Whitley Warriors’ sole fixture at the weekend saw Simon Leach’s side make the short journey down the A19 on Sunday evening to take on local rivals the Billingham Stars on Teesside.
Warriors had a strong roster available as the only senior player unable to ice was blue liner Nathan Ryder, who was out of action with a shoulder injury he picked up against Solway the previous weekend.
Both sides created openings in the early stages of the contest and Billingham took the lead after six minutes of play when Stephen Wallace fired past Richie Lawson in the Warriors goal.
Whitley were only in arrears for around two minutes, though, as Jordan Barnes tied the game up after some superb skill from Ryan Sample.
The opening period ended with the two north east rivals level at 1-1, but there were no penalties at all called in the first 20 minutes of action by referee Wardell, who let the game flow at every opportunity.
Warriors continued to play attractive offensive hockey in the middle period as all their forward lines created opportunities.
Midway through this session, both sides picked up two minor penalties, but as these infringements were coincidental neither side was presented with a powerplay opportunity.
Warriors took the lead on 34 minutes when Jamie Tinsley powerfully found the back of the net after the puck fell to him in Billingham’s defensive zone following Karl Culley and Adam Reynolds working the opening for their line-mate.
Whitley maintained their 2-1 lead well into the third period as their disciplined play and solid goaltending limited Billingham’s opportunities.
Warriors were also able to kill off four minutes of Billingham powerplays as Rob Wilson was given two minutes in the sin bin for tripping before Whitley picked up a two-minute bench minor for having too many men on the ice.
On 52 minutes the visitors launched a swift counter-attack which resulted in Culley lighting the lamp to make it 3-1 after a pinpoint pass from Reynolds found the Warriors number seven in space at the back post.
However, on 57 minutes Stars found a way back into the game when Andy Thornton made it a one-goal game as the experienced utility player netted his second of the campaign.
Billingham opted to pull goaltender James Flavell for an extra out skater with just over 70 seconds left as they looked for that elusive equaliser, and their tactic paid off handsomely as Scott Ward netted just 30 seconds later.
Spurred on by tieing the game, Billingham launched one final attack on the Whitley net and scored the game wining goal with only four seconds left on the clock when Ritchie Thornton fired the puck past Richie Lawson to ensure the Teessiders took the two points on offer from a pulsating end to end NIHL North Moralee Conference encounter.
After the contest, Warriors coach Simon Leach said: “For 58 minutes of the game we were in control and weren’t really in any trouble.
“We just can’t keep our concentration for 60 minutes, people will talk about the goal that got knocked in out of Richie’s hand, but those things even themselves out as in the home game versus Billingham we had a decision go in our favour so I’m not going to complain about that.
“I’m just disappointed we couldn’t keep our focus and concentration and do all the simple things right, like we’d been doing for the previous 58 minutes of the game.
“I think we were the better team throughout and it’s another harsh lesson for us to learn.”
Whitley will be looking to bounce back from their defeat against Billingham next weekend when they travel to Dumfries to take on league leaders Solway Sharks in the Scottish borders.
Warriors’ next home game is on December 1 when they host Sheffield Spartans in a fixture that faces-off at 5pm at Hillheads.