This past weekend saw the Phoenix face yet another tough weekend in the EPL. Saturday night saw a trip down to Bison land to take on a team in great form this season. The Phoenix saw Baranek icing again but, were without James Neil and Phil Hamer. Reports from the game suggest it was not a good night at the office for the Phoenix, the scoreline backing that assumption up, Phoenix coming away with a 5-0 drubbing. Head on over to Banners on the Wall for a write up on the game.
Sunday night at the West Manchester Municipal Pool saw the Wildcats head into Deeside. The Phoenix would see Phil Hamer make his debut and, although he didn't play, James Neil took warm up before the puck drop suggesting his recovery is well on course.
First Period: For the first time in a very long time the Phoenix were starting a game able to roll 3 forward lines, coming into the game though, against a good Wildcats side you would still have fancied the visitors to get the win. Imagine our surprise that, right from the first puck drop it was the Phoenix who took the initiative. For the first 5 minutes of the game the Phoenix played a high and aggressive forecheck which forced the Wildcats into their own zone. The pressure continued and, it was a goalmouth scramble which yielded the games first goal. At 10min exactly Trent Hope would pounce on a loose puck to put the Phoenix ahead. The chances continued to fall for the Phoenix and, Jacob Corson-Heron was unlucky to extend the lead minutes later only to be denied by Lyle. Swindon began to edge back into the game and Carlo Finucci forced Fone into a great stop to keep the visitors at bay. The Phoenix doubled their lead at 14min 41sec when Michal Satek and James Archer raced up ice on a 2 on 1. Archer with the puck held, held and held, gave Lyle the passing eyes who took the bait opening up the top corner. Archer unleashed a pin point shot to give the Phoenix a two goal lead.
Second Period: After a superb second period the Phoenix had to make it a second superb period to have a chance of closing out the game. The Phoenix pressure, remarkably, continued in the early stages as it wasn't until the halfway point until the Wildcats put their first shot in on Steve Fone. That sparked an avalanche of Wildcats pressure in a mad spell the visitors registered 15 shots on Fone but, the Phoenix netminder turned them all away. One goal did come in the period, with the puck bobbling toward the Wildcats blue line, Kovar was on hand to poke check the puck through the Defenceman's leg's and raced clear in on Lyle, after a neat wiggle of the shoulders he slid the puck home. Making it 3-0 Phoenix at 34min 34sec.
Third Period: 40min down 20min to go, the Phoenix needed to play a solid, no mistakes game to close out a deserved win. All the while keeping some of the best offensive talent in the EPL at bay. Usually the third period sees the Phoenix start to suffer from the short bench. This time, maybe it was the addition of Phil Hamer to the bench? Maybe it was Baranek and Kovar establishing a telepathic connection? Maybe it was all that, plus two period of hockey which meant the Phoenix will still going and largely on top in the game. In the first 10mins of the game the Phoenix made it 4. James Archer taking a shot from the blueline which Satek tipped on the way through to beat Stevie Lyle, goal timed at 43min 29sec. A 5th soon followed when Satek scored his second of the game from a superb drop pass from Gron, finding the same top right corner of Lyle's net James Archer found earlier in the game. It was at this point Lyle was changed for Jordan Hedley. The Phoenix pressured Headley in the closing moments but were not able to add any more goals.
Verdict: What a win, and a deserved one too! I remember commenting on the Phoenix Podcast in the first intermission that, the 1st period was possibly the best i'd seen the Phoenix play this season. Then, in the second intermission, it was same again. It was genuinely the best 60mins of hockey I think ive seen in Deeside. Kovar/Baranek is a partnership which, if both stay fit, could fire the Phoenix into the playoffs. Phil Hamer looks to be a great addition, he looked a little rusty and slow(ish) but many years or inline hockey can mean it takes a while to adjust back to ice. That being said, early signs are his presence on the 3rd line with Hope and Corson-Heron elevates that line to a new level. A word also must go to Ben Russell and Trent Hop, the latter getting a deserved Man-of-the-Match award, who both turned in games of the season!
Given all the negativity around the Phoenix this season and, the losses that have mounted up recently, last night was a breath of fresh, positive air! It felt really good driving back east on the M56 that's for sure!