So...it is time.....time to properly dust off The Angry Budgie and get back into the swing of the EPIHL season 2014/15. The current EPL champions take to the ice with the majority of last seasons title winning side in tact which a few tweaks and additions. The annual War of the Roses clash marks the season start for the Phoenix, while the Steeldogs have already been in action with an extended pre-season featuring a visit to France and the Bradfield Brewery cup series against the Telford Tigers.
Last season the Dogs came out top across the two legs winning the WOTR cup and the Phoenix went on to win the EPL title. Swings and roundabouts ey? ;)
On a sunny afternoon in Altrincham, hockey fans from Manchester and Sheffield assembled at the Ice Dome once again to see in the start of Ice Hockey in Altrincham. Friendships renewed, seats taken up, it was time to concentrate on the ice and enjoy some hockey after a long summer!
First Period: It is fairly obvious that, on paper, the Phoenix team is the stronger of the two squads but, in reality we all know the Dogs are a tough nut to crack. For his faults, which are numerous, Payette has his roster working very very hard, drilled well, and who are very much, a sum greater than the parts kind of team. The early stages of the first period were testament to this, the Phoenix dominated possession and chances but, could not put quality puck on net to test Sedlar. Sheffield working hard preventing this and, some obvious rust in the Phoenix forward play mean an early goal for the home side wasn't on the cards. So, in some ways, it was not to surprising the Steeldogs took the lead. Sheffield pounced on a neutral zone turnover to take the lead when Payette set up Jeff Legue for the Steeldogs first of the night, timed 11min 40sec. Sheffield continued to soak up the Phoenix pressure and look to counter on the break or any mistake. The home fans were silenced once again when Lubomir Korhon doubled the visitors lead at 15min 29sec. Phoenix trials on the powerplay were evident again when they struggled to make the extra skater pay, it was on one of these PP's that Sheffield forced a turnover and Legue raced away to score an excellent goal at 18min 03sec. That was a big goal, Sheffield were able to ride out the period and make it to the buzzer 3 goals to the good despite being outshot 2 to 1 by the Phoenix.
Second Period: The Phoenix needed a good start to the second period and, they got it. 88 sec in and Michal Psurny was in the right place at the right time to score a rebound after Bakrlik had applied some pressure to the Phoenix net. The home side on the board the Phoenix looked to make a move on the Sheffield goal. With the Phoenix killing a powerplay the Steeldogs pressured the Phoenix zone picking up a delayed penalty, in the subsequent play Korhon got his second of the night at 25min 38sec restoring the Steeldogs 3 goal advantage. Sheffield extended their lead a few minutes later when Elliot scored the visitors 5th of the night at 35min exactly. The hill Phoenix were facing had now become a mountain! The Phoenix tried hard to force a way back into the game but, were huffing and puffing alot with little reward. A combination of rustyness and lack of cohesion the killer, combined with Sheffield's excellent D work meant the period ended with the Dogs firmly in control. Despite, again, being outshot by their hosts.
Third Period: With the tie effectively over the third period saw a bit of edginess creep into the play. A fair few handbags were brought out but no out and out aggression spilled over....sadly! Sheffield were again on the defective for the most part with the Phoenix struggling to convert their numerous chances. In fact the period ended with the Phoenix outshooting the Dogs 20 to 4!!! The accuracy just wasn't there for the home side and, Sedlar was more than equal to the shots. One goal was scored and it was the Dogs who got it. With the Phoenix on the PP Kovar was caught on the blue line and, a cross ice pass was intercepted by Korhon who raced up ice and scored a fantastic breakaway goal at 47min 29sec topping off a great hatrick performance. Despite some last pressure from the Phoenix the Dogs ran out 6-1 winners on the night and 9-4 on aggregate retaining the WOTR trophy.
Verdict: Absolutely no issues with the result for me. The Dogs longer pre-season told, they looked slicker, more up-to-speed than the Phoenix. The home side looked to have superior quality but, were so rusty in their play. In defence and especially in front of goal. Too many simple shots were just not making Sedlar work hard enough, the Phoenix were not moving him to create scoring chances. Of course, as a Phoenix fan, I would prefer we won a trophy that was on offer but, in the scheme of things WOTR does not give us league points. Plus, until we change our pre-season schedule, WOTR will always be difficult for the Phoenix to win. The new additions to the roster looked good, I was impressed with Chamberlain and Thompson. New import D Burlin looked impressive, a big guy who is not afraid to use his size. Worryingly he did not ice the 2nd and 3rd periods, hopefully it will not be a serious injury! Losing your import D after the 1st period did not help in this game at all!
Attendance: A good crowd filled the Ice Dome, i'll guess at 1,200 in.
War of the Roses 1st Leg, Sheffield and Manchester
War of the Roses 2nd Leg, Manchester and Sheffield