BLACKBURN Hawks just missed out on the first major trophy of their 22-year history despite running Billingham Stars in the English National Ice Hockey League North One play-off final last night.
After a difficult start, Hawks came from two goals down on aggregate to level the tie but north east side Billingham scored twice late on to claim a dramatic victory.
Hawks went into last night’s second leg with a one-goal lead, having claimed a 2-1 win at Blackburn Arena last weekend.
That match was watched by an English National Ice Hockey League North record crowd of 1,276, as Hawks attempted to end their 22-year wait for silverware – having formed under the name of the Blackhawks in 1990.
They were backed by more than 200 flag-waving travelling fans last night – making up approximately a third of the crowd at the TFM Radio Ice Arena.
Hawks had previously beaten Whitley Warriors 11-7 on aggregate in the play-off semi finals after finishing third in the table at the end of the regular season – two places below league leaders Billingham – and had an early power play as David Thomas was penalised for slashing.
But the hosts soon returned to their full complement and went ahead through Anthony Price A collision with Hawks goaltender Danny Brittle as the goal went in led to an altercation, with Brittle handed a game penalty for roughing.
That meant he could take no further part in the match, although the rules allowed Hawks to bring on replacement goaltender Stuart Ashton, who had a shut-out on his last appearance against Billingham.
But Hawks had to play with a man down for five minutes and it was briefly five against three, with Chris Arnone also receiving a two-minute penalty.
Soon Billingham also lost Richard Thornton to a game penalty in a feisty opening period, however.
The north east side moved into an aggregate lead after six minutes and 11 seconds though, in the closing stages of that four-on-three spell, through Andrew Finn.
Hawks then had a power play as Simon Hehir was given a two-minute penalty for hooking but they could not find the net to capitalise.
Hawks were finding it hard to get into their stride against a physical Billingham side, with Ric Hughes and the hosts’ Finn handed penalties at the end of the first period for roughing.
Blackburn were still in the tie but Billingham moved into a 3-0 lead on the night and a 4-2 aggregate advantage within 63 seconds at the start of the second period as Thomas netted.
A third game penalty of a tetchy evening followed as Martin Davies received his marching orders for Billingham.
Hawks took advantage of the powerplay to pull a goal back as player-coach Jared Owen slotted home from close range on 27 minutes and 21 seconds.
And Hawks dramatically levelled the tie 4-4 on aggregate less than two minutes later thanks to Lance Derbyshire’s piledriver.
Billingham restored their aggregate lead, going 4-2 ahead on the night, after 34 minutes and 33 seconds though Scott Ward.
But 18 seconds before the end of the second period it was 5-5 on aggregate as Tom King’s shot hit Billingham netminder James Flavell and span up into the air before landing in the net.
It was the Hawks fans making all the noise as their team set up an intriguing final period, which started in quiet fashion as the tension built.
Hawks had a power play after 48 minutes as Matthew Sellers was penalised for roughing, but they could not capitalise with a goal.
And there was heartbreak with little more than six minutes remaning as Bill-ingham attacked on a two-on-one breakaway, with Adam Robinson firing low to Ashton’s right. That put Billingham 6-5 ahead on aggregate, and 5-3 in front on the night.
Hawks then lost Scott Glover to a penalty with two minutes to go, opting to go without a netminder as they desperately sought the goal they needed to take the tie into a 10-minute period of extra time.
That only allowed Billingham’s Paul Windridge to find the empty net and make it 6-3, and 7-5 on aggregate, to confirm their victory with a minute to go.