The Blackburn HAWKS endured a frustrating 60 minutes on Sunday evening as they were unable to find an answer for the EPL’s Manchester Phoenix.
The Hawks had previously suffered a 12-5 defeat in Altrincham when Blackburn faced the reigning EPL league champions for the first time in the new format Challenge Cup.
Despite the loss two weeks ago, fans expected a spirited showing from the home side after signs that the Hawks could trouble the Phoenix defence, particularly with their fast breakout play.
A large crowd and noisy atmosphere – boosted by a sizable traveling contingent from Manchester – welcomed the teams to the ice and from the off it was clear that the visiting side were in no mood to ease themselves into the game as they bore down on the Blackburn net.
Stuart Ashton was called into action early and was soundly beaten when Phoenix import Frankie Bakrlik found Manchester’s opener within four minutes. They added another shortly after – Adam Walker pouncing on a loose puck for Manchester’s second.
The Hawks continued to push forward with mixed success, but were unable to find a way past Declan Ryan in the Phoenix net.
With just four defencemen available to ice, Blackburn found themselves working double shifts against a relentless Phoenix attack and they were unable to prevent two further goals before the end of the first period from Robin Kovar and Shaun Thompson.
Blackburn continued to work for openings in front of net as the second period began, with pacey forwards Jordan Bannon and Adam Brittle creating problems for the visitors to deal with. But it was Manchester who struck when Ben Wood fired the puck past Ashton to give his side a commanding 5-0 lead with just under 30 minutes played. They were able to add to their lead a couple of minutes later when Thompson grabbed his second of the night.
The third period saw the Phoenix restricted to just two further goals as a more physical, scrappy style of play began to take hold for both clubs. Thompson was able to find his hatrick five on 45 minutes followed by a Bobby Chamberlain goal to close the game at 8-0.
Speaking to the Lancashire Telegraph, Hawks captain Chris Arnone said: “We knew before that it was going to be a tough evening and having just two defensive lines didn’t help. It was hard from the outset but we gave it our all, which is all we could ask for really.
“We said after the game that we were frustrated not to get on the board ourselves. We had some chances but we just couldn’t take them on the night. That’s the big difference for me when you play an EPL side, when they have opportunities they usually take them, they are a better team than us, there’s no shying away from that, but they take their chances and they’ve got a couple of really good shooters.
“Although we usually get beat convincingly I don’t think it affects the confidence. Nobody is expecting us to get results against EPL sides, we know ourselves that they are going to be hard games, we are coming up against players on pretty big wages, but you can improve your own game by playing in them.”
The Blackburn Hawks take a three week break from ice hockey action, returning to the Blackburn Ice Arena to face Solway Sharks on 23 November.
[Images with thanks to Hawk Photography]