The Angry Budgie Live

Monday, 28 September 2015

Phoenix Rolling - Sheffield Steeldogs 27/09/15

With the season now approaching the end of its first month of play the league table is beginning to take shape, even at this early stages there have been surprises, injuries and same old same old. The Manchester Phoenix, possibly, being one of the seasons surprise packages in that they are competing when many thought they wouldn't! 

That being said the Phoenix injury curse has hit already this season, Stanislav Gron and Mark Thomas are both currently out with injury, heading into last weekends games Phoenix drafted in Jan Platil, who had recently been released by the Hull Pirates and, added Deeside Dragons Ross Kennedy and Paul Davies. Saturday saw the Phoenix take the drive down the M6 & M5 to the Link Centre to take on the Wildcats. It would turn out to be a pointless visit with the Wildcats running out 5-3 victors. Take a look at the weblinks at the foot of this post for a match report from the game. 

Sunday night saw the first visit of the Steeldogs version Greg Wood to Deeside, usually the Phoenix would have played Sheffield in pre-season but not this year. Sheffield came to the game after an OT loss to Guildford which is no bad result, Greg and his players, joined by a large travelling contingent of fans arrived in Deeside for the seasons first War of the Roses. 

First Period: The first period got off to a quick start and the Phoenix dominating the play. This version of the Steeldogs were not quite as rough and ready as Payette versions, physicality was there but by no means as much as years gone by. During the first period the Phoenix were able to stifle the Steeldogs so they were not able to mount many, if any, attacks on Fone's net. It was the home side who would score first when Robin Kovar found Michal Satek for the games first goal at 2min 09sec. The Phoenix pressure continued and the pressure was relentless so much so, by period end, the Phoenix had laid 22 shots upon Dailbor Sedlar's goal. 

Second Period: Even though the Phoenix had overwhelmed the Steeldogs in the first period they still only had one goal to show for it. Phoenix fans still had the Guildford game fresh in their minds, that game, Flames had all the possession but still lost the game, could that happen to the Phoenix? Of course it could! After such a flat opener for the Steeldogs the second saw the beginning of their fight back. The Phoenix ran into some penalty trouble which offered the Steeldogs some of their own chances. Phoenix had Steve Fone to thank who was in fine form. The period wore on and Sheffield began to get their mojo going, Korhon and Bosas (whom I kept referring to as Bottas in my head for the whole game!) starting to turn the screw. The period ended though with no goals and the home side still ahead by the single goal. 

Third Period: The game exploded into life during the third period, it had goals, chances, hissy fit's, minor handbags, pretty much everything we'd expect from a Steeldogs game. The Phoenix imports began to earn their pay when Robin Kovar and Michal Satek combined to double the Phoenix lead at 44min 55sec. That 2 goal lead was short lived when Ashley Calvert took the puck all the way down the ice to get the Steeldogs on the board just 29sec later scoring for the Dogs at 45min 24sec. Satek would turn provider for Robin Kovar at 45min 26sec which a true highlight reel goal to extend the Phoenix lead once more. This time though, the lead lasted even less than before, Sheffield reducing the deficit 22sec later when Korhon got the Dogs second at 46min 08sec. If Kovar's goal earlier was highlight reel, the Phoenix decisive 4 th was even better. Kovar and Satek combining once more for the latter to grab his hattrick goal. An awesome move up ice, neat inter passing with Satek crashing the net saw him score at 56min 35sec to kill off the Steeldogs challenge. The Steeldogs began to lose some composure and discipline which saw a succession head to the penalty box. Sedlar was pulled from the goal for the extra attacker with about 90sec to go, Robin Kovar got his second of the game, an empty net goal, at 59min 36sec. I will admit I did not see the incident but, at the same time, Korhon was ejected from the game for an abuse of the official call. Apparently he chucked his stick in the direction of an official? Am open to be filled in on that! 

Verdict: After a loss in Swindon it was important the Phoenix get some points from the weekend. Games against Sheffield can't be taken lightly and the Phoenix opening 20min was a great show of control! In the end the Phoenix overall pressure and better discipline won the game. Sheffield will cause some upsets this season, it looks like player/coach Greg Wood has decided to go in a different direction that previously under Payetter!

Monday, 21 September 2015

Phoenix Rolling - Guildford Flames 20/09/15

After the Phoenix perfect opening weekend the season would face a huge reality check the weekend just gone. The Phoenix came up against two clubs who would be challengers for the EPL title. Saturday saw the Phoenix take a trip down south to take on the Basingstoke Bison then head back to Deeside to take on the Guildford Flames. Two clubs with bigger rosters than the Phoenix and two tough games. The Phoenix have always struggled a little in Basinstoke but the return, on home ice, the Phoenix would look to beat the Flames in the first installment of the #PyroDerby. 

The weekends preparations were not helped when news emerged that MecaGron would be sidelined through injury for the foreseeable future. This is where the knife edge nature of the Phoenix roster would fall down. The team are already a short benched team, take out one of your main scoring threats that puts the team really behind the 8 ball! But, thems the cards your dealt. I wont go into the game in detail for two reasons, 1) I wasn't there and 2) head over to Banners on the Wall and Anthony will give you an in depth rundown of the game. Suffice to say the short bench, plus another injury sustained during the game meant the Phoenix chronically short bench could not cope. The Phoenix left Basingstoke with a 6-2 loss. 

Back in Deeside on the sunday news emerged of Ben Wood's injury, having taken a hard hit in Basingstoke the night before, Ben was left with a sore shoulder which would keep him out the game. Two players down, 4 if you include the two Deeside youngsters signed on 2-way deals who, were also out through injury. Coupled with the Flames strength in depth I will admit I was not feeling hopeful about the game. Big big thanks must go out to two Dragons (Deeside) senior players who answered the call and suited up to help the Phoenix out. So, James Parsons and Simon Furnival to volunteer and come to play an EPL game with no training with the Phoenix at all, massive thanks to you and the Deeside Dragons! 

First Period: The game began without much structure to it, much of the play was very scrappy with neither side able to take control of the game. Guildford were able to pin most of the play in the Phoenix zone but, thanks to hard working defence and Fone in ninja mode, the Flames rarely came close to a clear cut chance in the opening stages. The Flames pressure did begin to build and a breakthrough was made on the powerplay. With Trent Hope in the penalty box on a tripping call, Flames went on the PP at 7min 16sec. After setting up in the zone the Flames began to move the puck around and, after just 33sec made the breakthrough. Steve Fone made the initial save on the play, then a 2nd and 3rd save but the Flames perseverance delivered a goal on the 4th attempt. After Fone made the 3rd stop, his rebound fell to Piatak unmarked on the back post to score. As the period wound down the next incident of note was a rather amusing penalty taken by Andy McKinney. Mark Thomas made a fantastic, heavy, hit behind Fone's goal which Andy took exception too. After the play was blown dead, McKinney and Thomas skated away having words before McKinney dropped his gloves. Thomas just giggled, turned away, and skated back to the bench. McKinney, dropping the gloves a little early and earning himself a 2+10 for incitement. Flames went into the break just a goal to the good despite outshooting the Phoenix 2-to-1! 

Second Period: Throughout the first period and into the second, it became obvious the Phoenix were playing to a particular plan. Accepting the shorter bench, the Phoenix were allowing the Flames puck possession, then working very hard to clear the ice in front of Fone. As the Phoenix continued to soak up the pressure the Flames began to get more and more frustrated. Small errors began creeping into the game and the Phoenix started to get a few breakaway chances. Mark Thomas turned quarterback in a remarkable 5 minute period at the mid point of the game, which saw the Phoenix take the lead. His first assist saw James Archer released who danced through the Flames defence to score past Wall at 29min 49sec. The second, Robin Kovar had sat in the penalty box for a 2min tripping call, upon his release, Thomas floated a beautiful pass inbetween the Flames D men for Kovar to latch onto and skate in on Wall alone. Robin making no mistake with his finish putting the Phoenix into the lead at 34min 17sec. 

Third Period: The Phoenix did grow into the game more in the third period but, Flames did still control the number of chances created but, they still could not put the puck in the net. The Phoenix were now very comfortable in soaking up the pressure and looking to counter on the break. The only goal of the game came to the Phoenix in, and i'll have to quote Ben Knight on this, possibly the most bizare goal he has ever seen. I will admit I did not see the goal as I was noting down a shot. All I heard was the crowd erupt from across the ice. A goal you will need to watch Phoenix TV for I think! Gareth O'Flaherty scoring the Phoenix third goal at 42min 40sec. The Phoenix D contunued to hold and frustrate the Flames who could not make headway back into the game at all. Into the last two minutes the Flames pulled Wall for the extra attacker but could not make the breakthrough. Phoenix holding on for a memorable win! 

Verdict: I will admit, going into sundays game, I did not have the Phoenix down for a win. I thought we could compete for periods 1 & 2 but the third we would tire and let slip the game. How wrong could I have been. This was such a statement type of win, almost as if the team just accepted the numerical disadvantage but in no way would that stop them. There was so much guts and determination during those 60mins I think it surprised the Flames as well as myself. Guildford may have expected an easier game due to their extra numbers but, quickly became frustrated and their discipline and sharpness cost them. Huge win for the Phoenix and many many many big smiles around the rink after the final buzzer!

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Phoenix Rolling - MK Lightning 13/09/15

The weekend just gone saw fans across the EPL dust down those jerseys, fill up the car and hit the road for another exciting EPL season. For the Phoenix it well and truly marks the end of one of the most turbulent summers the club has ever experienced. After a two week pre-season, now firmly settled into their new surroundings in Deeside, the Phoenix open up their EPL season with an inaugural trip to play the Hull Pirates, before returning along the M62 and M56 to take on the Lightning at home. 

The Lightning have built up a strong roster this year, starting with Dean Skinns between the pipes, a player who backstoped the Bison to a number of cup wins. The MK defence is built with some big guys and the ever present Leigh Jamieson, a vetran of the EPL at just 30 years of age. Up front MK are spoilt with riches, a good Brit core including two from the Phoenix in Bobby Chamberlain and Jack Watkins, Blaz Emersic a long time EPL player an an import I would love to see in Phoenix colours. The standout signing has to be, Rene Jarolin though, their import forward captured from the Edinburgh Capitals. Scoring 56 points at over a point per game in the EIHL, he will light up the EPL! 

Going into sunday nights game against MK, Phoenix made the trip across the north of England to Hull. PLaying in the Pirates first EPL game in 'The World's most Versatile Arena' and giving Phoenix fans a chance to sample the famous chip spice! From the updates it sounded like the Phoenix were largely on top in the game but were not able to convert many of their chances. Just one goal a period until the game opened up in the fourth, Phoenix running out 4-1 victors. 

First Period: Throughout our time in the EPL, Phoenix/MK games have always been a highlight for me. Both are teams that are set up to play hockey, both teams have fast and skilful players and are coached to win. The first period began with neither side really dominating the play. Chances were created at either end with the players transitioning through centre ice with speed. A real end to end period had to wait until the later stages to see its first goal. Blaz Emersic took the first penalty of the game at 14min 36sec when he took a two minute penalty for hooking. The Phoenix PP unit went to action and, with the mad advantage, would score the games first goal. The three imports on the ice combining to set up MecaGron for the first goal, timed at 15min 33sec with assists to Kovar and Aaltonen. The period carried on but no further goals were scored. Jack Watkins having the best chance of the first for the visitors but, sadly, fanning on a shot allowing Fone to clear up. 

Second Period: The second did not suffer from either team taking a breather, the play carried on from the first period with both teams going full tilt from the puck drop.  Through the early stages both goaltenders were in action but were equal to the shots.  As the period wore on the more clear cut chances were made when either team was on a power play. The Lightning then ran in to some penalty trouble when Markku Tahtinen went to the box at  32min 36sec for hooking. Then Leigh Jamieson followed him to the box at 34min 12sec for 2mins for slashing plus 2mins for abuse of an official. Despite having a 5 on 3 for a few moments, the Phoenix could not capitalise on the resulting powerplay. A second goal for the hosts did arrive before the buzzer though, 38min 16sec James Archer setting up MecaGron for his second goal of the game. Phoenix heading into the final period break, good value for their 2-0 goal lead. 

Third Period: Phoenix turned the screw a little early in the third period when they jumped out to a 4-0 lead. Robin Kovar scored the Phoenix 3rd at 41min 12sec when he capitalised on an awkward bounce from the netting to decieve Dean Skinns. I know a number of the MK fans were protesting that it was kicked in but the referee saw no foul and awarded the goal. Assists going to James Archer and Gareth O'Flaherty. The Phoenix extended their lead around two minutes later when scorer turned provider as Kovar assisted James Archer to the Phoenix 4th goal, timed at 43min 33sec. It was then the Phoenix turn to run into penalty trouble, the Phoenix PK unit enduring an extended period on the ice as Ben Russell, Luke Boothroyd and MecaGron all spent time in the penalty box. Perhaps those penalties started to take their toll, plus MK's expected increase in effort as the period wore on but the visitors did manage to break Fone's resistance. Jack Watkins and Joshua Cook combined to set up captain Adam Carr to get the visitors on the board at 49min 32sec. 10 minutes to go and 3 goals to get MK really started to ratchet up the pressure. As the Phoenix became more defensive and Skinns saw less shots the Phoenix continued to hit penalty trouble. It was only a matter of time before MK would score again. As MK began to see a few more breakaway chances the Phoenix D became more desperate. Luke Boothroyd would take one for the team when he skated to the box, at 51min 28sec to sit for 2 minutes on an interference penalty. On the resulting powerplay Mk turned the screw and scored their second to reduce the deficit. That player you love to hate, Leigh Jamieson scoring for the Lightning at 52min 23sec with assists going to Tahtinen and Luomala. Still more than enough time to score two goals the Phoenix had to dig deep to see the game out. Despite Kovar, Boothroyd and Thomas heading to the penalty box, the Phoenix were able to hold firm and see out the win. The final buzzer going and a 4-2 win for the Phoenix. 

Verdict: A tough win against a very good MK side, MK will do alot better than last years 7th position this year. They have great depth and some excellent imports. For me, and I appreciate we are only two games into the season, the weakness for me is in Dean Skinns. I saw it during his time with the Bison too, if you ruffle him early or dont allow him to settle his game goes a little haywire at times. This is where teams can capitalise. All that being said, I take nothing away from the Phoenix, they played a solid, hard game and deserved the win. The early goals in the third period were hugely vital. A case of taking the chances when they counted. The win certainly caps a great opening weekend!

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Pre-Season Hype

The road to the 15/16 season has been an interesting ones for Phoenix fans and for fans of hockey in Manchester it has to be said. Much has been said on various forum's/blog's and twitter, I said my piece in my previous post so, from now on its hockey only on the blog! Famous last words I know! 

This post is going to round up the last few players who were added to the roster and the two 'home' preseason games against the Swindon Wildcats and the Telford Tigers. So, onto the remaining players to join the Phoenix roster: 

Back up Netminder - Phil Spanswick. Last season Phoenix had one of the strongest netminding tandems in the league with Fone and Declan Ryan. During the summer Ryan announced via twitter that he was taking time away from hockey to pursue a phd. Fair enough, at EPL level hockey is not a full time profession for Brit's so you have to get set for your future away from the sport. So, with the back up netminder spot free the Phoenix announced Phil Spanswick who would fill the role for this coming season. I will concede I do not know much about Phil and his Elite Hockey Prospects page is quite sparse. Anyone out there know much/anything about him? 

Forward - Trent Hope. Hope is a name familiar to hockey fans across the UK. Shannon Hope was a defenceman for the Cardiff Devils playing nearly 400 games for the Cardiff side. No surprise then that his son, Trent, has played his career to date in south Wales. So far he has performed nicely in the ENL and ENL 2 and this season will be his first in the top level of English Ice Hockey the EPL. Another player I know little about but am looking forward to seeing out on the ice! 

Forward - Stanislav Gron. Or MecaGron is how i'll be referring to him this coming season is a big Slovak forward drafted by the New Jersey Devils in 1997. Playing the majority of his career in his home country he also had signifcant stints in Italy, the WHL and the AHL putting up nearly a point every other game. His past couple of seasons in Italy have seen him scoring at over 1.5 points per game.He looks to have the size, he has the experience hopefully MecaGron will fill the points gap left by Tony Hand's retirement. 
Forward - Nico Aaltonen. Phoenix dont usually sign finnish players so Nico joins quite a small list! Nico will be another top lforward who the club will hope replaces some of the points lost through player departures. Like MecaGron, Nico has spent most of his career in his homeland and, played one game shy of 200 in the Liiga in Finland. 
Forward - Michal Satek. Another new arrival at the Phoenix, he joins Aaltonen and MecaGron making their debut seasons with the Phoenix in England in the EPL. Having spent just one season outside Slovakia Satek comes to England for a new challenge. His career in Slovakia has seen him score roughly a point every 2 or 3 games and, coming off the back of a good year in Romania. Satek looks exciting on paper, hopefully that will translate onto the ice. 

Along with the main roster the Phoenix have also signed two Deeside youngsters on two way contracts for the coming season, makes sense given the year long residency the Phoenix have in north Wales. 

Youngsters playing on a two way with the Deeside Dragons, Ross Kennedy on Defence and Ryan Jones on forward. Give the Phoenix tendancy to ice with a shorter roster and, our luck (or lack thereof) with injuries, I think the two youngsters will see a fair amount of ice time! 

So thats the roster, how about some games? Continuing the strange summer we've had as Phoenix fans, it was August and we were on the M56 heading for North Wales! Hockey can be a strange and unusual sport sometimes but, its why we all love it! It was good fun driving across to Deeside, this coming season will feel like an adventure each weekend! For those of you who will come to Deeside as an away fan I would recommend arriving a little earlier or, build in a trip to Chester Zoo or Cheshire Oaks at the same time. Both are only about 20 minutes away from the Ice Rink! 

Cats enter the Dragons Lair: 

Swindon Wildcats were the first visitors to the Phoenix new home and the first with Stevie Lyle as player coach. The Cat's have retianed the majority of their 14/15 roster, the significant changes coming in their imports. Hoog and Kana were not retained, placed by Miroslav Zalasak and Sami Ryhanen. The game really was fun to watch, Swindon and Phoenix have similarities in the way they play. Swindon, for me, looked very solid if a little un-inspiring at times. Throughout the game the main players just didnt seem to catch fire. Im really looking at Nell and Kostal. They seemed to huff and puff but not really get anywhere. The Phoenix, while looking a bit more kamikaze in defence had pace to burn and would often get in behind the Wildcats defence. In the end the Phoenix were able to capitalise on that pace while doing just enough in defence to keep the Wildcats at bay. Plus, Steve Fone was in outstanding form! 

Reality check from the Champions: 

After the weekends optimism playing the Wildcats and, a 4-3 win in Telford the night before sunday was set up to be a cracker. The Tigers come into the 15/16 which a largely unchanged roster. Well, they are champions so, why change something that isn't broken? The only new blood coming from two new players, Joe Graham and Phil Hill. When the game got going the Phoenix looked good in the early stages and took the lead. But, the quality on the Tigers roster began to come through. The Tigers took quick hold of the game and ran away with it. Really no issues with the scoreline for me, the Phoenix looked tired and, coupled with the Tigers depth, just couldn't match up. Best team in the league last year and, on that showing, they will be the ones to beat again! 

Thursday, 16 July 2015

The Phoenix Summer Rollercoaster - Glass Half Full

Ok, so yesterdays post was a glass half empty kind of deal. Let's get the sunnies out, enjoy the sunshine and fill that glass up. There be silver linings to those clouds! 

You will have seen on social media, in the days after the Stingrays went under a fan launched a kickstarter campaign to bring back hockey in Hull. Those efforts have seemingly been rewarded and, an ownership group lead by Shane Smith (of the Steeldogs) has stepped in to run an EPL team in Hull. Welcome the Hull Pirates! Out of this messy summer it looks like the EIHL and EPL will run with 10 teams each this coming season. This is great news for the guys in Hull, many fans I have got to know over the years they will make an EPL team a success I know it! As of writing the Pirates had announced their first signing in Sam Towner, GB under 20 international, Hull native and a player who had signed with the Stingrays for the coming season joins player coach Dominic Osman on the Pirates roster. 
Another brief titbit, Red Hockey continued their investment in British Ice Hockey by purchasing a 100% stake in the Deeside Dragons. The team who will share their ice with the Phoenix for the 15/16 season. Red Hockey's aims with the Dragons is to strengthen them and, possibly, work them up to becoming an EPL team. 

Finishing off this post, in a positive way, its time to talk about the Phoenix 15/16 squad which, despite the off-ice issues is being built a pace. It must be said that, every play who has signed and, talking to a player earlier in the summer. The prospect of playing a season in Deeside has not been an issue in signing on the dotted line at all. 
Anyway, onto the roster (correct as of 9th July) 

#31 Stephen Fone - A stalwart of the Phoenix now, a player icing his 7th season for the Phoenix between the pipes, Fone is established as one of the best goalies in the EPL. Despite his GAA increasing during last season, he actually had his best save % since going full time with the Phoenix. That leaky defence obviously letting through more shots! Having Declan Ryan as competition will have helped push Fone on during the season. I hope for 15/16 he can carry on his form and backstop the Phoenix to further success. 

#4 Luke Boothroyd - Captain Fantastic, #Bootherscoringmachine, just a few ways Phoenix fans like to describe their captain. Luke is returning for his 8th season in Phoenix colours, being named Captain for 6 of those seasons. Luke is one of the few EPL British players who could probably hold their own in the EIHL. A cool head, immensely strong despite his size, you notice his influence on the ice and off it. A freak off ice injury ended his 14/15 season early and you could see the Phoenix struggle on the ice without him. 14/15 will be a season he wants to forget, 15/16 should see the return of the captain we know and love. 
#5 Benjamin Russell - Ben comes to the Phoenix from three seasons with the MK Lightning and some junior hockey in North America. He seems to be excited to play in Manchester and, Tony Hand obviously sees promise in him so, I will be excited to see what he can bring to the Phoenix blue line. 
#12 James Neil - James Neil has been around forever it seems so, it is amazing to know he is still only 25! 15/16 will be his 7th season in Phoenix colours, a player who is loved by the Phoenix fans and a guy who always has time to talk to anyone about anything. Despite his small stature Neil is a damn hard worker on the ice and a very competent defenceman. He's one of those players you always expect to be there but, always miss when he is not. Another player on last seasons Phoenix roster who lost games to injury, hopefully 15/16 will be better on that front! 
#15 Ben Wood - 'Gino' has been playing hockey in the North West since 2002, now a 'veteran' of 27 and one of the Phoenix longest serving players, Ben returns to the Phoenix to ice his 8th season. Speaking to the guy off the ice, signing on for another year was  a no-brainer for be. Ben has worked his way up through the junior levels to establish himself as an ever reliable defenceman for the Phoenix. Possessing height, an awesome ability to hit the body and a wicked wrist shot Ben has been slowly proving his worth to the Phoenix. More of the same please Ben! 
#44 Mark Thomas - Mark is a stellar signing for the Phoenix the Stockport native returns to his roots in signing for the Phoenix for the new season. Starting his career with the Altrincham Tigers, rising up to ice for the Phoenix in the EIHL, Thomas has played much of his recent career over t'hills with the Sheffield Steelers. During his time winning the EIHL title and playoff trophies amongst others, Thomas brings a wealth of experience, skill and leadership to the Phoenix blue line. Thomas will be in the top line D pairing, possibly with an import D or, with Boothroyd would be my guess! Looking forward to seeing him in Phoenix colours. 

#2 James Archer - Currently filling his summer playing for Team GB in the inline hockey championships Arch returns to the Phoenix for his 6th season. Arch has usually filled the 2nd line winger spot and been very productive in that position. He works hard, is skillfull and has a good shot. When Michal Psurny's season was finished Arch did see some time on the top line with Tony Hand. Yet another player who lost games to injury im sure Archer will want to put 14/15 behind him and have a good new season. 
#62 Jacob Corson-Heron - He has only played a season and a half for the Phoenix, much of his 14/15 season was lost to injury but, in the games he did play. The Phoenix faithful saw his qualities and worth to the team. Despite his small stature, Croson-Heron has speed to burn and a complete disregard for his own safety! He is a player I didn't expect to see back this season so, am really happy he is coming back! 
#66 Robin Kovar - After hearing rumours about Kovar towards the end of his first season in Manchester, it will always surprise me when he signs on for another season in Manchester. Robin is hugely talented, ridiculously strong and all you want in an import forward. Possibly a little selfish at times but, you could argue, the best forwards often are! Over two full seasons with the Phoenix Robin has put up consistent numbers and with, perhaps, more of a staring role on the Ice (due to Tony's retirement) I expect Robin to have an excellent 15/16 season. Who needs Batman, we've got Robin........indeed! 
#TBC - Gareth O'Flaherty - A guy Phoenix fans are familiar with, despite the 15/16 season being his first offical season for the Phoenix. Gareth spent the 14/15 season on a three way deal with the Blaze EIHL and ENL teams and the Manchester Phoenix. He iced twice for the Phoenix and, I remember being impressed with him. He brings some new blood into the Phoenix locker room, im looking forward to how he plays this coming season. 

So that's the Phoenix summer so far, I hope it has been an interesting read. I know you will disagree with some or all of it, that's ok. Like I said, its just how I feel, I make no apologies for that! I hope to do a few more posts throughout the summer as the Phoenix roster becomes clearer and, hopefully, we get more clarity on the future of the Phoenix. All that's left to say is, enjoy the summer, enjoy your holidays, before you know it, it will be september already!

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

The Phoenix Summer Rollercoaster - Glass Half Empty

Well, hello again everyone! I do apologise for the lack of updates on the blog so far. Its really been a combination of things since the end of the 14/15 EPL season. Mainly holidays, home life priorities, work and I just wanted a bit of time off after the season to un-plug and reset if that makes sense. This is a long post which im splitting in two to make it a little more palatable!
So, since the end of the 14/15 season.....have I missed much? Anything? 

I guess a few things have happened in the world of the Phoenix, in fact things started happening the saturday night of finals weekend! It's kind of been non stop since then. I think I put it out on twitter that I claimed film rights for the Phoenix summer story, it really has been worthy of a block buster. Controversy, back stabbing, claims and counter claims, homeless ness and finally a home from home. I will never claim to know the full details, how could I? But, i wanted, in this post at least, just to talk about what it's been like for this particular Phoenix fan since the final buzzer sounded in Coventry. 

I will preface what im about to say with, I am a Manchester Phoenix fan and, in my experience, do have trust in Neil Morris/Wayne Scholes and the Phoenix back room team. This is based on my experiences/dealings with the Phoenix as a fan since their birth in the Manchester Arena. I have heard stories about Neil Morris being a bit ruthless and not the easiest person to work with. Hey, how many successful business men are sweetness and light? Anyway, that's my disclaimer out the way, you can take what I say with a pinch of salt if you like....that's totally up to you! 

This is the summer so far.....................Angry Budgie style. 

The summer of 2015 for the Phoenix really began during finals weekend in Coventry last April. Going into the weekend the Phoenix had played all season with a short roster due to injury, Heading into that last weekend, in addition to injuries the Phoenix had also lost import forward Michal Psurny. A short bench, down an import, claiming the Playoff trophy would be one tough ask. Despite the odds being stacked against the Phoenix they won through their semi-final to take on the Phantoms in the EPL Playoff final. In a summer of bombshell's the first was dropped on the Phoenix not long after the final whistle went saturday night. A statement put on the Hockey Forum by someone connected to SilverBlades in Altrincham, words to the effect, that the Phoenix were being booted out of the Ice Dome. Whether you believe either side of the story, making the statement on a forum? That's bad form! 
So heading into the final, the Phoenix were tired, injured, short benched and now homeless, brilliant preparation. Despite all that the team performed as best they could, the Phoenix fans in full voice behind the team. In the end the Phantoms were just better! Koulikov, with a bit of a budget behind him, is an excellent coach and had turned the Phantoms into damn fine team. Hard working all over the ice and, in Auzins, have a fantastic base to build on to win games. I doff my cap to the Phantoms...well done! 

Im not going to bore you will all the details in the saga between the Phoenix/Red Hockey and SilverBlades, there are plenty of podcasts and statements out there concerning it. As a fan of the Phoenix its just frustrating, I know both sides are trying to win the PR war, that's only natural. Being a Phoenix fan of course I will have a bias to their side of the story. My argument would be, at least the Phoenix have stuck with making statements via their official website, and keeping them short and to the point. I do not like how SB have gone about arguing their side from behind a username on the Hockey Forum. That's not how you do business. 

Anyhoo, for the 15/16 season Phoenix will be playing out of Deeside while a new arena is built in the city centre, more than likely out by the Etihad stadium. There was, as you will have seen a few weeks ago, a big announcement due by the Phoenix, which was then delayed a day, then put out very late at night. The announcement confirming 15/16 in Deeside, 16/17 in an Arena in Manchester. Free buses being put on to transport fans out to Deeside. As I mentioned in my 'disclaimer' paragraph above, I do trust the Phoenix, in my interactions as a win with the club they have given me no reason not to. I must admit, that announcement left me a little flat. I had been lead to believe we had an 80% chance of starting the new season in Manchester. I kind of expected the move to Deeside but was still disappointed to have that confirmed. The aspect that disappointed me the most though, was the lack of clarity on the new rink in the announcement.  What would have softened the Deeside blow, would have been, yes ok were playing in Deeside but look, here are our plans of the new rink and construction will begin ..........etc.. 
Anyway, Deeside it is, I have renewed my season ticket and, at least for me, Deeside is not a strenuous journey to make. Plus, the rink does look good actually! 

The second bombshell of the summer happened about two weeks ago. It was confirmed one early morning that, due to a major sponsor pulling out and, the Hull council deciding to charge for ice time. The Hull Stingrays owned had liquidated the team, the Hull Stingrays were gone. While you could argue the writing was on the wall for a long time for Hull, it does not make up for losing your team. Blimey, I've been through that enough following Ice Hockey in Manchester! 
You may have already guess but, I don't hold I high opinion of SilverBlades...shock horror I know! The third bombshell of the summer followed just hours after the demise of the Stingrays. SilverBlades would be resurrecting the Manchester Storm to play out of the Ice Dome in the EIHL. An announcement that would piss off a huge group of hockey supporters in Manchester and, rub the Stingrays fans in the dirt. It was poorly timed by both SB and the EIHL. Given the first few signings of the Storm have been former Stingrays players, it seems more and more the EIHL have lifted the Stingrays franchise out of Hull and plonked it in Altrincham. Given my personal anger with SB over the way they have seemingly kicked the Phoenix out of the Ice Dome to have their own team I will wish them well. Manchester and the North West is/should be big enough to sustain two hockey teams. I have seen alot of infighting within the Phoenix fanbase and, old Storm supporters now appearing since the announcement. For me, it's not worth it, you cannot dictate to people how to spend their sporting ££'s. For me, I supported the Storm, I lost money when the Storm went bust, I am a Phoenix fan and, in the long run, the Phoenix will be so much better placed when the arena in the city opens up. Good luck to the Storm but, even though Altrincham is closer to where I live than Manchester and Deeside, I will not be attending your games. 

My other main frustration of the summer has been, the emergence of old Manchester Storm fans now appearing and declaring their love for the Storm. When the Storm arrived on the scene they were a big deal, playing out of the Nynex/MEN Arena the Storm would regularly attract crowds of 8-10k in the early days, I was one of them! However, as success died away and, the free tickets were not as freely given out, crowds fell and the club began to lose money. So, it was no surprise that, playing in front of 2-3k crowds in an Arena of 17k the Storm went bust. The question has been asked many many times, where did all those 17k plus fans go who watched the Storm tank Sheffield all those years ago? Many of those Storm fans at the end are the very same that went on to form FOMIH (Friends of Manchester Ice Hockey) who then set up the Phoenix. A big frustration for me is, SilverBlades cashing in on the history of the Storm when, the Storm (original) legacy is the Phoenix (current) history. The Phoenix came from the Storm, the new Storm (v2) have no link to that legacy despite their attempts to claim it. My second big frustration with all the 'rebirth' of the Storm is, on social media so many hockey fans coming out to declare their love for the Storm name and it rekindling their interest in Hockey in Manchester. My points would be:
  • Where were you in those last days of the Storm?
  • Suddenly declaring your interest in Hockey in Manchester, there has been hockey in Manchester for the past 12 years, the Manchester Phoenix.
  • Many of these fans never took to the Phoenix because of playing in Altrincham, why does having the Storm back now make hockey in Altrincham all ok?
  • Bear in mind, this is the same rink other fans have slated the Phoenix for playing in the past few years. It will have the same poor sightliness and malfunctioning toilets!

Reading all the above, you may call me bitter/deluded what ever you like. The point of this post was just to talk about how I (as a Phoenix fan) have been feeling this summer. Its not a perfect description of everything, it will be biased but, I just want to try and set out what I am feeling and why. Like I have said before, good luck to the Storm and, if you want to support them, please do! 

So, that's the glass half empty side of the post, come back for the glass half full post!

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Phoenix Rolling - 22nd March Swindon Wildcats

Following the Phoenix excellent win against the Bees the season would be rounded off by the visit of the Swindon Wildcats. This season Swindon have been much improved in the EPL when compared to recent seasons. After the win the previous night, Phoenix had secured 6th place in the table and had nothing but pride riding on this game, for Swindon however, they were battling with the Phantoms for 4th or 5th place in the table. A win for them would see them above the Peterborough outfit so, this would be a competitive game. 

The game would also see the last groupon game of the season so, a large crowd swelled the stands as all rose to welcome a certain Tony Hand onto the ice for his last regular season game in his career. 

First Period: The game opened up with franetic pace, both teams forwards sharp and testing Fone and Lyle right from the opening puck drop. Phoenix took the early initiative firing two quick goals past Lyle. Frankie Bakrlik scored the first goal at 6min 46sec then Robin Kovar added a second at 7min 51sec. Kovar's effort was a fantastic one man effort. Feeding on a past from Archer Kovar took the puck down the ice, deked Lyle, then circled the net to score an excellent wrap around effort. One for the highlight reel! Fans across the EPL know, Swindon do have a talented team and, one of the best top lines in the league. It was that firepower that would shock the Phoenix and, in the space of about 2 and a half minutes would see the Wildcats surge ahead in the game. Malasinski got the Wildcats on the board at 14min 44sec before two superb goals from Aaron Nell. His first coming at 15min 29sec then, Phoenix gave him the freedom of the Ice Dome to get the Cats third at 17min 02sec. A real shock to the Phoenix system but a deserved lead for the Cats heading into the interval. 

Second Period: Ex Phoenix captain Kenton Smith took a slashing penalty early in the second period which sent out the Phoenix powerplay unit. After working the puck around the zone, good interplay between Frankie and Tony saw the puck passed to Adam Walker who scored close in on Lyle, levelling the scores at 25min 32sec. We all know Lyle is a superb netminder at this level, so, one of the best ways past him is to screen him or get in his face. Frankie Bakrlik gave the Phoenix the lead once more when he shot through a screen to score after 26min 59sec. The period continued with great end to end hockey and, the Wildcats kept in touch by scoring with just 6sec left on the clock, Bullas with the Cats goal. 

Third Period: With the scores level, the Wildcats needed just one point to secure 4th place. This meant the third period was played at a furious pace and the goals kept coming! Swindon took the lead at 47min 19sec when Loris Taylor took a speculative shot which deceived Steve Fone. The game had been played at such a high standard, the goals too, the Phoenix 5th goal was a highlight. Frankie Bakrlik found Robin Kovar who weaved his way through the Wildcats defence and took a quick wrist shot which beat Lyle, game tied once again at 51min 07sec. I dont think either set of fans would have minded had the game ended 5-5. One last sting in the tail though, in the dying minute, Burlin sent a long shot in on Lyle who coughed up a juicy rebound, Adam Walker, the lone man following it in pounced and lifted the rebound over Lyle into the roof of the night. Scoring the winner with just 26sec left on the clock. The Ice Dome erupted and the Wildcats defeated. 

Verdict: What a game, a real goalfest and 60 minutes of fast paced intense hockey. Swindon were unlucky not to leave with a point and, in doing so, were unable to take 4th place in the league. Phoenix did deserve some points from the game and, will feel justified in taking the win. The depleted bench performed admirably against a very good Cats side. The game winner being the icing on the cake! 

Attendance: Another big groupon crowd sunday night, i'll say 1,800 in the Ice Dome.

Phoenix 6 Swindon 5 - -Phoenix Article
Phoenix 6 Swindon 5 - Wildcats Article 

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