WHITLEY Warriors went into their weekend game with Coventry knowing a win would end their opponent’s English National League North title challenge.
And they made the perfect start when skipper Adam Reynolds swept the puck into the visitors net after only 27 seconds.
Whitley continued to dominate the opening exchanges, but despite plenty of possession they were unable to add to their lead and paid the price when Coventry grabbed a goal out of nothing on ten minutes.
There seemed little danger, but Mike Steventon managed to steer the puck back-hand into the home goal and leave the score tied at 1-1 at the first interval.
However, it was a different story in the second as the Warriors took charge of the game in the middle session.
Karl Culley failed to appear after picking up a knock during the first 20 minutes and that meant promotion to the first line for Martin Crammond; and his response was to the put the league leaders back in front at 23.29.
Reynolds squeezed home another to extend the advantage five minutes later and even though the Blaze would pull a goal back through Philip Pollok at 35.51, it was the home side that would finish the stronger.
Paul Windridge could not miss when Reynolds set him up in front of goal with a little under three minutes remaining and the roles were reversed just before the end of the session as Reynolds completed his hat-trick at 39.53.
The final period started with a bang as Crammond grabbed his second after only 43 seconds and Whitley then began to dominate the game without applying a finishing touch until DJ Good made it 8-2 on 54 minutes.
Back-up keeper Calvin Khass had replaced James Flavell at 52.02 and other than the goal by Good, that seemed to be the signal for the Warriors to switch off, with the result the visitors almost found an unlikely way back into the game.
Rhys McWilliams and Gareth Owen both scored quick-fire powerplay goals and the latter then added Coventry’s fifth of the night at 57.29.
Leach then brought back starting netminder Flavell to see out the game, but revealed afterwards Khass had received an apology from his team-mates.
“All the players have apologised to Calvin in the locker room after the game, because we just didn’t give him any protection out there” he said.
“He came onto the ice cold and everyone seemed to just think it was all over at 8-2 and we have left Calvin very exposed.
“I didn’t like having to take him back off, but that re-focused everyone and we must make sure Calvin is never left in a situation like that again.”
At the other end of the ice the Warriors were at their attacking best with skipper Reynolds leading the way with 3+3, while there was also those two goals for Martin Crammond.
“Martin fitted onto the first line really well and gave us some good energy out there,” said Leach.
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“He is a very quick player and linked very well with Reynolds and Windridge, scored two good goals and fully deserved his man of the match award.”
Meanwhile, the coach is waiting to see the extent of the injury to Culley after confirming the player, who has scored over 600 points for the Warriors in his career, felt something go towards the end of the first session.
“At first we thought it might be a groin,” he said, “but it seems a little higher up than that and we will have to wait until Karl visits the hospital before we can confirm whether the injury is serious or not.”
Whitley had also been in action away to Telford Titans on the Saturday, eventually winning 2-1 when Callum Watson hit the winner in the 58th minute, but Leach admitted his side had not been at their best.
“For whatever reason we came out very flat and struggled to impose ourselves on the opposition,” he said.
“But we managed to get the job done, got maybe that bit of luck that always seems to go your way when you are on a winning run, and Callum’s goal was good enough to get us over the line.”
Nottingham Lions won 2-0 away to Telford on Sunday and can still pip the Warriors for the title, but Leach knows his side will retain the trophy if they beat Blackburn away this weekend – ending Blackburn’s faint title hopes in the process – and follow that up with a home victory over Telford on January 23.
“It is close now and our fate is very much in our own hands,” the coach said, “all I can ask is the players keep focused and play as they have done all season, to see this through to the end.”