Whitley Warriors made the short journey down the A19 on Sunday evening to take on local rivals the Billingham Stars in a NIHL North Moralee Conference encounter.
Warriors had 17 players in their squad but were without experienced ‘D’ man Rob Wilson and youngsters Kyle Hindmarsh-Ross and Callum Queenan.
They started positively and took the lead after two minutes when Tommy Ralph found the back of the net with a strike from the blue line.
But Billingham created chances and tied the score up when Michael Bowman shot past Richie Lawson six minutes later.
Whitley went on the powerplay midway through the opening period when Billingham’s Andy Munroe was sent to the sin bin for high sticking, but Warriors were unable to find a way past Stars highly thought of netminder James Flavell.
Warriors’ ‘D’ man Dan Harris picked up a knock during the opening stages of the contest but was able to continue after taking time to recover.
In the second period Billingham lifted their game and thanks to markers from James Moss and Andy Munroe Stars held a 3-1 lead at the 27-minute mark.
Just after netting the third goal, Munroe was given a minor penalty for interference by referee Boynton and Whitley made the most of their powerplay as DJ Good netted after Stars had been unable to clear the puck out of their defensive zone.
But Billingham restored the two-goal advantage when Scott Ward scored his fourth of the season on 31 minutes with youngster Jack Emerson and the veteran Paul Windridge picking up the assists.
Warriors were dealt another blow when blue liner Josh Maddock had to leave the ice due to injury, which saw their defensive resources stretched even further as they had to operate with three senior ‘D’ men and youngster Callum Read for the remainder of the contest.
The visitors started the final period two goals in arrears but were presented an early powerplay when James Moss served two minutes for an illegal equipment call in the penalty box.
Whitley put the Stars goal under pressure and Jamie Tinsley struck the post with a strike from distance.
But they just could not find the back of the net, and as their powerplay ended a slow defensive line change saw Billingham launch a swift counter attack which resulted in Callum Davies lighting the lamp to make it 5-2 to the Teessiders.
After 48 minutes Paul Windridge further increased the Stars lead on the powerplay when he found the back of the net after some nice some interplay between Richie Thornton and Garry Dowd.
Shortly after Stars’ sixth goal of the evening, Warriors Jordan Barnes came to blows with Billingham’s Scott Ward when the players clashed in front of the benches, with both players receiving 14 minutes in penalties for roughing and therefore left the ice for the remainder of the contest.
There was no further scoring and Billingham claimed the two points, which keeps them in second place. Warriors are currently fifth in the standings one place and four points from a play-off spot.
Windridge was chosen as Stars’ man of the match for his four (1+3) point haul while Warriors youngster Christian Johnson, who logged an awful lot of minutes on the ice in defence, was selected as Warriors top player.
After the contest, Whitley coach Simon Leach said: “Us getting the opening goal of the game was probably the only positive we can take from tonight.
“We were out played, out worked, out hit and out passed from more or less the start and we didn’t get any momentum out there and we are all really disappointed.
“I don’t have any qualms about the end result, I’m just disappointed for the club, the team and the fans who have all come down here in numbers and we’ve let them all down.”
Leach felt his side’s lack of options in defence was not to blame for their defeat.
“We started the game with five ‘D’, we then lost Josh Maddock, which left us with four, however, Billingham played with four or five defenceman for most of the night and I’m not going to make any excuses.”
Warriors are in action on Sunday evening (face-off 5pm) when they take on Sheffield Spartans at Hillheads in a NIHL North Moralee Conference encounter.
With Warriors and Spartans both battling for a play-off spot, it promises to be an end to end encounter.