The Blackburn HAWKS were unable to realise a second consecutive NIHL Moralee Conference Playoff title on Sunday, as league and cup winners, the Solway Sharks, secured their third trophy this campaign.
The Hawks came into the game after a marathon effort against semi-final opponents Billingham on Saturday afternoon. The contest, which was only decided after overtime and penalties, meant that the Hawks would be appearing in their third straight Playoff Final, having defeated the Stars last year.
However, hopes of the East Lancashire side retaining the title were dashed by two goals from Solway in an often bad tempered contest.
The Hawks began the game well and generated the majority of the scoring chances early in the game. However, the magnitude of the contest seemed to get the better of both sides as the first period descended into a stop-start, penalty strewn affair.
A total of 58 penalty minutes were dished out as a result, with the Hawks having up to five players in the box during a particularly bitter confrontation between the teams.
With few clear cut chances on goal for either side, the first period ended scoreless and the game still very much for the taking.
But it was Solway who would strike the first blow, as Jaraj Senko found the net from a tight angle, squeezing the puck between Brittle’s right pad and the post.
The Hawks remained buoyant though, and cheered on by a noisy travelling contingent, easily outnumbering the home support, they continued to make chances.
It would take until late in the third period for contest to be fully decided. Seven minutes from time, Struan Tonnar grabbed Solway’s second and effectively sealed Blackburn’s fate.
Speaking to the Lancashire Telegraph after the game, Hawks captain, Chris Arnone said: “We had a tough weekend, but I could not be more proud of the Hawks team.
“We can’t really beat ourselves up about it, we put our all into both game and our coach, Jared Owen, said after the game that we couldn’t have done any more.
“While it was disappointing to lose, we can take a lot of encouragement from the progress we’ve made again this season.
“We have been on the up since Jared came in as player-coach, finishing in the play-offs for the last four years and improving our league position year on year.
“After finishing second this year, the challenge for next year is to go one better.
“If we can keep the nucleus of the squad together, and make a few additions, then I’m confident we can do that.
“Having three players voted into the Moralee Conference ‘all star’ team of the year – Adam Brittle, Daniel ‘Dangy’ Brittle and myself, and Adam deservedly voted player of the year for the league – there are good signs for the future.
“I need to give special mention to the fans because they were amazing, outnumbering the home fans three to one.
“They paid a lot to travel up there for the weekend and stay over so we owe them a massive thanks, and it was nice to see some new faces.
“We are growing as a team and as a club, which is exactly what we want.
“And next year we will come back hungrier. This weekend has made us want it more.”
(Images by John Milton – togger.co.uk)