Depleted Sting start season with draw and loss

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A promising start to their opening NIHL Moralee Conference season weekend tailed off as Sutton Sting began with a home 2-2 draw with Blackburn Hawks on Saturday followed by a 4-2 defeat Whitley Bay Warriors on Sunday.

Sting had led 2-0 in the Hawks game, but their lack of ice time caught up with them as Hawks hit back before they went down at Whitley.

The usual rough and tumble of an away game in Whitley Bay saw a very short-benched Sutton come away with a 4-2 loss at the hands and sticks of the Warriors in a lively affair.

Warriors struck first on the powerplay when Harry Harley slotted home as Whitley exerted their physical presence on a tired-looking Sting outfit.

The dominance and aggression continued with some big hits being thrown before Harley again scored after being allowed time and space in front of the net.

The first period interval was a welcome one for Sting with Shaun Ashton battling on after damaging ribs early in the game when he was rammed into the bench door as it opened.

As a Sting powerplay wound down, captain James Goodman took flight down the right wing before firing an unstoppable blast that silenced the Whitley crowd and players alike, giving Sting new hope.

However, after a fortunate bounce, the Warriors broke away to restore their two-goal lead and returned to the aggression that saw several stick injuries go unpunished.

Reece Cairney-Witter, having had one tilt in the first period, decided he had had enough of the strongarm tactics and again stepped into a bout that lasted only a short time before Reece ended it with two left hands.

This definitely spurred on Sutton, but again the mood was dampened by a fourth Whitley goal.

Most teams would have rolled over now, but with coach Darlow calling for a strong finish, Goodman once again stepped up to the plate with a low rasping drive through traffic to cut the deficit and now it was Warriors turn to hang on as Sting missed several great opportunities.

Outstanding Man of the Match, Sutton goalie Dima Zimozdra, was pulled in favour of the extra skater and, although going close, the Sting couldn’t capitalise.

After the match, coach Matt Darlow was realistic in saying: “We’ve started our season late against two of the best teams in our division and come out of it with a point, so I’m pretty happy all in all.

“To come to Whitley Bay with five of our line up missing, take early injuries and come close in a game we could have stolen with better finishing is frustrating, but not many teams will come here and take points this season.

“We’ll work hard in training over the next fortnight, get our team back together and build strongly for our next two games against the Manchester Minotaurs.

“All in all, we’ve learnt a lot and this will make us stronger moving forward.”

On Saturday they entertained Blackburn Hawks at iceSheffield - a delayed start to the season for the Sting with their visitors having already recorded two wins from two games.

Sutton soon settled to contain the Hawks, who took a physical game to the Sting from the off.

Even with a five-on-three powerplay advantage, the Sting could not find a way through the Hawks’ defence and the first period finally ended 0-0.

With Hawks skating five on three, Sting goalie Zimozdra made an unbelievable save to keep Sutton in the game.

Then, with 32 minutes played Sting power forward Shaun Ashton grabbed a dirty goal in front of the net after Slav Movko had worked hard down the left flank to create half a chance.

Within 40 seconds of the start of the third period, Sting new boy Ivo Celar netted Sutton’s second following a fantastic team effort with assists for Ryan Johnson and Ritchie Oliver.

The Sting broke out from defence and found Oliver, who crashed forward and fed Johnson on the left behind the Hawks’ defence. Oliver found Johnson with a perfect pass and Johnson slid the puck across the goal for Celar to tap into the empty net with Hawks goalie Dan Brittle helpless.

The Sting had their tails up but the lack of game time was beginning to tell and the Hawks sensed the change in tempo.

The Sting held out for nine minutes until Adam Brittle put the Hawks back in contention on 49.12.

The game’s pendulum swung to the Hawks and they began to dominate for the first time.

Zimozdra stood firm, denying a number of great chances for the Hawks to draw level.

With a little under three minutes remaining Perrin called a slashing penalty on Ivo Celar and the Sting were faced with a four-on-six as the Hawks pulled their goalie.

The Sting defence was solid and the penalty was killed. But as the final minute was counting down a final attempt from the Hawks caught out the defence and Davies grabbed the equaliser with 19 seconds of the game remaining, assisted by Matt Viney.