The Building Craftsmen Dumfries Solway Sharks headed to Coventry at the weekend to compete for the last remining trophy of the season. Already crowned “Kings of the North” by winning NIHL North 1 league and playoffs, Sharks faced opposition Streatham Redhawks who had similarly conquered the South 1 league, winning league, playoff and cup titles. The trip was part-funded by the Holywood Trust, who are stalwart supporters of ice hockey in the Region.
Never having met before it was an unpredictable game, both teams with impressive records and keen to be crowned UK National champions. By virtue of Sharks being the only Scottish team to play in the English league it was also a Scotland v England clash – the hardy band of Sharks travelling supporters joined in a rousing rendition of Flower of Scotland by the Leeds Knights fans in the stands before the game commenced.
The game got off to a cagey start as the teams sized each other up, Calum Hepburn in Sharks’ net tested early, as was his counterpart Tom Annetts – both teams looking for a way past for an early lead. With several early attempts failing to score Sharks gained the advantage through Ross Murray in the sixth minute – Lewis Houston securing the puck along the boards in Redhawks territory and sending to Kieran Hair behind the net, Hair picking out Murray coming in front of net in space, Murray’s low shot beating Annetts to put Sharks into the lead. Sharks continued to pile on the pressure, with several credible attempts on goal keeping Annetts busy, while Hepburn effectively backstopped the Sharks, making saves when Redhawks pushed forward. As the end of the period approached Sharks struck again, Ewan Anderson sending a pass from the corner to Stuart Kerr on the point, his shot kicked away by Annetts into the path of Scott Henderson, who scooped up the rebound, lined it up and tapped it in at the back post to put the Scots two goals ahead with 35 seconds left to play. The Sharks team and fans were delighted to go into the break with a 2 goal to 0 lead.
The Sharks started the second with purpose, only to fall foul to a Redhawks attack after 40 seconds, Danny Ingoldsby with the goal. Sharks were undeterred and kept up their attacks on the Redhawks’ goal, winning physical puck battles all over the ice. Sharks reinstated the earlier gap in the 38th minute, Peter Gapa sending the puck from behind the net to Anderson in front of goal, who tipped onto Henderson who was coming in fast, his rocket beating Annetts for Sharks’ third. No sooner had the game restarted when Sharks stretched their lead even further, Liam Stenton collecting the puck on the centreline before dancing past three Redhawks to the net, squaring the puck backhand to Gapa, who sent Annetts the wrong way before knocking in a backhand shot to make it 4 – 1 at 38:32. The buzzer for the end of the second saw the score at Sharks 4 Redhawks 1.
The final period saw physical play intensify as Redhawks looked for a way past Sharks, but the team and Hepburn were a match for their attacks, while keeping up offensive move of their own. Redhawks pulled one back after 50 minutes, the puck taking an unlucky deflection off a Sharks’ skate past Hepburn, the goal credited to Scott Bailey as the last Redhawks player to touch it. As the clock ticked down the end-to-end play continued at pace, but with no further scoring the final buzzer saw Sharks emerge victorious with the players and staff erupting onto the ice in celebration, the convincing win meaning they were crowned National Champions. Peter Gapa was named man of the match.
Captain Struan Tonnar collected the National Championship trophy from GB Men Head Coach Pete Russell, before the team celebrated with the assembled Sharks fans. This trophy, added to the League and Playoff trophies, sees Sharks treble Champions for the 2021-22 season.
Afterwards head coach Martin Grubb told us, “We knew we were coming into this National Final to play a very good Streatham team but we were very well prepared with our video pre-scout and had game plan and the boys carried that out brilliantly. We started pretty well and found our feet and once we got our noses in front then I felt we dominated the majority of the game and created the best chances in the game and probably should have scored more. Our structure and discipline were good and helped us limit Streatham to low percentage scoring chances and I liked our game management especially in the last 10 minutes. These players have been outstanding all season and we are so proud of their achievements. They put their bodies on the line every week and have been the best team in the country this year and I am very happy for them that they now have a National Championship to prove it. Going into the weekend we wanted to show everyone that we have a young, skilled hockey team who love to perform on the big stage, and I think they managed to do that and deserve every bit of credit that is coming their way right now.
We would also like to thank everyone for their support from the board, game night volunteers, sponsors, the ice bowl, players families and of course our unbelievable supporters, and we hope everyone enjoyed the season and has a great summer”.
Sharks are winding down for the off season, but there will be a few events before the break – keep your eye on social media and Sharks website for details. Plans for the new season and details of player signings will be released in due course, again this will be on Sharks social media channels and website.