Last weekend was a big big test for the rejuvenated Manchester Phoenix, a 3 in 3 game spell which would see the Phoenix play, the leagues in-form team, and the leagues top two teams. Away to the Sheffield Steeldogs friday night the Phoenix would play the team sat above them in the EPL and a team in form and pulling off some great comebacks in recent games. After that, the not so insignificant task of playing the EPL's no.2 squad in the Thunderdome, then the small matter of a game against the EPL leading Basingstoke Bison at the WMMP.
Friday saw the Phoenix go to Sheffield, and come away, frustratingly, with a penalty shootout loss to the Steeldogs. Phil Spanswick started and finished the game in goal for the Phoenix. By all accounts this was a game we should have won, backed by a superb effort in the net from Spanswick the Phoenix let slip a two goal lead in the last 3 minutes to surrender the W. No goals in OT lead to lottery of a shootout which, on this occasion, did not turn out for the Phoenix. Away in MK the story was reversed, going into the final few minutes it was the Phoenix who pulled back into the game and forced the extra session, netting the winner the Phoenix left with an improbable win. Three points from two games coming into sundays game versus the Bison, I think most Phoenix fans would have taken that prior to puck drop!
First Period: Fans around the EPL know that the Bison are one physical team, the Phoenix were treated to that from the first puck drop. Much of it legal, a hell of a lot of it.....less so. The visitors showed from the first minute why they are currently top of the EPL, such strength in depth and awesome pace going forward. It was a quick break down the right wing which brought the games first goal, timed 2min 05sec. After Fone attempted a glove save, it seemed like he thought he had the puck. In reality it had gone behind the net for Balmer to then circle the net, pass out to the front where Ryan Watt was on hand to score. Phoenix tried to get back into the game and put some pressure on Baston, who came up with a fantastic double save from Wood and Kovar. Bison made it 2-0 at 15min 33sec when Joe Greener found the largest 5-hole in the EPL to score. Two goals in the period which, on balance, Fone will want back. He bails us out of so many games its ok to let a few go every now and then. Throughout the period, Mical Satek had been receiving alot of 'attention' from the Bison, all of which culminated in Ryan Watt and Ciaran Long both picking up penalties at the end of the period. Much of the attention given to Satek was less than legal and, if not called, could have lead to some nasty scenes in the game. Not a stellar period from our officials unfortunately!
Second Period: Phoenix needed a big effort to get back into the game and, got the games next goal. After a neat assist from Gron, Satek scored a great back hand goal at 26min 33sec. Having the quality in depth the Bison do, they were able to absorb that goal and step up to restore their 2 goal advantage. A well worked effot saw Lack and Towalski combine for Karpov to score the Bison 3rd goal at 30min 55sec. The Phoenix refused to give up and kept pressing Baston in the Bison goal. The pressure paid off when, at 32min 45sec, Mark Thomas was found on the point, he lined up a slap shot which knuckle balled perfectly into the top left corner. Given where Phoenix TV is filmed, it should be great to watch again! The period would see a decisive moment going into the last 2 minutes of the period. If the Phoenix could get to the locker room just a goal behind, there was still hope in the game. The Phoenix went for a line change and, as Boothroyd went for the bench door, he had one skate on the ice and one on the bench. Phoenix took possession and were called for too-many-men. The scenario is one that happens in all games, no matter what level, and is rarely called. However, as per the rules, it was the correct call! On the resulting powerplay, the Bison would restore their 2 goal lead and alter the flow of the game. One minute into the powerplay Rene Jarolin scored the Bison 4th goal and, although there were still 20min to go, for me seal the result.
Third Period: 20 minutes for the Phoenix to score two goals past the EPL's top team, one of the EPL's best goaltenders and a very physical team. Not impossible, just improbable! The Bison did score the next goal of the game and close out the win, more or less, when former Phoenix forward Shaun Thompson scored at 46min 01sec to make it 5-2. The Phoenix did add a consolation goal at 54min 13sec when Robin Kovar blew past the Bison D and picked out the top corner for a highlight reel goal.
Verdict: A real shame the Phoenix could not get something from the game, on balance an argument could be made for a point for the Phoenix but, the Bison were too good in the end. They were probably the worst team to have as the 3rd game in 3 but, that doesnt get away from the fact they are so damn good. The Phoenix did compete for the entire game but, it did always feel like the Bison had that extra gear in reserve to use when needed. Still, 3 points from that weekend is a great reward for this Phoenix team, many positives to be had!