Whitley Warriors began 2014 with a double header over the weekend as Simon Leach’s side faced Blackburn Hawks away on Saturday evening before taking on the Solway Sharks on home ice on Sunday night.
On Saturday Warriors lost out by five goals to nil against Blackburn, which was harsh on the Tyneside based team given they out-shot their opponents during the contest by 33 to 29.
Whitley could just not find a way past impressive Blackburn goalie Daniel Brittle, who deservedly picked up the man of the match award for his impressive shut out in front of his own fans.
On Sunday evening Warriors hosted the NIHL North champions and current league leaders the Solway Sharks at Hillheads.
Whitley were almost at full strength as all of the club’s youngsters were available with added depth to Warriors’ roster of experienced senior players.
Warriors were able to match their opponents during the opening period, however, they did have to go on the penalty kill just before the end of the first when Jamie Tinsley was given two minutes in the sin bin for hooking.
They were able to kill off that penalty, though, and after the first 20 minutes of action neither side had been able to find the back of the net.
Shortly into the second period Warriors’ speedy winger Callum Watson raced clear of the Sharks defence and fired past Kieran Hobbins in the top corner of the Solway goal to the delight of the Whitley supporters who had braved the wintery conditions to make their way to Hillheads to watch the game.
Shortly after the goal Whitley had the opportunity to increase their lead when they went on the powerplay as Solway’s Frazier Goldie was penalised for slashing, however, Warriors were unable to make their man advantage count on this occasion despite putting a great deal of pressure on the Sharks rearguard.
The game changed markedly towards the end of the middle period when Solway hit two goals in just 65 seconds of action.
Alan Crane netted the visitors opener after 34 minutes when he fired home at the back post before import forward Pavel Melicherick put Sharks into the lead just over a minute later.
Warriors went into the final period a goal in arrears, however, with Whitley at almost full strength the home side had plenty of offensive options open to coach Leach.
Warriors got two further powerplay chances in the third session but the Solway defence was at its best to limit Whitley’s genuine scoring opportunities.
With just under two minutes left Leach signalled for his netminder Richie Lawson to leave the ice to allow his side the extra outskater, however, as Lawson was exiting the game Warriors’ Dan Harris found the back of the net with a superb shot from just inside the blue line to tie the game up at two all.
Immediately after the goal Warriors called a time out as Whitley were now looking for that game winning goal, however, there was no further scoring and the two sides had to settle for a point apiece from a highly entertaining game.
After the Solway game, Whitley coach Leach said: “They were a little short benched but the players they had here were all top players so we tried to wear them down and played with high intensity, and I think we did that for the majority of the game.
“I think we were a little bit unlucky not to get the two points as we worked really hard out there, but all in all we did well.
“We got punished when they scored two quick goals but then we refocused and for the majority of the third period we had a great deal of pressure in Solway’s end of the rink and asked a lot of questions of their defence.”
Warriors are in action on Sunday night against local rivals the Billingham Stars on Teesside before returning to North Tyneside for a home game against the Sheffield Spartans at Hillheads on Sunday, January 19 (face-off 5pm).
Whitley currently sit just below the play off places in NIHL North and Warriors supporters are encouraged to attend as many games as possible between now and the end of the season as the support the players get from the stands makes a difference on the ice.