Whitley Warriors faced a double header over the weekend as they took on Solway Sharks away from home in Scotland on Saturday night before facing off against Sutton Sting on Sunday evening on Tyneside.
On Saturday in Scotland Warriors started positively and were level with the title chasing Sharks at 2-2 after the first period of play thanks to strikes from Rob Wilson and Karl Culley.
But Solway had much the better of the middle session and after 40 minutes of action they had been able to claim a 5-2 lead.
Warriors battled back into the game in the third and were only 6-5 down with seven minutes remaining in the contest thanks to a further goal from veteran forward Culley and efforts from Martin Crammond and DJ Good.
Whitley then ran into some penalty trouble with Dan Harris and Wilson both getting on the wrong side of the officials.
Solway took advantage and netted two late goals through Struan Tonnar and Rob Murray to claim an 8-5 victory, which all but secured the NIHL North Moralee Conference title.
On Sunday evening Warriors took on play-off rivals Sutton Sting on home ice at Hillheads.
Going into the game Sutton sat in fourth position in the conference standings two points and two places above Whitley in the table.
Once the action got under way there was little to separate the two sides during the first half of the opening period of action.
Whitley then took two minor penalties but were able to kill off those infringements and the first period ended scoreless with both netminders making a number of smart saves.
Just two minutes into the second session James Spurr grabbed the opening goal of the game for the visitors when he fired past Richie Lawson after being set up by team-mate Mark Turner.
Warriors did not let this setback stifle their own offensive play though, and they tied the game up four minutes later when ‘D’ man Paul Matthews netted his first goal for Warriors since he recently came out of retirement.
Going into the final period with the score tied at 1-1, both sides were looking for that one play which could open up the opposing defence and grab that all important goal and after 49 minutes of play Karl Culley lit the lamp for Whitley when he fired past Dmitri Zimozdra after being nicely set up by speedy winger Callum Watson.
Warriors continued to create chances and with less than six minutes remaining in the game Harry Harley made it 3-1 in Whitley’s favour when he found the bottom corner of the net with a precise strike from the left wing.
Sutton tried everything they could to get back into the game late on as Sting coach Ian Johnson called a time out to outline his preferred tactics to his team and then pulled his goalie so his side could have an extra out skater.
However, Warriors were able to see the game out and claim a 3-1 victory that sees them move into the final play-off spot in the table at the expense of Sutton.
Watson was chosen as Warriors’ man of the match for his hard-working display up front while visiting goaltender Zimozdra was selected as Sutton’s best player during the contest.
Whitley coach Simon Leach said: “I think we played well all weekend.
“Against Solway we gave a really good account of ourselves, worked hard and showed the togetherness and passion we are going to need going forward.
“Every game is a cup final for us now and I’m extremely proud of our display against Sutton.
“Richie Lawson was outstanding when he was called upon and the guys in front of him worked really hard.
“I think ourselves and Sting are two well matched teams, however, when Karl (Culley) and Harry (Harley) got goals in the third period it took the wind out of Sutton’s sails.
“Everyone contributed to our victory and all the young lads played really well again, and everyone should be ready and available for our next game against Blackburn.”
Warriors are in action just once next weekend, on Sunday evening, when they take on the Blackburn Hawks in a NIHL North Moralee Conference encounter at Hillheads Ice Rink with face-off at the normal time of 5pm.
Former Whitley Warriors Supporters’ Club member Brian Elsdon sadly recently passed away.
Many of his friends who were part of ‘Spotty Dogs Tank Top Army’ are attending the Blackburn game this coming Sunday to pay tribute to the memory of their friend.
All fans are invited to go along to the clock end of the rink and pay their respects to Brian.