Yes as promised this is the first weekend preview The Angry Budgie has done all season! Right at the end of the season too! Its a worthwhile weekend to look ahead to though, the Phoenix battling both Guildford and Basingstoke for 3rd place in the league, and a probably playoff quarter final against the Peterborough Phantoms. Currently the placings in the race for third are as follows:
3rd Manchester Phoenix 70 points
4th Guildford Flames 69 points
5th Basingstoke Bison 69 points
So its as tight as a......well very tight thing going into the final weekend!
First off lets look at the Basingstoke Bison, the Bison finished the 2008/09 season, with the Phoenix in the EIHL. For very similar reasons to the Phoenix they chose to move to the EPL, and are lead by an older statesmen of the league in Steve Moria. As I have mentioned on the Phoenix podcast before, Steve Moria is much like our own Tony Hand, you do not leave him alone in and around the net, he will punish you! Personally I like the Bison, they are a team I like to use as a yard stick for the Phoenix progress in a season. Out of the 6 regular season meetings between the two sides the Phoenix enjoy a W4 L2 record against the Bison. Every game being very entertaining affairs! In the Race for Fourth the Bison's remaining two games are away to league winners MK Lightning and then home to the Swindon Wildcats. For differing reasons I can see the Bison securing either a full four point weekend or getting nothing! Against the Lightning, that result could depend on how bothered MKL are. They could either take it easy as they have won the league already, or wish to end their home season on a high, and get a good result before the playoff's start! Their home game against the Wildcats will be no walk in the park either, the Cat's are in the hunt for the final playoff spot and will want the two points as much as the Bison do!
Next, the Guildford Flames, the richest team in the EPL, arguably, and probably the only team who can sign more than the required 4 imports and be able to 'rest' them as required. Having said that they are a very good team, one that the Phoenix have struggled against all season. A regular, for many years in the EPL, and a team that is regularly linked with a step up to the EIHL. Standout players for the Flames this season for me have been Adrian Saul and Lukas Smital, both very skillful players, and both who seem to enjoy scoring against the Phoenix! The Flames have held onto 3rd place for most of the season, but, through a little inconsistency have fallen a place to 4th. Like against the Bison, games against the Flames have always been great adverts for EPL hockey. If I have got my results correct, the 6 game set with the Flames ended up split with both teams winning 3 games each. Guildford's final week is a little more congested than either the Phoenix or Bison, as they have a second leg of the Cup Final against MK Lightning to fit in. The Flames taking a 6-1 lead back to the Thunder Dome in MK. Their final two league games see them face, last year's all conquering Peterborough Phantoms, and then a, supposedly, easy trip away to the Romford Raiders. Lets get the Raiders game done with, that should be an easy two points for the Flames, but you never know! The Phantom's game is a little more interesting. They have become a very difficult team to beat in the final months of the season, plus they could also have a big say in who they want to face in the playoff's! So I may go for a potential upset in this one!
...and finally the Manchester Phoenix. An up and down season for the Phoenix first attempt at EPL hockey! Leading the league for much of the first half of the season, then a very iffy spell over Dec/Jan and Feb as the Phoenix lost Stephen Fone to injury and four young lads to the GB championships. This dropped the Phoenix to 5th in the table, thankfully since the middle of Feb, the Phoenix have lead a revival, playing much better hockey, and in much improved form. Some Phoenix fan's will also say, myself included, that the Phoenix have played more as a team when Ed Courtenay has not been on the ice. The revival has also coincided, it must be said, with a bit more of a favorable run in terms of fixtures. That dark period over Christmas and the New Year, the Phoenix seemed to come up against the Lightning/Flames and Jets every other game! Even so, the Phoenix have re-grouped and have now hit some great form right when it matters. Hauling themselves back up to third and looking good for it! The final league games for the Phoenix are away to Swindon and home to Bracknell. In many cases, that should be an easy 4 point weekend, but its complicated by both the Wildcats and Bee's fighting it out for the last playoff spot. Personally, as we are going for 3rd place I do not see the home game against the Bee's causing an upset. The Phoenix just seem to go up a gear and go out of sight, when ever the Bees threaten. The away game in Swindon, saturday night, could be tricky! The Wildcats have hit some good form and will be no pushovers! Results against the two teams are as follows:
Phoenix against the Wildcats, won 5 of 5.
Phoenix against the Bees, won 5 of 5.
Both games will be tough, even though I have the Phoenix down to win the Bee's game, our last two games against the Bees have been closer 5-4 victories. This final weekend will be so tight, the Phoenix could end up either in 3rd/4th or 5th and play either the Flames/Bison or Phantoms in the quarter final. Personally, I do think the Phoenix have hit form just right, and I don't see the table positioning changing after this weekends games.
So that's it, your weekend preview, I think the Phoenix will get a four point weekend! There should be a good travelling support going down to Swindon to cheer the boys on. And the Dome should be rocking with a great crowd against the Bee's on sunday. With nearly 400 Scouts in attendance, and a fair few friends of mine coming to either their first or second Phoenix games, it should be a busy Ice Dome! Bring it on!!!