BCD Solway Sharks will contest the end of season playoffs next month after securing the all important points with a 7-1 win on Saturday against Telford Tigers at the Ice Bowl. Sunday saw the Sharks fall to only their third loss of 2016 when Blackburn Hawks sealed the league title with a 7-0 win in East Lancashire.

This Saturday, Solway host Sutton Sting in the final home league game before travelling to Widnes Wild for a Cup match on Sunday afternoon. Saturday’s game at the Ice Bowl is at the normal time of 7 pm.

Heading into the crucial tie against Telford, Sharks were dealt a blow with forward Martin Cingel failing a late fitness test on an upper body injury, however, the home side took to the ice with a strong bench of fifteen skaters plus goalie Kieran Hobbins.

Just over a minute into the match, Solway had the dream start as Juraj Senko skated the length of the ice before shooting past Denis Bell for the opening goal, timed at 64 seconds. The early goal settled any nerves in the home camp, and they dominated the session with 20 shots in total on Bell with only six in reply.

Telford held out until the 17th minute but were hit with a quickfire double as skipper Struan Tonnar (16.05) and Ross Murray (16.28) found the target to make it 3-0 for the Sharks. A late powerplay marker for Telford saw Callum Griffin reduce the arrears (18.25), but it was a commanding 3-1 lead for Solway at the first break.

It was more of the same in the middle frame, Bell far busier in net than his opposite number facing 15 shots in the 20 minute period. Again Sharks goals came along like buses – two in just over as many minutes around the half hour. First, Joe Coulter’s fast break set up Duncan Speirs for a one-timer from the slot for 4-1 (30.33). Speirs then turned provider to Iain Bowie who scored from close range (32.52), and it was 5-1 after 40 minutes.

The final period was a lot more even, but again Sharks netted two without reply – both from the captain to complete his hattrick. His second and Sharks’ sixth (47.12) was a lethal wrist shot which gave Bell no chance, before completing the scoring at 54.39 by capping off a flowing move started by Senko to Marc Fowley before Tonnar applied the finishing touch.

At the final buzzer with playoff qualification assured, the whole bench poured onto the ice and celebrated a great turnaround in fortune – as recently as January 30 the Sharks were eighth in the league. By Saturday night, they had ten wins and two draws in 14 League games, and a top four place was assured.

Sunday night in Blackburn – rearranged from 21 February when Sharks couldn’t make it to Blackburn due to an accident on the M6 – saw the Sharks go down to the Hawks, a result which guaranteed the league title stayed in Lancashire for the second year. Blackburn opened the scoring just 1.24 into the match and regularly scored while the Sharks couldn’t generate any offense of their own. Four Blackburn goals in the final period gave a lop-sided 7-0 scoreline while shots on goal were closer at 44-39.

Reviewing the weekend, coach Martin Grubb naturally focussed on the achievement of making the playoff weekend.

“I’m very proud of the way the players have bought in since the turn of the year. Their hard work and dedication, adapting to new systems and ways of playing have reaped the rewards, and the credit goes to them.

“To come from second to last in the league at the end of January to qualify for playoffs with two games remaining is a great achievement. The challenge now is to be ready for our semi-final opponents and make sure we aren’t just making up the numbers in Sheffield.”

Grubb highlighted the fast start on Saturday which paved the way for the win over Telford.

“We played very well particularly in the first two periods against Telford. Yes they were short but they could have made things difficult. Juraj got us off to a great start going coast to coast and that meant Telford couldn’t just sit back.

“The team played with good intensity and pace and got what they deserved.”

Sunday’s match was against the Sharks’ likely playoff opponent in Sheffield on April 9.

“It was a frustrating night, we didn’t do ourselves justice that’s for sure. Blackburn are deserved league champions, but we have to learn from Sunday and be ready to go into battle in the semi final in a few weeks.”

This coming Saturday Sutton Sting are the final League visitors to the Ice Bowl, having secured their Division 1 status a couple of weeks ago.

“Sutton were our rivals when we started back in Division 2 and they are a team we know very well. They have excellent netminding with Dmitri Zimozdra, size and speed in the defence and skilful forwards.

“We will be looking to continue our recent form – Sunday aside – and get into a good groove going into the playoff weekend. As you expect there are a few bumps and bruises so we’ll be making full use of the squad in the next couple of weeks to make sure everyone is ready for Sheffield.”

BCD Solway Sharks host Sutton Sting on Saturday at the Dumfries Ice Bowl, face off 7pm. Doors open at 6pm with tickets on sale from Ice Bowl reception priced at £8 adults, £5 concession and £16 for a family (2+3).

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