So that’s the end of the regular season and what a finish the Phantoms had with three wins and five hat-tricks over the last two weekends which firmly embedded the side in the middle of the table, so not bad for a new coach and a team with money problems. And let’s not forget the odd arrangement between the fans, Darius Lelenas and the club, which we may well see reproduced in the future.
At the top end of the Flames finished with a record-breaking eleven consecutive winning league games, which nicely bracketed the season with their amazing starting run.
At the other end of the scale table the Tigers announced their much-improved forward Scott McKenzie, who collected a bunch of end-of-season awards, had re-signed for next season.
Meanwhile, Bees GM Stuart Robinson said his club, ‘is bitterly disappointed with how the season has ended. ’But, on the bright side, added ‘There will definitely be a Bracknell Bees next season.’ But there may not definitely be a Jaroslav Cesky and Michal Pinc there because rumour has it the two are on the move, while Lucas Smulter, after four years at the Flames is rumoured to be returning to his old team.
Sam Bullas, the Wildcats’ forward who has been out with a broken ankle is hoping to make a return before the play-offs conclude. Having originally been ruled out for the season, he has now been cleared to start light training.
Definitely back in for the play-offs, though, are Coaches Andre Payette and Tony Hand. Both had been ruled out due to suspensions but the Phoenix appealed and the EPL Disciplinary Committee ruled all punishments were void to ‘enable the top teams to compete on an equal footing for the Coventry final.’
Well, yes, all well and good because in allowing Hand back onto the ice the ruling has reinstated Payette and, of course, both Steeldogs and Phoenix face each other in the quarter-finals. But, there are those who are not happy with the decision saying it makes a mockery of the discipline procedure and allows players to act as they see fit in the leagues final games, and, more cynically, that had it not been Hand involved in the appeal, the suspensions would have stood. When you consider the Andrew Sharp ban that was also-say overturned earlier in the season after a Phoenix so-called appeal, you can’t help wondering about the integrity of the committee.
However, while the Hand high-sticks call was seriously iffy with Wildcats Bauba pretty much running into the stick with his head won, you can’t help feeling the quarter-final games would be sadly lacking without messrs Payette and Hand. Meanwhile, following news of his reinstatement Coach Payette said, I don’t think Manchester are going to like playing us,’ adding ‘I will be having words with Mr Sharp again.’ So, more blood on the dance floor then.
Saturday and the quarter-finals kicked off with the expected Payette v Sharp tango at face-off and then when the serious hockey got under way the Phoenix settled in and just pulled away with the game peaking with the Canadian Steeldogs’ coach getting thrown out of tomorrow’s second leg. So a pretty normal game.
In Swindon some early imaginative reffing plunged the Wildcats into a five-on-three causing them to go a goal down from which they covered and held the Flames in check for two periods in a tight fast game which you wouldn’t have wanted to put money on. But in the third the pace and machine-like persistence of the Flames paid off giving them a four-goal buffer to take home.
In Guildford the following evening the pattern was similar in that by the half-way point things were equal at 2-apiece and then the Flames not so much as pulled away as charge away with Matt Towe picking up a hat-trick and the Wildcats their biggest defeat of the season at 9-3 and 15-5 on aggregate.
The Bison in Milton Keynes stepped onto the ice and almost immediately the floor fell away beneath them as they went three goals down in minutes. Adding to the mayhem Chris Wiggins did his party-piece and collected fourteen minutes in tips to spend in the box. Then, things not exactly quietened down but stabalised in that for half an hour things equalised but then just about when you star to fidget knowing you will be in the bar in three minutes Kubenko slotted in two quick goals and it was game on! However, the final period saw nothing more but the Bison recovered enough to go onto home ice just a goal down and seriously still in the chase.
The final quarter-final pairing saw the Phantoms take the lead at home against the Jets on a power-play and although the Jets recovered before the first break, the Phantoms were ahead again early in the second. It was still neck-and-neck until with just ten minutes to go the Jets not only equalised but six minutes later were two up, which is how it ended.
After the first leg it was always unlikely the Steeldogs and Wildcats would be able to claw back large deficits against superior teams, so not surprising they have fallen by the wayside. The way the Phantoms have been playing a two-goal hurdle is not an insurmountable challenge, but against the Jets on home ice? The Lightning, however, with just a goal to wipe out were in with a definite chance facing a mercurial Bison on home ice.
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