Warriors maintain unbeaten stretch

Peter Zajac (even though it says Howey on the back of the shirt) tries to find a way past Coventry keeper Josh Nicholls. Picture by Colin Edwards.
Peter Zajac (even though it says Howey on the back of the shirt) tries to find a way past Coventry keeper Josh Nicholls. Picture by Colin Edwards.

IN WHAT is turning into a record-breaking season for the Whitley Warriors, they stretched their unbeaten run in the league to 23 games but had to settle for a point for only the second time this season.

Earlier this campaign Whitley won 1-0 at Northern Stars, but this 0-0 against second in the table Coventry eclipsed that as the lowest scoring contest in Warriors’ history.

In an even first period, the home side had a couple of powerplay opportunities, including ending the period with a five-on-three chance, but the Whitley defence held firm.

The Blaze took the game to the league champions in the second session and it needed netminder James Flavell to be at his best to deny the home forwards.

However, it was the Warriors who called the tune in the final period and it was the turn of Coventry keeper Josh Nicholls to show his talent with a string of fine saves.

On a night when both netminders not surprisingly picked up the man of the match awards, it was Whitley who came nearest to scoring two minutes from time when a Blaze defender managed to turn the puck past his keeper, but it rebounded off the post and away to safety.

Afterwards, Whitley coach Simon Leach said: “From the outside it looks as if it was a very defensive game, but both keepers made some great saves at crucial times and we had some good chances that I would normally expect us to take.

“We actually started very well, but for the second half of the first session and the middle period, we were far too open, players took their foot of the gas and I wasn’t pleased with what we did at all.

“To be fair we picked up the pace in the final 20 minutes, but overall we had too many people not on their game and even though we have extended our unbeaten run to 23 games, it was disappointing we could not find a way past a side that was running with a short bench and lost a couple of players to injury early on.”

The Warriors now face crucial Northern League fixtures with title rivals Solway Sharks and Fife Flyers in their next two games and Leach has promised his players they will be focusing on shooting practice in training.

“We have to be ready to take any chances that come our way in those games,” he said, “so shooting will be a feature of our practices this week.”

In such a game it was always going to be the goalies who took the plaudits and Leach had plenty of praise for Whitley keeper Flavell and Coventry’s Nicholls.

“They showed exactly why they are the top two keepers in that league,” he said.

“Some of their saves were outstanding and it came as no surprise to anyone when they both picked up very deserved man of the match awards at the end of the game.”

The Warriors will have defender Kevin Bucas (flu) and Ryan Sample (suspension) available for the game against Solway on Sunday night, when Leach will be looking for his side to intensify their challenge for the title.

“We need to win this game to maintain our challenge,” he said, “and I will be looking to take a full squad up and come away with the points.”

n Meanwhile, the Warriors will be in action at Hillheads on Tuesday, February 8, when they team up with Elite League Newcastle Vipers to play a challenge game that will see the two squads split into North v South.

‘Hillheads Hockeyfest’ will see the players from each team combined for two all-star squads to face-off in a fast, fun four-on-four game with each side having three imports from the Vipers, with the remaining players shared out evenly.

The first and third periods will be 20 minutes of four-on-four hockey while the middle session will feature a skills contest, allowing the players to demonstrate their speed, skill and agility.

Tickets are on sale from the Vipers office on (0191) 477 4100 or vipershockey.co.uk/shop – priced at £7 for adults and £4 for under 16s.

The line-ups for the North and South squads will be confirmed prior to the event, with players wearing their respective Newcastle or Whitley team jersey – North will play in home white shirts, and South in coloured shirts.

Warriors coach Leach said: “It’s a chance for the two organisations – players, fans and management – to get together for one night and enjoy our great sport.

“We have worked together quite a lot this season, and it will give both teams a chance to show their appreciation for the support we’ve had this season.

“There’s no league points, no play-off places up for grabs – just a couple of hours of family fun at the rink, with players showing off their skills and the supporters of both sides getting involved.”

Vipers GM Jaimie Longmuir added: “Our relationship with the Warriors and the rink management this year has been first class, allowing us to sign Adam Reynolds to a two-way contract, for example.

“The idea behind Hockeyfest was to have a fun night where both clubs can get their respective fans on board and have an enjoyable evening without pressure of results.”

Supporters will have the chance to lead the respective teams, as the position of bench coach for each player is available for £100.

Mascot, puck drop and man of the match packages are also available at £25 each.

Anyone interested in being a bench coach or taking one of the presentation packages should contact Jaimie Longmuir on (0191) 477 4100 or email jaimie.longmuir@vipershockey.co.uk

Tickets are on sale in advance from the Vipers office or from the rink box office on the night and the ENL North trophy will be paraded by the Warriors before the match.