Whitley Warriors entertained newly crowned NIHL North Division 1 champions Blackburn Hawks on Tyneside on Sunday evening.
The home side were able to include Alex Lawson on their roster after he was passed fit, however, they were without a number of experienced players includng Richie Lawson, Paul Matthews and Jamie Tinsley.
Just 94 seconds in Warriors’ DJ Good and Hawks’ Jordan Bannon dropped the gloves and both were given four minutes in roughing penalties by referee Emerson as the game got off to an explosive start.
Warriors looked dangerous offensively and took the lead through Dean Holland, who struck with a powerplay marker with just over five minutes on the clock.
But Blackburn levelled things up just a minute later when Aaron Davies lit the lamp while the Hawks had the man advantage after Warriors blue liner Rob Wilson had been sent to the sin bin for a slashing misdemeanour.
The home side were giving a good account of themselves against the unbeaten Hawks, though, and regained the lead towards the end of the first period when Holland fired home his 11th goal of the season after DJ Good had fed the puck to Whitley’s talisman.
But again Hawks came back and tied the game up eight minutes into the middle session when Aaron Davies was again on target.
Warriors thought they were back in front after 30 minutes through Alex Lawson, but the goal was wiped out by the officials.
And it was Blackburn who took the lead shortly afterwards when topscorer Luke Brittle fired home past Warriors’ young netminder Mark Turnbull.
Warriors generated a great number of chances at the start of the final period but could not find a way past the impressive Stuart Ashton in the Blackburn net.
Hawks were able to extend their lead with ten minutes remaining when Adam Brittle grabbed a powerplay marker.
Whitley were presented with a powerplay opportunity of their own late in the game and coach Simon Leach opted to pull goaltender Turnbull so his side could have six skaters on the ice.
But despite putting Blackburn’s defence under pressure the home side were unable to find a late goal and Hawks were able to make it 5-2 when Rick Ravey scored into an empty net with under a minute left in the contest.
Holland was deservedly chosen as Warriors’ man of the match for a tireless display while Davies was selected as Hawks’ top performer over the 60 minutes.
After the contest, Warriors coach Leach said: “A really encouraging performance and I didn’t think we deserved to lose the game.
“No one can fault our desire, work rate and will to win.
“At a couple of points decisions went against, and I’m not one to blame officials, but it was so frustrating tonight when the calls went against us.
“We lost Callum Queenan and Josh Maddock during the game to injuries, which didn’t help our cause. Callum took a blow to the head while Josh picked up an elbow injury and he just had to leave the ice as he couldn’t grip his stick.
“From start to finish tonight I was proud of our team and we can take a lot of confidence from our performance.
“I think our first period was possibly our best of the season and we are aiming to take that sort of display forward and to move away from sixth place and that relegation play-off.”
Warriors’ next games are over the weekend of March 7 and 8 when they face the Solway Sharks and Billingham Stars away.
The next home game is on Sunday, March 15 (5pm face-off), when Solway Sharks visit Hillheads for the final time in the 2014-15 campaign.