It’s been a torrid few weeks for the Hawks, suffering a long run of defeats before an overtime win against the Scimitars last weekend. With the form of the Lions impressing many, some were even speculating that the Hawks would finish the season bottom of the league.

I don’t think that would be warranted in general. I’ll admit that I have personally been fortunate and before the game against Billingham, I’d only been present for two Hawks defeats this year, both away at the Scimitars. I’ve seen more than enough in the eight or nine games to be confident in saying Blackburn aren’t as bad as the league position suggests. Admittedly, there is still a lot to do to become competitive at the right end of the league, but

Infact, a win would take the Hawks level with their opponents, Billingham Stars. The sides are very familiar with each other and share a bitter history, not helped by facing each other in the Playoffs three years in a row during the early part of the last decade (Hawks won all three). They came into the game on mixed form, winning three of the last four, but also only winning five of their last eighteen. They will probably avoid finishing bottom due to a decent record against Hawks and Lions, the two sides immediately below them.

It was NHL night at the Nest, with the club encouraging people to wear their NHL merch. For me, this was a great chance to rep the Calgary Flames just a few short days before I actually fly out to watch them in person for the first time (yes, I’m that excited that I’m forcing a mention that I’m going into a match report) There was a good mix of shirts in the arena, ranging from the traditional high volume sides, such as Boston Bruins and New York Rangers, right through to the newest NHL team, Seattle Kraken.

Billingham, wearing black with red trim, skated with 17+2, and the Hawks, wearing their special addition “Mighty Hawks of Blackburn” jersey, skated with 16+2, down on numbers due to the ongoing suspension of Reece Cairney-Witter.

Following a minor delay to the start of the game, it was the Stars who won the opening face-off, but it was the Hawks who almost took the lead within the first fifteen seconds as Aaron Davies was played through on goal, only to see his effort go just wide. Lutwyche has a close-range prod easily held by Brown in the Billingham net. Before a ridiculously fast-break forward from Bradon by the visitors saw him get behind the Hawks defence, only to not force a shot. It was the fast-paced start to the game that you’d expect between the rivals from opposite ends of the north.

Stars did start to get more of the puck, forcing Rogers into a few close-range saves. It wasn’t long before Billingham seemingly had the freedom of the entire Hawks zone however as they took the lead on 5:15. They found themselves with three-on-none down the right, and the Hawks defence was slow to react before Crisp latched onto a loose puck, slotting it past Rogers.

It was now all Billingham now as they consistently broke with pace, whilst also seemingly having done a decent job on Jacob Lutwyche, forcing him wide on a regular basis, unable to get any real shots on goal. Aaron Davies did eventually find the net, it’s just a shame that the puck didn’t go into it with him.

Billingham gained the first power play of the game as Lutkevitch was penalised for hooking. As usual with the Hawks this season, they were made to pay for this, but in unusual circumstances as Wilkinson smashed it against Roger’s skate, deflecting into the net to give the hosts a 2-0 lead on 8:37.

Hawks’ first powerplay came as Dowdle for delaying the game. Wainwright had a tame effort at goal easily saved. Spending the majority of the power play in the Stars zone, but it didn’t result in many shots before Riddoch and Hellens were both sent to the box for slashing and cross-checking respectively.

Davies forced a pad save from Brown as the Hawks looked for a way back into the game. Blackburn weren’t necessarily playing poorly, but Billingham seemingly had an answer for everything. Galloway was penalised for holding to give the Hawks another power play, with King, Lutwyche, and Clancy both having shots that went just wide of target. The powerplay ended without the Hawks finding a way back into the game.

Billingham almost took a three-goal lead just before the period end when Davison rattled a shot against the frame from the blue line. Clancy had the final chance of the first period, but much like everything else thrown at him, Brown was more than equal to it.

End of First Period: Blackburn Hawks 0 Billingham Stars 2

Lutwyche forward a decent early-period save from Brown, and Clancy should have done better with a guilt-edged chance seconds later as he swiped fresh air when open. Down at the other end, Bradon almost scored Billingham’s third, seeing his close-range effort pad-saved.

Brown again frustrated the Hawks as Valusiak had a point-blank effort kept out. Dickinson was the next to be frustrated. Brown was near enough single-handedly keeping his side from conceding. Hawks were certainly having enough of the puck, but seemed to be up against a brick-wall. Even a goalmouth scramble saw the keeper come out well on top.

The failure to take chances and poor defending, giving Billingham the freedom of Blackburn, saw the puck fall to Elder on the right, he smashed home to give Stars a three-goal advantage, and with more than half of the game still to go, you’d struggle to see Hawks getting back into the game.

That being said, on 30:32, they finally did put the puck beyond Rogers, who looked at his defence in a “what the hell” was that manner as Lutwyche got the puck in the middle of the ice, skating through the Billingham defence, slotting it between the keeper’s legs.

This seemed to wage Hawks up, and more importantly, Brown seemed rattled as the previously steady shot-stopper put a puck high into the crowd, despite not being under pressure. Galloway served the delaying penalty. During the powerplay, the Hawks were actually well on the backfoot until that man Lutwyche popped it again, smashing the puck home from just inside the blue zone on 33:47.

Despite still being behind, the momentum was now with Blackburn, suddenly back into a game that they looked dead and buried in.

The next goal was going be vital, and just seconds after Elder somehow missed an open goal, the puck fell to fellow Star Hall, and yet again poor defending saw him completely unchallenged, giving him a free shot on goal, making it 4-2.

That goal seemingly put Stars back in charge and they came close to making it 5 within seconds, but Rogers produced a decent glove save to present it. Down at the other end, Hawks were restricted to half chances again, and it wasn’t long before it was actually five as a fine counterattack fell to Walls. He made no mistake as yet again the Stars were unchallenged.

Within seconds it was 6-2 as Billingham broke through two-on-one. With Sykes playing the puck across goal, leaving Galloway with an open goal.

End of Second Period: Blackburn Hawks 2 Billingham Stars 6

If the Hawks stood any chance of getting back into the game, a good start to the period was needed, but despite having plenty of the puck again, actually creating chances continued to be a big problem for the Hawks, restricted to long-distance or tight angle efforts, none of which really troubled Brown.

The game was as good as over on 42:37 as broke down the left and Sykes seemingly had little trouble in beating Rogers at his far post to make it 7-2.

Whilst it obviously wasn’t officially over, you could tell from the body language that both teams had accepted that all of the points were going back to the north-east. The DJ and cheerleaders tried in vain to get the atmosphere up, but it was only the contingent supporting Billingham, that were joining in.

It was soon 8 as Valusiak surrendered the puck in the Stars zone, with Bradon taking the puck he had won before then taking it the entire length of the ice, slotting home with ease to make it 8-2.

At this point, it was more just a case of how many Billingham would get. Greenhalgh did have the puck in the net, but the whistle had gone just before he put it home. Other than that though, the game was steadily coming to an end, with both sides having half chances to increase their tally, knowing it wouldn’t make a difference to the result.

The Hawks did finally get their third of the evening when Dickinson hit into the net following on from Lutwyche rounding the goal, 8-3. It was close to being 8-4 seconds later as Lutwyche had a decent effort saved.

Rogers had to make a few glove saves as the game entered its final few minutes, and some of the crowd already headed to the exit. Hawks would end the game on a powerplay as Crisp was penalised for hooking.

That was the final action of a frustrating game for the Hawks.

End of Game: Blackburn Hawks 3 Billingham Stars 8

Blackburn Hawks

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