’s next home game is on Sunday, October 6 (face off 5pm), when they take on the Telford Titans at Hillheads.
Whitley fans have the unique opportunity to become Leach’s assistant coach for the game against Sutton Sting on October 20.
The competition will enable the lucky winner to see just what it is like to coach a top ice hockey team during a competitive game.
To find out more, check the Whitley Warriors website www.whitleywarriors.net or the supporters’ club site www.ww-sc.co.uk