The EPL season is upon us as hockey fans across the country dust off those replica jerseys and break out the satnav's to being the long road to Coventry 2014. The Phoenix opening weekend saw them make the short trip down the M6 to Telford then welcome the Steeldogs to the Ice Dome for the second time in a week. The away fixture to Telford as the first game on the calendar has, traditionally, been quite a tricky one for the Phoenix and, one we have struggled to get a good result from. This year, the Phoenix got their season off with a bang. A cracking 5-1 victory is a great result to bring home from Telford on opening night.
That result set up sundays game versus Sheffield to reward the victor with an early four point weekend. Sheffield's win against the Bees came at a cost. A very physical encounter by some accounts, Sheffield, missing Ben Morgan, lost Greg Wood to a spearing match penalty. This saw them come to the Dome missing some influential players. That being said, a game against Sheffield is no easy matter. The crowd gathered and, due to a wait for Yorkshire Mean Time, a little late the puck dropped and we were off!
First Period: The game got underway with four officials and, even from the early stages, this game was not going to be like last weeks War of the Roses clash. The physicality just wasn't there, perhaps it was the players not icing for Sheffield? Perhaps it was having four officials on the ice but, it was noticeable this game was different. A pivotal moment happened just 6 minutes into the game too, Sedlar in the Steeldogs goal made an awkward save which appeared to hurt his groin. He played on for a minute but couldn't continue. Off the ice he went looking in quite a bit of pain, this thrust the Steeldogs 16 year old back up netminder, Thomas Barkworth. Quite the baptism for Thomas! The Phoenix were enjoying some pressure so it was no surprise the first goal came for the home side, at 10min 09sec Schanbel got the score board moving. Even though the Phoenix were bossing the opening stages the Steeldogs still had chances, and some damn quick players! After a turnover in the Steeldogs zone they raced up ice with a 2-on-1 advantage and Ashley Calvert scored a beauty of a goal to level the game at 13min 54sec. When ever you play Sheffield, there is one thing you can be certain of, powerplay opportunities! It was on a powerplay that the Phoenix got their second goal, Robin Kovar scoring his first in the Ice Dome at 15min 30sec.
Second Period: With Sheffield's lines depleted the second period saw the Phoenix take the win effectively. With the short bench and with four officials on the Ice the Steeldogs could not play their normal game and, could not live with the Phoenix firepower on home ice. It didn't take long for the Phoenix to score again, the Phoenix third came from Jack Watkins at 21min 21sec. The Phoenix continued to apply pressure and were peppering the Sheffield goal with shots. The game also saw the Phoenix hit the posts numerous times, even saying that, the shooting was accurate. The next goal came at 23min 44sec when Bakrlik got on the scoresheet. Boothroyd was next scoring on the powerplay with Payette sitting for 2 minutes, his goal at 29min 14sec. Sheffield then reminded everyone they were still there when Elliot left everyone for dead and scored a wonderful solo effort at 35min 13sec. This provoked the Phoenix back into action and Bakrlik would take less than 2 minutes to complete his first hattrick. His 2nd coming at 36min 23sec and his third, impossibly squeezed between Barkworth and his near post coming at 38min 38sec. The buzzer sounded and the teams went back to the locker rooms with the scores 7-2 Phoenix.
Third Period: The final session saw Tony Hand take to the bench and the Phoenix job really was to see out the win. Less than two minutes into the period the home fans were celebrating again when Ben Wood took a shot from the blue line which beat Barkworth through the five hole, goal timed at 41min 43sec. The minutes ticket by as the game eased up and, after a time out taken by the Phoenix, Tony Hand put El-Hage in to see the game through. Robert Schnabel got his second goal of the game at 48min 18sec and, just 9 seconds later Andy McKinnie got his second too. Tony never likes to run up the score and im sure that was the message coming from the bench so, when the 11th went in it was almost an apologetic celebration from Boothroyd. His second of the game coming at 51min 29sec. The final minutes saw the teams go through the motions waiting the final buzzer.
Verdict: A win against your rivals is always pleasing, grinding your rivals into the dirt is something to be savoured but, I just can't feel explosively ecstatic as this was a way below par Steeldogs side. With the likes of Wood/Morgan missing Sheffield really lose energy and drive from their line up. Add in the loss of Sedlar you remove that quality in between the pipes, the foundation on which you can play your game. Add in the fourth official on the ice and, Sheffield's usual chippy play was lessened. It was almost a perfect storm for Sheffield which the Phoenix were able to capitalise on. Taking no credit away from the Phoenix, it was a very good performance. The accuracy of shooting was excellent and some of the moves were fantastic. The issue for Sheffield now could be massive, the Phoenix know from experience a groin injury to your goalie can mean an extended period without your number 1! Losing your import goalie is even worse, that's a fair wage packet sat out through injury. If it's a short term thing, Payette could take the view to take the hit and continue with Barkworth and really design their game plan around protecting him. If it's a long injury lay-off, money has to be found for a new starter. Barkworth himself displayed enough to suggest, with development, he could become an EPL starter, he has the skill, he just needs time and polish to improve. Chin up lad!
Attendance: Similar to the War of the Roses really, 1,100 in.
Phoenix 11 Sheffield 2 - Phoenix Article
Phoenix Four Point Weekend - MEN