Whitley Warriors began their play-off preparations in style as Simon Leach’s side beat local rivals the Billingham Stars 7-5 in a challenge match at Hillheads.
Warriors were without a number of players as Nathan Ryder is currently out of action with a shoulder injury while two of the youngsters in Ben Richards and Callum Read were away with the Great Britain Under-18s playing in the World Championships at Dumfries in Scotland.
In a bizarre twist of events, Billingham had no senior goaltenders available so Warriors loaned their two back-up netminders, Joe Harley and Mark Turnbull.
Harley iced for the opening period with Turnbull playing the remainder of the contest for the Stars.
Whitley started the game positively and just 48 seconds into the contest Adam Reynolds fired them into the lead when he netted an unassisted marker.
Warriors looked dangerous in the opening stages and Harry Harley made it 2-0 at the five-minute mark when he fired past his brother Joe in the visitors net.
The home side continued to create offensive opportunities and Harley quickly found the back of the net again after he had been set up nicely by experienced blue-liner Rob Wilson.
Warriors’ fourth line then got in on the act and grabbed a goal when Daniel Murdy lit the lamp with youngster Kyle Ross providing the assist.
The home side extended their advantage to 5-0 just 54 seconds into the second period when Reynolds fired home his second of the game, again unassisted.
Under a minute after the fifth, the first penalty of the contest was called by referee Tony Boynton when Warriors’ Karl Culley was given two minutes in the sin bin for holding an opponent’s stick.
This infringement gave Billingham a powerplay and they made the most of their man advantage when Stephen Wallace found the back of the net with a sweet strike.
Billingham then started to play some nice hockey and the visitors netted three quick goals towards the end of the second period when Wallace, James McCabe and Anthony Price all scored, which saw Stars just 5-4 down going into the final period.
Stars continued to impress offensively and just six minutes into the third they tied the game up when Michael Bowman scored a powerplay marker after Whitley’s Dan Harris had been given a two-minute penalty for tripping alongside a ten-minute misconduct penalty.
Despite losing a five-goal lead, Warriors were still able to lift their game late on and Daniel Murdy fired them back in front on 52 minutes when he beat stand in netminder Turnbull.
Skipper DJ Good almost increased the home side’s lead further but his powerful effort cannoned back off the crossbar.
Whitley did make it 7-5 shortly afterwards when Harry Harley grabbed his third of the game which saw the Tynesiders claim the victory and maintain their impressive recent form.
Whitley’s Reynolds was chosen as the man of the match, which will be sponsored by the Tyne Bank Brewery next season.
Warriors coach Dave Holland said: “I thought we had a great start, everyone followed the systems we wanted them to and we finished the period really well.
“Billingham picked up their game in the second and caught us out a little.
“In the third period everyone buckled down and did their job and I think we proved we were the best team of the night.
“I thought Daniel Murdy played well for us tonight. We moved him to the third line with Callum Queenan getting injured and it worked really well.”
Warriors are next in action this coming Saturday (face-off 6.30pm) when they travel down to Teesside to face the Billingham Stars in the final challenge game before the NIHL North Moralee Conference play-offs get under way at Dumfries.
Tickets are still available for the play-off weekend, which is over the April 11 and 12 weekend at the Dumfries Ice Bowl.
Supporters can acquire them by visiting www.ticketweb.co.uk/search/Dumfries+Ice+Bowl+Dumfries
Warriors would be grateful if supporters can state they are Whitley fans when booking their tickets for play-off weekend.