WHITLEY Warriors finally get to play their English National League North play-off final this weekend, travelling to Coventry on Saturday before hosting the Midland outfit at Hillheads 24 hours later in the second leg.
“It’s a far from ideal situation,” said coach Simon Leach, “but that’s the way things have panned out and we will be looking to retain the trophy against a very good Coventry side.”
However, Leach has suffered a blow ahead of the game with experienced defender Ritchie Thornton ruled out because of knee ligament damage, and while he acknowledges that the former Billingham player will be a miss, the Warriors coach backs his side to cope.
“Obviously we are going to miss his experience, on and off the ice,” he said, “but we have been without Ritchie before and come through some tough games; so I would expect everyone to step up.”
Although it is a month since Whitley beat Blackburn Hawks in their semi-final, they had to wait for Coventry Blaze and Nottingham Lions to finish their tie and have kept themselves busy with extra training sessions.
“It’s been a long wait which isn’t ideal and training is no substitute for playing,” Leach added, “but we have prepared properly in the meantime and at least the time off has allowed a few players to recover from some little niggles that were bothering them.”
This weekend is a massive one for Whitley Bay, with the football and ice hockey teams involved in cup finals, and Leach took time out to wish their next door neighbours all the best.
“Everyone in our dressing room will be rooting for the lads at Wembley and we would like to wish them all the best, and let’s hope we can both do the town proud this weekend,” he said.
Although Ritchie Thornton is ruled out of the final, his younger brother Andrew is available again after missing the second leg of the Blackburn tie because of suspension.
The action gets underway at 5pm on Sunday night and tickets (adults £7, under-16s and concessions £5, family £19) will be available on the door.
The winners of the Whitley/Coventry tie will still have two more games to play, with Chelmsford Chieftains waiting to play them in the English National League Championship final.