So the league is done, and this Phoenix fan cant stop grinning!
With that out the way there is the small matter of the EPL playoff's and a trip to Coventry in the balance! The Phoenix made it last year and lost to eventual champions Slough, this year the Phoenix will be taking 550+ fans to the SkyDome and will fill the horseshoe end. Those in attendance will be hoping the Phoenix go one better and make this years final! So for this blog I wanted to have a look at the different match ups and have a chin wag about team's chances. So sit back, have a cuppa and here we go.....
Guildford Flames v Swindon Wildcats
Flames lead the series 5-1
With the roster available to Flames player coach Paul Dixon, and the recent hot streak for the Flames, many fans would have the side from the Spectrum as firm favorites. They are probably correct but, lest we forget the Wildcats are the team that embarrassed MK after their title win last season. The Cats have also upset the Flames in the Spectrum before, in Douglass they have a game winning goalie (when he is in the mood!). The Flames are odds on favorites and, apart from one loss, have the number of the Cats all season. However as many a hockey fan will tell you, playoff hockey is a totally different animal to league hockey. As Swinon showed last year! Its 6 periods of hockey to get to the Coventry weekend and the key for Swinon is to take a lead into the Spectrum. Any less and I can see the Flames winning easily. The tie has potential for an upset but, with the extra quality in the Flames roster they should do the business! Just spark Nathan Rempel and observe the results!
Prediction: Flames to go through.
Slough Jets v Peterborough Phantoms
Jets lead the series 4-1-1 One game tied and one win on penalty shots.
Another tricky tie, and one the Jets should win, but are not guaranteed to! The Phantoms are a very difficult team to beat, just ask any Phoenix fan! In Stephen Wall they have one of the best goalies in the league. The Phantoms have had success against the Jets this season, but that was before the Jets brought in Adam Calder. The point production from the Canadian has been scary since he arrived at the hangar! The Jets can blow cold and the Phantoms will have to be at their best and capitalise on any slip ups made, key for me, the Phantoms must win their home leg. They have to be able to take a lead into the 2nd, if they do they can make life hard for the Jets. Much like the Flames/Wildcats series their is potential for an upset, but over 6 periods, with the devastating Calder on form, I think it'll be the Jets making the trip to Coventry!
Prediction: Jets to go through.
Basingstoke Bison v MK Lightning
Series tied 3-3 with two games going to OT or penalty shots!
Ooooooo, im taking this one as the pick of the quarter finals! Two evenly matched teams that have been at each others throats all season, hardly much to split the sides too. This game really could go either way, both teams have players who can win a game. Kubenko and Lauko for the Bison and Kalgoum and Emersic for MK. Its really hard to pick a winner in this tie as both teams have had a bit of an iffy run in to the playoff post season. I really can see this tie going for 6 periods, overtime and even penalty shots. Possibly the decider will be in the goaltending, I think Hollyhead is slightly the better keeper (from games I have seen in Manchester) but he can loose his head easily and become a bit of a liability. This is where Skinns reliability could prove invaluable! Another factor in who takes it could be, who stays out of the penalty box. Both teams have players who can blast them from the blue line or dance their way through. Crikey its tough to pick a winner, I think im going to have to plump for the Bison. On the basis their higher league placing gives them home advantage for the second leg, they will have the home support for any potential OT or penalty shot situation. The key for MK will be taking a decent lead into Basingstoke, if they don't the Bison can overhaul them.
Prediction: The Bison to go through.....only just though!
Manchester Phoenix v Sheffield Steeldogs
Phoenix lead the series 6-0
On paper, an easy series win for the Phoenix should be on the cards, however just ask MK from last year, playing the 8th ranked team is no passport to Coventry! Plus, since Payette took over, the Steeldogs have become a much more difficult team to beat. Sheffield should be at full strength (though there are rumors that Payette may be banned for the first leg), the Phoenix will be without Tony Hand. Thankfully the Phoenix showed they can cope without Mr Hand by securing a comfortable win against the Wildcats on the final day of the season with the EPL title riding on it. The key for Sheffield will be to play physical, and play rough. In a hockey game there is no match and the Phoenix would win easily, however when Sheffield bring their (sometimes very illegal) physicality to a game it makes things interesting. Plus in Ozonlins they have the find of the season, the little guy is a dynamo and supremely talented. Payette has, possibly, scored the coup of the summer in re-signing him and keeping him from the noisy neighbors next door. And in Ben Bowns they have a hot prospect and a goalie who is destined to play at higher levels than the EPL someday soon! The Phoenix have enough offence and talent to win the tie, but key will be to come out of Sheffield with healthy bodies. I'll take a one goal revers, as back on home ice in Alty I think the Phoenix can overhaul the Steeldogs. Ideally i'd love the guys to bring a lead back across the pennines, but I can see the possibility of an upset from that game. The Phoenix need to make sure they don't suffer the same fate as MK last season, and come to the game with their best heads on. There will no doubt be a massive Phoenix following in Ice Sheffield, so two great atmospheres are to be expected!
Prediction: Phoenix to go through.
Next week will see the game review from the 2nd leg between the Phoenix and Sheffield from Altrincham, and a Coventry weekend preview!