Blackburn Eagles 2-3 Altrincham Aces, Saturday 18th March 2017 – Silverblades Blackburn Arena
The Totally Wicked Blackburn Eagles faced the Altrincham Aces in the first game of their double header weekend. With the league in the bag, and the EIHA in the house to present the trophy after the game, there was a more relaxed feeling than usual around Blackburn Arena. Under 20’s star Sean Jones made his debut for the Eagles, after previously icing for the Blackburn Hawks earlier this season.
The first period was dominated by Eagles with the home side outshooting the Aces 18 to 9, but it was the visitors who took the lead against the run of play, when John Murray struck a excellent shot to put the Aces 1-0 up. Despite several powerplay opportunities, the Aces and custodian Jorge El-Hage held strong to take the lead into the 1st break.
The party atmosphere was back in full swing 2 minutes into the period, when Chris Jones evened the score at 1-1, converting for his 21st goal of the season, off an assist from Ric Hughes. The Eagles continued to press, but were still weary of the Aces counter attack that had cost them early in the 1st. Again numerous powerplay opportunities came and went, before Stevie Hetherington continued his fine recent form, scoring from just inside the offensive zone to make it 2-1 (Assists Michal Fico & Carl Slater). All looked in good shape for the Eagles until former Blackburn Hawk Jake Nurse evened it up at 2-2 just before the period end.
It was all to play for in the 3rd, and again as with the 1st two periods, the play was largely dominated by the Eagles, with the Aces limited to chances on the break. Chance were continually squandered by the home team, and this would come back to haunt them with only 5 minutes remaining. Jake Nurse once again struck leaving Nick Saxton with no chance, to give the Aces a 3-2 late in the day. The Eagles pushed and had further chances to tie and even re-take the lead, but the resilient Aces held on, and with it gave their playoff chances a huge boost.
It was a bitter blow for the Eagles after being previous unbeaten against the Aces this season, but the spirits were soon raised again when Charles Dacres from the EIHA presented captain Wayne Slater with the Laider Conference trophy, and signaled the start of the celebrations. At this stage we must give full credit to the Aces, who stayed present on the ice throughout the trophy presentation. A classy act from the guys from Altrincham, and something that was appreciated from everyone involved with the Eagles organisation.
Eagles – Sean Jones
Altrincham – Jorge El-Hage
Nottingham Lions 3-1 Blackburn Eagles, Sunday 19th March 2017 – National Ice Centre, Nottingham
After the championship celebrations on Saturday evening, it was back to business on Sunday with the final road trip of the regular season, as the Nottingham Lions hosted the newly crowned champions. The Eagles were looking to wrap up an undefeated season on the road, having only dropped 1 point away from home all season.
As with the previous evening, the Eagles started brightly and held the Lions in their own end for large periods of the 1st, but again as in the game against Altrincham the Lions hit on the break to make it 1-0 through Ondrej Pniok. Despite outshooting the Lions 23 to 8 in the 1st period, the Eagles were unable to convert any of their chances. The 1st period wasn’t without incident. Chippy play on and off the puck led to numerous altercations, and things came to a head when Carl Slater and Lions Ben Wood went toe to toe towards the end of the period. The fight looked to be heading for a draw, before Slater got his hand free and landed a decisive blow to swing the bout in his favour.
With a goal with just under 2 minutes left in the 1st period, the Lions seemed to be lifted and came out a much improved team in the 2nd period. Poor discipline from both teams led to neither team really gathering any sort of momentum in the 2nd, but it was the Lions who took their opportunities to extend their lead. 2 shorthanded goals in quick succession put the Lions very much in control at 3-0, and the Eagles scrambling to get back into the game. As with the 1st the 2nd period didn’t pass without incident. Lions Luke Thomas took exception to a hit from Tomas Mitrik and chased the Eagles forward all the way down the ice to confront him. It was clear Mitrik wasn’t interested in getting involved with Thomas, but Craig Lutkevitch was happy to oblige, taking the Lions veteran to the ice, with a few word for going after one of the Eagles star players.
Coach Barnett shuffled his pack during the 2nd break, changing the lines around in an attempt to get back into the game. The Eagles went on the offensive straight from the start of the period, but despite again an overwhelming advantage on shots (15 to 6), the Eagles were only able to convert once. Chris Arnone, converted from passes off Craig Lutkevitch & Stevie Hetherington, to get the Eagles on the board and break the shut-out of Lions tender Thomas Hovell. That would do it for the game, and with it the end of the Eagles undefeated away record. With Nottingham clinging on to their slim playoff chances, the Eagles knew that the chance to exact revenge on one of Altrincham or Nottingham would come soon enough, with the likelihood of a playoff meeting with one of the weekend’s opponents in Sheffield in 3 weeks time.
Eagles – Chris Arnone
Nottingham – Ben Wood
So despite the disappointment of the weekend’s results, it didn’t take the shine off what has been a unbelievable season for the Eagles. From whipping boys to Champions in 4 seasons, and clinching the league ahead of pre season favourites Widnes Wild with 3 games to spare, shows the magnitude of the Eagles achievement. From the players and back room staff, right the way through to the fans, it will be a season to remember for everyone involved, and one which could yet get better. With the playoff looming at the beginning of April, the Eagles will be looking to seal a league and playoff double.
After the game in Nottingham player/coach commented “This weekend was one of the most difficult we have faced all season. Facing 2 teams fighting for a playoff spot right after we had sewed up the league was always going to be tough. I don’t think we played badly in either game. The stats show we heavily outshot both Altrincham & Nottingham, and for long periods we dominated both games. We just weren’t clinical enough, and that’s something we need to put right ahead of the playoffs. We will more than likely have the chance to put this weekend’s results right at the playoffs, as one of these 2 will be our opponents in Sheffield.”
He continued “Lifting the trophy in the front of our home fans on Saturday night was something most of our lads have only ever imagined, but it was well deserved. We may have eased up this weekend, but let it be known that we will be ready come April. The final league table will show that the gap between us and Widnes was close, but we’ve been in control since October, and they’ve been chasing ever since. We’ll be going into the playoffs with that mindset, and despite these 2 loses, we’ll be the ones to beat come game day.”
Saturday 18th March – Game Stats vs Altrincham Aces
Sunday 19th March – Game Stats vs Nottingham Lions