Blackburn HAWKS capitalised on a double-fixture weekend and issued a statement of intent for their league campaign.
In a captivating weekend of hockey, the Hawks secured a convincing victory, 8 : 4 over local rivals Manchester Minotaurs before an incredible 6 : 3 comeback victory against current league leaders Solway Sharks in the Northern Cup.
Blackburn struck early in Altrincham as they took advantage of a 5 on 3 powerplay before Canadian Jon Adams fired home to double the visiting side’s lead. Manchester found themselves unable to cope with Blackburn’s aggressive forecheck and despite pulling a goal back against the run of play, the Hawks finished the period with a two goal advantage as Adams netted his second of the evening.
Despite an early second period goal from Manchester, the Hawks continued to rain shots down on Nicole Jackson – head coach Jared Owen was unlucky not to find Blackburn’s fourth, denied only by the right post. It would instead fall to Adam Brittle to place a shot high beyond the reach of Jackson and add to the visitor’s lead.
A goal from former Hawk Sean Day was soon cancelled before Blackburn rode out a lengthy penalty either side of the break. Day was once again on target to bring Manchester within one goal leading to a frantic end-to-end period of play. However, MacKriel, Brittle and then Brittle again ended the contest and sealed another victory in the North West derby for East Lancashire.
The Hawks were on a high the following evening as they returned home to face Solway Sharks in the cup. Both teams brought strong benches and it was clear from the first puck drop that both teams were hungry for victory in the competition.
A noisy arena crowd welcomed the Hawks to the ice, but would have little to cheer about for much of the first period. Solway took just three minutes to find their opening goal and commanded much of the early going as the Hawks struggled to create chances.
Solway would be given ample opportunity for their second when Chris Arnone failed to convince his counterpart to fight and received six minutes worth of penalties for the incident and the earlier scuffle that led to it. With just over two minutes left on the Scots’ powerplay, Hawks’ netminder Ashton was beaten from close range to end a lacklustre opening twenty for the home side.
The early second period would bring much of the same for the Hawks and it wasn’t long before they found themselves down by three when Gallagher stepped up to fire past a static defensive effort.
With the crowd stunned into silence and the contest apparently over, nearly everyone in the arena was wholly unprepared for what happened next. A sudden spark of energy from the home side, lead by a stark increase in physical play was rewarded when Chris Arnone drove hard to the net, forcing the puck past Russell in the Shark’s net. A Ric Hughes goal close to the end of the second period brought further evidence that the tide was turning and it was suddenly the league leaders who were under pressure.
The third period began with a third unanswered goal from Blackburn, and Arnone’s second of the evening, tying the game and further demoralising a stunned Solway side. Tempers boiled over when Blackburn’s Chris Butler tussled with Nathan Salem and both men sat for two minutes. More drama was to follow when Jon Adams was driven face first into the board, drawing blood and causing a scrum in the corner as the Hawks came to the aid of their teammate. A furious Adams was benched while he received treatment and despite his pleas, no Solway player faced a penalty as a result.
The physical play continued when the Hawks appeared to grab the lead amid an almighty scrum in front of the net. With the referee seemingly unsighted, the goal-judge ‘lit-the-lamp’ to signal for a goal, before quickly switching off the light. While order was restored to proceedings a conference between the officials concluded with the goal being waved and an eruption of boos from the crowd.
However, just minutes later, Ric Hughes found his second goal, the lead, and opened the flood gates as Blackburn ran amok in the Solway zone. Aaron Davies would take the lead to two, before Adam Brittle capped off a remarkable six goal comeback and raised the roof from the arena.
MVP was awarded to Ric Hughes whose bumper points tally was just one of many highlights in an incredible spectacle to finish 2013. the Hawks will welcome in the New Year with a home game against Whitley Warriors on Saturday.
(Images by John Milton http://www.togger.co.uk)