Sharks Double Delight as Points Total Mounts Up

The Building Craftsmen Dumfries Solway Sharks were back in NIHL action at the ice bowl on Saturday night, Blackburn Hawks the visitors. 

The Sharks found themselves behind the eight-ball early on, Hawks taking an early lead through James Riddoch after 4 minutes.  Sharks were quick to respond, going on the attack immediately, Ewan Anderson and Scott Henderson combining to supply Peter Gapa the puck for the strike at 5:01.  Hawks kept the pressure on, Sharks struggling to break out of their own zone for spells, and unable to find a way past Harrison Walker in Hawks net when they managed.  It took until 15 minutes had passed before Sharks found a way through, Gapa finding the net again to retake the lead at 15:07 from a smart Ruairi Lockerbie pass.  Hawks replied almost immediately, James Neil with an unassisted strike at 15:31 to even the score.  In the dying seconds Hawks edged ahead, Neil adding his second with 29 seconds of the period left to take their 1 goal lead into the break.

The second period saw hard-working Hawks extend their lead further, Sean James netting at 23:36 to make it Sharks 2 Hawks 4, the home side still struggling to find form.  A Hawks penalty as the half way point of the game approached gave the Sharks a man advantage, and they happily took it, Iain Bowie and Viktor Nestrasil working the puck round the net before picking out Kyle Horne in space, his strike sending the puck past Walker to narrow the deficit.  Another Hawks penalty minutes later didn’t work to Sharks’ advantage, a turnover seeing Hawks Petr Valusiak score short-handed at 34:17 to make the score Sharks 3 Hawks 5.  To pile on the misery Hawks added another with a minute and a half of the second left, courtesy of James Royds.  The second break saw the score at Sharks 3 Hawks 6.

Some words from coaches Martin Grubb and Jamie Thomson in the break saw Sharks come out revitalised, looking to eat into Hawks lead, Gary Russell taking over from Calum Hepburn in nets.  After 4 minutes Kyle Horne reduced the deficit, again combining with Bowie and Nestrasil for the strike after some slick puck movement to bring Sharks within 2 of Hawks.  Scott Henderson reduced the gap to 1 goal at 53:41, smacking the puck to the back of the net from fast passes from Ewan Anderson and Peter Gapa – the Sharks fans on the edge of their seats at the turn-around in form.  With Hawks firmly on the back foot Sharks looked dominant, taking control of the game, and it was almost inevitable the equalizer would come – and it came at 55:41, Gapa with his hat-trick strike on the end of well-placed pass from Henderson to make it 6 goals all.  With the clock ticking down to the end of the game Sharks had another powerplay and again took advantage – Liam Stenton shooting from the blue line on the end of a Nestrasil pass, the puck tipped in by Bowie for the winner with 27 seconds left on the clock, to the delight of the packed ice bowl crowd.  The final buzzer saw Sharks claim a nail-biting 7 – 6 victory and two more league points.   Peter Gapa was man of the match for Sharks.

After the game Martin Grubb told us, “Blackburn have had a tough season but they are always one of the hardest working teams who visit us and I wanted us to come out hard and fast and dominate the game against their short bench and we didn’t do that.  We were very, very poor for 40 minutes and there were some harsh truths spoken at the end of the second period.  I told the boys we had to show our character and real ability and we could still win the game and you have to give them credit for showing up in the 3rd and finding a way to win and break down a very stubborn Hawks team who will feel like we stole the game.  We found a way and that’s all that mattered but we know we need to improve greatly on that showing to have any post season success.”

Sunday saw the Sharks take to the road with a trip to Billingham.  Fast onto the ice with no sign of bus legs Sharks coped with the energetic Billingham attack, while putting on the pressure themselves.  After a spell of even play Sharks took control, and as the 5 minute mark approached Peter Gapa won the puck behind the Stars net and sent it to Scott Henderson in space out in front who shot it straight to the back of the net for the opener, to the delight of the travelling Sharks support.  Sharks kept up the attacks, putting Thomas Brown in Stars net under almost constant pressure, and at the 10-minute mark they struck again, a spell of tight goalmouth action seeing Gordon Horne pop the puck over Brown for the Sharks’ second on the end of passes from Scott Crane and Kieran Hair.  Undaunted, Stars clawed one back after some pressure of their own, an odd man rush on Sharks net seeing Michael Elder beat Gary Russell at 11:47.  There was plenty of action for the rest of the first, including a successful Sharks penalty kill, but despite chances at both ends there was no further scoring, both netminders working hard, and the break saw the score at Stars 1 Sharks 2.

The second period saw Sharks again hit the ice apace, and after 4 minutes they once more exerted their authority, Peter Gapa in a fast run on goal passing the puck to Liam Stenton coming in at speed behind, who shot from the hash marks to the back of the net to stretch the gap to 2.  The Sharks fans were loving the fast passing play throughout the team, and vocal in their support.  As the end of the period approached Sharks found themselves on the powerplay, using the advantage of the extra space to move the puck round the Stars net, Gapa feeding the puck from the back boards to Stuart Kerr who sent it to Stenton out in front on the blue line, who fired it past Brown to make it Stars 1 Sharks 4 at 38:36.  The second break saw the Sharks comfortably 3 goals ahead.

Sharks’ dominance continued into the third, despite Stars working hard to contain them while looking dangerous on the break.  Gordon Horne added another to their tally at 45:59, rushing the net on the end of a beautifully timed pass from Viktor Nestrasil for the strike.  Their joy was tempered seconds later as Elder scored for Stars straight from a faceoff in Sharks end, restoring the 3-goal gap at 49:35.  More hard and physical play followed as both teams battled for the puck all over the ice.  As the end of the game approached the score sat at Stars 2 Sharks 5, and Brown left the ice with 1:45 to play in favour of an extra skater for Stars.  Sharks worked hard to thwart the Stars attacks, and when they won the puck despite being outnumbered Nestrasil sent it to Hair on the Stars blue line, who walked it up to and into the empty net with 29 seconds left on the clock.  The buzzer went and the final score was Stars 2 Sharks 6, and Gordon Horne was Sharks’ man of the match.

Afterwards Martin Grubb commented, “We spoke about how we needed to approach Sunday and what was expected of the team and I thought we came out quickly and were on the front foot for the majority of the first period in a difficult building to play in. The second period I felt we dominated and if we had taken our scoring chances the game would have been out of sight but we still took a couple of chances to extend our lead. The 3rd was a controlled and professional performance and we shut them down and rounded off the win with the empty net goal and a good performance. The most pleasing part was the contributions from our full bench and some guys stepped up with big goals to show we have depth in our line up and we need to maintain this type of performance moving forward.”

Sharks are back in action in their last league game of the season on Saturday night facing Whitley Warriors at the usual time of 7pm, looking to secure their league position in anticipation of the upcoming playoff games over the next few weekends – more details to follow.

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