Season’s greetings, Phantoms fans. And what a week it has been for the Peterborough Phantoms. New coach, Slava Koulikov, has barely had time to get his feet under the table, yet we have seen two of our four imports depart, and fans’ favourites Tom Murdy and Nicky Watt shown the door too. The club aim to make the play-offs this year, hence the change of coach, and on the roster; With Telford rapidly improving we are going to need to see some wins pretty quickly.
Nevertheless, maybe, just maybe, there are signs that there is an end in sight to the bleak mid-winter that the Phantoms have been suffering from of late.
Coach Koulikov has now presided over 3 games, technically all defeats, yet the performances against Guildford a week ago, and the Manchester Phoenix on Saturday night, give much reason for optimism. The two heavy weights at the top of the EPL have both visited Bretton in the last week, and the struggling city side have taken a point off each of them. Given the Phantoms’ previous home form, this is some achievement; the equivalent of beating one of them and losing to the other. Most Phantoms fans would recognise that this is no mean return from two of the season’s most difficult fixtures (let’s not forget that the Phantoms lost 11-0 in Manchester on the only previous meeting between the two sides this year).
The game on Saturday was the first since the roster changes announced this week; Murdy, Cesky, Watt and Zubek out, Koulikov and Pliskauskas in.
Cesky played well throughout the tie, in what ought to be his last appearance, and leaves us with respectable stats – 13 goals and 20 assists in 27 games – 33 points, at an average of 1.22 ppg. At this stage in the season, there are only 3 clubs (Basingstoke, MK and Manchester) who have multiple point scorers ahead of Cesky; in all of the other teams he would’ve been the 2nd highest point scorer in the team, as he is at the Phantoms. Cesky moves on, to be replaced by the evening’s debutant, Darius Pliskauskas, currently 3rd in the goal scoring EPL’s goal scoring table, and on 37 points (24 goals, 13 assists), ahead of Cesky by the grand total of 4 points over 27 games.
Both Nick Watt and Frankie Zubek were given a standing ovation at the end of the evening. Zubek will be missed for his work rate and gritty determination, if nothing else. Nicky Watt displayed those characteristics and much more. He was whole-hearted on the ice, and committed to the club and the fans off it. Watt is the kind of player that gives the opposition something to think about, especially when things start to get rough. Recent games have shown there is more to Nicky’s game that the brawler that we saw in the early weeks of the season, yet we have to hope that the Phantoms don’t simply get bullied in his absence. We’re going to need our players to look after each other when the opposition bring the physical side of their game.
Good luck and all the best, then, to Cesky, Zubek and Watt, and also to Tom Murdy, victim of the imminent arrival of Kamil Jarina from Slough. This is an exciting prospect; hopefully Jarina can stay fit and maintain the kind of form he has shown at Slough.
I’ve wondered whether an import nettie will make a huge amount of difference if a team has a porous defence, and leaves the hapless goal tender hopelessly exposed. Jarina’s stats at Slough suggest he does make a difference. Currently sitting 2nd in the netminder table, he has a save percentage 91.11% on an average of 39.2 shots faced per game. Our netminders this year, King and Murdy, have a lower save percentage, and crucially have also faced fewer shots per game. In a nutshell, Jarina’s record points to him saving a higher percentage of shots behind a team that leaves him open more frequently. Let’s hope he settles quickly and stays fit.
Koulikov’s charges skated hard throughout the three periods on Saturday, backed by another big and vocal crowd. The Phoenix made a quick start, scoring within 40 odd seconds at the beginning and end of the first, to lead 2-1 at the break. Erik Piatak seemed revitalised, and danced through the Manchester defence to notch the Phantoms single strike. Manchester are big, strong and fast. They skate hard into the corners and wrap round the net with power. For the deficit to only be one goal meant the Phantoms were still in a game that may well have gotten away from them.
Shots went begging for both sides in the second period, with Piatak levelling at the end of a sloppy powerplay, and the Phantoms killing a full 2 minutes 5 on 3 penalty right at the end of the middle 20, immediately before James Ferrara missed a 1 on 1 with Fone to give the Phantoms an unlikely lead. The Phantoms had increasingly come into the game and were galvanised by this penalty kill in the third, when chances to win the match were spurned.
The Phantoms have a poor record in overtime this year, losing each of their previous 5 OT encounters this season. Despite getting a powerplay at the end of the additional 5 minutes, no breakthrough could be found (unlike Guildford last week, who scored in their PP in OT to get the additional point), and Archer scored the only goal in the shoot-out.
On another day the Phantoms would’ve notched a winner, but Fone’s form reflected his standing at the top of the netminder charts. McKinney was, rather surprisingly, the Phoenix MoM, though the victory was, in no small part, due to Fone’s excellence.
Next up, old rivals, the Milton Keynes Lightning. Hopefully, the Phantoms’ new found optimism will last longer than the Christmas decorations.
Come on you Phantoms!
The Peterborough Phantoms can be found online at http://www.peterboroughphantoms.com/
You can also follow the club on Twitter at @GoPhantoms
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Member since: 29th October 2013
I'm an avid Peterborough Phantoms fan, bringing you news and reports from our local ice-hockey club