WHITLEY Warriors entertained an excellent opening night crowd at Hillheads on Sunday with a fine all-round display that had supporters on the edge of their seats throughout the 60 minutes.
Having lost 7-1 to Solway Sharks in Dumfries the night before, the Warriors came out determined to put things right in the return fixture.
And they took the lead after just four minutes when summer signing Jamie Tinsley showed some of the skills he learnt in the Elite League with Newcastle Vipers by rifling the puck past the Solway keeper before he had chance to move.
Netminder Andrew Jaszczyk had picked up an injury in the defeat on Saturday and failed a fitness test ahead of the home game, meaning youngster David Lawrence was handed his first start, and he produced some fine stops to keep his side ahead at the first break.
However, there was little he could do to prevent Struan Tonnar from equalising for the visitors at 25.57 when he managed to stretch and score while a man short.
But it did not take the Warriors long to respond and they were back in front again at the mid-point of the game courtesy of a fine move from Callum Watson and DJ Good that saw the latter score while they were a man short.
And six minutes later it was the same pair who made it 3-1 with Watson supplying the finishing touch on this occasion.
Whitley were then forced to play ten minutes short-handed following the 38th minute sending off of Callum Pattison, but so good was their defending, Solway were limited to very few chances and the only goal would come from the home side.
Callum Watson robbed the last Sharks defender on their blue line to skate in on goal, side-step the keeper and put the puck into an empty net to send the Hillheads crowd wild with delight.
Frazer Goldie – who had been lucky to stay on the ice following his clash with Pattison – pulled one back for the visitors on 50 minutes, and former Newcastle and Whitley forward Nathan Salem ensured a nervous finish when he made it 4-3 with 69 seconds remaining, but the home side held out for the win.
Warriors coach Garry Dowd was delighted with the character shown by his side after being beaten 7-1 by the same opposition in Scotland 24 hours earlier.
He said: “We talked in the dressing room after the defeat and I told the players we could draw a line under that performance if we responded well at Hillheads, and that’s exactly what we have done.
“It was a real team effort right from the keeper up to the forwards, and every one of them can be proud of the way they have gone about their business tonight.”
Having lost starting netminder Andrew Jaszczyk, signed from Elite League outfit Hull Stingrays in the summer, to injury 35 minutes into the defeat in Solway, David Lawrence proved to be an able deputy as he too made his first Whitley start and was then thrust into the limelight the next night.
“David was excellent in both games,” said the coach.
“Andrew had tested his injury in the warm-up at Hillheads, but it was quickly obvious he wouldn’t be able to play and I have to say David was unbelievable.
“But he is one of a number of good young players we have at this club, and I am prepared to give them a chance over the season.
“As well as we played tonight, everyone knows I am ready to be ruthless and if we perform again like we did in Solway, I won’t be frightened to pitch in some kids.”
The Warriors begin the defence of the English National League title they have won for the past two seasons with a home game against Sheffield Spartans this Sunday.
And coach Dowd is looking for his side to continue the form they showed in the second game against Solway.
“We know what to expect from Sheffield,” he said, “they are a young side with some good skaters and they will give us a test for sure.
“What we have to do is make sure we don’t let them get a chance to get a foothold in the game and by playing as we did against Solway on Sunday, I’m sure that will be the case.”
Tickets are available on the night – priced at adults £7.50, under 16s and concessions £5.50, while a family ticket is available for £22 – with the game getting underway at 5pm, doors opening 30 minutes before face-off.