What better way of picking the team up than a vital cup semi-final! After a dismal showing against the Guildford Flames last Sunday, and a pretty heartfelt apology from Tony Hand there was cause for optimism going into this game. Games against the Lightning have always brought out the best in the Phoenix and produced some great adverts for EPL hockey. That optimism would be tempered by the worst official I have ever seen returning to the dome to officiate. Yes last night saw the return of Mr Wardell!
The faceoff was delayed around 50mins last night as poor weather and awful motorway conditions delayed the Lightning players and fans getting to Altrincham. However the team made it and a warm welcome extended!
First Period: Any worries the Lightning fans may have had about bus legs were quickly banished, the opening 10mins of the game cementing the fact that Phoenix/MK games are always fast and flowing affairs. End to end hockey to delight the fans in the Ice Dome, and thankfully for the home support it was the Phoenix who scored first. After 8min 10sec Ed Courtenay found Joe Graham to deflect the puck past Mr Hollyhead. As the ten minute mark passed something change within the Phoenix and the same mistakes started to creep in as they did against Guildford. Passes started going astray, players stopped checking back, so it was no surprise that MK got themselves on the board. After 14min 26sec Lewis Christie scoring MK’s first of the night. MK quickly took hold of the game, and indeed the tie, in the remaining minutes of the period. MK took the lead after 16min 43sec through Andre Smulter and then capped off a great period with 25sec left when the Phoenix defence decided to let Nick Poole skate the length of the ice un-checked to score a wrap around.
Second Period: What utter rubbish was to follow from the Phoenix. That final ten-minute turn around from MK seemed to have sucked the life out of the Phoenix. By the end of this period the tie was dead! I know there is still a game to be played in MK, but seriously!!!! Decieving us all the Phoenix managed to score the first goal of the period, but it was to be a short-lived moment of hope! After 29min 33sec the Phoenix scored their second powerplay goal of the game when Tony Hand found Adam Walker to score. MK would take the tie by the scruff of the neck with a burst of goals. Their 4th coming after 31min 36sec on the powerplay through Lukas Zatopek. Then a two-goal one minute blitz. Goals coming from Leigh Jamieson after 37min exactly, then Ross Bowers after 37min 56sec.
Third Period: All that was left for the Phoenix to do was to salvage some pride, and give those fans heading down to MK for the second leg some hope! Sadly both were extinguished, as the Phoenix continued to play poorly. Heads were obviously down, and it seemed some players just didn’t want to be on the ice. Mercifully only two further goals came in the period, both to MK. The first at 49min 07sec when Smulter got his second of the night, then the final goal at 53min 26sec through Monir Kalgoum.
Verdict: Awful……worst performance of the season! More worryingly after the humiliation of the Guildford game the Phoenix seemed unable to pick themselves up and re-caputre their pre-christmas league leading form. I am now genuinely worried that, while we will qualify for the playoff’s, we won’t have the confidence to progress to Coventry. We were simply outclassed by MK, and on the face of it, don’t deserved to get to the EPL cup final. MK on the other hand were awesome, and are a good bet to win all trophies up for grabs! On a personal note, it was great to meet up with Yabba-Dabba-Doo and Catwoman (off of the MK forums) for a chat! Final comment again must be aimed at Tony Hand, that’s three full games on the trot now where you have refused to give Ben Wood any ice time! This is disgraceful!!!! Not even one shift! He may not be the most skillfull player on the ice, but there are few guys out there who work harder, skate harder and hit harder than him! It is obvious our confidence is low, so let him get on the ice and rattle some glass! This not only grinds down opponents, but it lifts the crowd, and in turn lifts the team! For god sake Tony, play him, or let him rejoin the Metro’s so he can start playing some hockey!
Attendance: A mid-week game and some pretty dire motorway conditions out there contributed to a lower than average crowd. Big props to the MK fans though, turning out in force despite the conditions. Ill guess at around 700 in last night.
Phoenix TV Highlights:
Phoenix 2 MK Lightning 8 - Phoenix Article
Phoenix 2 MK Lightning 8 - MEN Article