The Solway Sharks went some way to avenging last year’s semi-final defeat as they condemned Blackburn Hawks to their first league defeat of the campaign on Sunday.
Hawks famously ended Sharks’ 34-game unbeaten run last season on their way to play-off glory, but a repeat of a famous 6-1 drubbing was not to materialise in a close fought contest at Blackburn Ice Arena.
A crowd of over 900 packed into the arena to witness what would be a tense, exciting, but ultimately disappointing contest.
The Dumfries-based outfit were the first to strike in a frantic opening period that saw the Sharks pinned back in their own half for much of the early going. However, the Scots took full advantage of a 5 on 3 powerplay, with Moore picking up a loose puck and squeezing a shot between a sprawling Daniel Brittle and the post.
But if the opening salvo affected the home side’s confidence, it certainly didn’t show as the Hawks stepped up the physicality to match their opponents. Following a scrum behind the Blackburn net, where Davies, Arnone and Solway’s Goldie all served penalties, the Hawks were able to break through a determined Shark’s powerplay for Ric Hughes to force home an equaliser.
An open but scoreless second period set up a tense and often frustrating third, and it was Solway who capitalised early. Straight from the puck-drop, Jaraj Senko picked up the puck, rounded the Hawks defence and fired a powerful wrist shot over the shoulder of Brittle.
What would transpire to be the game-winning-goal left the Hawks with close to a full period of play to find an answer.
Player-Coach Jared Owen and forwards Hughes, Davies and Adam Brittle all saw chances go begging as the Hawks continued to bombard McGill with shot after shot to no avail.
The home side’s momentum was effectively taken away minutes from time when a swinging stick from Goldie caught Hawks’ defenceman Scott Robson in the face. The game was halted while Robson recovered from the blow and Goldie was thrown out for the remaining minutes.
Daniel Brittle skated to the bench to provide an extra attacker but the Hawks were unable to find the tying goal.
Speaking to the Lancashire Telegraph, Hawks captain Chris Arnone said: “We just can’t seem to get anything going at the minute, we seem to be struggling. The two-week break we had at the start of the month definitely didn’t help us.
“They got the goal to win it but we had ample opportunity to equalise or even go on and win it ourselves. But we’re not taking our chances at the minute. I don’t know if guys are gripping their sticks a bit too tightly or confidence isn’t there, but it’s just not going in.
“We need to knuckle down now. We’ve got a double-header weekend coming up and a few of the lads were saying on Sunday they prefer them as they get the legs going and give you a bit of momentum.
“The puck isn’t bouncing our way at the moment but it’s happened before and I’m sure the boys will bounce back.”
[All pictures courtesy of John Milton]