North / South Divide #4 : Blackburn Eagles Swoop To Victory

Now, while it is true that I do like to have a bit of a moan from time to time, I am also very happy to give credit where credit is due and, while there might have been lots of great performances across the spectrum of British ice hockey last weekend, I want to take this opportunity to salute the achievement of the team who are currently bottom of the NIHL North Laidler Conference (Division 2).

On Saturday evening, Blackburn Eagles finally broke their duck for the season with a well fought 6-4 home victory over Widnes Wild. Not only does this represent their first points of THIS season, they didn’t pick up a single point last season at all and you have to go back to February 2012 to when they last notched up a point on the league table.

On that occasion, it was a 3-3 draw away at Fylde Flyers when the Blackburn side were playing as the Lancashire Raptors . I was lucky enough to be at that game and have to say that, although I was rooting for the Flyers, the Raptors were really unlucky not to win it. They led throughout and were only pegged back to a draw in the last 10 minutes.

So, fast forward to last Saturday and the Blackburn Eagles – as they are now called – were playing host to the Widnes team, who are this year’s new boys in the division. When the teams met earlier in the season at the new Silver Blades rink on the banks of the Mersey, the result was a 5-1 win for the Wild.

Prior to Saturday, Blackburn had lost all their matches – been shut out twice – and conceded 78 goals in 9 games while scoring just 13, whereas Widnes had won 3 games already and, following a 2-2 draw with last season’s champions Nottingham Lions, looked to be on a roll.

So – you can see what a significant achievement this was for the Blackburn Eagles.  Let’s hope they can build on this and give the other teams in the Laidler Conference a run for their money in the second half of the season.

I wasn’t at the game this Saturday but you can read a full match report elsewhere here on Blueliner Hockey and also on the Blackburn Eagles group page on Facebook.

Now, for the benefit of hockey fans who maybe don’t follow NIHL North 2 quiet as closely as I do, here’s a potted (outsider’s) history of why Blackburn Eagles have struggled in recent times.

Firstly, the Eagles are not the top club in Blackburn – the Hawks play in the Moralee Conference (North 1) and, therefore, get the lion’s share of the attention, sponsorship and “better” players.

They are playing against teams like Deeside, Solihull and Widnes – who ARE the top teams in their home rinks – and who can attract more resources and, even where you are looking at opposition like Coventry, Hull and Nottingham who have senior teams that play in the Elite League, they are not really necessarily drawing on the same pool of players in the same way.

The Eagles / Raptors suffered the most when the new ice rink opened at Cleveleys in 2012 as a lot of the Blackpool and other West Lancashire based players chose to join the new Fylde Flyers team who would also be playing in Division 2 North that season.

This season too – when Fylde dropped out of the league and were replaced by Widnes – quite a few former Blackburn players made the move to Merseyside and were joined by Eagles’ top goal scorer from last season, Ken Armstrong, although Danny Jones and Tom Murphy have made the move back eastwards.

So, against this backdrop of continual struggles and disappointments, I take my hat off to the Blackburn Eagles and am glad to see that they continue to have the resourcefulness and determination to carry on as a semi-professional team in the NIHL.

In these days of quick fixes and multiple distractions I think it is great tribute to their players that they turn up for training week in week out and travel on cold dark weekend nights to daunting away games where they know they will be up against it for the whole 60 minutes.

Well played the Eagles – long may they swoop!


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