League topping HAWKS claim their prize
by Chris Riley
As classic Hockey matches go, Sunday evenings encounter with Billingham will not live long in the memory. However, if they remain unbeaten for the rest of the season, Blackburns’ players and fans alike will look back on such games and realise its significance in the search for the holy grail.
Billingham came to the Arena on the back of a convincing win over Solway last weekend, a win that puts them in pole position to finish runners up to the Hawks.
Blackburn welcomed back Hughes, Slowik and Mackriel from the win at Whitley, with Ollie Lomax was sitting out the first of a two game suspension.
A reasonably uneventful opening ten minutes saw both teams ‘feeling each other out’ with little goal mouth action. The closest any side came to scoring in the first period came on eleven minutes, as a two on one Stars breakaway saw Ward hit the bar from close range with a powerful wrist shot.
As the period drew to a close, both sides were becoming increasingly frustrated by some strange calls from the two officials on duty.
Both sides came out after the first break with extra intensity, this was in evidence when Munroe (Stars) and Owen (Hawks) exchanged a difference of views in the corner, resulting in both players receiving two plus two for roughing.
With Billinghams’ Luke Browne sitting out a 2 minute slashing penalty, Hawks took advantage of the extra space on the ice and Luke Brittle fired past Watson to put the champions one to the good.
Almost straight away, it was Stars who were on the power play as Hawks were punished for their inability to clear the zone resulting in Rick Ravey taking a two minute hooking penalty.
As in the first period both officials were missing too many calls, Stars being particularly frustrated that Arnone wasnâ€™t given two minutes after an accidental but mistimed check at centre ice.
Blackburnâ€™s failure to stay out of the penalty box saw the period end with Chris Butler receiving a ten minute misconduct penalty.
A nasty incident at the start of the final period saw Thomas Stuart-Dant take no further part in the game as he took an accidental puck to the face, resulting in a nasty gash to his mouth. Everyone at Blackburn wishes him a speedy recovery.
After a short delay to clear blood from the ice, Blackburn nearly went further ahead as a solo effort from Jordan Bannon was saved smartly by the impressive Watson.
Hawks were now starting to dominate as Nurse and then Owen were thwarted by Watson. He was now becoming a one man brick wall as the Hawks peppered him with five shots in three minutes, including two howitzers from Hawks captain Arnone.
Billinghamâ€™s main threat was coming from Sykes, but an otherwise redundant Daniel Brittle in the Hawks goal stood firm to keep the former Sutton man at bay.
A strange clipping call on Arnone gave Billingham yet another power play opportunity. A sporting gesture from Stars Steven Ward saw him explain to the officials that it was a fair hit, but to no avail.
With a minute to go, Stars pulled net minder Watson to give them the extra man. The tactic failed though as with forty seven seconds to go Jordan Bannon fired into the unguarded goal to seal a pretty convincing win for the home side.
Whilst looking reasonably solid defensively, it must be a concern for Billingham going into the play offs that they looked pretty toothless in offence, particularly on the power play.
As the visiting fans vacated their seats, it was left to a sporting Stars team to congratulate the champions. The home side were left to take the salutationâ€™s of a large home crowd as they were presented were their first ever league championship trophy.
[Images courtesy of Hawk Photography]