The Totally Wicked Blackburn Eagles took to the ice in Sheffield on Saturday afternoon, to face the Sheffield Senators in the Laidler Conference Playoff Semi Final. With the recent news that the playoff weekend would be the Eagles last in action, players, management and fans alike were hoping for the fairy tale ending, and for the Eagles to go out as playoff champions. The Eagles were boosted with a full roster, but for the playoffs, there wouldn’t be many players on any team who would want to miss out.
The Eagles started well, and looked sharp despite it being 3 weeks since their last game. Jordan Ashington & Stevie Hetherington both had great chances to open the scoring, but Mark Hartley in the Senators goal stood strong. Just past the 9 minute mark and it was Sheffield who broke the deadlock. George Crawshaw, who has been a constant thorn in the Eagles side all season, opened the scoring. The Eagles were shocked, but went right back to work to draw the scores even, however once again it was the Senators who struck on the 16 minute mark. Nathan Britton finished easily in front, after a mix up in the Eagles defence. Sheffield were relentless, and 2 minutes later they were 3-0 up as Thomas Proctor converted his chance. The end of the period couldn’t come quick enough for the Eagles, with Coach Barnett left with some serious work to do in the break.
After a disastrous 1st period, the Eagles knew they would have to work harder than they have all season to get themselves back into the game. Out shooting the Senators 14-8, the chances kept coming, but once again they found an in form netminder in the shape of Mark Hartley. It was just over the halfway point of the game that the Eagles finally found an answer. Craig Lutkevitch found himself with time on the right point and fired a slapshot pass across to Tomas Mitrik. Mitrik put the shot on goal, that was re-directed by Jordan Ashington to make it 3-1 and put the Eagles right back in the game. That would do it for the 2nd period scoring, but the Eagles kept pressing, sensing another goal could turn the tide further in their favour.
Into the 3rd period, and Eagles players knew that if they didn’t find 2 goals in the final 20 minutes, it would be the last time they would pull on a Eagles jersey. Again as in the 2nd period, they heavily out shot the Senators 14-9, as they attempted to make numerous powerplay opportunities and chances count. They peppered Hartley in the Sheffield goal, but rebounds and bounces were falling kindly for the Senators in key areas, allowing them to clear and get fresh legs onto the ice to see out the game. Despite a further late push, it wasn’t to be for the Eagles, and it was the Senators who advanced to the final to face the Widnes Wild.
It was a brave fight by the Eagles, but after the collapse in the 1st period, the job they had given themselves was just too much. The Senators celebrated, whilst the Eagles consoled one another. For this was not just any other playoff loss that would end their season prematurely. This was the end of the road. The end for players, coaches, mangers and fans. The end of people who have had an almost 15 year association with Blackburn ice hockey. The end for the fans who have followed them loyally home and away. The Eagles were more than just a club to anyone who has had the pleasure of being involved in it. It was a family. One that had been ripped apart because of the small mindedness of some individuals intent on personal gain. The respect the Eagles have gained over the years was there to see. As the players did their final lap at the end of the game, every fan from every team in attendance stood and applauded the team off the ice for one last time. Tears were flowing, emotions were running high, and as the last player left the ice, the Eagles were no more. This group of players will go down in history as being the first to bring silverware to the club, and unfortunately the last too. There may not have been the fairy tale double winning season, but the Eagles will go out as Laidler Conference Champions, and with it Champions in the minds and hearts of many a hockey fans.
Blackburn Eagles 2012 – 2017
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Eagles – Jordan Ashington
Sheffield – Paul Lofthouse