'The Phoenix had, against the best team in the land, won the final dance of the season'
Re-wind about 24 hours and those same fans were filing into the Coventry SkyDome to watch the second semi-final of the day between the Basingstoke Bison and the Manchester Phoenix. Earlier in the day, the league winners, the Guildford Flames, had come through their encounter with the MK Lightning. The Flames did what title winning sides can do, win while not playing their best. Standing in the way of the Phoenix meeting them in Sunday's final were the Basingstoke Bison. A team the Phoenix had only beaten once this season and a team with possibly the league’s best goalie between the pipes.
On the flip side, the Phoenix could go into this game with little to lose. Most people in the arena would expect the Bison to win. So there was little expectation for us Phoenix fan's. Personally I thought we had a chance, but a small one. All would depend on the mood of the Bison goalie and what Manchester Phoenix would turn up. A fully fit, for once, Phoenix squad took the ice and took the game to the Bison. Scoring the first goal, I think, surprised a lot of people. The game was a close affair, the Phoenix played some good hockey and the game remained close throughout. After a 5 minute overtime session that produced no goals we went to the lottery of a penalty shootout. At this point I must admit to giving up a little bit. There was no way we could get past Lyle in the Bison goal on penalty shots? Surely? The first round saw each team score twice so extra shooters were needed. Phoenix went first through James Archer, attacking the goal at the far end from us Phoenix fans, James went up ice, deked and as Lyle slid across, time seemed to slow. After what felt like an age the red light went on, we all jumped up and exploded with delight, we knew that the Bison had to score or we were in the final. The Bison player/coach Doug Sheppherd would take the crucial shot. He attacks the goal right in-front of us, comes in, puts a fake on Fone in our goal and lifts the puck...........clang..........the puck hits the plexi behind the goal....no goal....no goal. Phoenix are through to the final and we all went mad!
Sunday saw many a sore head come back for the final. The Phoenix second appearance at the final game in as many years. This time, our lads would take on the league winners. Guildford Flames are the big spenders of our hockey league and as a result have strength in depth like no other. We are allowed 4 'import' players, Guildford have 5 and some of the top British players in this country. On paper the Flames have the obvious advantage but, one thing in our favour, the Flames like to play hockey. In games of proper hockey the Phoenix always have a chance! It would be tough but, the Phoenix had a great chance of securing a different outcome to that final 12 months ago.
In the run up to the game it was obvious that, every supporter in the arena, bar Guildford fans, wanted the Phoenix to win. 'Anyone but Guildford, anyone but Guildford la laa laa laa' was the chant. Which gave us a great feeling, we had all the support, we just hoped our guys could put on a show now!
Against the Guildford Flames, the Phoenix always bring out their best. These games are great adverts for Ice Hockey in this country and the final was no different. From the first puck drop both sides went at the game fast and strong. From the early exchanges the Phoenix were edging the play. Even surprising the Flames are how hard they came playing. To win the trophy the Phoenix really needed to score first and they did, on the power play too! The arena erupted as the Phoenix fans at one end went mad. The teams captain Luke Boothroyd ghosted round the back of the play to be found open for a back post tap in. Great goal! The Phoenix continued to press and forecheck the Flames while not allowing a goal. By the end of the first session the Phoenix were ahead 1-0.
The Phoenix carried on their great form and struck hard in the second period with James Archer scoring a fantastic breakaway effort, then the Phoenix scored a real heart breaker for the Flames. A short handed effort from Barri McKenzie.
Flames needed a quick start to the third and they got it, scoring just 40 seconds into the period. Us Phoenix fans started looking at each other with some nerves hoping this was not the start of a comeback! We needn't have worried! A perfect reply to the Flames goal, the Phoenix scored another shorthanded effort. Tony Hand skating in was passed the puck and, just around the faceoff spot unleashed a howitzer of a slapshot high above Mark Lee (Guildford goalie) right shoulder. In a rare show of emotions from Tony he jumped up into the plexi in front of us. We all knew how big that goal was! To make things even better, Phoenix standout import forward Michal Psurny scored and exact replica of Hand's earlier effort to make it 5-1 Phoenix. This is when we really believed and, despite the Flames pulling a goal back, with the clock running down the team and fans alike began to revel in victory. When the final buzzer went we all went mad. 10 years or the Phoenix, so many times the bridesmaids or the nearly men, the Phoenix had done it and won their first playoff trophy.
The feeling after the game and in the pub's after was of shock, after so many years we had actually done it, actually won! We were all just relaxing and smiling. Sad that the 2012/13 EPL season had now ended but, what a way for it to end! I only hope the pictures show how much fun we had!
Thanks must go to Richard Allen, official Phoenix photographer for the pictures!