The Totally Wicked Blackburn Eagles were crowned Laidler Conference Champions last night, after securing an insurmountable lead at the top of the table. Knowing that victory against the Widnes Wild on Saturday on home ice, and a minimum of a draw against the Hull Jets on Sunday night in Hull would be enough to win the league, the Eagles were fired up and ready to make history.
Blackburn Eagles 5-4 Widnes Wild, Saturday 4th March 2017 – Silverblades Blackburn Arena
Saturday saw the top 2 clash, in what was billed as the biggest game of the season. The Eagles knew a win would all but secure the league, with the Wild knowing only victory would do to keep their title chance alive. After a delayed start due to issues with the plexiglass, it was Widnes who came out the quickest and took an early lead, when Ollie Barron poked home from close range. It wasn’t the start the Eagles wanted or needed, but the response showed what the Eagles are made of. They went straight on the attack from the next face off, and although no goal came from it, Widnes knew they would have to battle to hold onto their lead. At the 6 minute mark the Widnes lead was gone when Jordan Ashington converted from the top of the circle. Aaron Jordan got the puck to Wayne Slater, who shot deflected to Ashington. The Eagles forward looped back and shot on an unsighted Matthew Croyle in the Widnes goal, and just like that the game was tied. The Eagles were in the ascendency after the equaliser, and were much the better team, threatening at every opportunity. Widnes grew frustrated as began to take penalties, leading to powerplay opportunities for the Eagles. The go ahead goal came on 12.44, when a well worked powerplay set up created an opportunity for Tomas Mitrik. Chris Jones worked the puck to Craig Lutkevitch, who’s fake slapshot come pass found an open Mitrik at the back post, and the Slovak made it 2-1. Just over a minute later it was 3-1, with the goal again coming on the powerplay. Craig Lutkevitch who was the provider for the 2nd goal, became goal scorer for the 3rd, with Jones and Mitrik again involved in the build up. Just as things had appeared to settle down for the Wild, the Eagles struck again. Chris Jones finishing well from assists from Ric Hughes and Tomas Mitrik, to make the score 4-1 and send the crowd wild, and the Eagles into the 1st break with a commanding lead.
The 2nd period was a much calmer affair on the scoreboard, but tensions did threaten to boil over on a few occasions. Widnes struck first in the 2nd period to half the deficit it make a game of it. Ollie Barron again with the Wild’s goal. Their celebrations we’re short lived however, when the Eagles struck right back almost straight away. Chris Arnone & Tomas Mitrik combined to find Stevie Hetherington, and the Eagles man broke in and finished cooly low past Croyle to restore the 3 goal advantage and with it the Eagles momentum.
Tensions were running high going into the 3rd period, with the Eagles knowing they were nearly within touching distance of the title. The Eagles players were feeling the pressure and with a string of minor penalties, they continued to hand the Wild chance after chance on the powerplay. After killing off 3 consecutive powerplays, Widnes finally converted to make it 5-3. Ollie Barron completing his hat-trick. The Wild now had the momentum, and despite the Eagles attempts to calm the game, they kept pushing. With just under 10 minutes to go, Chris Arnone and Widnes’s Lee Kemp were both assessed 2+10 penalties, meaning both players would watch the rest of the game from the box. Shortly after Widnes pulled the game back to 5-4, when captain Shaun Dippnall fired in shortside past Phil Crosby, and with it make it a nervy last 8 minutes for the home side. The Wild continued to push, and at times they had the Eagles pinned in their own end, but the Blackburn men held strong and rode wave after wave of attack. With only 10 seconds remaining, Widnes pulled the net minder for the extra attacker, but the Eagles were able to hold off the final surge, and with it take a huge step towards the championship. A few of the Wild player showed a lack of class at the end of the game, getting involved with the Eagles players and fans during their celebrations, but this wasn’t to take the shine off a victory that put the Eagles on the brink of greatness. What a game, and part one of the job was completed.
Eagles – Chris Jones
Widnes – Stuart Brittle
Hull Jets 1-5 Blackburn Eagles, Sunday 5th March 2017 – Hull Arena
With victory on Saturday night, the Eagles knew that 1 point in Hull would see them crowned champions. It would not be a walkover, despite what previous results against the Jets would suggest. The Jets are renowned for their work ethic, and have already caused some upsets this season, including a come from behind victory on the road against Altrincham last month.
True to their reputation, the Jets were the better side for much of the 1st period, working the Eagles hard and creating numerous chances through the dangerous duo of Richard Haggar and Kieron Beach. The 2 combined 5 minutes in, when Beach converted Haggar’s pass to make it 1-0. It was no more than the Jets deserved. The Eagles began to gain more a foot hold in the game, and within 3 minutes they were level in fortunate fashion. Jordan Ashington and Aaron Jordan combined with the latter shooting the puck, only for it to deflect off a Jets defender and past Dean Bowater in the Hull goal. It was the lucky break that the Eagles needed. The remained of the period continued in a similar vein, with the Jets working the Eagles for every puck, and hitting them with speed on the break. The Eagles knew they would have to be better going into the 2nd if they were to capture the conference title.
The 2nd period was the Eagles we have been used to seeing this season, and they put to bed any nerves shown in the 1st period with an early powerplay goal. Wayne Slater and Aaron Jordan combined to find Jordan Ashington, who made no mistake with his finish to put the Eagles 2-1 up. A goal reminiscent of his marker the night before against Widnes. This settled the Eagles and it was a lead they would never let go. The hockey began to flow, and the play was crisper now they had the lead, and on 35 minutes it was 3-1. Ashington again with the strike, finishing on the backhand for close in, after good work from Kyle Haslam and Chris Arnone. The game was starting to get away from the Jets, and it wasn’t long before the Eagles put some more margin on the board (C.Slater Original Quote, 2017). On 37 minutes it was 4-1, when Andrew Duxbury finished at the back post, after good build-up play from line mates Michal Fico & Stevie Hetherington. It was the cushion the Eagles need, giving them breathing room going into the 3rd.
The Eagles were looking to add to further to the score in the last period, without getting into any trouble at the other end. As it transpired only Chris Jones was able to add to the tally, making it 5-1 after driving the net and finishing smartly into the far corner. Tomas Mitrik & Chris Arnone claimed the assists on the Eagles 5th. Further chances were created, but nothing more to trouble the scoreboard. As the clock ticked down in the dying minutes of the game, the player, management and fans a like knew it was job done and was time to celebrate. The player poured onto the ice at the final buzzer a mobbed Phil Crosby in the Eagles net. This is a team that were rock bottom of the league only 4 seasons ago, and winning the league could not have been further from their thoughts. This season what could only ever have been a dream in past seasons has become reality, and everyone involved in this amazing turnaround should be proud of themselves. The party continued long into the night in Hull, and will pick up again in 2 weeks time when the Eagles will receive the Laidler Conference trophy, at their next home game against the Altrincham Aces.
Eagles – Scott Barnett
Hull – Kieron Beach
Game photos can be seen here.
After the triumph player/coach Scott Barnett commented “I couldn’t be prouder tonight. When I took the coaching role 4 years ago I knew their was potential, but I was also under no illusions how much of a big job this was going to be. Turning a losing team into a winning one has not been easy, but gradually season on season we’ve made improvements, and today the results are clear for everyone to see. There are players in that room that have won championship before, and there are players who have been with the organisation since the Lancashire Raptors days. Each and every player has had a different journey to this title, but it means exactly the same to all of them. We’ve build this team on hard work, and when the chips have been down this year we’ve reverted back to that hard working side to grind out a result. I have to give a mention to our incredible fan base. They’ve followed us home and away all season long. Saturday night at home against Widnes was the best atmosphere at Blackburn I’ve ever known for an Eagles game, and then tonight in Hull it was like a home game for us. They’ve helped push us through all season long, and his championship is as much for them as it is for us.”
Saturday 4th March – Game Stats vs Widnes Wild
Sunday 5th March – Game Stats vs Hull Jets