The Blackburn HAWKS continued their Challenge Cup campaign with a short journey to face reigning EPL League Champions the Manchester Phoenix on Sunday.
A large crowd, including a sizable, noisy traveling contingent from Blackburn welcomed their respective teams to the ice, eager to take in the first encounter since the heady days of British Ice Hockey, when Manchester was represented by the famous Storm side of the 1990s.
With Daniel Brittle still recovering from an injury picked up in training two weeks ago, Stuart Ashton lined up between the pipes for the Hawks and he would be kept busy as he faced one of the EPL’s top attacking sides.
The first period had barely begun before the game has its first major talking point. A monumental mix-up between Phoenix defender Boothroyd and goaltender Declan Ryan saw the puck crawl through the crease and inch across the line for a goal that sent the traveling support into raptures. Jared Owen was credited with the goal, though it was clear from the Hawks’ celebrations that the players were as surprised as anyone in the arena to find themselves in front so early.
The Phoenix quickly set about their equalizing goal, and Frankie Bakrlik fired home his first of the evening four minutes later. They soon added to their tally through Robin Kovar, but the Hawks hit back almost immediately when Luke Brittle found his brother Adam in open space, threaded a pin-point pass and the NIHL 2013/14 Player of the Year didn’t disappoint with a classy finish to tie the game at 2-2.
The Hawks continued to threaten, particularly on the break, but once again, the Phoenix had an answer as Bakrlik grabbed his second with a hard shot that deflected off the post and into the net. Jack Watkins’ added another soon after and the Phoenix finished the first period with their fifth of the evening. With Ollie Lomax sitting out a two minute hooking penalty, Bakrlik completed his hat-trick to put the EPL side 5-2 in front.
The Phoenix extended their lead early in the second period when Jared Dickinson posted two goals in quick succession, leaving the Hawks trailing by five goals with 25 minutes played. Adam Brittle’s characteristic patience in front of the net paid dividends as he stick-handled his way to a second goal of the night, but this was soon cancelled out by another Dickinson goal, earning the Manchester forward his hat-trick.
The Phoenix were now firing on all cylinders and upped the pressure on the Blackburn net. Goals from Bakrlik, Kovar and Chamberlain put the contest out of reach for the Hawks, giving the home side an 11 – 3 advantage after 40 minutes.
The final period began brightly for the Hawks, with the team seemingly looking to make amends for a poor performance in the second period. Their endeavour was rewarded when Adam Brittle grabbed his third goal of the game, shortly followed by Blackburn’s fifth courtesy of Jared Owen.
Chamberlain rounded out the scoring for the home side, with the final buzzer being greeted by a standing ovation from both sets of fans, despite a late game injury to Hawks #86, Pavel Slowik who left the ice with a badly broken nose resulting in a trip to hospital.
The game also saw forward Jordan Bannon leave the ice, though the Hawks coaching staff later confirmed this was a precautionary measure and both men are expected to ice in this weekend’s fixtures against Sheffield and Billingham.
MVP went to #26 Adam Brittle.
[Images with thanks to Hawk Photography – Ella Thornton]