Whitley Warriors and Blackburn Hawks share the spoils

Dean Holland was man of the match in Whitley Warriors' game against Blackburn Hawks. Picture by Colin Lawson - IceHockeyMedia

Dean Holland was man of the match in Whitley Warriors' game against Blackburn Hawks. Picture by Colin Lawson - IceHockeyMedia

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Whitley Warriors and Blackburn Hawks could not be separated in their top of the table NIHL North League clash at Hillheds on Sunday evening.

Home side player-coach David Longstaff had a strong roster to choose from and opted to play with three forward lines and three defensive throughout the match, with Dean Holland and Jamie Tinsley mainly playing on the second line.

The game started in explosive fashion when Warriors’ Andre Payette and Hawks’ Reece Cairney-Witter traded blows after just four seconds.

Both were handed four minutes in roughing penalties and sent to the sin bin by referee Emerson for their early coming together.

Blackburn grabbed the game’s first goal when Lee Pollitt fired past Richie Lawson from close range after three minutes.

Warriors almost drew level on 12 minutes when good work by Shaun Kippin on the boards set up, Longstaff, however, Danny Brittle in the Hawks goal was able to thwart the player-coach with a fine save.

Whitley did draw level a minute later when Holland shot home a superb unassisted marker after a defensive lapse from the Blackburn rearguard.

Hawks were able to regain the lead on 27 minutes when Aaron Davies found the back of the net before Pollitt made it 3-1 with a powerplay strike for the visitors.

Warriors soon got a goal back when Holland grabbed his second of the game with Payette and Callum Queenan picking up the assists.

Whitley netminder Lawson pulled off a superb save as the second period was coming to its end when he was able to keep out an effort from Adam Brittle after the Hawks forward had broken clear from the Warriors defence.

Warriors equalised six minutes into the final period when Longstaff fired home a sweetly struck shot with youngster Queenan and the industrious Martin Crammond picking up the assists.

Whitley centre Kippin then shot Warriors into the lead with his fourth of the season after 54 minutes to the delight of the large crowd in attendance at Hillheads.

But the narrow 4-3 lead came under pressure when Blackburn went on a late powerplay, however, Warriors were able to kill the penalty off successfully.

Hawks continued to commit men forward as they searched for a last gasp goal and their tactic paid dividends as Rick Bentham shot home with just 40 seconds of the game remaining.

Both sides then took timeouts as the coaching staff wanted to make clear their tactical objectives, however, there were no further goals and the game ended all square at 4-4.

Whitley assistant coach Dave Holland said: “An excellent performance and a pleasing result, for us to sit were we are in table at Christmas is superb. We dug in, played well and matched them all over the ice.

“Dean [Holland] played well tonight, as did Callum Queenan and Lobby [David Longstaff].

“Dean isn’t fully fit at the moment but he’s giving his all for the team while Lobby is playing despite taking a puck to the face in a recent game.

“Harry Harley and Dan Pye also did well on defence while netminder Richie Lawson pulled a lot of good saves out.

“We have picked up no injuries in the game and we face Blackburn again in the new year at their place in what should be another good game of hockey.”

Dean Holland deservedly was selected as man of the match while Adam Brittle was chosen as the Hawks’ top performer.

Warriors’ next game is an away game against Blackburn on January 10, while the next home game is on Sunday, January 17 (face-off 5pm), when Telford Tigers visit Tyneside for a NIHL North league game.