The improving on ice fortunes of the Phoenix would be tested with a tough away trip to the Guildford Flames followed up by the visit of the Hull Pirates. The Pirates are a much changed team since the one that began the season and, in the games in WMMP the Pirates have had the upper hand, with an OT and regulation victory. The away trip to Guildford, personally I did not expect much, but the current uptick in form gave hope. In the end a late equiliser in the 3rd lead to the Phoenix securing an extra point, with the Flames taking the 2nd with a winner in overtime, final score 4-3.
A huge amount of credit/thanks must go to the Flames organisation and fans, in an effort to help the Phoenix out they held an auction for a Tom Duggan game worn shirt. At the end of the night, a massive £621 was raised and given to the Phoenix Supporters Trust. A big big big thank you Guildford!!!!
Sunday saw the Hull Pirates come to West Manchester and, prior to the game, a fan forum was held prior to the game where Phoenix owner Neil Morris updated the fans on the fund raising efforts and the future Phoenix plans. Please, please, please, do not form your opinion from The Hockey Forum or twitter, please wait for a club press release (if one will be released) or, listen to the Phoenix Podcast where Chris Beasley (who did attend the meeting) sums up what was said.
Anyway, the visit of the Chocolimes....sorry Hull Pirates.....less Limey these days but still a very difficult team to beat! Phoenix, for the first time (at the WMMP) since about pre-season were able to ice a full roster! James Neil the latest back to the ice after his awful rib injury.
First Period: With the renewed energy the Phoenix have been playing with the past couple of weeks the Phoenix came out the traps flying. Robin Kovar and James Neil having early chances for the Phoenix only to be denied by Raitums. Beginning the season the Pirates had Baston in goal, possibly one of the best goaltenders we have seen in the EPL. After his departure to Basingstoke there was always the worry about the guy coming into those pads. Raitums is a more than worthy replacement. His early showing in the period suggested it could be another long night for the home side. After the initial Phoenix flurry, Hull came back into the game and started carving out their own chances forcing Fone into a couple of excellent saves. The Phoenix had to be clever in their chances to get past Raitums. A Kovar tip in front of goal just went wide the, an acrobatic back hand effort from Satek hit the side of the goal. The period ended scoreless, with Fone facing 6 shots and Raitums 15.
Second Period: The intensity increased in the second period as both sides tried to get the first goal. The game set up to follow a pattern, Phoenix with the possession, Hull defending brilliantly looking to pick the Phoenix off on the breakaway. Tommi Lain had the first effort on the breakout but was denied by Fone. Phoenix hit back with chances falling to Baranek and Gron only for Raitums to come up big. Natham Salem to two excellent opportunities on the breakaway but, like Raitums, Fone was in top form. Baranek had two chances where he picked the puck up on the right wing, blew past the left sided defenceman, only to then attempt lifting the puck over Raitums, but also over the net. Excellent chances but neither resulting in a goal. Like the first, the second ended scoreless, Fone facing 10 shots and Raitums 16shots.
Third Period: Well, it all went off in the third period! With Sam Towner in the box on a 2 min tripping penalty the Phoenix went on the powerplay. After cycling the puck round to Satek behind the goal, James Neil pinched in unnoticed on the back post, Satek quickly moved the puck side to side and out from behind, quick enough for James Neil to score into the empty side of the net. A superb team goal and well finished by Neil, the goal timed at 42min 31sec. The Phoenix then doubled their lead, Phoenix again with the puck in the Hull zone, the puck was passed out to the blueline, where Ben Wood lined up an accurate slap/pass to the far post, when James Archer was ghosting in to tip the shot past Raitums, goal no.2 at 45min 08sec. The Phoenix third line was contributing too, Jacob Corson-Heron pulling off a superb wraparound only for Raitums to just about close the pads over the puck in time. It as in the ensuing melee that Corson-Heron and Nathan Salem dropped the gloves and had a disagreement, both getting 2+2 for fighting. Raitums produced some more fine saves from Kovar and Satek before the game saw its second scrap. After a good hit from Thomas, he and Pasi Salonen had a scrap in the Phoenix zone, both getting 2+2 for fighting and Salonen getting an extra 2 for roughing. The Phoenix imports would combine to score the Phoenix third and close out the game, Satek finding Gron to score at 56min 47sec. A superb 3-0 win for Phoenix, Raitums facing 13 shots in the final session, Fone facing 12, to complete a 28 shot shutout.
Verdict: The Phoenix revival continues with a good good win against a tough Pirates team. Hull, in their previous two visits to the WMMP, picking up a win each time, had to be beaten to stop the sweep on home ice. Throughout the game the Phoenix looked in control and dangerous on the attack. The extra bodies on the bench really helping the recovery of injuries and just, in game fitness. Baranek is really finding his feet and his afterburners, Phil Hamer picking up more and more speed each game. There really is a sense of optimism around the rink which was sadly missing over the festive period!