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Hawks set to stay ice cool in play-off double header
BLACKBURN Hawks hope to move closer to the first major trophy of their 22-year history when they host Whitley Warriors tonight, and Graham Lomax already knows how he would celebrate if the season ends in success.
Lomax coached the Blackpool-based roller hockey team West Coast Wasps to the European title a decade ago, and has the tattoo to show for it.
Now – as team manager of the Hawks, his home town ice hockey club – he wants another to match.
“I’ve got a tattoo on my right leg from winning the European Championships and I really want to get one on my left leg now,” Lomax said.
“I’d be happy to spill a bit of blood to get that tattoo.
“We’ve been going 22 years without being able to say we’ve won a trophy, so it would be really nice to do that.”
Lomax has worked for the Hawks for eight years, in a number of different roles, and has spent 17 years in total involved with Blackburn Arena, the side’s home.
Crowds have been on the rise this year and the club hope for a bumper attendance for tonight’s English National Ice Hockey League North One play-off semi final first leg, which starts at 5.45pm.
The second leg takes place at Whitley Bay tomorrow, with the winners progressing to the final against Billingham Stars or Telford Titans.
The third tier of English ice hockey, there is no promotion for the eventual champions but the glory on offer will be enough.
Hawks finished the league season in third place, one position higher than last season, and face second-placed Whitley in a rematch of the 2011 play-off semi final.
Then, they led 4-2 after the home leg and extended their lead in the return leg in the north east before their opponents recovered to win 8-6 on aggregate.
“The first leg last year was one of the highlights of my time here,” Lomax said.
“Unfortunately Whitley came back in the second leg at the end. It was very close, very disappointing.
“But I think with the players we’ve brought in this year we have a better squad now.
“We believe we can win the championship and that’s what we’ve been telling the lads this week.
“There’s not much between the teams so anyone can win it.”
Together with assistant Danny Brittle, player-coach Jared Owen travels from Telford to take charge of the Hawks, who were formed in 1990 but have previously seen periods of progress interspersed with financial worries at other times.
“We’ve had our ups and downs but now I think we’re in a league that suits us and allows us to have stability,” Lomax said.
Although the number of youngsters taking up the sport has dipped since Manchester Storm’s heyday around the turn of the millennium, when they attracted 17,000 crowds at the MEN Arena, the Hawks are keen to aid local talent.
They are set for a closer link-up with the Lancashire Raptors next season, with the Blackburn Buzzards mooted as a possible name for what would effectively be the Hawks’ development team.
The current Hawks team includes a smattering of East Lancastrians and many more from the north west as well as a Finn, Sami Narkia.
“We’ve wanted an import signing for a while and we’ve looked at a few people but we wanted to make sure we got the right one,” Lomax said.
“Sami is actually studying at Wolverhampton University and a referee who I know suggested him to me.
“We invited him up here and he was delighted that we made him an offer.
“Ice hockey is massive in Finland, and he’s a lovely lad, a real fans’ favourite. When he gets the puck there is a real buzz in the crowd.
“I think he did give us a lift because we had won eight and lost eight of our first 16 games this season. Hopefully we will be able to keep him for next season.
“We have two lads from Leyland, Lance Derbyshire and Stuart Ashton, and Rick Ravey from Helmshore.
“And there’s two from Blackburn, my son Ollie and Chris Arnone.
“If you cut them in half it would say Blackburn Hawks like a stick of rock. They would skate through a brick wall for Blackburn Hawks.
“My only concern is we have five lads from Manchester, four from Blackpool and some from Yorkshire – places that all have teams and rinks.
“So we have to keep making it attractive for them to stay here because they could go and play for their local teams and you would understand that.
“But what we have here is a big fanbase, bigger than a lot of other teams, and we have to keep that because the players enjoy that.
“We have been getting crowds of 500, 600, 700, 800 – it has been building and that’s been great.
“You see people now at away games wearing the replica shirt who you don’t recognise, and that’s encouraging.
“We do a lot of work off the ice to promote the club – I get a lot of help from Alan Amos with that – but the players deserve so much credit for what they have done on the ice because they’ve been outstanding.
“We are building steadily and we want to keep that going.”