Tuesday, 12 December 2017

NIHL Weekend Action

Warriors scorch Stars as Whitley triumph over Teessiders

Whitley Warriors  7
Billingham Stars  3

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
After suffering a short bench in recent weeks, Whitley Warriors were able to line up with close to a full roster as they prepared to play host to local rivals Billingham Stars, with ex-EPL player Adam Finlinson, injured forward Niall Simpson and stand-in defenceman Martin Crammond unavailable for this clash. Likewise, local rivals Billingham Stars were also able to ice a strong team, making the trip to Hillheads with nineteen skaters which included alternate captain Chris Sykes, captain Michael Elder and youngsters James Hellens and Ethan Hehir.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Approaching this fixture with caution to avoid conceding an early goal against their local rivals, the opening minutes saw both teams battling for the puck without much intensity, though the Stars initially edged possession to make life difficult for netminder Richie Lawson. As expected from a derby game, it was not long before referee Alex Stewart dished out his first penalty of the encounter; blue liner Ben Davison considered guilty of high sticks against long-serving Warrior DJ Good to see Whitley gain the power play on 4:46. This advantage was cut short however, when new signing Sam Zajac made his way to the sin bin for holding just forty six seconds later to level the playing field. Looking to bounce back from the disruption caused by these penalties, the Warriors were then able to open their account as Shaun Kippin picked out fellow alternate captain Jordan Barnes courtesy of Zajac to see the power forward net on 11:27. Whitley’s joy proved short-lived though, as moments later forward Ben Richards was sidelined for high sticks to allow Billingham to make the most of their additional man, the side scoring with nineteen seconds of Richards’ penalty remaining when skilled forward Sykes teamed up with Elder to play Latvian import Deniss Baškatovs through on goal with success. Though a little disappointed to have lost their lead, the Warriors were certainly not disheartened by this equaliser and instead rallied to achieve their second of the evening when Good threaded a pass to captain Dean Holland who then raced beyond the Stars’ blue line to reap the rewards of his determination, beating shot stopper James Flavell on 14:41. Once again though, it was not long before the Warriors were on the wrong end of another call from referee Stewart, this time Barnes made to warm a seat in the sin bin for crosschecking. Failing to capitalise on this power play, the Stars were then disappointed to concede a third as Kippin unleashed a rocket of a shot following build up play between player-coach David Longstaff and defenceman Kyle Ross to present Whitley with a two-goal lead in the final minute of the period.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Hopeful that they could turn around their fortunes in the second stanza, Billingham returned to the ice and were dismayed to see Sykes sinbinned for a slashing offence just forty five seconds in. Soon joined by forward Jack Davies, who was made to serve two minutes for interference, the Stars found themselves defending a five-on-three situation but a misplaced pass from Holland in Billingham’s defensive zone saw the puck fall to Baškatovs who immediately linked up with Sykes as he broke out of the sin bin, the alternate captain dashing away from Whitley’s blue liners to slot a shorthanded goal past Lawson on 22:51 to make it 3-2. Ten seconds after Jack Davies was restored to the ice, Elder then found himself punished for delaying the game after officials scrutinised his approach to faceoffs but soon after, Kippin found himself sidelined for high sticks which was then followed by a hooking penalty for Barnes to see Billingham go on a power play. Killing these penalties effectively, the Warriors were placed under pressure once again when Longstaff’s line-up conceded a bench minor for too many men. To make matters worse, Zajac was then shown to the sin bin for a second time to hand the Stars another five-on-three situation but again, Whitley expertly ran down these penalties to maintain their lead and watched on as a power play then fell in their favour just beyond the halfway point of the period; this time player-coach Richie Thornton sitting out for holding. 

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
This advantage easing the pressure on the Warriors, the home team were able to build up some momentum of their own as Good played the puck to Longstaff whose shot was knocked goalwards by blue liner Harry Harley to make it 4-2 on 31:47. Fifty seven seconds later, the Stars suffered a further setback when Kippin buried the puck for a second time courtesy of Barnes and Longstaff to widen the gap between themselves and their local rivals. This goal was followed by a little confusion as blue liner Dan Pye was first called to the penalty box to serve two minutes for tripping after preventing Star Callum Davies from finding the target but he then returned to the ice on the premise that the Teessiders were awarded a penalty shot. Hoping to make this chance count, Davies found himself confronted by Lawson who came out of his net to ensure the forward put his shot wide. After finding some reprieve from this, Whitley then went shorthanded, this time Zajac deemed guilty of interference on 34:42 to incur his third penalty of the evening which Billingham were all too happy to capitalise on as Baškatovs grabbed his second of the evening with help from Elder and fellow forward James Moss. Once again going within two goals of their opposition, the Stars clung to the hope that they could claw back some lost ground but Whitley were just as eager to ensure this did not happen and hit home a sixth on 39:29 when Ross struck from the blue line after passing play between Kippin and Longstaff. With Stewart awaiting the opportunity to call for interference against Billinghams young defenceman Hellens, Whitley finished the period in possession and with the knowledge that they would return on a power play, having established a three-goal lead.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Beginning on the power play, Billingham were faced with further pressure and, with just nine seconds of their penalty kill remaining, the side conceded a seventh as Richards accomplished the final touch on a long-range effort from Zajac on 41:51. Less than a minute later, the Stars incurred a minor for too many men and, though Whitley continued to trouble Flavell, the Warriors were unable to add another to their tally. A hooking penalty for Scott Ward was then dished out on 49:18 to give the Warriors the advantage once again, allowing the home team to enjoy their possession but, try as they might, Whitley couldn’t find a way beyond Flavell who remained sturdy for the remainder of the game to ensure the Stars did not concede further. Elated to have claimed maximum points on the final buzzer as a result of their 7-3 score line, the Warriors remain in seventh place with eighteen points from eighteen games whilst Billingham stay ninth with five points from fifteen league fixtures, but with four games in hand on their immediate competition.

Speaking after this derby day clash, Whitley Warriors’ player-coach David Longstaff shared: “I thought we were very comfortable winners, even though we didn’t play well. We made far too many mistakes and some of our play was very sloppy. It was important to get the two points before the Christmas break as we are travelling to Hull with lots of players missing.”

For more photos from IceHockeyMedia, please visit: http://www.icehockeymedia.co.uk/.        

Friday, 8 December 2017

NIHL Weekend Preview


Sunday 10th December 2017
Whitley Warriors vs. Billingham Stars

Fixture:    Whitley Warriors vs. Billingham Stars
Date:        10th December 2017  
Venue:     Whitley Bay Ice Rink
Faceoff:  5:00pm

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
After last Sunday’s close encounter with Sheffield Steeldogs at Hillheads, this weekend sees Whitley Warriors prepare to host local rivals Billingham Stars for the first time this season. Already achieving a 4-3 win over the Teessiders away from home in October, the Warriors head into this derby fixture knowing the offensive threat that Billingham pose in spite of their recent result against the outfit. In their last meeting against David Longstaff’s men, the Stars established a 2-0 lead courtesy of forward Luke Brown and captain Michael Elder, the latter responding with another after Warrior Callum Watson printed his name on the scoresheet just fifty one seconds into the middle stanza. Following the Stars’ restoration of their two-goal cushion, the Warriors began to make more of their chances; power forward Jordan Barnes finding the target just before the halfway point in the contest whilst alternate captain Shaun Kippin and forward Adam Finlinson both beat Stars’ shot stopper James Flavell in the third to see Whitley claim maximum points in what was an incredibly tense clash.

Whilst Whitley Warriors currently sit in seventh place with sixteen points from seventeen games, Billingham Stars find themselves in ninth place, having claimed just five points from the thirteen league fixtures they have played to date. As such, there is quite the margin separating the local rivals at present, a margin which the Stars will look to reduce this weekend as they aim to displace Nottingham Lions from eighth position and begin their climb away from the league placement playoff place. Despite their present situation, the Teessiders certainly have a great deal of firepower in their line-up, with alternate captain Chris Sykes racking up fourteen goals and twelve assists to find himself Billingham’s top points scorer whilst Latvian imports Deniss Baškatovs and Artūrs Ozols, player-coach Michael Bowman and captain Elder have collectively contributed sixty points to their side’s league effort. Likewise, Whitley’s alternate captain Shaun Kippin sits top of the Warriors’ points production chart with twenty six points from fourteen games whilst player-coach David Longstaff has assisted on twenty one occasions as well as chipping in with five goals across the sixteen games he has featured. Similarly, injured import Philip Edgar, forward Ben Richards, blue liner Harry Harley, captain Dean Holland and alternate captain Barnes have each hit double figures for the Warriors to ensure their team can contend against the difficult competition of NIHL North’s Division One. Further to these points scorers, Whitley will also be bolstered by the presence of returning Warrior Sam Zajac on Sunday evening, the skilled defenceman raring to go in what will be his first game for his hometown club since Whitley’s 2007-2008 campaign.

As a result of this firepower, both teams will be aware that they have what it takes to claim the bragging rights as well as maximum points this weekend and will therefore give their all to avoid defeat to their closest rivals. With the atmosphere set to be electric as is the norm for these hugely competitive contests, both the Warriors and the Stars will look to battle their way to victory in what is one of the most highly anticipated fixtures of the NIHL North schedule.   

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson

Speaking ahead of this fixture, Whitley’s player-coach David Longstaff noted:

It’s a derby game so anything can happen. Hopefully we can get the result this weekend.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson

Meanwhile, alternate captain Chris Sykes took time to consider the Stars’ upcoming visit to Hillheads:

It's a one-game weekend for the Stars and it’s a massive one against the Warriors at their rink. Last time we played, it was a really close game and well-fought. I’m hoping for the same again this Sunday. I always enjoy the derby games – it should be a good one!

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Further to this, Warriors’ alternate captain Jordan Barnes kindly took part in a short interview, sharing his approach to this upcoming home fixture against his local rivals:

How are you feeling ahead of Billingham’s first visit to Hillheads this season?

I am excited as this is what it’s all about, the derby games. Neither team wants to lose so it’s exciting and I love the rivalry.

After receiving a game penalty against Sheffield Steeldogs last weekend, will you stick to the style of play you have been accustomed to this season or do these derby games still require you to utilise the physical aspect of the sport?

I will always play physical. That call last week was bad as far as I am concerned but that’s the way it is. My style will still be hitting and getting to the net but I know when it’s needed and this weekend is one of those times.

So far, you have almost averaged a point per game with seven goals and nine assists from seventeen games. Is this better than you expected?

Yeah, I will take a point a game every day of the week. It helps when your line has good chemistry on the ice as well and I just wanted to hopefully get as many points as I did last year to try and help the team.

Given Billingham’s recent results, can form be cast aside ahead of derby games or does the Stars’ situation make them more dangerous?

I think derby games are always tough games regardless of the results teams have been getting but they give you that little extra boost because no one wants to lose.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson

Looking forward to this fixture, Stars’ captain Michael Elder took time to discuss what a derby victory would mean for Billingham:

Derby games are always tough to predict and most likely a coach’s nightmare as they most certainly don’t run to the script. They’re always fast-paced games with a lot of passion from both sides and bragging rights on the line. They’re great games to be involved in for players, fans and North East ice hockey in general. For us personally, we haven’t really had anything go our way this season for various different reasons but it’s not for the want of trying. We’re all behind each other and this is a massive game for us, not just because it’s a derby but because we need points on the board. We’ll be putting everything on the line this weekend and leaving it all out there. It should be a great game for all and hopefully we come out of it with two points.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Also taking time to reveal his expectations of the derby game, Warriors’ alternate captain Shaun Kippin admitted:

I expect this to be a very hard game as always. We got lucky in the third period last game. We won the game with a few minutes left. We have been short on bodies over the last few weeks against all of the top teams. We have all our players back this week so we are at full strength. It will also be great to see Sam Zajac back in a Whitley shirt. We are very lucky to have him.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Last but not least, Billingham’s blue liner Ben Davison also took time to share his thoughts on this important fixture:

It is always tough to go to the Wigwam and come away with the goods but if we stick to our game plan, the two points will be ours by the end of the night. I imagine the game will be like any derby; fast and physical. There’s a lot of talent on both teams with Whitley strengthening at the back since our last encounter with them. Let’s hope they open the doors early so faceoff isn’t delayed like usual!

For more photos from IceHockeyMedia, please visit: http://www.icehockeymedia.co.uk/.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

NIHL Weekend Action

Hull outshine Stars as Pirates loot points

Hull Pirates             8
Billingham Stars         3

Travelling to Hull without forwards Scott Ward, Jack Emerson and Luke Brown as well as injured defencemen Thomas Keeley, Dave Thomas and Richie Thornton, Billingham were also missing blue liners Darren Stattersfield and Andy Finn due to illness and work commitments respectively. As such, the Stars found themselves with a short bench of just thirteen skaters besides first choice shot stopper James Flavell and netminder Mark Watson as they headed out onto the ice against Hull Pirates’ seventeen-man squad which included player-coach Jason Hewitt, top points scorer Matty Davies and right winger Bobby Chamberlain to name but a few.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Looking to get off to the best possible start against difficult opposition, Billingham Stars worked hard to gain possession and it was not long before their work ethic paid off as skilled forward Chris Sykes hit the target with an unassisted effort as he carved a path into the middle of the Pirates’ defensive zone to fire from the top of the circles, his shot going bar down to beat netminder Ashley Smith on 3:55 and present his team with the lead. Buoyed by this goal, the Stars then hunted down another, Sykes finding the back of the net just under two minutes later to double his side’s tally as he capitalised on passing play between fellow alternate captain Callum Davies and Stars’ captain Michael Elder. Shortly afterwards, a tripping penalty for player-coach Michael Bowman saw Hull go on the power play and, though the Pirates were unable to capitalise with their advantage, it was not long after Billingham returned to full strength that Hewitt’s men notched a goal of their own, the player-coach working with Davies to see Chamberlain place the puck beyond Flavell on 10:36. Just over a minute later, the two teams clashed as Pirates’ right winger James Archer and Stars’ Latvian import Deniss Baškatovs grappled for the puck, the duo each earning minors for holding sticks and hooking respectively besides each picking up an additional two minutes for roughing. Whilst these players served time for their misdemeanours, Hull turned their attentions to equalising and were able to find their second goal of the evening just thirty one seconds later, Hewitt printing his name on the scoresheet courtesy of Davies. Less than a minute after Archer and Baškatovs returned to the ice, the Pirates snatched the lead for the first time in the game as captain Jamie Chilcott hit home with help from forward Aaron Lyon. The score line 3-2, Hull showed a keen interest in adding to Billingham’s deficit and it was not long before the outfit established a two-goal cushion, forward Lee Bonner threading a pass to defenceman Thomas Stubley who accomplished the second league goal of his campaign in the process. Disappointed to be heading in on the wrong end of the 4-2 score line after their bright start to the game, Billingham filed from the ice with the knowledge that there was much work to be done if they were to be in with a chance of the points.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Though hopeful that they could make a positive impact early in the second stanza to chip away at the margin between themselves and the Pirates, the Stars were left dejected when Chamberlain grabbed his second of the evening just over a minute in, Hewitt and Davies again assisting. With Flavell continuing to face far more shots than Smith at the other end of the ice, Billingham’s defence were placed under pressure but worked with their netminder to see off the Pirates’ attack until just beyond the halfway point in the period when Lyon netted after build up play from ‘D’ man Lee Haywood and forward Josh Gent. The score line 6-2, the Stars recognised the importance of remaining composed against their tough opposition as they held onto the hope that they could reduce the growing gap between themselves and the Pirates but, despite their efforts, Billingham could not prevent Hull from going in at the break with a four-goal lead.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Returning for the third and final period, it was clear that the Stars’ short bench was beginning to take its toll as the Pirates began with the upper hand to challenge Flavell and Billingham’s stretched defence. Dexterous as ever, shot stopper Flavell proved sturdy in net, withstanding this pressure to prevent Hull from scoring whilst Billingham’s own chances were few and far between. The Pirates continuing to dominate in front of goal, it was little surprise that Flavell was eventually beaten in this period, captain Chilcott linking up with young forward Cain Taylor to allow Gent to bury the puck on 52:05. Just over a minute later, the Stars retaliated to make it 7-3 as James Moss received the puck from Baškatovs to hit the target with success. Moments later though, the game took a turn when the sides clashed; Lyon checking young defenceman James Hellens in the head which saw Stars’ forward Jack Davies hit back after crosschecking the Pirate. As such, this incident saw Lyon earn a penalty of 2+10 for checking to the head and misconduct whilst Davies picked up 2+2+10 for crosschecking, roughing and misconduct also. Finding themselves on the power play as a result, Hull took just forty eight seconds to capitalise as alternate captain Jonathan Kirk made it 8-3, Hewitt and Davies grabbing their third and fourth assists respectively. Less than three minutes later, Stars defenceman Matthew Campbell found himself punished for a high sticks offence but, to Billingham’s relief, Hewitt’s men were unable to beat Flavell for a ninth time to see the game conclude 8-3.
Narrow loss for Sharks sees Hawks swoop on cup victory

Solway Sharks              3
Blackburn Hawks      4

Lining up with eighteen players due to the availability of young blue liners Luke Houston and Ben Coughtrie and forwards Kieran Hair and Lewis Houston, Solway Sharks found themselves with eighteen skaters as well as netminders Calum Hepburn and Chris Rae whilst Blackburn Hawks also travelled with a strong squad which included former Shark Kim Miettinen, forward Matt Viney and young prospects James Royds and Kieran Brown, though player-coach Steven Duncombe opted to coach from the bench on this occasion.  

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Looking to establish a lead in the opening minutes of the first period, Solway Sharks got off to an excellent start as forward Duncan Speirs hit home against Blackburn’s backup netminder Niks Trapans with close to four minutes on the clock, assisted in his effort by captain Struan Tonnar and left winger Steven Moore. Just twenty five seconds later, Hawks’ two-way player Brown was shown to the sin bin for elbowing, this offence bringing with it a ten minute misconduct penalty which would rule him out until the latter stages of the first period due to the youngster’s reaction to his punishment. Unable to get ahead on the power play, the Sharks were then forced to endure a stalemate, this game an incredibly close one with little to play for in the group stages of the NIHL National Cup competition. As such, it was not until 17:27 that the Hawks were able to draw level, Royds the man on target with support from defenceman Bobby Streetly and Slovakian import Jozef Istocy. With netminders Hepburn and Trapans enduring the pressure at either end of the ice, neither team could creep into the lead ahead of the first interval to see both go in with a goal apiece.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Returning for the second period, the Sharks were eager to regain their lead whilst Blackburn hunted a second goal to see both netminders challenged in the early stages of this stanza. Determined not to fall behind again, the Hawks were able to make it 2-1 on 28:41 as Viney netted with support from experienced forward Aaron Davies to leave the home team disappointed. Approximately four minutes later, the Sharks ran into penalty trouble as Czech defenceman Vaclav Kolarik incurred a minor for interference but, failing to make the most of their additional man, the Hawks then found themselves shorthanded when Royds made way for the same offence less than two minutes after Kolarik’s return to the ice. Likewise, Solway were unable to grab a goal with the advantage but were handed a second chance to do so as forward Rick Bentham made way for boarding just thirteen seconds after his side returned to full strength; his penalty running over into the third period.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Failing to equalise on the power play, Solway were left to rue their missed chances as the Hawks proved to be just as testing as they were in the second period, though the Dumfries outfit were able to edge shots on goal once again. An interference penalty for Hawks alternate captain James Neil just before the halfway point in the stanza presented the Sharks with a third consecutive opportunity to draw level but it was not to be as Brown notched a shorthanded goal for his side just over a minute into Solway’s power play following a pass from Bentham. With the score line 3-1, the Sharks rallied to get back into the game and it was just over four minutes later that Czech ‘D’ man Marek Charvát fired his team back on track with an unassisted effort to make Blackburn’s lead a fragile one. Spurred on by this goal, the Dumfries outfit levelled the scoring on 56:10 through forward Daniel Abercrombie who netted with an assist from fellow forward Connor Henderson, much to the Hawks’ dismay. Just sixteen seconds later, young forward Scott Henderson found himself sidelined for interference and, whilst Duncombe’s men were unable to snatch their lead back on the power play, they made it 4-3 just twenty nine seconds later when Davies teamed up with Bentham to set Viney on course for his second goal of the evening. Disappointed to lose out with just over a minute remaining, the Sharks sought to take the game into overtime as Head Coach Martin Grubb called a timeout on 59:13. Opting to pull their netminder in search of an equaliser, Solway threw everything into the final forty seven seconds but the side were unable to beat Trapans for a fourth time to see the game finish in Blackburn’s favour as the Lancashire outfit hit the road with a cup victory to enjoy a break in their current run of poor form. Considering the outcome of this fixture, Head Coach Martin Grubb shared: “This was a game where we had already secured top spot in our group so it allowed us a chance to play some young players. I wasn’t overly happy with how we played and felt we should have showed more desire to win the game for our supporters but we made too many mistakes and were punished.”

Warriors overpowered by league leaders as Steeldogs claim victory

Whitley Warriors          2
Sheffield Steeldogs     4

Though heading into this fixture with a short bench of fourteen skaters as injured parties Philip Edgar, Josh Maddock and Niall Simpson, forwards Ryan Sample, Adam Finlinson, Ross Douglass and Jamie Ord and versatile defenceman Stu Tomlinson made up their absentee list, Whitley Warriors were up for their latest contest against tough opposition. Sheffield Steeldogs, by comparison, travelled with a strong squad, the side missing only alternate captain Lloyd Gibson and young forward Brady Doxey as they took to the ice in search of another two points to extend their lead at the top of NIHL North’s Division One.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Starting the game with a great deal of intensity, Whitley pounced on the puck to immediately test Sheffield’s defence, the side stunning the Steeldogs with just 1:27 on the clock as long-serving Warrior DJ Good linked up with captain Dean Holland to play in forward Callum Watson who netted to hand his team the lead. Moments later though, Whitley suffered a setback as ‘D’ man Dan Pye incurred two minutes for kneeing to see the home team reduced to four men. Matters were quickly made worse for the Warriors however, as power forward Jordan Barnes was then unfortunate to receive five minutes plus game to find himself ejected from this encounter by referee Andrew Allsopp for a check from behind against Steeldogs’ Slovakian import Milan Kolena. This punishment both lengthened Whitley’s penalty kill besides presenting their visitors with a ninety second five-on-three power play but the Warriors were able to maintain their intensity to shut down the Steeldogs’ attacking play with fervour and fortitude before finally returning to full strength with just under nine minutes played. Continuing to search for a second goal whilst Sheffield challenged shot stopper Richie Lawson, the Warriors were able to prevent the Steeldogs from equalising but it was not long before they were again shorthanded, Watson making way for crosschecking on 14:18 after the forward clashed with Kolena. Just over a minute later, the Warrior was joined by blue liner Harry Harley who was found guilty of holding to see Sheffield awarded another five-on-three situation. Seeing off their opposition once again though, Whitley’s penalty kill proved to be highly effective and their hard work was soon rewarded when Steeldogs’ alternate captain Tim Smith was sinbinned for tripping on 18:57. Though unable to capitalise on this power play ahead of the break, the Warriors filed from the ice with their one-goal lead intact with the knowledge that they would return on the advantage due to the fifty seven seconds of Smith’s penalty left to serve.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Killing the remainder of Smith’s penalty, the Steeldogs were eager to get on the scoresheet, having watched their many efforts go to waste in the opening period due to the Warriors’ stalwart defending. It was therefore little surprise that Sheffield levelled the scoring on 24:08 as Kolena played left winger Andrew Hirst through on goal to see his teammate achieve his sixth league goal of the season. With Whitley’s play far more defensive than it was in the first period, the Warriors were forced to soak up the pressure around Lawson’s net besides trying their luck at the other end of the ice. Just beyond the halfway point in the period, a boarding penalty for ‘D’ man Dan Pye once again placed Whitley on the penalty kill and it proved to be to Sheffield’s advantage; Smith picking out forward James Spurr who played the puck to Ben Morgan, the player-coach then unleashing a bullet of a shot from just inside the blue line to allow his team to take the lead for the first time in the game. A tripping penalty for blue liner Thomas Relf then presented David Longstaff’s line-up with another power play but it was one that they struggled to make the most of in spite of their many efforts and it was not long after that the Warriors were made to regret their missed chances as Morgan was credited with a second goal after Longstaff’s attempted clearance went into the net off Lawson’s back; Relf also picking up an assist in the process. Shortly afterwards, blue liner Kyle Hindmarsh-Ross was made to sit out for high sticks to give Sheffield a power play but again, the Warriors remained strong to keep their visitors at bay, ensuring that they went in at the break with no more than a two-goal deficit.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Returning for the third and final period, Whitley were hopeful that they could reclaim some lost ground but a slashing penalty for forward Ben Richards on 43:42 placed the Warriors on the penalty kill, the home team proving effective to hold off the Steeldogs’ attempts to extend their lead. Less than four minutes later, Richards was able to make amends for his misdemeanour with a goal, the forward beating netminder Dmitri Zimozdra courtesy of player-coach Longstaff and alternate captain Shaun Kippin to see the scoreboard altered to 3-2. Going within a goal of the Steeldogs, the Warriors were spurred on and came close to achieving another before their hopes were further bolstered by a power play opportunity as Sheffield’s captain Lewis Bell made way for delaying the game on 51:42. However, it was to Whitley’s disappointment that their visitors grabbed a shorthanded goal, this time play between Morgan and Spurr causing Lawson to step out of his goal to retrieve the puck only for Kolena to claim possession from behind the net to turn the puck over the red line. Moments later, the Warriors conceded a bench minor for too many men and, whilst they were able to defend well with four men, the side were no closer to narrowing the margin between themselves and their opposition. With Whitley still holding out for the comeback and putting the Steeldogs to the test in the dying moments of the game, Longstaff saw fit to call a timeout on 59:18 and chose to pull Lawson from his net to ice an additional skater. Despite their efforts though, the Warriors could not grab a goal to place Sheffield under pressure and as such, Morgan’s men were able to secure their 4-2 victory on the final buzzer. Reflecting on this defeat, Whitley Warriors’ player-coach David Longstaff revealed: “I was pleased with the game, especially in the first and the third periods. We were really short tonight and the boys gave everything they had.”

Sharks sneak road win over Barons to hold onto fourth place

Solihull Barons     2
Solway Sharks          3

Making the trip to Hobs Moat Road with their usual line-up of fifteen skaters and netminders Calum Hepburn and Chris Rae, Solway Sharks were missing only blue liner Ben Coughtrie, forward Kieran Hair and Houston brothers Luke and Lewis as they filed onto the ice for this fixture. Solihull Barons meanwhile, had at their disposal a squad of twenty which included netminder Josh Nicholls, forward Adam Brittle, alternate captain Marcus Maynard and Swedish import Niklas Ottosson.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Hopeful of maximum points from this game after narrowly losing out to Blackburn Hawks in the NIHL National Cup competition on Saturday evening, Solway Sharks were keen to put Solihull’s defence to the test in the opening minutes of the period whilst the Barons also wrestled for possession. Following their strong start to this game, it was unsurprising that the Dumfries outfit were first to take the lead as forward Iain Bowie integrated blue liner Stuart Kerr to see Czech defenceman Vaclav Kolarik get on the scoresheet. Pleased with their start to the game, the Sharks continued to build pressure around Nicholls’ net to cause problems for Solihull which was further enhanced by a hooking penalty conceded by Barons’ blue liner Ryan Selwood and, just one second before this penalty was killed, Solihull’s forward Luke Brittle then found himself sidelined for tripping to extend Solway’s power play. Whilst on the penalty kill, the Barons remained dangerous and the side were then offered some reprieve when a delayed slashing penalty against Sharks’ ‘D’ man Kyle Horne allowed forward Adam Brittle to equalise to see both teams head in at the break with a goal apiece.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
With the deadlock restored as they returned to the ice for the second period, both teams were eager to take the lead but neither could do so as the outfits fought for the puck in a bid to make an impact in front of their respective goals. A tripping penalty for Barons’ defenceman Daniel Harrison then saw Solway go on the power play but the home team remained effective in their defence of the Sharks’ advantage and returned to full strength just nineteen seconds before they were handed a power play of their own, their opposition going shorthanded when alternate captain James Hutchinson found himself sidelined for a slashing offence on 28:46. However, the Barons were also unable to make the most of their additional man and, though applying pressure to Hepburn’s net whilst the Sharks continued to set their sights on the target, neither team were able to make their mark in this period to see the score line remain 1-1 ahead of the interval.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Raring to go for the final period, Solihull started the stanza the better of the two teams as they grabbed a goal through defenceman Maynard just twenty nine seconds in following support from Luke Brittle and forward Thomas Soar to make it 2-1. Increasing their efforts on Hepburn’s goal, Solihull became progressively dangerous in Solway’s defensive zone to prove a real threat but it was not long before forward Ed Eaton incurred a minor for slashing to hand the Sharks the additional man. Whilst unable to capitalise on this power play, Solway were able to build sufficient momentum to get themselves back into the game after the Barons’ return to full strength, this time alternate captain Ross Murray scoring on 51:36 after receiving the puck from Bowie. The score line tied at 2-2, the home team were eager to avoid overtime to claim both points but the Sharks showed determination to continue their fight against the Barons who had twice as many shots on goal against the Dumfries outfit in this period. In the end, this proved to be a battle that Solway would win as Bowie played the puck to blue liner Horne who hit home on 58:06 to provide the Sharks with the edge they needed to claim maximum points from this fixture.

Adding to his earlier comments, Sharks’ Head Coach Martin Grubb admitted:“We always knew this was our big game of the weekend and that it would be a really tough game and it proved just that. I felt we played well in spells and played a decent road game. We needed to be solid in our own zone and we nullified the threat of a good offensive team very well and this allowed us to give ourselves a chance to win. It could have went either way in the third but we got the goal and a bit of luck we haven’t had in some games to get two valuable points.”

Hawks soar to victory as Billingham Stars stumble on home ice

Billingham Stars          3
Blackburn Hawks    5

Their line-up bolstered by the return of forwards Scott Ward and Jack Emerson besides defencemen Richie Thornton and Darren Stattersfield, Billingham Stars were able to make their way onto the ice with seventeen skaters which included hardworking alternate captain Chris Sykes, captain Michael Elder and player-coach Michael Bowman whilst first choice shot stopper James Flavell took his usual spot between the pipes ahead of backup netminder Mark Watson. Likewise, Blackburn Hawks also had nineteen players at their disposal which consisted of player-coach Steven Duncombe, young prospect Kieran Brown and junior defenceman Lewis Baldwin whilst Stuart Ashton started in net.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
With Billingham Stars in need of maximum points to hold onto eighth place in the NIHL standings, the Teessiders were keen to make an impact in the opening moments of the game and their chances of grabbing a goal in the early stages appeared promising when Brown made his way to the sin bin to serve time for clipping with just over a minute played. It was not long after this penalty though that the Stars also found themselves reduced to four men to see the playing field levelled as Bowman warmed a seat in the sin bin following a hooking call. The Hawks then returned to full strength only for Billingham to incur a second penalty on 3:26, this time blue liner Ben Davison sidelined for interference to hand the Hawks a short five-on-three situation. Despite this, the Stars rallied to snatch a shorthanded goal as Bowman assumed possession on his return to the ice to fire his team into the lead on 4:15. Just over three minutes later, Blackburn’s forward Matt Viney picked up a ten minute misconduct penalty to find himself sidelined for much of the first period but this made little impact to the Hawks’ play as the side continued to seek out an equaliser, peppering Flavell with shot after shot but to no avail. Incurring a minor penalty for high sticks on 14:03, versatile defenceman Matthew Campbell then sat out to give the visitors a power play but Blackburn were unable to capitalise on this as the Stars killed the penalty to go in with their 1-0 lead intact at the first break.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Making their way back onto the ice for the second stanza, the Stars were eager to extend their tentative lead to ensure that the game remained a problematic one for the Hawks and with less than five minutes of the period played, Bowman grabbed his second of the game courtesy of fellow forward James Moss and Latvian defenceman Artūrs Ozols. Just thirty six seconds later, Blackburn suffered a slight setback as a tripping call against forward Lee Pollitt saw Duncombe’s men go shorthanded but the Lancashire outfit were undeterred and beat Flavell to make it 2-1 with nineteen seconds of their penalty remaining as blue liner Baldwin halved his side’s deficit after finding himself integrated into play by talented young forward James Royds. Just over two minutes later, the Hawks snatched their second of the game to draw level as, this time, Brown printed his name on the scoresheet following passing play between captain Ollie Lomax and defenceman James Neil. Soon after, Baldwin was made to sit out after a tripping call from referee Andrew Miller but no sooner had the side returned to full strength without the Stars finding a way past Ashton, Billingham found themselves on the back foot as Moss was shown to the box for holding. However, the Hawks passed up the chance to take the lead on this power play and it was not long after that both sides ran into penalty trouble as Star Josh Nertney dropped the gloves with Pollitt on 37:39,  the duo each earning penalties of 2+2 for fighting. With this incident disrupting play, the teams headed in with two goals apiece at the second interval, leaving the points all to play for in the third.

Photo Credit: IceHockeyMedia - Colin Lawson
Hopeful that they could take something from this game in a bid to ignite a turnaround in their recent form, Billingham went out in search of two points, trying to recover from their disappointment at having thrown away a two-goal lead. However, it was to the Stars’ dismay that alternate captain Sykes was sinbinned on 42:26 for tripping to hand Blackburn a power play which they were all too happy to make the most of after ruing their missed chances; Bentham assisting Brown’s second goal of the game. Moments later though, Bentham also found himself sidelined for tripping to hand Billingham a power play which they too were able to capitalise on as Sykes buried the puck on 45:28 to make up for his previous misdemeanour whilst forward Jack Davies notched an assist. The score line once again level, the Hawks found themselves again searching for the lead and it did not take long for the side to achieve an edge over the Stars as Duncombe’s men added a fourth to their tally thirty two seconds later through Slovakian import Jozef Ištocy; Brown working with alternate captain Luke Boothroyd to assist his teammate. Close to four minutes later, matters were made worse for the Stars when Campbell was sinbinned for clipping to award the opposition an additional man. Thirty eight seconds later, forward Aaron Davies accomplished his seventh league goal of the campaign after finding himself integrated into play by Bentham to make it 5-3; Baldwin also picking up an assist. Shortly afterwards, the Stars ran into further penalty trouble when Jack Davies made way for interference on 54:53 to place the Hawks’ on a power play but try as they might, Blackburn could not add to their lead. Striving for a goal in the latter stages of the period, Billingham called a timeout and opted to pull netminder Flavell from his net to ice an additional skater. Just five seconds later though, the two sides clashed again to reduce the Teessiders’ chances of getting back into the game; Stattersfield and Bentham each earning minors for roughing and holding respectively whilst Hawks’ forward Pollitt also picked up a penalty of 2+2 for roughing. With little time remaining in the game, it was not long after that the final buzzer called time on Blackburn’s victory to the disappointment of the Stars who fell into ninth place as a result of this loss with five points from thirteen games.

Reflecting on his team’s double header, alternate captain Chris Sykes shared: “We went to Hull with thirteen players and came up short. This seems to be the case this season with work commitments and injuries. We just don’t have enough players to go away to games and put up a good show but the lads who went tried. Sunday at home against the Hawks wasn’t our best game and we didn’t get what we wanted again. It was a bad weekend for the Stars.”

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