[by Steve Mayers]
[image courtesy of Steve Pollitt]

After a busy Summer of re-building for Blackburn coach Dan MacKriel, his new-look Hawks took to the ice for their first home League match on Sunday evening. They lined up against the newly-promoted Telford Tigers, who promised to provide a stern test for the all-conquering ‘Invincibles’ of last season.

The home side’s roster was much-changed from the one which clinched the 2014/15 Championship so emphatically – with faces ‘old and new’ joining the side. Former favorites, Richard Bentham and Max Drakeley returned from Solway and Manchester respectively, along with new recruits Ben Simister, Lee Pollitt, and Andy Dunn. To compliment these signings, MacKriel secured the services of two imports, RJay Berra and Kim Miettinen – putting together a team which looked to be arguably even more formidable than last seasons.

With the Hawks having already laid down a marker last weekend, securing an impressive 0-4 win away at possible title rivals Billingham Stars, the home crowd headed to the Arena in eager anticipation of a similar display. Prior to the opening face-off, the Arena management requested a minute’s silence as a mark of respect for ex-Hawk Jonathan Adams, who sadly lost his life during the Summer, and it was impeccably observed by everyone in the building.

Not even the most ardent of Blackburn fans however, could have expected their team to surge into a 3-goal lead within the opening 3 minutes. With only 38 seconds gone, Berra showed his predatory instincts when he was the first to react to an Adam Brittle shot, which Bell in the Tigers goal could only deflect back into open play. Less a minute later, and with the Tigers defence struggling to clear their zone, Miettinen took control of the puck on his offensive blue line. A sublime pass allowed Aaron Davies space in which to carry the puck towards the Telford net, and he finished coolly, firing under Bell’s pads. With the fans still on their feet, the visitor’s goal-line was breached once again, when Pollitt found space on the right wing. He had plenty of time to pick his spot, and although Bell was able to deny him, Brittle was hovering just outside the ‘D’, and he made no mistake. The Tigers were shell-shocked by the intensity of the Hawks forward play, and it wasn’t until the 6th minute that they were able to muster a shot of any note. The long-serving Karel Jets crossed the blue line and fired a powerful wrist-shot an inch wide of Danny ‘Dangy’ Brittle’s left hand post. Spurred on by this near miss, Telford began to grow in confidence, and aided by a couple of minor penalties against the Hawks, were able to put the defence under sustained pressure. However, resolute and structured defensive work restricted the Tigers powerplay to plenty of passing around the net, without ever really being a threat.

Once back to 5-on-5, the game began to lose some of it’s fluidity, as both teams cancelled each other out, with chances at a premium. However, Dangy had to be on his mettle as a redirected shot brought out the best in him – a fantastic reflex save when moving in the opposite direction. A minute later, and he heaved a huge sigh of relief when Smith’s fierce shot flew past him – only to ping down off his crossbar, and to safety. Jordan Bannon received a 2 minute penalty for a stick to the face of Heywood, but the home side dealt with the man deficit quite comfortably, and headed into the break with a 3-goal advantage.

The second period began as the previous one had ended, with a rejuvenated Telford side on the offensive. Smith once again came within a whisker of opening their account, as a scramble in the Blackburn goalmouth saw the puck rattle the upright. A slashing penalty against Betteridge saw the Hawks on the powerplay, but a lapse of concentration allowed the visitors to win a defensive face-off. Heywood forced his was through centre ice, and although Ollie Lomax tried manfully to intercept the puck, the Tigers player was able to beat Dangy with a shot high to his stick side. Tom King and Croft came together, and both received minor penalties resulting in a 4-on-4 for two minutes. Lomax then took the opportunity to give an opponent a face-full of his glove, which the referee deemed to be roughing – further reducing the home side to 3 skaters. However, the extra room on the ice failed to yield any guilt-edged chances, with Chris Arnone’s flick over the bar as close as either side came to scoring. With only 3 minutes remaining in the period, any Hawks nervous of a Telford comeback were eased, when Addy Brittle took the puck from the red line, towards the left, and fired a pin-point shot across Bell, high into the far corner. A second goal from Davies only 20 seconds later stretched the lead further still, and with a 4-goal cushion going into the final 20 minutes, the result looked way beyond the spirited visitors.

A goal by Taylor early in the third period gave Telford a glimmer of hope, and they began to take the game to the home side. Taylor in particular was becoming more influential, and he almost grabbed his second goal when having skated the whole length of the ice, he saw his goal-bound shot well saved by Dangy. A carry from his own zone ended with Arnone being robbed by Smith in front of his own goal, but Brittle was alive to the situation, and spared his blushes with a smart save. When Drakeley was called for tripping with 8 minutes remaining, the visitors took full advantage – Taylor firing home a cross from Heywood, to set up a tense finale. However, the Hawks were in no mood to let anything slip, and upped the intensity with both Berra and then Matt Viney bringing out the best in Bell in the Tigers net. With only seconds remaining Jets carved through the Blackburn defence, and Dunn had little option but to take a slashing penalty. This was the last meaningful action of the match, and the hooter was met with a loud cheer from the home fans.

MVP for the Hawks went to the defenceman, Andy Dunn.

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