Here we are again, the day after the weekend before, another pair of games ticked off on the EPL calendar. The Manchester Phoenix had games away to the Guildford Flames saturday night before taking on the Swindon Wildcats sunday night in West Manchester. Another tough weekend of EPL hockey, what weekends aren't? A weekend the Phoenix would look to snap a run of losses and get back to winning ways.
Saturday night in Guildford saw a tight game between to good hockey sides on the big spectrum ice. Phoenix took the lead early on but the Flames powered back to take a 2 goal lead early in the third period. A maiden goal for Trent Hope and then another score for Robin Kovar would force OT and then the game was to be decided on penalty shots. Tom Duggan would score the decisive shot for the home team and secure the extra point. Phoenix will be disappointed to lose the game on PS but, a point won in Guildford is not to be sniffed at, more importantly the performance was one to give the Phoenix boys a much needed confidence boost.
Sunday and the visit of the Wildcats would be another entertaining game. The Phoenix were without any players guesting from the Deeside Dragons and, this would be the first we got to see of Wildcats new import forward Carlo Finucci.
First Period: Phoenix came flying out the blocks after the puck drop and took the game to Swindon. A high pressing forecheck gave the Wildcats little comfort on the puck and Lyle was never given a chance to settle. Looking a little unsure of himself the Phoenix took their shots trying to force the games opening goal. That goal would come before the 5 min mark when Michael Satek took a short angle shot and banked the puck into the net off Stevie Lyle, timed at 4min 50sec. The pressure continued and the home side doubled their lead at 7min 05sec when Stan Gron tipped a Ben Wood shot for the games second goal. The Phoenix continued to pile on the pressure and Stevie Lyle called a time out to regroup the troops. As the period entered its second half the Wildcats began to regain some composure and force their own chances. It was on a break up the ice Luke Boothroyd took a needful slashing penalty to stop an opportunity. On the resulting powerplay the Wildcats would make that decision pay. Carlo Finucci got his first of the game at 11min 42sec to halve the deficit. Swindon began to tip the pressure in the their favour after the goal and that pressure would pay. At 18min 06sec Finucci scored once again to send the teams in at the break level at 2 each.
Second Period: The interval helped the Phoenix who looked like their old selves at the beginning of the second period. Taking the play to the Wildcats with pace, the Phoenix set up in the Cats zone early. After some neat work by Kovar and Satek, James Archer was found on the hash marks who blasted a shot past Lyle. So forceful that Lyle, and most of the players on the ice never saw it. The go ahead goal scored at 31min 35sec. The Phoenix continued to hold on to the play and dominate possession so, at the second interval, the home side lead 3-2.
Third Period: A Swindon fightback was expected and is what we got. Jan Kostal got the chances underway when an excellent shot beat Fone but not the pipework. Then Stan Gron was denied by a great save on a break away. The game really began to open up as the play switched from end to end. With Ben Wood off the ice on a questionable interference call the Cats went back on the powerplay. Much like their earlier effort they made the Phoenix pay. Tomasz Malasinski tied up the game once again with a superb snipe on the back post when he was found all alone, assists going to Harding and Ryhanen. At this point the period wore on and looked to be heading for OT but, Stan Gron would not agree and nab his second goal as the game entered it's last 5 minutes. After rounding the net he scored a beaut of a goal at 56min 45sec. The Phoenix needed to dig deep now and see out the game in face of some big Swindon pressure. Into the last couple of minutes Stevie Lyle went to the bench for the extra skater but the Wildcats could not set up properly in the Phoenix zone. After a turn over Aaltonen fed Stan Gron who raced up the left win and scored an easy empty netter, sealing his hattrick at 59min 43sec.
Verdict: After picking up a superb point the previous night this win underlined a fantastic weekend for the Phoenix and a real shot in the arm for form and confidence. For the most part they were able to deal with that excellent Wildcats top line and, a welcome return to form for Gron meant the Phoenix were good value for the win.