As we head further into September the world or EPL Ice Hockey gathers for another weekend of competitive hockey. Coming off their 3 point weekend prior, the Phoenix faced a tough test with games against the Bison, in Hampshire, and the visit of the Sheffield Steeldogs at home in Altrincham. Saturday's game versus the Basinstoke Bison would be a re-run of the EPL Playoff Final only 5 ish months ago, both teams considered contenders for the EPL title most seasons. Sheffield return to the Ice Dome hoping to emulate their last visit this season when they claimed the War of the Roses cup with a comprehensive victory. Phoenix would be much improved from that weekend but, the question is, how much better?
The Phoenix took to the road saturday for their first visit to the Bison in what would surely be another addition to the great series of games both clubs enjoy. The Bison, like the Phoenix, tend to play a flowing fast paced kind of game so, they are always good ones to watch. It sounded like a cracker in Bisonland and, for a good run down of the game, read the club's match reports and, Mr Russell's run down of the game over at Banners on the Wall.
Bison 3 Phoenix 2 - Phoenix
Bison 3 Phoenix 2 - Bison
Coming off the loss in Basingstoke the Phoenix faced the Steeldogs in Altrincham for the second time in a fortnight. Sheffield have been transformed this year, much of that transformation down to the addition of Jeff Legue. For many seasons the Steeldogs have had teamwork at their core but not much cutting edge to make a difference. Retaining Korhun and adding Legue, Sheffield now have that attacking bite which will see them win more games than ever this season. Another sunny sunday greeted both sets of supporters and, after a short delay to faceoff, we were underway.
First Period: Having played the Steeldogs so recently the Phoenix knew what they were in for. A much better effort was needed and, they got the perfect start! Ben Wood had the puck in the Phoenix zone, who passed up the boards to Adam Walker who then found Robin Kovar in the middle who got a quick shot off on Sedlar and lit the lamp for the home side. The first goal of the game coming at 3min 16sec. The lead lasted just over a minute when Gibson profited from great teamwork to level the game at 4min 30sec. The wheels then fell off for the Phoenix when Jeff Legue scored to put the visitors ahead just 33sec later scoring at 5min 03sec. Phoenix fans were then left silent when Sheffield extended their lead before the 10min mark when Gibson scored his second of the game at 8min 36sec. The Phoenix needed to re-group and score the next goal. As play progressed a late hit on Corson-Heron in the Phoenix zone saw most players on the ice and fans in the stand up in arms and concentrating on that play. Only one player remained alert, Jack Watkins capitalised on the pass from Corson-Heron and remained alert, racing up the win, breaking in on Sedlar and slotting home. A delayed penalty goal timed at 9min 05sec. Despite scoring the Phoenix were still all at sea defensively and allowed Sheffield another goal. With the Steeldogs cycling the puck in the Phoenix zone, Legue picked up the puck and scored a lightning quick wrap around goal. Ryan moving too slowly across his crease to get there in time. Legue's goal timed at 13min 21sec. The Phoenix tried to tighten up on the defensive side of the puck but, the buzzer brought to a close an awful period for the home team.
Second Period: The first intermission rollicking from Hand must have had an effect, a much improved Phoenix emerged for the second period. The Phoenix were dominant in the second session, Sheffield rarely leaving their own zone. The Phoenix pressed and pressed, heavily outshooting their visitors but came up against a hot goalie in Sedlar, his glove hand excelling. The Phoenix hit the pipework twice and outshot the visitors 19-6 in that period alone. Hockey can be a game of inches and luck, no better example of that than this second period! The Phoenix worked hard but, the perpetually poor powerplay would hurt the home side, the Phoenix had an extended 5 on 3 opportunity but could not find the net.
Third Period: 20 minutes, more than enough time for the home side to get back into this game. I said on the podcast during the interval that the next goal would be key (ding). Phoenix get it and we could win, Sheffield get it and we were done. Well....I was half right! At 41min 32sec Boothroyd found Hand at the hashmarks and blasted a shot past Sedlar in goal. Excellent start to the final session for the Phoenix. The Phoenix went on the powerplay just past the halfway mark in the period and, while pressing the Sheffield goal, surrendered another turnover to....Legue! The last guy you'd want to give the puck to, Legue raced clear and scored past Ryan short handed, his goal at 52min 48sec. Done and dusted? Well, not quite yet! Just 17sec later the Phoenix got their powerplay working and Adam Walker reduced the arrears again to one goal. The home said laid seige to Sedlar's goal but, Sheffield are a damn hard team to break down. Entering the final minute the Phoenix finally gained the zone and pulled Ryan but, another turnover coughed up the puck to Korhon who scored the empty net goal at 59min 51sec,
Verdict: Overall a poor poor loss for the Phoenix resulting in a null point weekend. Despite an improved showing in the second period the Phoenix defence continues to worry and turnover the puck too many times. This is an area of the ice the Phoenix need to work on alot and get sorted sooner rather than later. The shot count favours the Phoenix heavily but, credit must go to Sheffield. They are hard to break down and, in this game, had Sedlar in his best showing in the Ice Dome. For many seasons Sheffield have had a hard working gritty team with not enough up front to win games and close out opposition. In retaining Korhon and adding Legue, Sheffield now have the cutting edge in attack to win more games than before. I don't think Sheffield will contend for the league but, they will finish high up the table and threaten a Coventry appearance again!
Attendance: Slightly down on the Swindon game, i'll guess at 1,000 in the Ice Dome.
Phoenix 4 - Sheffield 6 - Phoenix
Phoenix 4 - Sheffield 6 - Steeldogs