Saturday, 11 April 2015

Ice Hockey: Phantoms Crowned Playoff Champs



Peterborough Phantoms were crowned the English Premier League Playoff champions for 2015 at Coventry’s Skydome Arena on Sunday evening, after the East Anglian outfit beat the Manchester Phoenix 5-2 in the final to see them lift their first silverware in just over Six years since they last won it back in their grand slam season of 2008-09. Two goals by Phantoms Czech forward Milan Baranyk saw him steer the Phantoms to a deserved victory over a Manchester side who had worries off- ice slightly distracting them slightly from the big finale to the season and also saw a goodbye to a legend of British Ice Hockey too.

Shortly after Manchester Phoenix 7-4 semi final win over the Milton Keynes Lightning, a statement was put out online about allegations over the running of the club by a person close to the ice rink of which the Phoenix play out of.  That news certainly didn`t help the club out on the eve of its biggest game of the season, as it took from their victory over the Lightning nearly and almost saw one of the biggest story in the playoffs, to which it would see Tony Hand lacing up a pair of skates for the final time in a Playoff finals weekend ever again.

Peterborough on the other hand had everything in their favour; the Phantoms came through a thrilling game against the Telford Tigers and also faced the Phoenix in which they had lost only once all season to in the regular season. Manchester would look to try and take it their opponents after their bad form in the league against them; however it was the other way round, as they were floored within the opening five minutes of the game that saw them conceding two early goals to set the Phantoms on their way to glory.  Peterborough Phantoms came out on fire and could easily have a scored a goal inside the opening two minutes of the game with the Phoenix defense or better yet, lack of it, not marking up and caused themselves problems at the back.

Milan Baranyk saw his shot finding the back of the net at 2.13, with Cameron McGiffin and Edgars Bebris assisting on the opener to give them a great start. Manchester was caught cold and when a poor call by Referee Tim Pickett saw him initially giving Ben Wood for a high stick call, he then changed it to an elbowing one and saw the Phoenix on a penalty kill. Wood didn’t have to sit there for too long, as Scott Robson scored to make it 2-0 at 4.05 with Bebris once again claiming an assist.

The Phoenix ‘Faithful’ that had been the noisiest blocks of the weekend, now found themselves sat in stunned silence at what they were watching in front of them, as it was like a horror show on ice watching their side being torn apart by a fast and drilled Phantoms side with ease and to which Manchester didn’t seem to be able to contain.  Some blatant calls were being missed on the Phantoms in the opening period and that included a Phoenix man having his leg took right from under him and fall backwards in clear view of the official, but Pickett refused to call it.

Peterborough could easily have been five up in the game before the tenth minute or so, with Steve Fone looking visibly rattled from the opening exchanges where the Phantoms were clearly bossing the game and saw Milan Baranyk scoring his second goal of the game to put Peterborough in a commanding 3-0 lead and perhaps won them game early doors. With less than two minutes of play to go in the first, James Archer struck on the power play at 18.15 to see the Phoenix given a lifeline in the match, as really they should have been dead and buried by now but they were still hanging in there, but only just.

The second period saw the Phoenix trying to generate something, but were unable to complete passes at the right times or just mishandle the puck in their opponents zone.  If calls were going badly for the Phoenix in the first period then the second period saw a reversal of fortunes from the match official, as Manchester was awarded three powerplay chances in the period and failed to capitalise on all of them and didn’t cause any trouble or panic around the Phantoms defense or Janis Auzins in goals either.

When the Phoenix did get into good positions it saw them given half chance and they weren’t able to make the breakthrough past Peterborough netminder Janis Auzins, who was clearly not in the mood to give up a goal and faced so many weak shots that it was like catching practice for the goaltender.  Manchester enjoyed a ton of possession and controlled the period, but they just lack a cutting edge and didn`t really threaten the Phantoms with their attacking play at all.  As time tick down on the second period of play, it saw Frankie Bakrlik miscue on shot and somehow saw him managed to evade Auzins and find the twine at 37.59 with Joe Graham assisting.

With the score line flattering Manchester in all fairness, it saw the Phoenix tire in the final period of play and the bigger bench of the Phantoms proved to be the difference.  Phoenix couldn`t fully keep up the quick tempo their rivals were playing due to the lack of bodies in their side and saw Slava Koulikov using speed a lot more in the third, to get behind the Phoenix defense and cause them more trouble for the men from Altrincham.  With tiredness, comes frustration and when Scott Robson looked to have hold of Frankie Bakrlik’s stick when laying on the ice, the Czech man tried to get his stick free from the Peterborough man and had to yank it out of his clutches to get his stick free and saw the Phantom man stay down and had the Peterborough demanding the Phoenix man was ‘OFF’.

With the Phantoms fans wanting the Czech man penalised, the forward was let off the hook and saw some theatrics starting to occur from the Phantoms players and led to some penalties against the Manchester side.  Peterborough were clearly targeting Bakrlik and off the play had the Manchester man slash a Phantoms player hard in the leg and had him stay down and saw the game getting more nasty now. Phoenix though saw their players not up for any rough stuff as it was clear some were out on their feet and shattered.

With the final ten minute of play to go it saw Peterborough move 4-2 ahead with a power play goal on a Frankie Bakrlik penalty for high sticks, as Marc Levers poked the puck home and saw Steve Fone having a stinker of a game and was a real shame as it had to happen in the final. Darius Pliskauskas and Edgars Bebris set up Levers for his goal at 52.21 and then with less than a minute to go in the game, it had the Manchester fans standing up saluting their side singing ‘we are proud of you’ and just to add to salt to the wounds, another loose puck in the crease was forced home by Peterborough’s captain James Ferrara as he cemented a deserved win for his side.

The traditional sight of sticks, helmets and gloves lay strewn across the ice, as the players celebrated their win and left the Phoenix side looking dejected at the far end and getting the feeling of déjà vu all over again after last year’s defeat to the Basingstoke Bison in the final as well. It was not to be the fairy tale ending for the British ‘Great One’ in Tony Hand, as he and his side just ran of gas in the season and after the game saw every Peterborough Phantoms player make the effort to shake hands with Tony Hand  and shown some class doing it too.

Hand was shoved forwards towards the Phoenix fans and was forced to do the ‘Victory Wave’ towards his own fans for the last time as a player and was a nice way of thanking them and the supporters showing their support back to him after a terrific career lasting 34 seasons.  Only thing left was for James Ferrara to lift the EPL Playoff trophy for 2015 and saw the Phantoms crowned champions to round off a perfect week for them after Slava Koulikov was voted ‘Coach of the Year’ in the EPL, it also saw new owners at the club and who have been their main sponsor for a long time and look like they want to move the club forward too.

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ICE HOCKEY: EPL PLAYOFF SEMIS: Phantoms Scare off Telford & Phoenix dispel the Lightning

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This past Easter weekend saw hockey fans descend upon the Coventry Skydome for the English Premier League Playoffs Finals, as the Telford Tigers, the Peterborough Phantoms, Milton Keynes Lightning and the Manchester Phoenix faced off to be crowned Playoff champions 2015.
Saturday was Semi-Finals days and saw the opening game of the weekend pit the league champions the Telford Tigers up against the Peterborough Phantoms. Telford headed into the match as big favourites to progress through to the final, after they had ran away with the league title and was expect to stay on course to complete a treble.

In the case of Peterborough, it was one of hoping to cause an upset along the way and see the newly crowned Coach of the Year in Slava Koulikov wanting to show off why he was deserving of that award. The game started with some very physical play by Telford, while the Phantoms chose to kept things simple and concentrate on playing the puck than the body and was a total flip of what everyone expected to see. 
Peterborough scored the opening goal of the contest just 1.56 in the match, when Luke Ferrara passed across the front of goal to the back post and has Slava Koulikov on hand to quickly fire it home for the Phantoms to give them an early one goal lead.

Telford continued their hard hitting game and had nothing to show for it at all. However a charging call that was called against Edgars Bebris of the Phantoms side, gave the Tigers a chance to respond and respond they did. As with less than a minute gone on the power play for the Tigers Max Birbraer was given the puck and his blast from the blue line found it’s way top corner by Janis Auzins for a goal and made it level at 1-1 with 11.14 gone.
The Phantoms caused the Tigers a lot of problems going forward with their quick plays and got behind their defense too with some patience precise attacks. Tom Pickett was the referee the Semi final and made a few questionable calls and missed a lot on both sides in the game. Telford’s Jonathon Weaver picked up a 2+10 penalty for a check from behind on a Peterborough player that sent him crashing into the boards and with two seconds remaining in the period Luke Ferrara blasted one home to restore the lead for the Phantoms to head 2-1 up after one.

Early in the second period and it saw the Phantoms losing Edgar Bebris for the remainder of the match, as he was called for a high sticks penalty and drew blood on his opponent, just 42 seconds in the middle period. Despite Telford having the edge in possession it was still very much a case of the Phantoms doing a great job in frustrating the opposing forwards and picking them off when they could. Peterborough found themselves 3-1 up at the midway stage in the game, after Darius Pliskauskas made a nice turn in the Tigers zone and then found the net to score an unassisted goal for a two goal cushion.

Telford tried everything against the Phantoms to take them out of their game plan, but Peterborough stuck to their task brilliantly throughout and was proving why Slava Koulikov was the coach of the year with his team working hard and well drilled team against a juggernaut in the Tigers. Peterborough frustrated their rivals and saw them looking fairly in control after two periods of play and looked like the Tigers were done for.
However the start of the Second period saw Telford back in the game as some nice build up play by Jonathan Weaver and Scott McKenzie; saw a blistering shot come in from Rick Plant to see Janis Auzins beaten in the Peterborough goals to make it a one goal game. Telford came close and was knocking on the door of Auzins, but is defenseman playing well to thwart all attempts that came in. 

With the Tigers pushing further for the tying goal it left the Telford backdoor open and the Ferrara brothers in James and Luke, set up Darius Pliskauskas to seal the game for their side. It saw Lithuanian sniper cut through the Tigers defense and went one on one with Tom Murdy before making a move on him and sliding it in for a huge roar in the Skydome Arena, to which the fans of almost every other clubs set of supports joined in on the Phantoms fifth goal celebration and condemn the double winners this season to a surprise end.

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Saturday night saw the Manchester Phoenix overcoming the Milton Keynes Lightning 7-4 in what was a very scrappy game at the Coventry Skydome, to claim the win in the second semi final of the day. Shaun Thompson and Robin Kovar were the two goal heroes for the Phoenix as both scored a brace each in the win, while former Manchester man Curtis Huppe scored twice himself to see him help his MK side staying in contention till the end.

Manchester came out strong and saw Shaun Thompson lay a big mid ice hit on an opponent within the opening minute of play that saw the Lightning player heading straight to the bench over the hit he received. That aggressive play brought Phoenix a goal through Shaun Thompson as the forward fired high on net and saw the puck go through traffic and past Stephen Wall for a 1-0 lead at 2.47 with James Archer and Robin Kovar assisting. 

Milton Keynes was being out played in the opening ten minutes of the contest but weren`t out the game either. The Lightning then equalised at 8.49 when Curtis Huppe fired on Steve Fone and the Manchester netminder seemed to glove it but could only watch as it escaped and when into the back of the net for 1-1 with Ross Bowers credited with assist.
Shaun Thompson netted his and Phoenix second goal of the game to put Manchester back in front at 2-1 with James Archer and Robin Kovar once again combining for the goal at 9.47. Once again though the Lightning struck back to make it 2-2, with Lewis Hook beating the goalie to see this game head into the first break all square.

The Start of the second period saw the Phoenix going back ahead for a third time in this semi final clash with Robin Kovar turning goal scorer at 21.02 with the Czech man beating Stephen Wall for a 3-2 score. It came as no surprise to anyone over five minutes later, when MK scored courtesy of Curtis Huppe, with the defence’s of both teams lacking massively in that department in this game.
Manchester then scored what proved to be crucial two late goals in the second period, to give them some breathing space from their opponents and saw them now having to just avoid a bad period and they were through to the final. Robin Kovar found the back of the net for goal number four at 36.59 and then Adam Walker finished off a nice move to see the Phoenix 5-3 up entering the final twenty minutes.

Match official in this contest was Stefan Hogarth and came close at times to losing control at points as well. Petr Horava was lucky to escape a penalty for a clear check from behind on Shaun Thompson as the Phoenix man was on his knees trying to get up when Horava hit him in the back and was sent crashing face first into the boards and Thompson’s team mates had a heat little chat with the MK man.
The game was like a ‘War of Attrition’ for the most parts, with neither side fully stamping their authority on the game and had the sides enjoying passages of play infrequency through-out.  

Manchester knew that their rival would come at them hard and try to score an early goal to boost their confidence in the period, but the Phoenix just had the psychological edge with the two goals lead in the game for the losing finalists from last year. MK did pull a goal back at 46.34 after some sloppy work by the Manchester side failed to close down Chris Wiggins and the enforcer for the Lightning gave his side a life line to trail by one.

Both sides seemed to cancel each the other out and had no team fully grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck and onto victory.  Manchester sealed their place in the final with two empty net goals in the final minute of the game, as firstly Frankie Bakrlik scored and then James Archer followed suit to see the Phoenix reach their fourth successive playoff final in a row to set up a grand final against the Peterborough Phantoms.

Ice Hockey: Phoenix produce comeback to make Coventry


2nd leg: Basingstoke 2-4 Manchester

(Overall agg: 8-7 PHOENIX win)

Tony Hand’s Final skate out in Entrance at home
Manchester Phoenix qualified for their sixth successive playoff weekend, despite suffering a crushing blow in their hopes to advance to the EPL Playoffs weekend on Saturday after a 5-4 loss to the Basingstoke Bison. The following night saw Phoenix win 2-4 to take the tie to an overall win of 8-7, in a nail biting contest that went right down to the wire.
The first leg was played in Altrincham where Phoenix had never hosted the first leg of a play-off tie since swapping leagues back in the 2009/2010 Season.  Manchester was hoping to make amends for their under achievement in the standings this year, where they finished in Sixth place.
The game was a replay of last year’s playoff final, with the Bison on that occasion running out the winners. Both teams didn’t give an inch at the start of this play-off tie, with the difference being in the approach by both sides. While Basingstoke’s game plan was heavy hitting and trying to force quick breaks, for Manchester it was a case of just playing the puck around hoping to capitalise when the chances came.
Michael Wales picked up the first penalty of the tie after tripping up Frankie Bakrlik in his own zone, sitting out for two minutes. Phoenix netted the opening goal of the game on the powerplay after Swedish defenseman Johan Burlin’s shot took a deflection to beat Dean Skinns in the Bison net at 4.19, assists going to Tony Hand and Robin Kovar.
Crowd watch on the 1st leg of the Quarter final.
Basingstoke replied over a minute later, when an in form Ciaran Long buried a shot from a Joe Greener pass to make it 1-1. At 8.40, Ben Wood restored the lead for the home side as he threw the puck on goal from a tight angle to put Phoenix in the lead at 2-1. Nicky Chinn then picked up a 2 plus 10, for a checking from behind penalty right in front of the Manchester bench.
Chinn’s penalty handed Phoenix another powerplay opportunity which they took full advantage of. Their third goal came from a poor clearance by a Bison defender from behind his own net with Tony Hand claiming it just inside the zone before passing to Frankie Bakrlik and his wrist shot beat Skinns to score at 10.39.
Ryan Watt then picked up a charging call after a late hit on Jared Dickinson. Steve Fone made some important saves in the period and kept the hosts two goals to the good. The second period saw Phoenix carrying on from where they left off after the opening period of play, with the home side stifling their opponent’s play and not allowing them many chances.
Basingstoke then netted at the halfway point through player coach Doug Sheppard, after Ciaran Long found himself with plenty of space after James Neil slipped behind his goals to give Long time to pick his coach out for a tap in at 30.51.

With the Bison pressuring the Phoenix back line, Phoenix conceded once again not long after. Aaron Connolly got away with a whack on Johan Burlin in the build up who stayed down for a few seconds, before getting back up on his feet and delivering a huge hit on Connolly on the boards. Burlin let his emotions get the better of him, as with that check he put himself out of position and left Joe Rand free and his quick release at the near post saw the Herd 3-3 in a short space of time.
Phoenix were imploding and saw them then go behind as a shot by Joe Baird was deflected away, Aaron Connolly then pushed it on goal and with the puck loose, with Joe Rand netting his second of the game with a poke home at 32.57. Tony Hand called a time out to re-group and regain some concentration back within the ranks. Manchester then tried to find a way back into the game as the change to the Basingstoke game plan was now working which put Phoenix in trouble.
With the visitors on top in the game, Phoenix netted an equaliser again the run of play. Robin Kovar scored the tying goal for 4-4 game at 35.57, after a long ice pass by Shaun Thompson. Kovar struck the puck so hard that the puck went through the netting. Bison players complained that the goal shouldn’t stand as it didn’t go in but despite the protests the goal stood.
With the contest swinging back and forth between the two sides, it certainly made for an interesting game to watch. With the game nicely poised all square after two periods of hockey, it would be a case of who blinks first being the side to miss out. Heading into the third period saw both sides trying to find the important next goal. Basingstoke looked the better side and had Steve Fone making not just big saves, but massive save to deny the Bison.
Eventually the defending play-off winners got the next big goal and saw a difference in emotions between the sides. Basingstoke battled against a tired Manchester team and when Joe Greener passed to Doug Sheppard, whose shot was saved by Fone, the rebound falling back to Sheppard who squared it to Ciaran Long open at the front of net to bury it for a 5-4 score.  The Phoenix looked tired and out of steam with the Bison notching up a gear, while the hosts had Steve Fone to be thankful for as he made a string of huge saves to rob his opponents of any more goals to see the Phoenix trail by a goal heading into 2nd leg down south.
After the horn sounded Frankie Bakrlik and Declan Balmer got into a very heated discussion and a scrum developed between the two sides.
During the after match presentations, it was announced that the club would retire the number 9 shirt in honour of Tony Hand for his services to ice hockey and the Club.
Tony Hand takes one last applause from the ‘Faithful’
On Sunday Night in Basingstoke the 2nd leg was played and with Bison coming out victors over Phoenix on their last six successive games in Hampshire, it was always going to be a tough match.  Manchester made a great start when Bobby Chamberlain netted thanks to a Jacob Corson-Heron assist at 7.41 to tie the overall score at 5-5 and 1-0 on the night. Returning to the Bison line-up for the playoffs, Tomas Karpov levelled the game at 1-1, before Joe Greener struck to make it 2-1 after the first.
The Czech combination of Robin Kovar and Frankie Bakrlik saw the latter making it 2-2 early on in the second period, with the visitors re-taking the lead five minutes later as Jacob Corson-Heron netted the third goal for Manchester, making the aggregate score 7-7.  Robin Kovar then scored on the powerplay with Tomas Karpov in the penalty box putting them in the lead in the tie 8-7 and 4-2 on the night.  Just before the end of the second stanza, Declan Balmer was kicked out for a tripping penalty on Bakrlik and saw the Bison man out of the game.
With a massive 20 minutes left to play for both sides, there was a difficult but superb rear-guard action at the back for the Phoenix as they held on heroically to book their place in the EPL Play-off finals in Coventry, to overcome the Bison in another enthralling set of games between the two and extend the career of Tony Hand MBE for at least one more game.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Ice Hockey: Walker 'purrs' as Phoenix edge Wildcats in Thriller



Manchester Phoenix completed their English Premier League programme with a home double this past weekend with wins over the Bracknell Bees and the Swindon Wildcats to finish in sixth position, their lowest ever finish to a EPL season.  It sees them however setting up arguably the tie of the Playoffs Quarter-Final with a two legged affair against the Basingstoke Bison this coming weekend to see who makes it to Coventry, for the Playoff finals weekend.
Sunday night saw another late show by the Phoenix, as they beat the Swindon Wildcats 6-5 with former Wildcats player Adam Walker who not only netting two goals and an assist  but scored the winner with just 26 seconds remaining from time, to see him not only give Phoenix the victory but also denied his old club the point that would have seen them claim 4th position in the table.
The game also coincided with Phoenix player-coach Tony Hand icing in his final regular season game, in what has been an illustrious career from the former Great Britain legend, after playing 34 successive seasons in the sport.
The opening period was like akin to a phrase used in football, of which it truly was a ‘game of two halves’.  Manchester came out the traps very attacking and with a purpose in their play at the start and had the Swindon side in all sorts of bother in the early part of the contest.
Stevie Lyle in the visitors nets wasn`t having things his own way though and saw the GB international, scrambling around a lot with his defence unable to clear the danger away as the home side looked very dangerous  when in attack.
Manchester took a deserved lead at 6.46 in the game, after Stevie Lyle had lost his stick on the play and saw the Phoenix keeping the puck in the Swindon zone, which led to Bobby Chamberlain making a short pass along the boards behind the net to Shaun Thompson and his little pass towards the front post saw Frankie Bakrlik flip it high up into the roof of the net for 1-0.  After the goal there was funny incident, when Bakrlik made sure that referee Steve Brown gave the goal correctly to him, as the previous night Bakrlik scored and Brown credited the goal to Robin Kovar.  So the forwards made sure to that Brown knew who scored as he purposely skated towards him and made sure that this goal would be given, as shown the 83 and Bakrlik on his shirt.  
Speaking of Robin Kovar, the Czech forward netted the second goal for Phoenix as they doubled their lead at 7.51 after a Swindon play was broken up and saw James Archer bat the puck superbly to Kovar up ice and the Czech man scored with a wraparound effort into a empty net for 2-0, with the hosts looking fairly comfortable with that lead.
Swindon then battled back into the game and saw them cut the deficit in half through Tomasz Malasinski strike, after a pass towards the front of the net from Aaron Nell saw the Polish forward put past Steve Fone at 14.44 with Jonas Hoog getting the second assist on goal.
Manchester then seemed to panic a bit and found themselves all square at 15.29, when the Wildcats had another attack down the right wing through Jonas Hoog and his pass went to Arron Nell and saw him completely unmarked and the Swindon forward netted a simple goal with a bit of a screen on Steve Fone, to see the score move onto 2-2.
Swindon then took the lead at 17.02 with that man Aaron Nell once again scoring for the visitors, after a 2 on 1 for the Wildcats saw Jack Watkins horribly caught out at the back and had Nell fired far side for a 3-2 lead for the Wiltshire side.
In the second and the home side levelled it up at 3-3 at 25.32 after a powerplay goal saw former Swindon player Adam Walker netting, after some crisp passing by the Phoenix powerplay unit saw Tony Hand and Frankie Bakrlik combining before a pass to the back post for Walker to put home.
The hosts then made it 4-3, with Frankie Bakrlik firing in his second of the game and to restore the lead once more for the Phoenix, with the Czech man skating into space and letting a shot go with no one challenging and beat Stevie Lyle all ends up for the go ahead goal at 26.59.
 Swindon tried to respond and had Tomasz Malasinski striking the cross bar soon after with an effort as the score remaining 4-3.  However with just 6 seconds remaining in the period, it saw the Wildcats level it all up at 4-4 with the Phoenix defence making a complete mess of things at the back as they stood around dawdling instead of clearing it.  Ben Wood got dispossessed in the lead up to it and with the home side unable to get the puck clear; it saw Sam Bullas shoot from a tight angle and gave them an equaliser to go in to the break all level.
In the final period, it saw an end to end game with both sides going close with chances, yet it was the visitors who took retook the lead at 47.19 in the game, as It came from a poor pass by the Phoenix at centre ice and had Loris Taylor quickly get on the loose puck and with Taylor making a little move to get by one man his weak shot was partly saved by Fone, but the puck trickled in behind the netminder and into the back of the net for a 5-4 score line.
The lead lasted less than four minutes, when Adam Walker and Frankie Bakrlik worked well together by the boards, to then pass towards Robin Kovar and the Czech forward held off a defenseman and backhanded his second goal in the back of the net, with another wraparound goal at 51.07.
With less than 30 seconds to go in an exciting open game, with the match seemingly heading to an overtime period there was still one late twist to come. Swindon who only needed a point for a 4th place finish in the standings, saw their hopes disappear. When Tony Hand dumped the puck up ice and when Lyle couldn`t deal with the bounce properly, Adam Walker was quick to pounce on it and roofed it over the Swindon netminder for a 6-5 score
Swindon looked slightly dejected over the goal and with the end of the game it saw the Wildcats now having to play the first leg at home instead of away.
For Manchester it equalled their best run of the season in the league with three successive wins on the spin, as they now head in the playoffs quarter-final with the Basingstoke Bison. The team that stopped Phoenix doing a double in the Playoffs final in Coventry last year and will also will be the Final ever game for Tony Hand as a Manchester Phoenix player in Manchester, before the Scottish veteran retires after the playoffs.
Saturday Night saw the Phoenix ease to a 6-1 win over the inexperienced Bracknell Bees at home. Two goals by Johan Burlin with further strikes by Robin Kovar, Frankie Bakrlik, Tony Hand and former Bee Shaun Thompson gave the Phoenix a good start to their weekend.

Ice Hockey: Roy steers Steelers closer to Title



Two goals by Mathieu Roy with his second being the overtime winner, saw the Sheffield Steelers come from two goals down to now having one hand on the Elite League title in a 4-3 overtime win over their bitter arch rivals the Nottingham Panthers at the National Ice Centre in Nottingham on Friday Night.  
Before the contest it was a tight three way battle up at the top of the Elite League table, with the Steelers level on points with the Cardiff Devils and close behind, the Braehead Clan.  Sheffield knew a win on the road would see them needing only a regulation win against the Devils with the next night being crowned champions.  In the case of the home side the Panthers, this was a chance to thwart their long time foes and dent their title hopes with a win in their final regular season game at home before the playoffs next week.
With a sell-out crowd in the NIC for this grudge match between two powerhouses in British Ice Hockey, plus  the added spice of the balance of the championship, it was going to be a good contest.
There were a few early mind games played by the visitors, with the Steelers not taking to the ice till the home side made their way out with a tense build up for the match. Before the game got underway however, there was a somber moment in the arena when there was a minutes applause for Amy Usher, a Sheffield Steelers fan who had brought British hockey together after she had battled bravely with a form of Throat Cancer who had tragically passed away a couple of days prior to the game.
An incredible wave of support from every fan inside the N.I.C saw both sets of fans chanting her name which was an honor to be part of. With the game now under way, the Steelers came out the brighter of the two, having the best of the early play. Panthers netminder Mattias Modig made some important stops to keep the away side scoreless.
Josh Unice was then called upon by the visitors to make some big saves of his own, as despite Sheffield having more of the puck the Panthers were more threatening when in attack.  The home side then broke the deadlock with Sam Oakford finding the back of the net at 8.18 with Guillaume Doucet assisting after the Oakford shot took a little deflection and went over the glove of the Steelers netminder for a 1-0 lead.
Sheffield tried to get back on level terms quickly and had Modig once again making a great save, this time from Ben O’Connor as the Sheffield man stick handled his way through the Panthers defence with his back handed attempt being smothered by the goalie. 
Jonathan Boxill then collected a hooking penalty as he upended Tyler Mosienko when bearing down on goal and despite the Steelers players calling for a penalty shot, the referee gave only a two minute.
Josh Unice once again came to the rescue for the Steelers as he made a fantastic double save from the Nottingham forwards to keep it at a one goal game. Mattias Modig was then penalised for tripping up a Sheffield player near the net away from play which resulted in the Panthers on the penalty kill. Both sides had breakaways towards the end of the opening period, with both goaltenders making superb saves.
The back end of the period saw penalties against both sides, with Chris Higgins of Nottingham called for high sticks and Jason Hewitt of the Steelers called for roughing.  Nottingham doubled their lead at 21.28 when Greg Jacina fired home to make it 2-0 which had the home fans celebrating while the Orange army of Sheffield sat in silence and saw their title dreams diminishing.
Sheffield responded soon after as Michael Forney got the puck. He skated past the defense, his wrist shot beating Modig to make it 2-1 to give hope to the fans from down the M.
The game saw the hitting pick up a bit more making it feel more like a usual Panthers/Steelers contest. Jonathan Boxill of the Panthers,  headed straight down the tunnel after he collected a painful blow to the ankle off Cullen Eddy’s slap shot and didn't return for a while.
Ben O’Connor then leveled the game at 2-2 as he put through behind a poor line change by the hosts and saw the GB international net a lovely shorthanded goal at 32.05 to make the game all square as we headed to the third period.
Into the third and it was like the sides had changed game plans, with the Panthers almost like they were trying to walk the puck in at times not as threatening in their attack as they had been in the opening period. Sheffield though were battling and getting to the front of the net taking the better shots, which saw Modig having to up his game. Both sides were creating chances but the Steelers had the better of the play  
Rob Dowd then headed to the penalty box for the visitors and gave the Panthers a power play opportunity with less than 10 minutes to go in regulation time. Nottingham, with the man advantage, then scored the go ahead goal with 7.26 left in the game. After a fortunate break for the home side when Cody Wild hit on Tyler Mosienko and took him out of play the home side went up the ice and the puck which was then moved out wide to Brandon Benedict who fired top corner on Josh Unice to give the Panthers a 3-2 lead.
The Steelers fans and players were furious from the non-call  with a couple of players questioning the call with their protests falling on deaf ears. The game became end to end with the Panthers having a couple of one on ones with Unice in the final period, but the Sheffield netminder stood up well to the oncoming forwards to keep his side in it.   
Sheffield were pushing forward in search of a tying goal and after Michael Forney passed to Colton Fretter whose effort was saved by Modig, the puck went straight to Mathieu Roy who was on hand to slot it into the back of the net which had the Orange shirted fans leaping out of their seat with the Steelers leveling the score at 3-3 with 2.28 to go.
Sheffield fans implored for a ‘too many men’ call which had some substance to it, as the Panthers had six men on the ice at one time but one quickly skated back before being called.  Neither side could score the winning goal within regulation time so we headed into overtime with the Steelers picking up a vital one point in the game so far. 
Josh Unice had to pull off a stunning save as Sheffield were caught napping with a turn out at centre ice. There was  a 2 on 0 advantage and Nottingham should have scored, but Unice was on the ball and saved Wild’s one time shot with play then heading up the ice with Modig making yet another save to deny the visitors.
Evan Mosely was then called for tripping with the period winding down at 64.31 and it was looking like a shoot out was on the cards.  With the Steelers on a 4 on 3 powerplay, the home side had to defend the final 28 second of the period to take it to a shootout. However that was not meant to be as Mathieu Roy scored the game winning goal with 12.7 seconds of the contest which left the Steelers on the verge of winning their first title in four year.
After the game, the Steelers fans chanted ‘That one’s for Amy’ in reference to Amy Usher. As the arena quickly emptied with Panthers fans heading for the exits, the fans from the Steel City side reveled in their victory on enemy territory, which made the win that all bit sweeter.

Ice Hockey: Bakrlik's Late show 'STINGS' Bracknell



MANCHESTER PHOENIX       5       -        4    BRACKNELL BEES

 A late power play strike by Frankie Bakrlik was just enough to help Phoenix in a come from behind victory to snap a five game losing streak, with a 5-4 win over a spirited bottom of the table Bracknell Bees at the Altrincham Ice Dome on Sunday night.
Manchester started their penultimate weekend of the English Premier League season with a loss down in Surrey, despite the efforts of Shaun Thompson scoring twice for the away team, he couldn`t help stop the Phoenix getting beaten 4-3 in a close game against the Guildford Flames who could possibly be a playoff opponent for the Phoenix.

Sunday’s game saw the rock bottom Bracknell Bees side come to town and with a fair few youngsters in their side, they gave the home side a tough game and in truth their performance was not one of a team that has struggled badly all season. The Bees received a massive boost during the week, as Red Media who is owned by Tigers owners Wayne Scholes, bought a 49% stake in the Berkshire club to help them secure their future at the John Nike Leisure Complex.
Manchester had the majority of the puck with Bees netminder Alex Mettam once again proving to be thorn in the Phoenix side, with some saves to stop them taking the lead. Phoenix had a couple of opportunities, but Mettam stacked his pads and made some easy glove saves.
Robin Kovar came close to giving the home side the lead, after pulling the Bracknell defence inside out before being denied first off by Alex Mettam and then dinked it over the bar. Bracknell took the lead in the game against the run of play, despite the fact they looked more threatening in attack in the opening ten minutes.
Rising star for the Bees this season is Ivan Antonov, who put his side 1-0 up at 10.53 with Lukas Smital assisting on the goal. Manchester didn’t seem to play with much confidence as their passing was poor and didn’t seem to play particularly well. The fans tried to rally around their side and get them back in it, but this time to no avail.  

With the hosts pushing for a goal, Phoenix finally made a breakthrough on Alex Mettam to tie the game. It came from a rush up ice through Frankie Bakrlik and with Robin Kovar in support, the Czech duo combined to set up Bobby Chamberlain, as the GB under 20’s star tapped in for 1-1 at 16.49.
The second period started well for the Phoenix as the same line worked well to put them up 2-1, with this time Chamberlain and Bakrlik working together with Robin Kovar firing a one-time shot past Mettam at 20.15. The Bees may be rooted at the bottom of the table, but they showed a lot of good play within their youthful side with definitely some promise for the future.
Adam Walker made it 3-1 for the hosts, after the Scottish forward managed to just push the puck into the net to open up a two goal cushion at 22.51. You would have possibly expected the Bees to just cave in after giving up two quick goals, but the youthful enthusiasm in the squad ensured that would not happen.
The Bees responded soon after, when the Phoenix defence was far too high up the ice which left massive gaps at the back, with Matt Towalski finishing a one on one against Declan Ryan, the score was then 3-2 at 23.58. That goal seem to 'sting' the Bees into action and with Mettam shutting the Phoenix forwards down with some very good stops, the Bees confidence was growing thanks to their netminder.
With Phoenix looking nervous with their play and perhaps doubting themselves, the Bees capitalised on the poor defensive play of the hosts, with two quick goals in succession. At 37.39, Matt Towalski and Pavel Strycek set Radek Hubacek off down the right wing and with no defence around, gave Hubacek the perfect opportunity to shoot past Ryan to make it 3-3. Thirteen seconds later with a carbon copy of their last goal, Matt Foord and Ivan Antonov played Lukas Smital on and he made it
4-3 to the Bees at 37.52 following a complete meltdown of the Phoenix defence. With the period coming to a close,  Phoenix started to look very frail at the back and seemingly unable to get any meaningful attacks going at all, with the passes all coming from within their defensive zone.

The final period started with Phoenix taking it to their opponents. Manchester then tied the game up at 46.36 with a power play goal by Robin Kovar, after he netted his second of the game with Frankie Bakrlik and Tony Hand assisting on the goal to see the game levelled at 4-4.  At 47.40, the game starting to swing in favour of Phoenix, with Scott Spearing checking a Phoenix player from behind and collecting a 2+10, then earned himself a further 10 minute penalty for misconduct and was then ejected from the game.
With the home side on top, a couple of the experienced players in the black and yellow jerseys seemed to lose their discipline which ended up costing their team dearly. Lukas Smital picked up a 10 minute misconduct call after he argued with the referee following an offside call and had to be restrained by the linesman, before exiting the ice and watched the rest of the game from behind the glass.  Jan Bendik was then called for hooking at 56.38 and with the Phoenix throwing everything they had at Bracknell, they finally retook the lead which resulted in the roof being taken off the dome, as Frankie Bakrlik’s blast went through traffic to give the hosts a 5-4 lead.
Following the goal, Bendik wasn`t too pleased with match official Steve Matthews who then gave him an instant 10 minute misconduct call as he skated back to the bench which resulted in three of their key players missing and despite the Bees pulling their netminder for the extra attacker, the Manchester Phoenix finally snapped their five game losing streak and are now closing in on securing sixth place in the table.

The Phoenix can make sure of that next weekend when they welcome back the Bees, before the final regular season game against the Swindon Wildcats.

SLEDGE HOCKEY: 2015 Sledge Hockey World Champs @ Ostersund, Sweden

This past week in Östersund, Sweden  the Sledge Hockey World Championships: Pool-B have been taking place and saw Great Britain making the trip to the Scandinavian country in search of a top two finish and have them looking to progress Pool- A. GB’s opponents in this tournament sees them against Austria, Slovakia, Poland and the two pre-tournament favourites in Korea and the host nation of Sweden.
The opening two games of the tournament saw big wins for both Sweden and Korea to get their respective tournament up and running. Hosts Sweden beat Poland 8-1 with Rasmus Lundgren netting twice in the victory, meanwhile Korea hammered Austria 9-0 with five goals coming in the final period through Seung-Hwan Jung scoring a hat trick and Ju-Seung Lee claiming a brace in the huge win for the Koreans as we.
Britain’s opening game in the tournament saw a highly disappointing loss with Slovakia blanking Great Britain 6-0, with two quick goals coming in the space of 49 seconds in the opening five minutes. GB conceded just the one goal in the second period, but in the third a further two goals by the Slovaks saw them complete victory over Great Britain. For GB it was a case of back to the drawing board and hoping to put this loss to the side and recover for Round 2.
However the only bright light of the game for GB, came in the shape of netminder Bryan Hackworth from the Sheffield Steelkings, as the netminder faced 26 shots in the contest compared to his counterpart who faced only 5 shots, one shot more than Austria posted in their loss to the Koreans.

Day 2 and the Koreans went ballistic in the opening game of the day at the Ostersund Arena Hall, where the Korean side won 15-0 against Poland and where Andrzej Mlynarczyk in the Polish nets faced 40 shots in the game. Seung-Hwan Jung netted another four goals in a game, as team mate Min-Su Han, scored a hat trick with two of them coming on the power play as the Korean side kept a health goal difference in the standings.
Great Britain overcame Austria to claim their first points in these World Championships in their second group game, with John Neville’s side edging their opponents 2-1 thanks to a double by Cardiff’s Tyler Christopher. Christopher’s brace put GB two goals up in the match, that was before Martin Pachoinig then replied for the Austrians to set up a tense finale to the game with less than 8 minutes to go in the contest.  In truth, GB should have beaten their opponents far more convincing than they did, but some loose passing and not finding their intended targets saw it a much tighter affair than it needed to be. The Brits came out as winners and a performance that was improved massively from their first outing.
Sweden made it two from two in their third game, as they beat Slovakia 5-1 with Per Kasperi scoring twice in the win to keep the pressure up on the Koreans for top spot. The Swedes led 2-0 and after a power play goal by Miroslav Stasak cut the lead in half, it saw the hosts netting a further three times to see them finally kill off the Slovaks.

Poland and Austria faced off in opening game of Round 3, where the Poles came out on top beating their fellow European counterparts 3-0, with goals by Radoslaw Drapala and Sylwester Flis as Flis scored a couple in the game to hand Poland the game and pick up their first win.
Korea kept up their record of scoring at least 8 goals a game so far in this tournament, as they inflicted another thrashing this time on Slovakia, as they beat them 9-1 to move to a +21 in the goal difference column. Forward Seung-Hwan Jung proved he is the Player of the tournament so far, as the Korean scored four more goals to take his total to 11 goals in 3 games so far. Marian Ligda then scored a consolation goal towards the end of the second period for the Slovaks, but the Koreans side always had the extra gears to move up in and scored a few more to complete the rout and look far in a way, the best side in this tournament.
The final game of the night was an absolute cracker between Great Britain and the hosts Sweden.  Prior to the game, Sweden on paper looked far stronger than that of GB and the results in the previous rounds seemed to suggest that. However, no one expected the performance that the Great Britain side produced, especially in the opening period as they put on a staunch defensive display to see them frustrate the Swedes 0-0 after the opening period whilst being outshot 13 to 2.
 Sadly though for GB, the Swedes managed to get the breakthrough and had Per Kasperi scoring twice to put the home side 3-0 up. GB then scored through Kingston Kestrels forward Matt Woolias, as him and his fellow Kestrels teammate in Matt Clarkson broke up ice scored on a 2-on-0, with Woolias dispatching the puck by Ulf Nilsson at his near post for a 3-1 score.
In the final period of play, it saw the score cut in half to 4-2 for Sweden as Tyler Christopher scored his third of the tournament, after a mistake by Nilsson in the Swedish goals saw his attempted clearance turn into an air shot and Christopher was quick to react first and tapped in for a two goal game. Sweden then went up a gear and had Peter Ojala score a breakaway goal, before Niklas Ingvarsson scored the goal of the game with an effort, as his fired from the left face-off circle and it flown in over Hackworth head and into the GB nets for the sixth.
Bryan Hackworth who has been the GB player of the tournament in my view, put on a goaltending clinic to deny the Swede on many occasions and kept the scored close, when Sweden was really hammering home their advantage in the contest.  A 6-2 defeat by Sweden all but ended the hopes of a top two finish for Great Britain, but the performance of the GB players was immense throughout the whole game and was more important that the score. The Swedish players were quoted as saying that GB was the toughest game they had faced so far.  Another reason John Neville and the GB fans can be proud of the guys, is a couple of years ago with an experienced squad in 2013, the GB side was hammered 22-0 by the Swedes and this result shows what can happen if given a chance.

This result with inexperienced players in their ranks saw them running the Swedes closer than the score line suggests, plus the fact the players had to pay their way to make it to Sweden, due to lack of any funding coming from British Sport and the fact the game was close makes the result even more incredible too and hopefully something can be worked to help the GB sledge hockey side in future tournaments.