The Blackburn HAWKS returned to action this weekend against two teams that are expected to be in the fight for league honors this season.
On Saturday the Hawks travelled to Dumfries for the third contest between the sides so far this season. Blackburn were looking to right the wrongs of a frustrating 6-4 loss last time out, but the early going suggested this would be another game to forget for the traveling side.
A lackluster start saw the Hawks trail 3-0 at the end of first period – with Chalmers, Murray and Bowie each finding a way past returning net-minder Stuart Ashton, who had signed from Widnes Wild only the day before.
But hopes of a runaway win we’re soon crushed for the reigning league and cup champions as a transformed Hawks side took to the ice for the second period and set about closing the gap on their Scottish rivals. The manner in which they did so took many by surprise, as Daniel MacKriel, Luke Brittle and then head-coach Jared Owen, fired the Hawks level with three unanswered goals in just 90 seconds.
Bowie was quick to answer for the Sharks, putting his side 4-3 in front, but his tally was soon cancelled out by Hawks’ captain Chris Arnone, who found the net with less than a minute to spare in the second period.
The tying goal set up a fast and frantic final 20 minutes, and, as is often the case when these two sides meet, there was no shortage of physical play, with tempers often spilling over into angry confrontations between the two clubs.
However, a combination of resolute defending and quick break-out play gave the Hawks the advantage they deserved as Adam Brittle and Jordan Bannon both netted to seal the win for the East Lancashire side, and hand the Sharks a bitter loss in their opening league fixture.
On Sunday, the Hawks returned to the Blackburn Ice Arena hoping to maintain the momentum of the previous night, and they began the game in confident mood as Luke Brittle’s finesse finish into the top corner of the Billingham net gave his side the early advantage.
With both sides exchanging fire, the Stars were able to find the tying goal five minutes later when Michael Elder’s shot found it’s way past the previous night’s MVP, Stuart Ashton, in the Hawks goal.
With parity momentarily restored, the pressure from Blackburn’s quick breakout play began to take its toll on the visiting side. Brothers Luke and Adam Brittle combined crisp passing and expert stick handling was proving too much for the Stars, who on more than one occasion found themselves scrambling to cover an ‘odd-man rush’ as the Blackburn forwards bore down on their net.
The Hawks were soon rewarded when Adam Brittle weaved a path through the Billingham defenders and patiently waited for goal-tender Flavell to commit before placing the puck into the net. Minutes later, veteran forward Aaron Davies added to the lead and gave the home side a two goal advantage at the end of the first period.
With the game turning in their favour, the Hawks came out swinging for the second period and lay siege to the Billingham net, with Mark Watson replacing the injured Flavell. Adam Brittle was first to strike, adding his second goal of the game in equally impressive fashion, leaving Watson flailing as the puck passed by into the roof of the net. Minutes later, Jared Owen opened his account for the evening, batting down a slapshot from the blue-line and deflecting the puck past the keeper for Blackburn’s fifth.
Daniel MacKriel made it six soon after, prompting a Billingham time-out as the Teesiders desperately tried to stem the tide. A notably more physical Billingham side restarted play, but the Hawks continued to torment their opposition when Jordan Bannon stepped out of the penalty box, received a cross-ice pass and ‘wristed’ his shot clean past Watson.
MacKriel and Luke Brittle took their goal tallies to two-a-piece in the closing stages of the second period to cap off an incredible six unanswered goals in 20 minutes for the Hawks.
Luke Brittle secured his hat trick early in the third period, and expectations were high that Blackburn could go even further ahead. However, the Hawks eased the pressure throughout the third period, and despite a late consolation for Billingham’s Scott Ward, they home side never looked troubled and coasted to a 10-2 victory.
The MVP was awarded to Luke Brittle, who led his team in scoring with three goals and three assists.
The Hawks return to action in the Challenge Cup, facing the Double winning EPL Manchester Phoenix in Altrincham on Sunday 19 October. Face-off is at 5:30pm.