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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