The Blackburn HAWKS took all four points and scored 16 goals to cement their place at the top of the Moralee Conference table. Wins over the Sheffield Spartans on Saturday and rivals Billingham on Sunday gave the Hawks a five point cushion in the league title chase with six games played.
Blackburn’s weekend began with an 8-1 win in South Yorkshire as they faced the Spartans for the first time this campaign.
In a largely one sided contest, goals from Jake Nurse and Adam Brittle gave the Hawks a two goal lead within five minutes. Daniel MacKriel and Chris Arnone and Ollie Lomax extended the lead to five before the end of the first period.
An improved performance from Sheffield paid dividends in the second period when Elliot Knell pulled a goal back for the home side, but this was as close as they got to a comeback. Aaron Davies soon returned the Hawks’ five goal advantage and Blackburn added two further goals in the third period through Arnone and MacKriel.
The following night, the Hawks returned to the Blackburn Ice Arena to take on fierce rivals the Billingham Stars, in the much anticipated clash of the league’s top two sides.
In a fast, flowing start to the game, it was the home side who struck first when Ric Hughes jumped on a deflected puck and placed his shot past the reach of Billingham’s Mark Watson. That third minute goal was soon followed by a second when Adam Brittle weaved his way into space, skated down the wing and perfectly set up Jared Owen for a ‘one-timer’ in front of the Billingham net. The Player-Coach made no mistake with his finish and give Blackburn a two goal lead with under ten minutes played.
With the game threatening to get away from the Teesiders, Billingham were thrown a lifeline midway through the period when Aaron Davies was dismissed for a ‘check to the head’, giving the visitors a five minute powerplay. Despite being restricted largely to their own defensive zone, the Hawks maintained control and returned to full strength without giving up a goal and netminder Stuart Ashton barely troubled by the Stars attack.
Blackburn added to their lead just before the break when Luke Brittle gathered the puck from the face off, and dispatched the puck, unopposed, into the net for Blackburn’s third. With the game now firmly in Blackburn’s favour, both sides upped the physicality and tempers flared between as the first 20 minutes of play came to a close.
The Hawks continued their assault early in the second period when captain Chris Arnone took advantage of a two minute powerplay to add his name to the scoresheet, shortly followed by Luke Brittle with a typically well taken goal and his second of the evening. The free-scoring forward completed his hat trick soon after much to the delight of the home fans who were eagerly anticipating a repeat of the Challenge Cup fixture three weeks before where Billingham were routed to the tune of 10 goals.
The spectators barely had time to draw breath before they were cheering another goal – Jared Owen adding a second goal to his individual – bringing the score to seven without reply.
But Billingham were not for going quietly and found a much needed goal when Callum Davies found a way past Stuart Ashton to break the Hawks goalie’ shutout. Eager to prevent any further goals, Blackburn hit back hard, handing out a series of unforgiving checks and creating an increasingly tense atmosphere as both sides headed to the dressing rooms.
Blackburn continued to create chances in the third period but we’re unable to add to their lead before tensions finally boiled over. A full-line scrum after the whistle saw Billingham’s Luke Brown and Blackburn’s Rick Ravey exchanging words, squaring up, and dropping the gloves. Brown got a handful of shots in early in the bout, but Ravey was able to get the upper hand with a barrage of uppercuts that forced the Billingham man against the boards and the linesmen quickly stepped in to separate the pair.
The game had time for one more highlight – Czech import Pavel Slowik netting his first goal for the club just two minutes from time to secure an 8-1 win for the Hawks.
Blackburn return to action this Sunday to face the EPL champions, Manchester Phoenix in the Challenge Cup.
(Images with thanks to Ella Thornton – Hawk Photography)