The weekend just gone saw fans across the EPL dust down those jerseys, fill up the car and hit the road for another exciting EPL season. For the Phoenix it well and truly marks the end of one of the most turbulent summers the club has ever experienced. After a two week pre-season, now firmly settled into their new surroundings in Deeside, the Phoenix open up their EPL season with an inaugural trip to play the Hull Pirates, before returning along the M62 and M56 to take on the Lightning at home.
The Lightning have built up a strong roster this year, starting with Dean Skinns between the pipes, a player who backstoped the Bison to a number of cup wins. The MK defence is built with some big guys and the ever present Leigh Jamieson, a vetran of the EPL at just 30 years of age. Up front MK are spoilt with riches, a good Brit core including two from the Phoenix in Bobby Chamberlain and Jack Watkins, Blaz Emersic a long time EPL player an an import I would love to see in Phoenix colours. The standout signing has to be, Rene Jarolin though, their import forward captured from the Edinburgh Capitals. Scoring 56 points at over a point per game in the EIHL, he will light up the EPL!
Going into sunday nights game against MK, Phoenix made the trip across the north of England to Hull. PLaying in the Pirates first EPL game in 'The World's most Versatile Arena' and giving Phoenix fans a chance to sample the famous chip spice! From the updates it sounded like the Phoenix were largely on top in the game but were not able to convert many of their chances. Just one goal a period until the game opened up in the fourth, Phoenix running out 4-1 victors.
First Period: Throughout our time in the EPL, Phoenix/MK games have always been a highlight for me. Both are teams that are set up to play hockey, both teams have fast and skilful players and are coached to win. The first period began with neither side really dominating the play. Chances were created at either end with the players transitioning through centre ice with speed. A real end to end period had to wait until the later stages to see its first goal. Blaz Emersic took the first penalty of the game at 14min 36sec when he took a two minute penalty for hooking. The Phoenix PP unit went to action and, with the mad advantage, would score the games first goal. The three imports on the ice combining to set up MecaGron for the first goal, timed at 15min 33sec with assists to Kovar and Aaltonen. The period carried on but no further goals were scored. Jack Watkins having the best chance of the first for the visitors but, sadly, fanning on a shot allowing Fone to clear up.
Second Period: The second did not suffer from either team taking a breather, the play carried on from the first period with both teams going full tilt from the puck drop. Through the early stages both goaltenders were in action but were equal to the shots. As the period wore on the more clear cut chances were made when either team was on a power play. The Lightning then ran in to some penalty trouble when Markku Tahtinen went to the box at 32min 36sec for hooking. Then Leigh Jamieson followed him to the box at 34min 12sec for 2mins for slashing plus 2mins for abuse of an official. Despite having a 5 on 3 for a few moments, the Phoenix could not capitalise on the resulting powerplay. A second goal for the hosts did arrive before the buzzer though, 38min 16sec James Archer setting up MecaGron for his second goal of the game. Phoenix heading into the final period break, good value for their 2-0 goal lead.
Third Period: Phoenix turned the screw a little early in the third period when they jumped out to a 4-0 lead. Robin Kovar scored the Phoenix 3rd at 41min 12sec when he capitalised on an awkward bounce from the netting to decieve Dean Skinns. I know a number of the MK fans were protesting that it was kicked in but the referee saw no foul and awarded the goal. Assists going to James Archer and Gareth O'Flaherty. The Phoenix extended their lead around two minutes later when scorer turned provider as Kovar assisted James Archer to the Phoenix 4th goal, timed at 43min 33sec. It was then the Phoenix turn to run into penalty trouble, the Phoenix PK unit enduring an extended period on the ice as Ben Russell, Luke Boothroyd and MecaGron all spent time in the penalty box. Perhaps those penalties started to take their toll, plus MK's expected increase in effort as the period wore on but the visitors did manage to break Fone's resistance. Jack Watkins and Joshua Cook combined to set up captain Adam Carr to get the visitors on the board at 49min 32sec. 10 minutes to go and 3 goals to get MK really started to ratchet up the pressure. As the Phoenix became more defensive and Skinns saw less shots the Phoenix continued to hit penalty trouble. It was only a matter of time before MK would score again. As MK began to see a few more breakaway chances the Phoenix D became more desperate. Luke Boothroyd would take one for the team when he skated to the box, at 51min 28sec to sit for 2 minutes on an interference penalty. On the resulting powerplay Mk turned the screw and scored their second to reduce the deficit. That player you love to hate, Leigh Jamieson scoring for the Lightning at 52min 23sec with assists going to Tahtinen and Luomala. Still more than enough time to score two goals the Phoenix had to dig deep to see the game out. Despite Kovar, Boothroyd and Thomas heading to the penalty box, the Phoenix were able to hold firm and see out the win. The final buzzer going and a 4-2 win for the Phoenix.
Verdict: A tough win against a very good MK side, MK will do alot better than last years 7th position this year. They have great depth and some excellent imports. For me, and I appreciate we are only two games into the season, the weakness for me is in Dean Skinns. I saw it during his time with the Bison too, if you ruffle him early or dont allow him to settle his game goes a little haywire at times. This is where teams can capitalise. All that being said, I take nothing away from the Phoenix, they played a solid, hard game and deserved the win. The early goals in the third period were hugely vital. A case of taking the chances when they counted. The win certainly caps a great opening weekend!