SWINDON Cougars have been crowned English Under 19 ice hockey champions.

They clinched the title in a dramatic final in Nottingham on Saturday evening.

Trailing 2-1 at the end of the first 20-minute period, Cougars came roaring back with a single goal in the last two periods to beat Nottingham Leopards on their own ice 3-2 and take the under 19 national crown.

And the victory was achieved despite Cougars missing one of their star players, 16-year-old Mark Richardson. Owing to a mix-up over the final dates the England senior and junior international was away in Canada at an ice hockey training camp.

A brace from Tom Pope and a last period goal from Gary Slevin (52.38), with John Dewar assisting on all three goals, clinched the hard-fought victory, Cougars' third English under 19 championship crown in five years.

They also won the title in 1999 and 2000, lost in the final last year and were beaten semi-finalists in Nottingham in 2001.

There may be considerable uncertainty over the Swindon Lynx future following their troubled 2002/03 campaign.

But the Swindon Junior Ice Hockey Club's development programme, one of the best in the country, is certainly paying dividends with more national success.

The club were bidding for a championship treble in Nottingham over the weekend but unfortunately had to be content with just the one national title.

Leopards were beaten in the under 16 final for the second year running, going down 3-0 last night to Sheffield Rapiers their only defeat of the season.

And Swindon Cubs lost 5-3 to Kingston (Hull) River Rats in yesterday's under 10 final.