MANCHESTER PHOENIX 7 - 4 GUILDFORD FLAMES
The top two in the English Premier League faced off against each this past weekend with both sides winning their respective home games, as come the end of the weekend it saw the Manchester Phoenix move two points clear of their nearest rival the Guildford Flames in the league standings.
Saturday night saw the Surrey based Flames host the Phoenix in the first meeting between the two sides this season, it also could have given a psychological edge to one of the two teams at this early season over the double header.
A big crowd at the Spectrum saw the Guildford Flames take a two goal lead late on in the opening period thanks to goals from ex Manchester Phoenix players Curtis Huppe & Tom Duggan, as the Flames went into the break 2-0 up.
Second period seen the Phoenix launch a comeback as first off James Archer pulled a goal back for the visitors, before Robert Schnabel then put one past Mark Lee as Manchester battled back from two goals down to draw level at 2-2.
In the final period of play both sides pushed for the go ahead goal as both defences stood firm and repelled the others attacks.
Then with over five minutes left in the game, James Archer was tripped in a goal scoring opportunity and saw the official signal for a penalty shot for the away side which handed Phoenix a chance to take the lead at a crucial time. Unfortunately for the visitors his effort was saved by Mark Lee so we stayed level, as we got into the final two minutes of the game it was almost scripted for Tom Duggan to haunt his old side and he did just that when he scored with over a minute and half left in the game. Guildford had drawn first blood in the double header with a 3-2 victory and so we moved onto to Altrincham for the second match of the weekend.
Sunday saw the two sides go to battle yet again, but this time in Phoenix back yard where Manchester had the best attacking record in the league scoring 34 goals. From the opening faceoff it looked like this game would be another tight affair between the two fire based sides with neither giving an inch to the other team as this match could have had a little bit of an edge depending on the result. Manchester scored the game opening goal after Michal Psurny skated down hard after a puck which wasn`t collected by the Flames player behind his own net, that saw the Czech forward feed player coach of the Phoenix Tony Hand, who was free in the zone and Hand had plenty of time to slide it home for a 1-0 score at 6:02 and had the home fans celebrating the opener.
From that goal Guildford seemed to tighten up at the back and squeezed the Phoenix forwards out of their zone and pressured them back into their half of the ice. Guildford Flames then started to turn up the heat on the Phoenix, after a build up of pressure in the Phoenix zone saw the visitors pressure finally tell when at 13-18, Ben Campbell scored for the visitors with ex Phoenix forward Marcus Kristoffersson and Milo Melicherik assisting on the goal which then had the travelling supporters up on their feet.
Richard Bentham was given his second penalty call of the game after he had already collected a Holding call at 9-56, he was then given a two minute penalty for Tripping at 15:45 as referee Dave Emmerson sent him to the box. Manchester`s penalty kill was very good as they were stopping all Flames scoring opportunities that came in their power play, Guildford were by far the most dominant side in the opening period as the puck seemed to be drawn to the Phoenix end like it was a magnet.
Phoenix did take a couple of shots on James Hadfield in the nets for the Flames as he was unaware of where the puck was at times, with the home side knocking on the door on when they attacked.
The Flames should have took the lead, when after a play by Steve Fone`s right-hand post, the puck was pushed loose into the slot where a open Ben Campbell managed to somehow pull his shot wide of the target when the Guildford man had half a net to aim at.
Time ticked down to signal the end of a good period of hard clean competitive hockey between the sides, with both sides going into the period probably happy not to be trailing. Phoenix really needed to cut out the loose sloppy passes they were performing in the period and they need to open play up a bit more as Guildford was suffocating them in mid ice.
Second period of play saw Manchester retake the lead after Andy McKinney controlled the puck and then the young forward fired a blast over Hadfield shoulder to go top corner, gave the Phoenix the lead again for 2-1. That lead lasted all but 43 seconds when at 22-05 the Flames broke up ice through Duggan who was put through by Jozef Kohut and the livewire forward raced away from the Phoenix defence to back handed past Steve Fone in the Phoenix nets to tie the game up at 2-2, it also gave the Flames a bit of a momentum boost at that point as the Phoenix went a bit flat for a 5 minute period.
This then saw Guildford take the lead in the game courtesy of a slip in the Phoenix zone by a Bakrlik who lost an edge by the board as Stuart Potts was coming over, Potts then had time to pick out Dean Holland who was skating towards goals and he directed it home for a 3-2 Flames lead at 26-57.
Phoenix responded straight away when Michal Psurny had the puck turned and wristed one past Hadfield for 3-3 at 27-55 as the game was nonstop action. We started then to see some feisty play creep into the game as Frantisek Bakrlik was getting involved with Jez Lundin and Branislav Kvetan and at one point felt like the whole Flames bench.
Bakrlik “up and at em” approach seemed to be catching the Flames off their game a bit and when Neil Liddiard was called for Interference at 32-11 he didn`t take kindly to the official and picked up a 10 minute Misconduct penalty as he reacted. It was the opening the home side needed as it was Mr Power play himself Luke Boothroyd getting the go ahead goal for the home side, when the Manchester defenseman scored for the Phoenix after Psurny and Hand had made the Guildford penalty kill move around. Tony Hand had his blast blocked by Boothroyd who was screening the netminder on the play, but the puck came loose and the Manchester Captain managed to twist and put it in to make it 4-3 at 32-51 for the home side and had the home fans jumping and that started to see some smiles slowly reappear on the home benches faces.
Phoenix then started to take over the second period much like Guildford had done to the home side in the first period.
Phoenix then extended their lead when a beautiful goal by Robin Kovar saw him put the puck in for a 5-3 lead at 39:08, when the Czech player collected a pass from Archer and he quick shot caught Hadfield out and go in the back of the net. Horn sounded for the end of another terrific period of hockey with a bit of bite to the game now as well.
In the third period, the Phoenix and Guildford were still butting heads like it was a level game, yet you`d never know there was a two goal difference between the sides.
Both sides defensively were not that tight with each team having equal amount of chances but finding the netminder`s making some very good saves off the the shots they were facing. With 10 minutes left to go in the game a mad scramble at the front of the Flames crease saw Bakrlik and couple of defenseman trying to stop the Phoenix forward, before Psurny picked the puck up and somehow managed to put it in the net for a 6-3 lead coming at 50-13.
With the game seemingly gone from the grasp of Guildford, the game slowed a touch, but Guildford hadn`t given up hope just yet as they scored a beautifully crafted goal as Kristoffersson danced round the Flames defence as he passed to Campbell who pulled Fone out of position with a cross ice pass, where Kristoffersson was on hand to tap home a lovely move for the away side at 56-52.
|Michal Psurny scores Hat Trick and Phoenix 7th|
The game was coming to the end but Michal Psurny had the last word as from a weekend of ex Phoenix players scoring against their old side, it was an ex Flames player that started a move off to see the Phoenix round off the win when Joe Graham passed towards the Czech forward and Psurny much like in the Playoff final v the Flames put the puck past the netminder for 7-4 and claimed his first his Hat trick of the season.
Both sides took a win a piece and shown that this season will be very closely fought as ever between the two sides in the league as both are built mainly on the hockey part than the over the top tactics used by quite a few sides this year. However this weekend served up another great couple of games in the Phoenix/Flames series, If the next four games are half as exciting as the past two games this weekend then we are in for a treat.
Manchester now prepares for the road game at Basingstoke Bison on Saturday evening and then the home game on Sunday against the rejuvenated and newly took over Telford Tigers at the Ice dome next Sunday.
FINAL 2 mins of game: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNbDMmoXhyM
MATCH HIGHLIGHTS : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1cdvVS2_CQ