EPL PLAYOFFS SEMI FINAL ROUND UP:
This past weekend saw the climax to the 2013-14 English Premier League Ice Hockey season with the Final Four being the Swindon Wildcats, Guildford Flames the EPL Cup winning Basingstoke Bison and the EPL League Champions the Manchester Phoenix battling it out to become the EPL Playoff champions.
1st Semi Final:
Manchester Phoenix 4 – 3 Swindon Wildcats OT
The First game of the EPL Playoffs weekend saw the League Champions defending their Playoff crown they won last year against the 5th placed Swindon Wildcats. Manchester over the course of the season saw them boast a 5-1 record over their opponents from Wiltshire, with Swindon getting the better of the Phoenix in the last meeting beating the sides with a 2-0 victory at the Link Centre in Swindon.
From the opening puck drop, Swindon took the game to the League Champions as they bossed the first period of play with Manchester not at the races what so ever, with as Steve Fone standing up well to everything that the newly confidence boosted Wildcats threw at the Phoenix Goaltender.
Manchester took time to get going in the game and in the opening twenty minutes of play, it saw the Phoenix battle back in the contest as they were in danger of being over- run by the much more intense side led by Ryan Aldridge, with the Wildcats by far the better side.
It saw the designated ‘Home team’ the Manchester Phoenix take the lead very much against the run of play, with Swindon the much more dangerous side in the game at that point but Manchester aren`t champions for no reason and saw them take the lead through Andy McKinney at 8-55 with Michal Psurny and Tony Hand assisting on the goal.
It looked only a matter of time before the Wildcats would net past the desperate defending by the short benched Phoenix and so it proved to be. Swindon replied a couple of minutes later on a powerplay with James Archer sat in the penalty box for a debatable Boarding call it has to be said and saw Sam Smith getting by the last man to flick it in over Fone for a lovely goal to make it 1-1 at 11-12.
Second period saw the play more even between the sides with both teams carving out chances and saw both Steve`s in Lyle and Fone coming up big to deny the other side from taking the lead in the tense opening semi final match up.
Frantisek Bakrlik then headed to the penalty box for a Roughing call made by Hogarth and from it saw Manchester once again unable to hold out the Cats powerplay unit and saw Aaron Nell put the Wildcats up 2-1 at 28-34 with Jonas Hoog and Jan Kostal assisting.
That then saw the lead evaporate 1-07 seconds later, when Michal Psurny took hold of possession and then slalomed his way through the Swindon defence before coolly slotting past Lyle to see the Czech forward score one of the best goals over the weekend at 30-41.
Swindon however restored their lead less than a minute later, when Jonas Hoog put the puck in the back of the net with Fone stranded and saw not for the time this season, the back post wide post in the Phoenix defence and Hoog fired for a 3-2 lead to see Swindon take a lead heading into the Third period.
Manchester then upped their game more in the Third, with them having to try and find an equaliser in game and had twenty minutes to find one. It didn`t get off to the best of starts as Bakrlik found himself back in the penalty box for a Cross Checking call this time at 40-56 and Manchester`s push for a goal came as they scored the tying goal at 48-02, thanks to Andy McKinney netting his 2nd goal of the game to see it levelled at 3-3 and all to play for.
This then saw the game become stretched and had the game become end to end with the other trying to find the winning goal in the game, but saw the defensive and goaltenders on top.
With neither side able to find the winner in Sixty minutes of play, we then headed to overtime in this tightly poised contest and in the overtime period saw Swindon get called with a penalty that drew protests from the men in Red uniforms, with Aku Pekkarinen getting called for a Hooking penalty at 62-32.
It then saw the game come to a close, when a powerplay unit that wasn`t firing at all in the whole game then came up big, when Tony Hand moved the puck across to Frankie Bakrlik and he blasted one home for the game winner in overtime to see the Phoenix progress to the final and saw Swindon extremely disgruntled with the decision which led to the penalty awarded. It also saw during the handshakes, four players get Game Misconducts with Alex Symonds, Sam Smith, Jonas Hoog and Aku Pekkarinen all for Abuse of Official at 63-59.
Man of the Match:
Phoenix: James Archer Wildcats: Alex Symonds
Semi Final 2: Basingstoke Bison 5-2 Guildford Flames
In the Evening game it pitted the EPL Cup holders the Basingstoke Bison against the Guildford Flames and much like the First semi finalists, it saw the Cup holders have a the upper hand on their opponent in the head to head, with the Bison winning all but two of the games over the Flames and saw the winner meeting the Phoenix in the EPL Playoff Final.
The opening stages saw both teams come out hard and aggressive and was played like a good old fashioned blood and guts type playoff game, the kind you expect between two rivals who had battled hard over the season.
Guildford was the side doing most of the pressing in the opening exchanges with Dean Skinns much like he has done this year for the Herd, standing on his head and keeping the Flames at bay as he snuffed out any Guildford opportunities in the period.
Slovakian forward Martin Opatovsky then headed to the penalty box for Cross Checking to put the Bison on a powerplay and from it saw Tomas Karpov net a powerplay goal with Andrew Melachrino assisting at 11-50 to put the Bison 1-0 in the game.
Guildford struck back soon after though through Swedish forward Marcus Kristoffersson, with the Swedish forward tucking home from close range to level the game up at 1-1 at 14-07. It saw both teams have chances to get the go ahead goal but both Skinns and Gregg Rockman kept their respective teams in the game as hthey heading into the first intermission all level.
Second period saw the Bison continue their aggressiveness and seemed like Guildford never came out of the locker room after the opening period, which saw the Bison stamped all over the Flames with the Surrey club lacking any threat or hunger for the game after the opening twenty minutes of play.
Basingstoke made it 2-1 when Nicky Chinn did exactly the same as Psurny did in the other Semi final, with the forward skating through Guildford`s defense with such ease that they just seemed to let him happily go by before Chinn slid the puck in under Rockman to regain the lead and see the Herd starting to kick on from then at 23-57.
It soon got better for the Bison fans shortly after as Miroslav Mantroba then scored for to make it 3-1 at 28-17 as Chinn grabbed the only assist on the goal, before they then really hammered home their advantage with Joe Rand netting the Fourth goal for Doug Sheppard side at 31-43 with Cameron Wynn assisting. It seemed to have gone horribly pear shaped for the Surrey outfit with the game almost playing at testimonial pace, with the Bison their foot on the Flames throat and keeping them there, while the game was looking out of reach now for the Flames.
Basingstoke dominated their opponent and saw them batter and bruise the Flames with relative ease, with Basingstoke taking the game away from Guildford and seen them head into the final period with a healthy 4-1 lead after two periods.
Play in the final period was a formality in truth, with the Bison just shutting up shop and playing out the game with a cautious approach, but still had an attacking threat in them when they needed to. Guildford tried to launch an comeback in the match, but they were came up against a resistance from the Bison defence to which saw them repel any threats the Flames had in the final stanza.
However Guildford gave themselves a glimmer of hope in the contest, when Branislav Kvetan found the back of the net to make it 4-2 and then saw them go through a mini purple patch that saw them slightly rock the Herd, but the Flames comeback was extinguished when Joe Greener forced home the puck to make it 5-2 at 57-57 and saw the Bison head into the Final, where they would meet the Manchester Phoenix in the Battle of the Cup holders.
Man of the Match:
Bison: 27# Nicky Chinn Flames: 82# Jez Lundin