The Angry Budgie Live

Friday, 20 April 2012

Desert Dogs-a-Howlin - April

This updated covers the Coyotes regular season games in April, the next update will have their round one series against the Chicago Blackhawks.

v ColumbusApril sees the end of the regular season and with 3 games left nothing was sorted in the Pacific division. The matchup against the Blue Jackets would see Mike Smith set a record and secure a shutout. With the team in front misfiring a little Smitty turned aside all 54 saves for his shutout. Boyd Gordona and Gilbert Brule scored for Phoenix to secure the win and keep the Coyotes in seventh place and within the post season places.

@ St Louis
The Coyotes would finish their regular season on the road, starting with a tough game away to the St Louis Blues. With their playoff berth secured the matter for the Coyotes now is, where would they finish and who would they face in the first round of the playoffs. Vrbata and Doan scored just 2 minutes apart to break a tied game and a further market from Boedker ensure the Coyotes left the Scottrade Centre with a great 4-1 victory over the Blues. The win also went a long way in securing the Coyotes first ever division title!

@ Minnesota

Win the size of the prize the Coyotes went all out to get in, and they did in some style! The Coyotes made the best start with goals from Boedker and Pyatt giving them the lead. Dany Heatley pulled one back but another one from Pyatt and Vrbata's 35th of the season ensured the Coyotes win, by a score of 4-1. A great win to secure the Pacific Division title and a deserved win for Phoenix too dominating the game from start to end. With the win the Coyotes not only take the title but also home advantage in the first round of the playoff's.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Desert Dogs-a-Howlin - March

 The penultimate month of the season saw the Coyotes fighting for a playoff spot in the Pacific Divison, the division title was also within reach.

v Flames (L)

The mantra of the Coyotes this season has been 'Hockey the Hard Way' throught the previous games the Coyotes have playedit dangerously at times and the run had to come to an end at some point! Along the way the Coyotes have been able to haul themselves out of some tough spots, their first period form has been poor. Against the Flames this ability came to an end, 3-0 down after the first period the Coyotes rallied in the second through Torres and Rozisval but an Iginla empty nett goal in the last minute condemned the Yotes to their first regulation loss in 12 games.

v Blue Jackets (L)

After the disappointing loss to Calgary the Coyotes had a chance for redemption against the lowly Blue Jackets. Coming into the game the Blue Jackets were buoyed by the news that star player Rick Nash would not be leaving, it would be Nash who would haunt the Yotes this game. Continuing the theme of their poor starts, the Coyotes found themselves 2-0 down early in the second before Whitney and Korpikoski goals hauled them level. The Coyotes poor third period would see them concede 3 goals and the game, condemning them to a loss and an 0 and 2 record against the Blue Jackets.

@ Penguins (L)

The Coyotes March madness continued against the high flying Pens. Again, another poor first period saw the Coyotes 2-0 down heading into the second period. The Coyotes huffed and puffed but found Marc-Andre Fleury in scintillating form. Zybnek Michalek and Chris Kunitz put the pens ahead before Ray Whitney got his 21st goal of the season early in the third period. This set up an tense final period but the Coyotes were unable to find the game levelling goal.

@ Blue Jackets (L)

If the Coyotes wanted to ensure their participation in the post season they need to shake out of this slump. February was awesome, March, very much less so! The Coyotes travelled to Columbus to take on the Blue Jackets for the second time in a few days. The symptom of this poor form has been the Yotes poor starts in games. Tonight would be no different, in just 4 minutes the Blue Jackets were two goals to the good. Vermett did get one back for the Coyotes before the end of the first period. Derek MacKenzie put the Blue Jackets two clear before Yandle reduced the arrears again. This left the Coyotes with one period to get leveller, sadly this did not come and the Phoenix poor run was extended again.

v Wild (L-SO)

The Coyotes just cant catch a break so far in March, they started this game against the Wild in, predictably, slow fashion. By the end of the first period the Wild were 2 goals up through Brodziak and Kampfer. No goals came in the second period but the Coyotes dug deep and pulled the game back in the third through Torres and Korpikoski forcing overtime. At least the Coyotes would get some points from the game and get the scoreboard ticking again. Dany Heatley secured the extra point for the Wild and the Coyotes finally got moving in March.

v Sharks (W)

The Coyotes needed to bounce back and get going in March, the Sharks would provide tough opposition. The Coyotes bounced back in some style, Mike Smith got his fifth shutout of the season and goals from Mikkel Boedker, Michael Stone and Raffi Torres ensure the Phoenix got a morale boosting 3-0 win. The win meaning so much more as it came against division opposition. Coming on from the SO loss against the Wild this win gave the Phoenix some much needed momentum.

v Predators (L-SO)

The Coyotes-Predators games so far have been epic encounters, the latest instalment at the Jobing arena was far far different. Both teams traded goals and ended the 60 minutes of regulation tied at 4 a piece. For the second time in the month of March the Coyotes went to a shoot-out, this time against the league leading Pekka Rinne. Rinne stopped Whitney, Vrbata and Boedker to give the Predators the extra point. Disappointing to loos the game the Coyotes did, at least, get something from it to keep their Pacific Division challenge alive.

@ Canucks (W)

When your struggling for form and scratching for wins the Rogers Arena in Vancouver is a difficult place to go! The Coyotes, in their own way, obviously didn't see it that way! With Vrbata lost to illness and then, allowing the Canucks a two goal head start the fight back and eventual win for the Coyotes was all the more impressive. In the end Antoine Vermettes PowerPlay goal in the third period would be the winner. The Coyotes began their short Canadian road trip in style.

@ Flames (L)
Next up for the Yotes was the Calgary Flames. Sadly the high from the win against the Canucks would not carry over into this game. In fact the Flames pounded the Coyotes in this game and ran out 4-1 winners. Jerome Iginla gave the Flames the lead before Ekman-Larsson pulled one back for Phoenix. Matt Stajan and an Alex Tanguay short handed effort killed off the Coyotes and gave the Flames the win. With the Flames being in the western conference the loss could well hurt the Coyotes come playoff time.

@ Oilers (W-SO)

This game would be Dave Tippett's 400th game in charge and the Coyotes would ensure it would be a happy marker. Throughout early March the Coyotes have made a habit of falling behind in the first period, this game they fell behind in the second period to goals from Eberle and Hemsky in just about 30 seconds. Thankfully, the ingrained fighting spirit of the Coyotes saw them come back into the game in the final session. Whitney and Torres, again, stepping up to force overtime. Nothing came from the extra session but the Coyotes won the game in the shootout.

@ Stars (L-SO)

The coyotes trip to the state of Texas saw the Coyotes take on another division rival in the Stars. After getting a win against the Sharks earlier in the month this would give the Coyotes a chance to make a real push for top spot. The prize for the Coyotes was to retain top spot in the division and it would take that fighting spirit again for the Coyotes. Trailing the Stars 3-1 after two periods Ekman-Larsson and Whitney brought the Coyotes level. Kari Lehtonen stopped all five shots the Coyotes had in the overtime period and, and for the fourth time in a month the Coyotes were headed for a shootout. Sadly, despite winning in a shootout against the Oilers, the Stars prevailed this time!

v Avalanche (W)

In a sign of how tight the race in the west is, at the start of the game the Coyotes were on the outside of the playoff race looking in. But come the end of the game the Coyotes went from ninth to third with a 3-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche. For most of March the Coyotes habit has been to make a slow start and recover, this time it was the Coyotes who made the better start. Towards the end of the second period the Coyotes were 3 goals to the good through markers from Langkow, Chipchura and Torres. The men from Phoenix had to fight off an Av's comeback during the thrid period but were able to seal the win.

@ Sharks (L-SO)

Another important division match up saw all the goals scored in the first 25 minutes of the game. Phoenix and San Jose traded goals until they were tied on 3 a piece. In a show of how tight the division has been, regulation couldn't separate them and neither could overtime. The game would require another shootout to decide the extra point. For Phoenix Boedker and Whitney tried but had their efforts saved and Handzus and Clowe scored for the Sharks giving the men from San Jose the extra point.

v Blues (L)

The Blues may have been stuttering in recent games but they are hot in the NHL this season, this game versus the Blues would also see Shane Doan sit out his final game of his suspension. To add to the struggle Vrbata and three other first team players were missing through injury, so the stars were not quite in alignment for the Coyotes. In the end Elliot in goal for St Louis was outstanding and the Blues were just too hot for Phoenix as they secured a win and moved above the Rangers in the Presidents Cup race.

v Sharks (W)

It's games against the Sharks that the Coyotes needs to win, especially as the pacific division is so tight every point is vital. The Coyotes March has been a little up and down so far but they have managed to grab points from a few losses this month. Going into this game Vrbata had been struggling with illness and been in a scoring slump. With Mike Smith having a storming game against the Sharks, banishing that debut loss to San Jose. Vrbata bounced right back with two goals in a 2-0 win for Phoenix. Both assisted by Ray Whitney to put him on 999 career points in the NHL. The Coyotes are now and amazing 29-1-0 in games after leading going into the final session.

v Ducks
(W)Ray Whitney is proving to be one of the most important acquisitions in the Coyotes history! Released, bought out and waived during his 19 year career he is still going strong at the age of 39. The game against the Ducks saw him cross another milestone in his career, his 1,000th NHL point. A dominant Coyotes took the lead in the first period and sealed the deal in the second! The Coyotes special teams doing the damage with three goals in the second. Ray Whitney got the 1,000th point with an assist and then his 1,001st with a goal. Whitneys marker and Mike Smith's shutout got the Coyotes another valuable win.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

A true Rollercoaster - EPL Finals Weekend 2012

As I write this im still exhausted from a roller coaster weekend in Coventry! The weekend truly had it all, the high's and low's, great times and not so great times. For me the weekend has been one of the best finals weekends ive had in hockey. Great games to watch, great banter and great friends to share the experiences with. So, without much further delay, here's my spiel and guff covering the four days of finals weekend!
Friday Myself, my better half and parents arrived in a sunny Coventry just after 3pm and quickly settled into our hotel. After grabbing some food a quick run round Coventry's finest (cough cough) shopping establishments we descended on the Old Windmill pub which, for the weekend, would become the Phoenix pub! It was great catching up with fellow Phoenix fan's and discussing how we thought saturday would pan out, and chatting with rival fans trying to decided who they would support. That night in the Windmill truly shows why hockey is a sport unique in this country.
Saturday After filling up on the hotel's all you can eat breakfast it was a short walk down to the Windmill for the first Phoenix Podcast live show. Taking over the front room Ben, ably assisted by producer Alex took to the helm for the show. Broadcasting across the world to over 250 people apparently, the show was well put together and good fun to be on. Myself, My Russell (off of Banners on the Wall), Tambo and others chatted through nearly 2hrs of show discussing the EPL and the showpiece finals weekend. With the show finally done and dusted it was time for everyone to decamp to the SkyDome for semi final number one.
Flames v Jets In my finals pre-view blog last week I picked the Flames to win this. With the SkyDome packed to the rafters EPL finals weekend got off to a noisy bang. During the first 30seconds an incident happened that would, ultimately, affect the Flames and their chances in this semi-final. With a Slough attack Mark Lee made a save from the advancing Jets attacker. As the attacker skated across Lee, Lee seemed to twist and fall down injured. A long period of treatment followed, but it was clear Lee could take no further part in the game. He was stretcher off and Hadfield was in the play the game. Quite an introduction for the backup netminder! This change didn't seem to hurt the Flames as they settled into their game and finished the first period 2-0 up.
From the second period onwards the Flames sat back and invited the Jets to come into the game, this would be their undoing. As the Jets confidence grew so did their goal threat. It felt like the Flames switched off and the Jets got right back into the game and took the lead and never looked back. i remember thinking, if I were a Flames fan, I would be so disappointed at how my team lost that game. Well on top but then completely switching off, obviously losing Lee so early didn't help, the Flames are good enough to cope! So, Slough through to the final, who would join them?
Phoenix v Steeldogs With nerves rising through the first semi-final it was time for the Phoenix to take on the Steeldogs. In my preview blog I couldn't call this as games between us have been tight feisty affairs. The game lived up to the hype and was a fantastic barn burner and a great one for the neutral. The Phoenix opened up the first period with a lot of physicality which surprised the Steeldogs. For the first and second period the Phoenix were on top and, at one point, were 5-2 up. The end of the second period saw the flashpoint which unleashed the pent up frustration in the game. A slash by Cingel on Morgan started the bench clearance with numerous scuffles. Payette was trying to start on everyone, Ciran Long bit and took on the big making taking him to the ice, much to the pleasure of most in the stands.
Sadly after the scuffle and going into the third period the lead didn't last and in the final period the Steeldogs score twice in 30seconds to tie the game and force overtime. The extra session couldn't produce a winner with both Fone and Bowns pulling off superb saves to keep their teams in the game. This semi final would be decided by a penalty shootout and, this is where Payette's ego lost the tie for me. The Phoenix went with Faith, Koulikov and Long the Dogs, Ozolins, G Wood and Payette. For me, G Wood and Payette are not good enough for penalty shots, Ozolins is a no brainer but, I think, G Wood and Payette's selection smacks of 'I want to score the winner against my old club'. Ozolins scored for Sheffield, Faith for Phoenix and, predictably G Wood and Payette failed to convert. Sudden death penalty shots followed and Bebris missed for Sheffield and Wallace, attacking the goal in front of the 520 strong Phoenix faithful roofed the puck to send the fans into jubilation and the Phoenix into their first final in their history.
Saturday night was party night! After grabbing some food the Phoenix fans descended on the Windmill and packed it full. Much drinking, banter and singing was had until the wee small hours where those fans headed for bed in anticipation for the big day that lay ahead.
Sunday Finals day! A day the Phoenix faithful had not experienced before! The big game was at 4pm and was preceded by the under 18's final between the Guildford Phoenix and Sheffield Steelhawks. Unfortunately I missed most of this game, getting into the SkyDome for the start of the third period. From what I saw Sheffield were the better team, they seemed better drilled and just had the extra skill. They won the cup but I cant remember the score! There wasn't much time before the final so most stayed in the SkyDome to drink in the pre game buildup!
Phoenix v Jets The final, the biggest game of the season for the Phoenix and a chance to end the season with some silverware. The game got underway and, even from a Phoenix fan perspective, the Phoenix were struggling. I imagine it was a cocktail of nerves and the semi final against Sheffield, but the Phoenix looked off the pace and things were just not clicking straight away. Passes were off and we just couldn't set up in the Slough zone. The Jets, looking more refreshed and used to the situation, were quickly 2-0 up. Credit to the Phoenix the end of the first period saw the score at 2-1 Slough.
As the game continued the Jets continued to have the upper hand, through the second into the third period it was obvious the Phoenix tank was dry. We couldn't match Slough at all. As the clock wound down to the Jets eventual win the Phoenix faithful made one last push to salute their club and the fans sung their hearts out. The final buzzer went and the dream was over, it would be runners up medals this time! One final salute between the players and fans followed as the curtain fell on the 2011/12 EPL season. Disappointed but proud the Phoenix faithful left the stands to contemplate the off season.
A group of around 50 Phoenix fans waited outside the SkyDome to give each and every Phoenix player a heartfelt send off, it was only what was deserved. Having given their all during the season and for it to come up short this time, they deserved our thanks. Each one was sang onto the bus and many a tear was shed. After grabbing some food there was time for one more question, To the Windmill?
For one last time a group of us took up a table in the Windmill to reflect on the weekend and the season and, with pride, salute our team for one last time.
Monday All that was left to do was have one last breakfast and pack up to head north on the M6 back to Cheshire and turn our attention to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Hockey in the UK was done and dusted, but the 2011/12 hockey season still has a few twists and turns left. Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed the Coventry weekend as much as I did, it was one of the best yet!
Here's to a quick summer and the 2012/13 season!

Friday, 13 April 2012

Hi ho hi's off to Coventry we go!

The season is done, playoff quarter finals are done, now fans of all 10 teams pack their bags and head for Coventry! The final four, for the first time in ages, are the top four. Two cracking semi-finals, the atmosphere is going to be electric. Let's have a look at the two semi-finals and nail some colours to the mast.

Flames v Jets The first semi-final of the day sees double champions the Guildford Flames take on the Slough Jets. The Flames won the league with strength in depth like no other team in the EPL. Everyone knows about the number of imports they have carried this year, but hey, if our teams could, would we mind? The Flames can afford it, so why shouldn't they? The EPL Cup win was a bonus and now the Flames are going for the treble. In their way are the Slough Jets, previous winners of the EPL playoffs and a team who have a few talents themselves. Going off the three games ive seen between the Phoenix and Jets, Calder and Pliskauskas are two of the best forwards in the league. Given them an inch and they will score. The Flames have offensive punch themselves, we all know about Hupper/Rempel/Towe and Longstaff. As to who to pick from this pair, its tough. I'd give the Jet's the edge in goaltending.....just! Both Rockman and Lee are fine goalies but I think Lee can loose his head quicker than Rockman. Tip for the Jet's forwards, aim high on Lee, he always leaves the top of the goal free! Defence, well going by the league table the Flames have conceded fewer goals than the Jets and in Savage/Lundin have d men who can score. Slough have a good defence but I haven't got the impression over the season that they have contributed as much, point wise, as the Flames D. Edge to the Flames on that one! Going off the stats the Flames have the edge going forward too but in one off games stats can be meaningless (despite what I said above regarding D men point production haha!). I think Slough have a good forward unit, but the Flames is stronger overall, edge to Flames there. Colours to the mast? The Jets are a fine playoff team and on their day can beat anyone (much like the EPL as a whole) but the Flames strength in depth has to give them the edge in a one off game. But, by that very nature, I could very well be wrong! Flames to go through!

Phoenix v Steeldogs The evenings entertainment is another installment of the 'War of the Roses' and it really has become a war this season. I have made it known my feelings on the Steeldogs and the way they play the game. I despise them and Mr Payette, however I am big enough to admire their performance this past season. They have become such a tough team to beat and an example of how sheer hard work and determination can be a great leveller when faced with a big budget. The series set between the two clubs during the 2011/12 season was even, which makes a one off playoff game hard to predict. The Phoenix have the greater strength on the ice, but the Steeldogs work hard every shift and make it hard for a team to play hockey. One thing is for certain, both clubs will be up for the game, if they aren't, they don't deserve to be out on the ice. It will be hard to pick a winner, and I will try and leave those tinted specks on the table. Goaltending, Bowns v Fone. Early on in the season I would easily give the edge to Sheffield in this. Bowns is a phenomenal goalie and he gives the Steeldogs a chance to win every game. I firmly believe without him, Sheffield would be a good 3 or 4 places lower in the league. However Fone has been in awesome form coming down the stretch, which makes it difficult. To give an edge, based on goaltending alone I would give that to Sheffield, only just though! Bowns should be in the EIHL next season, not the EPL! He is good enough! Defence, going off the stats this should be a no brainer, the Steeldogs have conceded the fewest goals in the league! The Phoenix have always been a 'we will score more goals than you' kind of team. But on a good day, in Harabin/Spelda/Boothroyd the Phoenix have some of the best defencemen in the league. As mentioned above, in a one off game stats mean nothing, so im calling a tie on this one! Forwards, Phoenix, hands down! Sheffield's top line including Wood/Ozolins is fantastic, Ozolins is one of the stars of the EPL and Sheffield have done very well to keep him. But I truly think the Phoenix have better strength across three lines. You shut Faith/Cingel down? Ok, we have Archer/Duggan and Wallace who will score! Edge to Phoenix. Colours to the mast? Sheffield will be up for the game, they have shown they can make it to final games by meeting the Flames in this years EPL cup. I wouldn't write off the Phoenix either, we have had too many semi-final disappointments, we are coming into form at the right time and, more crucially, we have a full roster available. This one is so hard to pick! So im going to wuss out a little. If it's a niggly, chippy affair the Steeldogs could do it, but if its a hockey game the Phoenix will be meeting the Flames in sundays final. Too close to call! In the end it will be another great weekend, im looking forward to watching some hockey and enjoying the banter with the Flames fans again. Who knows, the un-holy alliance may appear again! If you see a Phoenix fan with a beard wearing a Coyotes hat that's probably me so come say hi, i'll be in block 7 part of the 500+ Phoenix contingent. If not head on over to The Windmill pub and join in the Phoenix podcast live shows, even come on and talk some rubbish if you like!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Phoenix v Swindon Wildcats 8th April Playoff Game Review

The regular season is consigned to the memory, its now all about the playoffs! After securing second place in the league campaign the Phoenix now had to turn their attentions to the small matter of a playoff quarter final against the in-form Swindon Wildcats. They are a team the Phoenix have struggled with, especially down in Swindon, for the early part of the year. Thankfully the Phoenix had started to turn that around and, on their last visit to Swindon, came away with a win. Could they do it again?
Thankfully they could, to have any chance in this series the Phoenix needed to come out of Swidon with at least a tie or only with a one goal deficit. They did even better, and came out the weekend with a 2-1 lead. Who fancies doing it all again in Altrincham then?
First Period: The Phoenix started the game with a point to prove, Swindon may be the form team but, the Phoenix are even better. The early stages were dominated by the Phoenix. The home side shutting down the likes of Nell and Hoog. The early tension was eased when the Phoenix got the early lead, James Archer was found in some space at the hash marks to fire a quick snapshot to give the Phoenix the lead. That goal coming at the 8min mark. The goal really settled the Phoenix and they continued to dictate the game. Swindon were contributing to the game in a big way, putting up a stern wall for the Phoenix to get through. They worked hard, protected their goalie but, maybe because of this, didn't offer much in the Phoenix zone. That being said, when they did get a chance on goal they found Fone in awesome form.
Second Period: The second period continued where the first left off, with the Phoenix continuing to pressure the Swindon goal. The first ten minutes of the period would effectively seal the game and the Phoenix progression to Coventry. Tom Duggan found Archer with a lovely breakout pass early after the re-start and Archer got his second of the game at 21min 03sec. Giving the Phoenix a three goal cushion over the two legs. As the game continued Swindon upped the aggresion and the Phoenix responded. In fact, it was a response that would get the Phoenix another goal. With a man in the penalty box Tom Duggan grabbed a short handed goal when the Wildcats play broke down on the blue line. 3-0 Phoenix on the night after 27min 12sec. The tie was assured two minutes later when Stephen Wallace got the Phoenix fourth at 29min 12sec.
Third Period: After the awesome atmosphere in the first/second period the third was a little flat. The game, 4-0 Phoenix and 5-1 over the two legs was over and the two clubs played out the last 20 minutes with less intensity. The odd chance was created, and the Cats swapped netties for the final session, but no goals came from the final period. With two minutes to go the crowd rose to its feet to salute the Phoenix and warm up for Coventry,
Verdict: A very slippy potential banana skin avoided over these two games. The first leg down in Swindon had a massive effect on the weekend. I think the Wildcats believed a win down at the link centre could hand them the tie. But the Phoenix win, and early goal in the first period killed off a lot of their momentum. That being said the first two periods in Altrincham saw some brilliant hockey. Swindon were good, but the Phoenix were better.
Attendance: A good crowd for the final home game, i'll say 1,400 in the Ice Dome.

Phoenix 4 Swindon 0 - CB Sport

Friday, 6 April 2012

EPL PLayoff Quarterfinal Thoughts

With the regular season done its now time to look at the playoffs! It's a fun time of year......honest! In reality playoff hockey is special, I know in the UK it really only consists of one of games. Not 7 games series as our friends across the pond experience, but it is different. Any of the eight qualifying teams have a chance and there is always the possibility of an upset. Look at the Wildcats last year in the EPL, look at the Hull Stingrays in this years EIHL playoffs. Who's to say it won't happen again! So we have four pairings, let's have a look at each one before nailing my picks to the mast.

Guildford v Peterborough EPL champions and EPL cup champions of the current season take on the 8th placed Phantoms, a team which, like last year, struggled for most of the 54 games regular season before turning it on...again, in the stretch to reach the post season. All this, despite losing one of, along with Bowns, the best goalies in the EPL in Stephen Wall. As the Phoenix found in their final weekend's games the Phantoms are a tough team to play this time of year. The Flames are the Flames, they have skill, some strength and a depth like no other in the league. The Flames can roll three full strength lines and still have imports sitting out, this has to have been a factor in their league and cup success. I love an upset, when it doesn't involve the Phoenix, and i'd love to see one here. But I cant see it! The key has to be the first leg (probably) in Peterborough. To have any chance the Phantoms have to take a lead to the Spectrum, otherwise the Flames machine will roll them! Prediction: Flames by a few goals!

Manchester v Swindon I will try and go through this as level headily as possible! The Wildcats are the form team heading into the post season, and with Hoog and Nell in form the Wildcats do offer a strong offensive threat. Swindon hold an advantage over the Phoenix in the link centre, having won two of the three games down in Swindon so its this vital first leg that holds the key. The Phoenix go into the post season having secured second place after a monumental season. One unprecedented in its upheaval in the Phoenix roster. Having not iced a full side all year, to finish second is a fantastic effort. An effort that really requires some reward. Crucially for the Phoenix they won the final two meetings between the sides and one of those being down in the Link Centre. Both legs will be tight, if the Phoenix can keep it close, or even bring a lead back to Altrincham I fancy our chances. Prediction: Phoenix by the seat of their pants! I see many other EPL fans see this as an upset. They are right, but I do believe over 6 periods the Phoenix have the quality to do it.

Sheffield v Basingstoke My feelings on the Scimitars/Steeldogs has grown from a 'meh' to a down right hatred of them. I despise the 'brand' of hockey they play, I hate how certain players have changed teams and morphed into completely different animals on the ice (rose tinteds firmly in place)......but.......I respect the job Andre Payette has done. He has taken a struggling team and turned them into title contenders. They are, possibly, the toughest team in the EPL to break down. The Bison have struggled, they certainly haven't done as well as I thought they would since adding Stephen Wall. That being said they still have quality, Moria is a legend, Chinn is annoyingly good as is Wiggins. Sheffield's stand-out star is Ozolins, he will score in the 6 periods of hockey. The key for the Bison is restricting him and the Steeldogs top line. If they can shut that top line down they can win this tie. Prediction: Sheffield hold the advantage in the season series and, as much as I want them to, I will have to disappoint Mr Anthony over at Banners on the Wall and go with the Steeldogs.

Slough v MK This pairing, for me, is the toughest to predict. even though the season series is weighted in favour of MK the Jets have some potent offence. In Calder and Pliskauskas they have two of the best imports at EPL level. I should know both have terrorised the Phoenix all year! MK are not the team they were, in the three games I have seen in Altrincham they have skill and talent but, tend to lose their rag to easily in games. Once this happens their chances have gone. The Jets are a gritty team and one that has masses of EPL experience, they know how to play the game and the ref. Prediction: Well I guess I should nail my colours to the mast. MK have a chance but, on balance of what Ive seen in the Phoenix v MK and Slough I would give the tie to Slough. So that's a Flames/Phoenix/Steeldogs and Jets final four. Good for the crowds, there's still many possibilities for an upset. Sure as hell im not feeling the most comfortable about the Phoenix against Swindon but, isn't that what playoff hockey is all about? The UN-predictability! Makes the predictions above, utterly pointless really!

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Phoenix v Peterborough Phantoms 1st April Game Review

After many many weeks, and 52 games the final weekend of EPL regular season hockey was upon us! The Phoenix went into the double header with the Phantoms needing a point to secure second place and a probable quarter final match up with the Swindon Wildcats. The pair of games, going by the league table, should be a formality but, with the Phantoms scraping for the 8th and final post season spot, there was quite a lot riding on both games.

The weekend began with the Phoenix going across to Peterborough, the same day/venue they tried to win the EPL league title a year ago. As with the game last year it was a tough one which saw the Phantoms take the win. However the result was 5-4 after overtime which, bar any disasters on the final game day, secured second place for the Phoenix.

Much sooner than anyone hoped the final game of the season arrived sunday afternoon, another big crowd assembled at the Ice Dome to take in the final 60mins of regular season hockey at the Ice Dome for the 2011/12 season.

First Period: The Phantoms are a tough side to play, and with an incentive to play for, they are a much tougher proposition to play in March/April than in the first half of the season. That being said the Phantoms, despite what was on the line for them, didn't offer much in the opening exchanges. In fact the Phoenix took the lead after 4min 36sec when Wallace found a gap to the left of the goal to light the lamp. As the session wore on the Phoenix continued to dominate, when the Phantoms did manage a shot on goal they found Fone in outstanding form.

Second Period: Much like the first really, the Phoenix kept up the pressure/dominance while the Phantoms looked a little ineffective given what they had on the line. King, in the Phantoms goal continued to perform heroics and keep the Phoenix out, but he was facing a serious amount of rubber! The Phoenix continued to press and were rewarded again with a powerplay goal just before the end of the second period. Juraj Faith scoring the Phoenix second at 38min 22sec. This goal caused King to throw the toys well and truly out the pram with one of the most impressive tantrums seen at the Ice Dome. Despite the puck crossing the line King was so incensed he proceeded to mock the goal judge washing the plexi in front of him. A bit stupid and dis-respectful and, had the referee seen it, would have earned him a misconduct penalty for sure.

Third Period: This period saw the Phoenix almost throw the game away! The Phantoms continued to battle and the Phoenix eased off and, within 35 seconds the Phantoms were on level terms, shocking the home fans. The first for the Phantoms came at 45min 32sec through Lauko and the second at 46min 07sec from Luke Ferrara let a wicked wrister fly past Fone. 2-2 with 14minutes to go, the game was now a whole lot different! Thankfully, the Phantoms fight back spurred the Phoenix on. They re-grouped, re-focused and got back to the early game form. The Phoenix continued to press and got the breakthrough on the powerplay. At 57min 47sec the puck was cycled round the boards and then passed to Archer at the hashmarks who let fly with a quick/hard shot that went through King into the goal. The Ice Dome erupted and the Phoenix had the advantage. One that they would hold onto and see out the game.

Verdict: A tough, well fought win and one the Phoenix deserved. The Phoenix got the win and with other results meant the Phoenix were safe in second place by 4 points. Overall the Phoenix coped well with the Phantoms, but I must admit, the Phantoms disappointed a little. They seemed comfortable in their own zone but going forward didn't offer much. Which given what they were fighting for was surprising. In the end they got the win saturday night and the Bees did them a favour by losing, so the Phantoms got the 8th spot.

Attendance: I'll say 1,500 in the Ice Dome.

Final thought: In a Jerry Springer stylee, I will expand on this in a later post, I wanted to say how proud I am of the Phoenix. At no point during this EPL season have the Phoenix iced a full roster. With all the injuries all season, to finish second and get close to the Flames is a massive achievement for the guys. I can only wonder what they could have done with a full, fit and healthy roster on the ice!

Phoenix 3 Phantoms 2 - Phoenix Article
Phoenix 3 Phantoms 2 - Phantoms Article
Phoenix 3 Phantoms 2 - CB Sport