Whitley Warriors were in action twice over the weekend as David Longstaff’s side headed across the Pennines on Saturday to face Blackburn Hawks in the cup before a home league game on Sunday against local rivals Billingham Stars.
Whitley fought hard against the Hawks but went down to a narrow 3-2 defeat in what turned out to be a physical contest.
Niall Simpson and Callum Watson grabbed Warriors goals, but there were 24 penalty minutes in the contest for fighting as three players from each side dropped the gloves during the course of the game.
On Sunday, Whitley were able to ice import Andre Payette following his suspension. Player-coach Longstaff and senior netminder Richie Lawson were also back on the game day roster having sat out of the cup game on Saturday.
Warriors took an early penalty when Payette was sent to the sin bin for a slashing mis-demeanour and Stars made the most of the man advantage as Michael Elder fired home on the powerplay.
Billingham extended their lead on the six-minute mark when Callum Davies slotted the puck past Lawson.
At this point in the game, Warriors’ young goaltender Jordan Boyle replaced Lawson.
Whitley went close to getting on the scoresheet as Watson, Harry Harley and Ben Richards all tested the reflexes of James Flavell in the Billingham net.
However, it was Stars who netted the next goal as Davies made it 3-0 after 13 minutes.
The second period saw Warriors generate a great deal of offensive play in the Stars defensive zone, however, visiting goaltender Flavell was in fine form as he denied them until the 35th minute when Longstaff lit the lamp after a swift interplay between DJ Good and Watson had split the Billingham defence.
Stars almost grabbed a goal in the dying seconds of the period, but Boyle in the Warriors goal made a fine stop.
Warriors continued to create attacking openings in the third period as a surge forward from the blue line saw Joe Stamp go close while Longstaff almost grabbed a goal with a wraparound effort that brought a smart save from Flavell once more.
Billingham did have chances of their own on the counter attack, though, and Boyle made a couple of smart saves to keep his side firmly in the contest.
Stars’ Jack Watkins took a two-minute penalty for delaying the game late on and Warriors opted to pull their goalie at this point so they could go to a six on four powerplay.
They laid siege to the Stars goal late on with Harley, Shaun Kippin and Good all going close, but Flavell was equal to everything that came his way and Stars took the contest 3-1.
Warriors out shot Stars by 66 shots to 21 over the 60 minutes of action and it was no surprise that Flavell was chosen as the visitors’ man of the match for a superb display. Whitley’s award went to Richards, who looked dangerous on the wing throughout the contest.
After the Billingham game, Warriors’ bench coach Dave Holland said: “For 55 minutes we were excellent, just the first five minutes cost us.
“We took an early penalty they scored on that powerplay and then quickly scored when we were five on five.
“We switched goalies and put Jordan Boyle in and he did a great job for us.
“Our work ethic for the majority of the game was superb, it was just those five minutes at the start of the contest.
“Flav [James Flavell] had an excellent game for them in goal as he was saving everything, the shots on goal speak volumes on how the balance of play was in the game.
“We got the game back to 3-1 and put them under pressure, if we’d been able to get another goal they’d have been really under pressure in the latter stages of the game.
“We were very offensive and mixed it up as we played two and a bit lines to try and get back into the game.”
Whitley are next in action on Sunday evening when league leaders Solway Sharks come to Tyneside for a NIHL North Division 1 match up that is set to get under way at 5pm.