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.

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