REPORT: Sharks fall at semi final hurdle as Hawks claim Playoff double

Building Craftsmen Dumfries-sponsored Solway Sharks ended their season on Saturday in Sheffield as they went down 5-2 to Blackburn Hawks in the playoff semi final. Hawks, the League champions, went on to lift the playoff title 24 hours later with a win over Solihull Barons making a second successive league and playoff double.

The Sharks went into the playoffs as one of the form teams of 2016, with a great run taking them from eighth to fourth in the League and finishing five points clear of fifth placed Billingham Stars to reach their third successive Playoff Weekend.

The Dumfries Ice Bowl-based club were without defenceman Stuart Kerr and head coach Martin Grubb – both were with the Great Britain U18 squad playing a World Championship in Romania – otherwise the Sharks iced a strong lineup.

Solway came flying out of the blocks and shocked Blackburn with a goal just 89 seconds into the contest. Struan Tonnar and Marc Fowley set up the chance for Martin Cingel to finish past Daniel Brittle for a 1-0 lead. Sharks were the better side in the first, having nine shots to Blackburn’s five, but only had the one goal to show for it at the first interval.

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Blackburn were back in the game in the early moments of the middle period, and their response was clinical. Aaron Davies bagged the equaliser at 25.46 before former Shark Richard Bentham put Hawks ahead less than a minute later. When Tom King shot past Kieran Hobbins before the half hour had elapsed, Blackburn had netted three in less than four minutes to wrest control away from the Sharks.

Bentham scored his second of the game at 34.09 to make it a 4-1 lead, but Solway were given hope as Juraj Senko finished smartly four seconds from the end of the period to bring Sharks to within two goals with one period to play.

The final frame was a nervy affair with few clear cut chances until two minutes from time when Sharks made one last throw of the dice by withdrawing goalie Hobbins for an extra attacker. The Sharks pressed but Blackburn’s defence held out and put the seal on the win when Ben Simister fired into the unguarded net at 58.54 for a final score of 5-2 in the Hawks favour.

Solway scoring: Cingel, Senko 1+0; Fowley, Tonnar, Coulter and Moore 0+1. Net: Hobbins 30 shots, 26 saves.

Sharks bench coach Scott McMeeken said after the game: “As a team we are extremely disappointed not to make the final. The game plan was working and we were playing very well, particularly in the first period, but Blackburn eventually showed why they have been the best team in the league this year and we couldn’t recover.

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“We have to take the positives out of it now and use this experience to improve. We have one of the youngest squads in the league with lots of potential. The way we ended the season should provide the right motivation to work harder over the summer and come back stronger next year.”

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Sharks supporters will have one last chance to see the team before the long off-season at the club’s Presentation Night on Friday 22 April. The event takes place in the rink bar at Dumfries Ice Bowl and is a free event. The player of the year awards as voted by fans will be presented on the night, as well as the ‘Own & Loan’ jerseys sponsored by fans and businesses throughout the season. The event starts at 7.30pm.

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