After the Phoenix perfect opening weekend the season would face a huge reality check the weekend just gone. The Phoenix came up against two clubs who would be challengers for the EPL title. Saturday saw the Phoenix take a trip down south to take on the Basingstoke Bison then head back to Deeside to take on the Guildford Flames. Two clubs with bigger rosters than the Phoenix and two tough games. The Phoenix have always struggled a little in Basinstoke but the return, on home ice, the Phoenix would look to beat the Flames in the first installment of the #PyroDerby.
The weekends preparations were not helped when news emerged that MecaGron would be sidelined through injury for the foreseeable future. This is where the knife edge nature of the Phoenix roster would fall down. The team are already a short benched team, take out one of your main scoring threats that puts the team really behind the 8 ball! But, thems the cards your dealt. I wont go into the game in detail for two reasons, 1) I wasn't there and 2) head over to Banners on the Wall and Anthony will give you an in depth rundown of the game. Suffice to say the short bench, plus another injury sustained during the game meant the Phoenix chronically short bench could not cope. The Phoenix left Basingstoke with a 6-2 loss.
Back in Deeside on the sunday news emerged of Ben Wood's injury, having taken a hard hit in Basingstoke the night before, Ben was left with a sore shoulder which would keep him out the game. Two players down, 4 if you include the two Deeside youngsters signed on 2-way deals who, were also out through injury. Coupled with the Flames strength in depth I will admit I was not feeling hopeful about the game. Big big thanks must go out to two Dragons (Deeside) senior players who answered the call and suited up to help the Phoenix out. So, James Parsons and Simon Furnival to volunteer and come to play an EPL game with no training with the Phoenix at all, massive thanks to you and the Deeside Dragons!
First Period: The game began without much structure to it, much of the play was very scrappy with neither side able to take control of the game. Guildford were able to pin most of the play in the Phoenix zone but, thanks to hard working defence and Fone in ninja mode, the Flames rarely came close to a clear cut chance in the opening stages. The Flames pressure did begin to build and a breakthrough was made on the powerplay. With Trent Hope in the penalty box on a tripping call, Flames went on the PP at 7min 16sec. After setting up in the zone the Flames began to move the puck around and, after just 33sec made the breakthrough. Steve Fone made the initial save on the play, then a 2nd and 3rd save but the Flames perseverance delivered a goal on the 4th attempt. After Fone made the 3rd stop, his rebound fell to Piatak unmarked on the back post to score. As the period wound down the next incident of note was a rather amusing penalty taken by Andy McKinney. Mark Thomas made a fantastic, heavy, hit behind Fone's goal which Andy took exception too. After the play was blown dead, McKinney and Thomas skated away having words before McKinney dropped his gloves. Thomas just giggled, turned away, and skated back to the bench. McKinney, dropping the gloves a little early and earning himself a 2+10 for incitement. Flames went into the break just a goal to the good despite outshooting the Phoenix 2-to-1!
Second Period: Throughout the first period and into the second, it became obvious the Phoenix were playing to a particular plan. Accepting the shorter bench, the Phoenix were allowing the Flames puck possession, then working very hard to clear the ice in front of Fone. As the Phoenix continued to soak up the pressure the Flames began to get more and more frustrated. Small errors began creeping into the game and the Phoenix started to get a few breakaway chances. Mark Thomas turned quarterback in a remarkable 5 minute period at the mid point of the game, which saw the Phoenix take the lead. His first assist saw James Archer released who danced through the Flames defence to score past Wall at 29min 49sec. The second, Robin Kovar had sat in the penalty box for a 2min tripping call, upon his release, Thomas floated a beautiful pass inbetween the Flames D men for Kovar to latch onto and skate in on Wall alone. Robin making no mistake with his finish putting the Phoenix into the lead at 34min 17sec.
Third Period: The Phoenix did grow into the game more in the third period but, Flames did still control the number of chances created but, they still could not put the puck in the net. The Phoenix were now very comfortable in soaking up the pressure and looking to counter on the break. The only goal of the game came to the Phoenix in, and i'll have to quote Ben Knight on this, possibly the most bizare goal he has ever seen. I will admit I did not see the goal as I was noting down a shot. All I heard was the crowd erupt from across the ice. A goal you will need to watch Phoenix TV for I think! Gareth O'Flaherty scoring the Phoenix third goal at 42min 40sec. The Phoenix D contunued to hold and frustrate the Flames who could not make headway back into the game at all. Into the last two minutes the Flames pulled Wall for the extra attacker but could not make the breakthrough. Phoenix holding on for a memorable win!
Verdict: I will admit, going into sundays game, I did not have the Phoenix down for a win. I thought we could compete for periods 1 & 2 but the third we would tire and let slip the game. How wrong could I have been. This was such a statement type of win, almost as if the team just accepted the numerical disadvantage but in no way would that stop them. There was so much guts and determination during those 60mins I think it surprised the Flames as well as myself. Guildford may have expected an easier game due to their extra numbers but, quickly became frustrated and their discipline and sharpness cost them. Huge win for the Phoenix and many many many big smiles around the rink after the final buzzer!