Invincibles Season Review
[by Chris Riley]
[Image courtesy of Chris Hocking]
As the new season approaches, it would be somewhat amiss of us not to reflect on the achievements of our Invincibles and the journey they took on an historic season.
Any Hawks fan who was in Dumfries for the 2014 play offs, will know the pain and heartache suffered by both players and fans alike as we missed out to an all conquering and deserving Solway Sharks team.
With this in mind the Hawks entered their 25th season with renewed vigour and determination to take on all comers and add the league title to the play off crown they won in 2013. Surely no one could have imagined what was to follow.
After finishing a creditable second in the league last season Jared Owen knew a couple of additions would give the team a fantastic chance of the coveted number one spot.
The prolific Luke Brittle was signed from Chelmsford to join brothers Adam and Daniel to the ranks. The return of Jordan Bannon and Czech import Pavel Slowik also gave the Hawks a cutting edge on the second and third lines.
Hawks were handed an away derby fixture to Manchester Minotaurs for their first game of the season. A professional performance against a team that proved to be the league whipping boys saw the Blackburn side rack up an 11-3 victory to set the tone for the season.
Next up was a home game against the previous seasonâ€™s play off semi finalists Whitley Warriors. Although Hawks have come unstuck against the Warriors at Hills head over the past few years, they appear to have the wood on them in Lancashire.
This occasion proved to be no different as the home side pulled away in the final period to record an 8-3 success. A sizeable home crowd were treated to their first glimpse of the Brittle brothers playing on the same line. They were not to be disappointed as Luke and Adam contributed 5 points.
An away fixture in Sheffield saw Sutton Sting take a 2 goal lead into the final period against a sloppy and ill disciplined Hawks team. The visitors were not to be denied however despite heroics from home net minder Zimozdra, he could not deny the Hawks a point, as Aaron Davies levelled with seconds to go to maintain Hawks unbeaten start to the season.
The Hawks’ first major test came away to last seasonâ€™s champions and play off winners Solway Sharks. It looked like a case of ‘same old story’ as the Sharks raced into a 4-1 lead halfway through the second period. In previous seasons Blackburn would have lost this game.
However with their new found resilience and determination they came back spectacularly to claim a vital 6-4 victory to lay down a marker to the Sharks.
Two emphatic 8-1 victories, away to Sheffield and home to Billingham Stars on consecutive evenings reinforced their superiority and sent shivers down the rest of the league.
Hawks’ second league trip to Solway came in early December. Cheered on by a large, vocal and in some cases heavily intoxicated following the league leaders comfortably dismissed the Sharks 4-1 to cement their place at the top of the league. â€˜A REIGHT GOOD DAY WAS HAD BY ALLâ€™.
The final fixture of 2014 saw the Hawks make the trip to Whitley. A notoriously tricky fixture in previous seasons has often cost the Hawks valuable points. This looked like it could continue as they went into the first intermission trailing.
Thankfully they came out with renewed vigour as a Tom King inspired performance saw the visitors pull away to record a comfortable 8-2 victory and end the year as undefeated league leaders.
A very well organised Sheffield team came to Blackburn in early January. Despite taking an early lead, sloppy finishing and an inspired Brandon Stones meant that Hawks could not finish the visitors off. This looked like it could prove costly as Spartans took a 4-3 lead. Thankfully Adam Brittle was on hand to preserve his sideâ€™s unbeaten record to score an equaliser with just 58 seconds remaining.
Earlier in the evening the prolific Luke Brittle added to his impressive goal tally with a clinical hatrick.
A home and away double against Manchester with a combined score of 23 set the Hawks up nicely for 2 season-defining away games in 2 weeks against their nearest challengers the Billingham Stars. On both occasions Blackburn found themselves trailing, but as on so many occasions this season they were able to draw on their resources to record valuable victories.
The highlight of the season for many supporters came in the second Billingham fixture, when Jordan Bannon unleashed a thunderbolt of a wrist shot to the top corner, sending Flavell’s water bottle flying which in turnÂ sent the large away following into raptures.
Surely it was now only a matter of when, and not if, the Hawks would be crowned champions. Their rivals were beating each other, meaning that Hawks had established an almost unassailable lead at the top of the league.
Comfortable wins against Sutton (twice), Whitley and Billingham left the Hawks just 2 games from invincibility.
A play off chasing Sheffield were the first team to try and put a spanner in the works. After 2 periods at Ice Sheffield it appeared that the Hawks were about to lose their unbeaten record. Trailing 4-2 the visitors clawed their way back in the final period to clinch a 4-4 draw.
Manchester Minotaurs were now the only team to stand in the Lancastrian’s way, and as expected the Hawks were too strong for their local rivals, winning by 12 goals to 1. An evening that will live long in the memory culminated in the newly crowned champions, led by their magnificent player coach Jared Owen receiving their trophy in front of their adoring public.
THE PLAY OFFS
Over 700 Blackburn fans (some flying halfway across the world just to be there) descended on Solway as the Hawks looked to add the play off crown to their first league championship. The champions’ most difficult opponents this season has unquestionably been the Sheffield Spartans, and it was the Spartans who were to be the Hawks opponents in the first semi final.
After taking a 2 goal lead, Hawks inexplicably let their opponents back into the tie, conceding 2 quick goals. Normal service was resumed as 2 final period goals saw them into Sundays final.
Blackburn and Billingham have developed a fierce rivalry over recent seasons and it was the north east club who stood in the way of a momentous double.
Once again Blackburn were asked to show grit and character as they trailed by 3-2 in the final stanza. As they have on so many occasions this season they came from behind to win the game 5-3 and clinch their holy grail.
Billingham, Blackburn and Solway were entered into a new cup competition for the 2014/15 season, enabling them to pit their wits against northern based clubs from the English Premier Ice Hockey League.
Hawks fared better against their league rivals, winning both games against Billingham and winning one and losing one to Solway.
Whilst defeats to Manchester and Telford were to be expected, with their vastly superior resources, Blackburn defeated eventual EPL play Off winners Peterborough Phantoms 8-2 in Blackburn.
Although the competition highlighted the difference imports made to the teams in UK hockey, it showed that British player for British player, the Hawks could hold their own with more â€˜illustriousâ€™ opponents.