Whitley Warriors were in action twice over the weekend as Simon Leach’s side took on the Sheffield Spartans on Saturday afternoon at Ice Sheffield before facing local rivals the Billingham Stars on Sunday evening on Teesside.
Head coach Simon Leach iced for Whitley in defence as Warriors were without several blue-liners including Dan Harris, Josh Maddock and Paul Matthews. Prolific forward Adam Reynolds was back in the Warriors line-up, though, now that he has recovered fully from a broken ankle that has kept him out for the past three months.
Once the action got underway on Saturday, both Whitley and Sheffield had early power-play opportunities, however both goaltenders Richie Lawson (Warriors) and Brandon Stones (Spartans) were able to turn away every shot they faced.
Warriors’ best offensive work in the opening period came when Spartans had two men in the penalty box. However, despite working the puck well, Warriors were unable to find the back of the net.
Sheffield started the second period on the front foot and, nine minutes into the session, Ollie Barron broke the deadlock for the home side with a precise finish from close range.
Spartans continued to create openings and Stuart Brittle made it 2-0 four minutes later.
Warriors claimed their opening goal of the contest through Scott Cooper shortly into the third period before Stevie Weeks restored the home side’s two-goal cushion.
Late in the game, Warriors took the brave step to pull their netminder Richie Lawson so they could have an extra outskater and their tactic paid off handsomely as DJ Good grabbed a powerplay marker with 37 seconds left in the game.
Whitley continued to pressurise the Spartans goal late on and, with just seven seconds left in the contest, Warriors skipper Jamie Tinsley finished from close range to tie up the game to the delight of the Whitley fans who had travelled down to South Yorkshire for the NIHL North match-up.
Dean Holland was chosen as Warriors man-of-the-match for an industrious display, with Stuart Brittle being adjudged to be Sheffield’s top performer.
Following such an impressive comeback on Saturday afternoon Warriors were in high spirits for their game with the Billingham Stars on Sunday evening on Teesside.
The first period was quite even with Stars Michael Elder grabbing the only goal of the opening stanza of play when he fired past Richie Lawson with 14 minutes on the clock. Whitley did lose influential defenceman Dan Pye to an injury during the first period of action.
The second session of play was a much different affair as the home side were able to net six unanswered goals, which saw Warriors 7-0 down after 40 minutes of action.
Warriors opted to replace goaltender Richie Lawson with Mark Turnbull just before the half-hour mark when the score was 5-0 in the Stars’ favour.
There was further bad news for Whitley as forward Alex Lawson picked up a knock, which prevented him from finishing the contest.
Whitley managed to pull a goal back in the final period through DJ Good, assisted by the hard-working skipper Jamie Tinsley however Stars also got on the scoresheet through Michael Elder once again and the game ended 8-1 to Billingham. Warriors lost another player in d man Scott Cooper to a dislocated shoulder late in the contest and the former Slough Jet had to be helped off the ice.
Warriors man-of-the-match went to rookie goalie Mark Turnbull, who made a number of smart stops, while Michael Elder who had netted a hat-trick for Stars was unsurprisingly chosen as the home side’s top player.
Warriors head coach Simon Leach shared his views on Sunday’s game.
“I would like to apologise to our fans as our display against Billingham just wasn’t good enough. We all need to take responsibility, myself included, and look to put in much better displays next weekend when we take on Sutton and Sheffield,” he said.
“We had a number of players out with injuries and then picked up another three injuries in the game as Daniel Pye, Alex Lawson and Scott Cooper all had to go off. So we just had to go with what we had available to us, that is no excuse at all for our display though.
“I thought young Mark Turnbull did well when he went in goal and our younger players such as Callum Queenan and Kyle Ross gave everything they had for us out on the ice. Jamie Tinsley also never stopped working out there and typified what being a Warrior should be about.”
Warriors face Sutton Sting away from home next Saturday afternoon at Ice Sheffield (face off 4.15pm) before a home game against the Sheffield Spartans at Hillheads on Sunday evening (face off 5pm). Both games are NIHL North Division 1 match-ups.