A thrilling game of ice hockey saw Whitley Warriors pick up their first point of the season in an energetic and lively 3-3 draw at home to Telford Tigers on Sunday evening.
A late strike from Harry Harley with less than two minutes remaining saw the team from Hillheads come back from a 3-1 deficit heading in to the final period to take a well earned share of the spoils.
Warriors hosted Telford on the back of a disappointing start to their NIHL Division One Moralee Conference campaign, with the Hillheads outfit still looking to get their first point on the board.
The home side were boosted by the return of blue liners Joe Stamp and Harley. But speedy winger Callum Watson was again missing for the maroon and golds, although they were able to move Canadian import Andre Payette to an advanced left wing position.
The game exploded into life with only five seconds on the clock when Payette and Owen Bennett dropped the gloves with their altercation earning both two plus two penalties for roughing.
Payette’s willingness to put his body on the line sparked the home side into action with some early intense fore checking and hits from a Warriors side looking to gain the upper hand.
The first real chance fell to Shaun Kippin after three minutes when player-coach David Longstaff dropped the puck to Kippin in space in the slot only to see Brittle turn away the resulting shot.
Despite having enjoyed the better of the opening ten minutes, Warriors found themselves a goal behind when Karol Jets was able to tip in beyond a helpless Ritchie Lawson.
Boosted by the unlikely goal, Telford took a 2-0 lead following a swift counter from Whitley pressure, Lee Simister breaking clear to slot into the bottom corner.
Undeterred Warriors continued to look for a route back into the game on the power play and went into the interval only a goal behind when Longstaff lifted a loose puck over the prone Daniel Brittle. Following in from a shot off the post by Dean Holland the Warriors No. 25 pounced for a power play marker at 18.59.
In the second period a familiar pattern was beginning to emerge, Warriors forcing their visitors back for spells with Telford looking to fast breakout plays to counter with menace.
The Tigers’ game plan soon came together perfectly with the clock showing 22:14. With Jordan Barnes serving a two-minute crossing check penalty, Tigers were able to make the man advantage count when Adam Brittle broke up the left wing and fired a laser shot in to the top corner for 3-1 on the power play.
The scoreline seemed somewhat harsh on a Warriors team who would continue to battle and create plenty pressure on Daniel Brittle without finding a way beyond Telford’s last line of defence.
Controlling play from the blue line, Harley was becoming more of an influence on proceedings, firing off shots from the point but to no avail with the 3-1 score line standing heading into the final period.
As Europe’s chart hit ‘Final Countdown’ appropriately played out over the rink’s PA system, the Warriors knew one last big push was required to take something from a game they had more than played their part in.
Backed by a vocal home crowd they began again on the front foot, applying increasing amounts of pressure.
Young forward Ben Richards was able to lose his man early and force a quick-fire double attack before a moment of quality from Harley saw the returning ‘d’ man pick up possession of a loose puck near his own blue line, skate between two opponents before deking beyond a third and pinging a wrist shot off the bar on 45 minutes.
Those in attendance must have feared lady luck was against their heroes and with time quickly running out, Warriors coach Longstaff opted to call a time out and pull netminder Lawson for the extra skater.
At the ensuing face-off, Payette was able to win the puck to the right of the Telford goal before it was worked across to the impressive Harley who once more released a cannon slap shot that would this time fly into the net and earn the Warriors a much deserved point in a thrilling 3-3 draw.
Man the match awards went to Daniel Croft for Telford Tigers and Dean Holland for Whitley Warriors.
After the contest, Warriors’ assistant coach Dave Holland said: “We’ve picked up a really good point; I think we’ve improved a lot over the last few weeks.
“We started off a bit on the wrong foot against Solway, who we must remember are one the better teams in this league but week by week we’ve got better.
“For me to come back from 3-1 down going into the final period and draw 3-3 is a great point and shows we’re going in the right direction.
“Having some of the lads back gave us a bit more strength; we aren’t quite where we want to be yet, but certainly third period we dominated.
“We were able to change the lines up a little bit, but going forward there will be nights we have guys missing and ideally we could do with a couple of extra bodies.
“We’ve lost some important players over the summer in the likes of Jamie Tinsley and Callum Queenan and replaced with uni lads who are working hard with the rest of the team.
“Our performance was good and encouraging, especially as we’ve not been able to train much this week because of the work being done on the ice.
“Joe Stamp has come straight back after two weeks off, the result is encouraging and a pleasing performance to show going forward we can improve.”
Warriors are in cup action on Sunday, October 2, at home to local rivals Billingham Stars, with the face-off at the usual time of 5pm.
Assistant coach Holland added: “Looking to the Billingham game we should have Callum Watson to come back into the fold whilst Dean [Holland] is getting back to fitness still after his injuries last season.
“He’s started well, he’s happy with where he’s at right now and we look ahead with more promise for Billingham next weekend.”