BLACKBURN Hawks coach Dan MacKriel is challenging his players to bounce back from their first defeat in almost two years as they gear up to for a ‘massive weekend’.

After seeing their long unbeaten run ended by Moralee Conference leaders Whitley Warriors last weekend, the second-place Hawks travel to Telford Tigers, one spot below them in the league, today (5.30pm), before hosting the Warriors tomorrow (5.45pm) as they look to dish out some immediate revenge.

Last weekend’s 4-2 defeat ended the Hawks’ chances of a second unbeaten season in a row, but MacKriel admitted they always expected a tougher test this year.

“We weren’t expecting to go through this season without challenging games or dropping points,” he said.

“It’s just unfortunate it was against Whitley Bay who are top of the league.

“It’s a difficult game at Whitley. The ice pad is small and they’re a physical team.

“In stages we battled really well. We didn’t take some of the chances we normally would have done.

“Now it’s how we bounce back and how we react, and that’s what I’m looking for this weekend.”

The Hawks are five points behind the Warriors, but have four games in hand, while they lead the Tigers by two points but have three games in hand on the Midlands outfit.

“This is a massive, massive weekend,” said MacKriel. “Telford are flying high, it’s at Telford and it’s a smaller rink and they’ve got some really good players.

“On Sunday we’re expecting a really big crowd at the arena against Whitley.

“With the bigger ice it suits our game more. We have a lot of players with tremendous speed and we’ll be looking to utilise that.

“You can never be too certain, but on the bigger ice it does suit us. It will be interesting to see how Whitley adapt their usual tactics.

“That will be a big challenge and we need to stand up and be counted. The teams we’re playing are third and first, with us second. It’s that mini-league and you need to be taking the points off those teams.

“We have got games in hand but ultimately we need to win those games in hand. I’d rather have the points.

“We need to be at our best this weekend to get the results we want.”

While the Hawks ran away with last year’s Moralee Conference they have found the going tougher this term.

“It’s a good league this year, everybody has stepped up their game,” said MacKriel.

“It’s not just Whitley. Telford look really good, Solihull are a good outfit, Billingham are starting to push on and get results.

“It’s a good league to be playing in and to be involved in this year, which a lot of people do underestimate.

“The boys are looking forward to that challenge. They’re ready and prepared for whatever it takes to get the results.”

Losing their unbeaten record wasn’t the only blow for the Hawks last weekend, with Ollie Lomax ruled out for six to eight weeks with a broken wrist.

MacKriel said: “Ollie’s been really good this season. He’s been performing really well. The way he was performing it is a big loss.”