The Peterborough Phantoms’ good run of form continued this weekend, as they took the Swindon Wildcats to a penalty shoot-out on Saturday, and defeated the Sheffield Steeldogs in a tense finish on Sunday. For a team that has resided in the bottom reaches of the English Premier League all year there is a reassuring optimistic buzz about both the end of this season, and for the future too.
Whereas the Bracknell Bees were something like 10 points ahead of the Phantoms a couple of weeks ago, the Phantoms have taken 7 out of 8 points with 3 wins and a penalty shoot-out defeat in Swindon, to close the gap on the Bees to only 3 points.
There are 5 games left to play, and in truth, none of them look easy, with 2 home ties against title challengers Manchester, a double header against the old enemy, Milton Keynes, and what potentially could be a winner takes all game (at least in terms of qualifying for the play-offs) in Bracknell on the last day of the regular season.
Saturday evening saw the Phantoms powerplay unit get the business done in Swindon, with the team making their numerical advantage count 3 times. Koulikov, Levers and Petran did the damage, with the third goal levelling the scores after Jonas Hoog had nudged the Wildcats ahead 9 minutes into the final period.
Neither side could forge the breakthrough in overtime, and hot-shot Aaron Nell, relatively quiet in the last 2 fixtures against the Phantoms, scored in the penalty shoot-out to win the additional point for the Cats. The Phantoms have taken a game to overtime or a penalty shoot-out on 8 occasions this season and have failed to win in any of them; even taking a couple of extra points would make the play-off push a little easier at this stage.
The Sunday night fixture against the Sheffield Steeldogs had taken on the mantle of ‘must-win game’ as a result of the Bees defeat in Manchester on Saturday and the fact that most Phantoms’ fans were supporting the in-form Telford Tigers against the Bracknell club on Sunday. If the Phantoms were to make up ground on 8th place a win would be essential. Telford did their bit, comfortably defeating the Bees …
Refereeing the game was Matthew Thompson, and none other than Olympic gold medal match official, Joy Johnston, making her first appearance in Peterborough since the Women’s’ final in Sochi. You do wonder what goes through the minds of the players, and the officials too, when you think of the stage that Joy has appeared on recently. USA v Canada to Peterborough v Sheffield in a matter of weeks, and just as that game was full of late drama, so was this 9 goal thriller.
Mr Payette brought his gang to town following defeats to Manchester on Friday and Telford on Saturday. Phantoms’ supporters hoped that the Steeldogs would run out of steam after a punishing weekend. In truth, this didn’t happen; credit to Andre and co for a spirited performance - the game was physical but there was precious little difference between the penalty minutes accumulated by either side.
The last time the teams met I suggested that the Dogs were past masters of the ‘dark arts’, but on this evening, the Sheffield side played a more honest game, and for significant passages of play were the better side, passing crisply and putting the Phantoms defence under pressure, whilst the Phantoms, particularly in the final period seemed to lose their cutting edge.
The atmosphere in the old barn could be summed up through one of two moods – the tense, fingernail biting response to being under pressure for large parts of the game, with Damien King being forced to make a number of saves and defenders making last ditch dives to keep the Dogs at bay; and the electric, euphoric response to Phantoms goals and key penalty kills (especially at the death). I’m not sure my ticker can take much more of this!
With 3 seconds left at the end of the first period Edgars Bebris managed to score on Damien King, with the puck crossing the goal-line in agonising slow motion; one of those heart in the mouth moments that meant the opening stanza finished with the Phantoms leading 3-2, following a brace of goals from Man of the Match Marcel Petran, and a miss-hit blue liner from James Ferrara that beat Dalibor Sedlar high on the glove side. Ex-Phantom Steve Duncombe had scored the Dogs first with a smartly hit shot from the blue line on a powerplay.
At the start of the second period the home side were second best in the opening exchanges, though both James Ferrara, Petran again and Levers went close. With just under 4 minutes to go in the period, Greg Chambers tied up the scoring in a phase of the game where Koulikov’s men were making heavy work of defending their lead.
Just at the point where people were making a move to beat the queues for their intermission refreshments, the coach himself battled superbly in neutral ice, advanced down the left wing, and placed a pass on Darius Pliskauskas’ stick. The Lithuanian made no mistake with a shot rifled into the net, to give the Phantoms a 4-3 lead on the second buzzer.
The final 20 minutes was a tense affair. With less than 2 minutes gone Sheffield had tied up the scores yet again, this time Ashley Calvert finishing under relatively little pressure, which was a recurring theme throughout the period.
Two penalties were called on the Phantoms in the last 10 minutes. Firstly, James Hutchinson’s penalty, for delay of game after throwing himself to the ice when trying to block the Dogs offence, was killed. Subsequently, with less than 5 minutes to go, Luke Ferrara was sent to the box for slashing, moments after being flattened from behind.
And on such fine margins …
On the resultant powerplay, the Steeldogs piled on the pressure and sent a shot goal ward that came back off the post, to our surprise, and no small amount of relief. The Phantoms killed the remainder of the penalty, and with 1 08 left on the clock, penalty box villain turned hero; Luke Ferrara swept in the winner to send the home fans into raptures at the end of a hard earned victory.
Final score: Peterborough Phantoms 5-4 Sheffield Steeldogs
Sometimes, just sometimes, there is nothing better than supporting your team and seeing them prevail in difficult circumstances. This was one of those moments. The manner of the victory and the atmosphere in the rink made the finish one of the highlights of the season; well done to the team, and to the crowd too.
Up next, the Manchester Phoenix.
Come on you Phantoms!
The Peterborough Phantoms can be found online at http://www.peterboroughphantoms.com/
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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