Whitley Warriors returned to winning ways when they took on the Manchester Minotaurs on Sunday evening at Hillheads.
The home side were boosted by the news that ‘d’ men Scott Cooper and Daniel Pye were both fit to play, which gave much more balance to the Whitley roster as the Tynesiders have been short at the back in recent match ups.
But player-coach Simon Leach and skipper Jamie Tinsley were unable to take part due to knee and hand injuries respectively.
Whitley started the game on the front foot and took the lead after five minutes when Martin Crammond fired home after some eye catching build up play from young winger Ben Richards.
Warriors made it 2-0 just a minute later when Callum Watson lit the lamp after being nicely set up by his linemate DJ Good.
The home side were clearly having the better of the opening period and DJ Good made it 3-0 with 13 minutes on the clock, while Cooper almost got on the scoresheet late in the period but his shot struck the frame of the net.
Warriors continued to create openings in the second session and Watson grabbed his second midway through the stanza when he beat Manchester netminder Aaron Fox with a classy finish, DJ Good and Liam Smedly were credited with the assists.
The Hillheads outfit then ran into penalty trouble which saw Kyle Ross sent to the sin bin for slashing, and Manchester made the most of the powerplay and netted their first goal of the contest when Max Drakeley blasted home from just inside the blue line which saw the second period of play end 4-1 in Warriors’ favour.
Just two minutes into the final period Adam Reynolds extended Warriors’ lead when he found the back of the net from close range after being well set up by GB under-18 squad member Callum Queenan.
Halfway through the final session Alex Lawson was sent to the penalty box by referee Emerson for a slashing misdemeanour and Minotaurs’ powerplay once again clicked into gear as Dan Berry made the most of the numerical advantage to make it 5-2.
Whitley looked to be in command at the 50-minute mark as they started to give some of their younger players time on the ice, and shortly afterwards they opted to replace starting netminder Mark Turnbull with Joe Harley.
Manchester got a number of shots on Harley soon after his introduction and quickly got themselves right back into the match as Michael Gilbert and Corey Lee both scored to make it 5-4.
Warriors coach Dave Holland responded by calling a tactical time out and Turnbull went back in the home side’s net for the last minutes of the game.
Minotaurs then ran into some penalty problems of their own as Sheldon Cassidy was penalised for cross checking with just over three minutes left.
With only seven seconds of the powerplay opportunity remaining Watson secured his hat-trick with a well taken goal, with DJ Good once again creating the opportunity which saw Warriors claim a 6-4 victory over Kevin Cassidy’s spirited Manchester outfit.
Watson was chosen as Warriors’ man of the match for his clinical display in front of goal while Manchester goalie Fox was selected as the visitors’ top player.
Whitley Coach Dave Holland said: “We made a good start to the game and did really well in the first period. There was some good movement, some good shots and some good finishing.
“As the game went on I gave some shifts to young Kyle Ross and then played a fourth forward line with Shanks and Hall getting onto the ice.
“Joe Harley went on to get some game time with around nine minutes left but we conceded two quick goals and the game was tight so we had to make a change then.
“We were a bit lackadaisical at times, however, we did come out of the game with the two points, which is really important to us.
“Looking forward we are hoping to have Jamie Tinsley back in action for next weekend when we travel to Blackburn. Craig (Johnson) and Josh (Maddock) both picked up knocks during the game but we’ll just have to see how they are during the week.”
The win put Warriors fifth in the NIHL North Division 1 table, just outside of the play-off places.
Next weekend they face a trip to league leaders Blackburn Hawks on Saturday evening (5.45pm face-off).
Whitley’s next home game is on February 8 (face-off 5pm) when Sutton Sting visit Hillheads in a crucial match up between two sides vying for end of season play-off spots.