Last night saw the last visit of the Steeldogs to Altrincham for the EPL 10/11 season and, possibly, the last time some Phoenix fans would have the chance to see a Sharp v Payette dance. Coming into the game this dance had been thrown into doubt. The previous night, while the Phoenix toiled away in Swindon Sharp sustained quite a nasty injury that required a trip to A&E. The result, a very nice, but neat, cut down his chin. From the stories of how much blood there was, a delay in the game while the Zamboni came on, I was surprised to see Sharp take to the ice for warm up. But he is a tough little boy! Anyway, said game in Swindon, the Phoenix began brightly rushing to a 3-0 lead after the first period. Things began to go wrong, and heads must have been shaking as one by one Swindon pulled themselves back into the game. Only to take the lead going into the final stages. Thankfully the Phoenix came back and sent the game into OT, no further score and the second Swindon/Phoenix game would be, again, decided on penalty shots. Despite the previous shootout at the link center, the Phoenix would grab the extra point, James Archer this time turning hero.
By most accounts the Phoenix played one period of good hockey (the first resulting in the 3-0) but then let the form slip and Swindon into the game. This has happened a fair bit recently and needs addressing quickly before the Guildford double header next weekend! A win is a win though, and out title rivals have slipped up against the Wildcats too, so to get out with both points is welcomed! Sunday nights game against Sheffield should, he says, be a more simpler affair. Deal with Ozolins and effectively negate the Payette effect and you have Sheffield sorted, what would followed changed my view of the Steeldogs completely!
First Period: With the exception of Ozolins, the Steeldogs have accepted they cannot play hockey with the Phoenix. So, and as I have mentioned on the podcast many times, Sheffield resort to physical play. Only last night, that physicality went up to a whole new level! It was clear from the outset Sheffield were going to war on the ice, the level of intensity, hits and down right nasty cheap shot play they indulged in was shocking! Certainly the worst I have seen in the Ice Dome for a long time! During the first period Payette really upped his goonage and set out to try and intimidate the Phoenix smallest players on the Ice. Grundmanis really upped his pantomime villain status early on with some big late hits. In fact, a possible Sharp v Payette was dashed when a skate from Grundmanis caught Sharp o the back of his leg. I must admit this happened in a corner on our side of the ice so I didn't see it. But reports either say, he accidentally kicked Sharp, or deliberately stamped on his leg. Given how Grundmanis played all game im inclined to believe the latter sadly! This left Sharp in severe pain, limping off the ice and straight to A&E with a bad cut to his leg. Thankfully latest reports indicate he should be ok! So that's one man down! Tom Duggan and Ben Wood were also subject to some horrible boarding incidents as well, amongst others which could have resulted in bad injuries to players. You would be forgiven for thinking 'hold on, there was hockey wasn't there?' There was, but not much! Sheffield played a very good road game tactically, they filled the neutral zone which disrupted the usual smooth Phoenix transition up the ice. One goal was scored in the period, it came for the Phoenix when Stephen Wallace pounced on a defensive error behind the goal, to execute a fast wrap-around to beat Ben Bowns. That goal coming at 13min 41sec.
Second Period: Really continued much like the first! It really was a battle out on the ice with the Phoenix trying to play hockey and the Steeldogs trying to beat the Phoenix into submission! With the Phoenix on the penalty kill the Seeldogs scored with 3sec left on the powerplay through Edgar Bebris sending the away fans into raptures. Other than the tough physical play there was no further scoring in the second, only more penalty minutes. Andre Payette stepping up and taking a total of 14mins himself in one period!
A special comment for the period must go to the ref, a certain Mr Boardman. Now I never usually criticize referees on this blog, as I know I couldn't do the difficult job they do. However im sorry, he was awful in this period! From the first 20mins it was obvious this game would be very very very physical, lots of hitting but also, a lot of afters, cheapshots and down right dangerous play. It was ok in the first period, but Boardman did nothing to stop it, so in the second it began to cross the line into dangerous play! Sadly what happened in the third, he couldn't/wouldn't do anything to change that!
Third Period: This last period cemented my change in view on the Steeldogs! What they did in the 3rd was an utter disgrace! As previously mentioned, im ok with physical play when it is clean! How Sheffield played, it was most defiantly not! Payette and Grundmanis the leading culprits! Payette spent the whole game digging/cheapshotting the smallest players on the Phoenix roster, and Grundmanis put in some disgusting late hits and boarding hits. The worst, and the hit that has disgusted me with the way Sheffield played, was a massively dirty/late and awful hit Grundmanis put on Harabin. Mid ice in Sheffield's zone Harabin was moving towards the net, only to be checked, late, to the head by Grundmanis. This sent Harabin flying through the air, helmet coming off and onto the ice hard....not moving! It was clear he was out cold, in all my time watching hockey, it was a horrible horrible hit! One I hope the Phoenix ask the EIHA to review and subsequently ban Grundmanis! After a couple of minutes inaction, with the help of medical staff from both teams Harabin was sat up and responding. It was awful seeing him like that though, and that hit will linger with me for a long time! After much discussion Grundmanis rightly received a 5 plus match for check to the head! Quite frankly he should be out for a good few games! Wonder if we should leak the footage onto Youtube like Sheffield did re Sharp? You would be forgiven for thinking 'hold on, there was hockey wasn't there?' There was, but not much! Hold on, I feel like im repeating myself! Two goals were scored in the period. the Phoenix first at 44min 26sec when Kristoffersson put the puck home and make the scores 2-1. Sheffield hit back quickly when George Elliot tied the scores again at 47min 22sec. The scores would remain 2-2 at 60minutes and the two sides would play an extra 5 to see who got the extra point!
Overtime: Because Grundmanis and Payette were in the penalty box at the end of 60minutes the Phoenix would play most of the overtime 5 on 4 on the powerplay. But given our terrible powerplay efforts over the previous 60minutes, including two periods of 5 on 3, I wasn't expecting much! Payette was in the box on a 2+2+2 for cross checking, which he picked up with just 4 sec to go in the 3rd period. Anyway, the Phoenix did alot of huffing, but a slow powerplay began to frustrate the home crowd. Thankfully Curtis Huppe stepped up and scored the winner two minutes in the extra period, to seal both points and send the Steeldogs home!
Verdict: Shocked! The Phoenix did not play their best game, credit must go to Sheffield for filling the neutral zone and stopping the Phoenix play. All the credit gets wiped out however, with the way Sheffield conducted themselves! Very dirty, very dangerous and no sportsmanship what so ever! I have never, or at least for a long time, seen one team play so dirty, so dangerously in one game! Payette should have been ejected from the game, along with Grundmanis, who should also be banned for a good few games for the hit on Harabin. Sadly we did not have a strong enough referee to sort the game out either! Anyway, as for the Phoenix, a dirty/ugly win! But a win none the less, some on the forum are worrying about our current inability to sweep teams like Sheffield and Swindon. It concerns me, but im pleased that, despite not dominating both games over the weekend, we still won both! I still stand by my belief that last years team would have lost both games this weekend! The 10/11 Phoenix are tougher! It was so important to get the two points last night, with MK toppling Guildford and the Bees hammering the Bison, those two points mean the Phoenix head into next weeks double header with Guildford 5 valuable points clear!
Attendance: Down on the big crowd against MK but a good one anyway! I'd guess maybe a 1,000 in the Ice Dome.
Phoenix 3 Sheffield 2 - Phoenix Article
Phoenix 3 Sheffield 2 - CB Sport Article
Phoenix 3 Sheffield 2 - Steeldogs Article
Steeldogs Coach - Pretty disgusting article!