The Blackburn HAWKS continued their unbeaten league run and grabbed a hard fought victory in the Challenge Cup with wins over Sutton Sting and Billingham Stars.
The Hawks scored 16 goals – eight in each game – to maintain the gap over NIHL clubs in both competitions. Blackburn are currently top of the NIHL Moralee Conference and fourth in the Challenge Cup, the highest position of any non-EPL club.
The weekend began with a comfortable 8-1 victory over the Sutton Sting, but Blackburn, who were on home ice, started slowly as the Nottinghamshire based club set out to intimidate their opponents with some strong physical play.
Despite this, the Hawks enjoyed more possession and were soon able to turn it into a goal when Adam Brittle found the net just four minutes in.
Sutton were able to find their answer just over five minutes later, with Ollie Lomax sitting a two minute penalty, and the game was tied at 1-1. But Lomax would make amends shortly after when his shot took a cruel deflection off the Sutton net minder and restored the home side’s lead.
The Hawks’ second goal led to further physical play with tempers fraying between the two sides, but the Hawks continued to threaten the Sting net and closed the first period with 12 shots on goal to four.
With the Hawks withstanding the visitors’ rough style of play, Blackburn began to turn up the pressure on their opponents and added to their lead on 33 minutes through Jordan Bannon. From then on, there was only one team in the contest and Blackburn monopolised puck possession in the Sting half, but were unable to add to their lead until the third period when David Miekle found the net.
Matt Viney was next to score, shortly followed by Daniel MacKriel and Ric Hughes to give the Hawks a 7-1 lead, leaving it to player-coach Jared Owen to round out the scoring two minutes from time.
The following evening, Blackburn made the long journey to the North East to face rivals Billingham in the Challenge Cup. Despite being second in the NIHL table, the Stars have struggled for form in the cup and suffered a humiliating 10-2 defeat against the Hawks in October.
Early indications on Sunday were that the Stars would endure another difficult night as they found themselves on the wrong end of a 5 on 3 powerplay and Adam Brittle and Jared Owen gave the visitors a two-goal advantage.
Despite the early setback, Billingham were not willing to fade from the game and answered through Mathew Campell and Michael Bowman to tie the game at two heading into the second period.
The contest continued at a pace but it was the Hawks who broke the deadlock when Daniel MacKriel burst through the defence to finish off a slick breakaway goal. But once again Billingham pulled themselves back into contention through Chris Sykes.
Captain Chris Arnone was next to make his mark, as he took advantage of a two minute penalty to fire the puck clean past Flavell in the Billingham net. Jared Owen added his second goal to close the period, taking a shot right off the face off and catching both the Billingham defense and James Flavell off guard to give his side a 5-3 lead.
The third period belonged to the Hawks – first Jordan Bannon scored Blackburn’s sixth, the Luke Brittle carved his way through the centre of the Billingham defence and placed the puck past the helpless Flavell.
There was time for one more goal, as Daniel MacKriel crowned an impressive performance with a shot that tagged the top corner of the goal and gave Blackburn another win over their fierce rivals.
Speaking to the Lancashire Telegraph, Chris Arnone said: “In both the opposition tried to rough us, especially on Saturday.
“That’s all Sutton’s game plan seemed to consist of but once we got past the first period we’d dealt with what they had thrown at us and our quality shone through.
“We don’t let things like that bother us, we just keep chipping away and stick to our plan. We did that in both matches and in the end won both convincingly to stay top of the league and in a good position in the cup.”
(Photo courtesy of the Lancashire Telegraph and Kipax Photography)