The 2014 Planet Ice Sledge Hockey season proved to be another step up the ladder for the J. Davidson Manchester Phoenix Sledge hockey team hockey this year, with them hoping to build on last season, when they beat the Cardiff Devils 7-0 in the playoffs.
Kingston Kestrels 7-1 Manchester Phoenix
Manchester faced off in their opening game of the season, with a drive over the hills and towards Humberside where they faced the dethroned league champions in the Kingston Kestrels.
It didn’t see the best of starts for the Phoenix as they faced a much more experienced Kestrels side, as they opened their league account with a 7-1 victory over the Phoenix.
The game saw Kingston`s GB internationals show their class on a Manchester side very much in a transitional phrase, but credit to Kingston they shown why they are always title contenders and especially for the upcoming season.
With players like Mark Briggs, Ian Warner, Matt Clarkson and Matt Woolias in their ranks along with a good goaltender in Bryan Hackworth too, it meant it was always going to be a tough job to shut those players down.
Though from reports, Manchester didn`t disgrace themselves and just found the Kestrels having the killer instinct in them to bury chances as Matt Clarkson fired in a hat trick, along with Ian Warner netting twice and Briggs and Woolias scoring as well to see them score seven in the contest.
Manchester did get on the scoreboard through forward and top scorer for the Phoenix over the season in Karl Nicholson, as he scored to make it 4-1 at the time, before Kingston had too much for them in the end.
Manchester Phoenix 7 – 2 Peterborough Phantoms
Roll on a few weeks later and it saw the Phoenix opening up their home league campaign against the reigning league champions in the Peterborough Phantoms.
Peterborough`s preparations for the game wasn`t helped with players missing and with Gary Farmer being one of them, they lost some of their fire power in the game but still had Matthew Coleman in their ranks to help the Phantoms in the shooting department in the game.
Great Britain goalie in Rob Gaze played in defence for the Phantoms as they drafted in a couple of late replacements, with former GB netminder himself in Matt Lloyd coming out of retirement to help the Peterborough team out to go between the pipes and also had from the Widnes Wildcats Barry Sprakes give them an extra body for the game, with the visitors a low on the numbers side.
Manchester looked to capitalise on the Phantoms misfortune and seen then given an early powerplay chance to do it with, as Sprakes sat for two after being called for Teeing and saw Phoenix go one up with Karl Nicholson netting the powerplay goal.
Nicholson doubled the lead for the home side to move two in front and then the GB international assisted his international team-mate in Anthony Booth, whose effort saw the home side lead 3-0 against the league champions and they was good for that lead.
Matthew Coleman then responded for the away side with a goal late on in the period as he made it 3-1 after the opening fifteenth minutes. Peterborough`s troubles deepened when Lloyd injured his shoulder and saw Gaze back in goals and the Phantoms having just one spare player for the remainder of the game.
Nicholson netted his hat trick goal and Manchester`s fourth of the contest after just thirty-nine seconds gone in the second period to see them re-open their three goal gap.
Four became five as Nicholson who was having a stunning game in the Phoenix jersey, seen him score an unassisted goal a minute before the second ended for a 6-1 score and all but give the hosts victory.
Karl Nicholson turned into a six-shooter for many reasons in this game, as he was deadly with his aim and helped himself to six goals in the game, with two more in the third and with Manchester keeping the Phantoms at bay for most of the game, they then lost concentration and saw Jon Le Gallodec score his first sledge hockey goal to make it 7-2 and put points on the board for the home side.
Cardiff Devils 5 – 2 Manchester Phoenix
Next up for the Phoenix was a trip down to South Wales for a visit to the ‘Big Blue Tent’ in Cardiff and where it looked like they would make it two wins out of three against the only side not to register a point so far in the Devils.
Cardiff prior the game saw them suffer two heavy beatings in their opening two matches against the Phantoms and Kestrels, in which saw them concede twenty-two goals and score none in reply.
So this was very much a match in which they must have thought was a winable game, as it was the Manchester side was a bit complacent and played into the hands of their opponents and saw the Welsh side shock them.
Stephen Thomas put the hosts in front with a wraparound goal that saw them finally get a goal in the goals for column and saw them hold onto the lead for the first period.
That was till the second, when both sides traded goals with Anthony Booth of the Phoenix tying the game and then two goals from captain of the Devils in Russell Wiley, helped the Welsh side go 4-1 up.
The memories of the 7-0 playoff win was well and truly forgotten when Paul Furber made it 5-1 in the opening stages of the final period, with Karl Nicholson pulling a consolation goal back at the end of the game for the visitors to see them fall 5-2 to the welsh side, with the return the week after.
Manchester Phoenix 3 – 2 Cardiff Devils
The following weekend saw the teams renew battle with the return game in Altrincham and saw an absolute barn burner at the Altrincham ice dome.
Cardiff started the game off the stronger of the two, with their tails up very much from beating the Phoenix the previous weekend and confidence billowing.
Both sides cancelled each other out and saw some great goaltending from both Steve Midghall for the Phoenix and Hannah O Connor of the Devils in between the pipes.
In the second period, it saw the hosts score first through Anthony Booth as they took the lead in a very closely fought contest, that saw hits and physical play along with some good entertaining hockey from both sides too.
Manchester dominated the second period with not much to show for it and looked like they were going to be heading into the final period 1-0 up. However a long range effort from Russell Wiley bounced and struck the post which saw the referee give the goal and had Phoenix players not to happy with the call, as they felt it didn`t cross the line.
Phoenix could easily have let the frustration get to them, but instead channelled it the correct way and saw Karl Nicholson grab his normal goal a game, to put the home side 2-1 up after nine seconds gone in the third.
Paul Furber then netted an equaliser for the Devils five minutes later which then set up an almost overtime type of contest for the rest of the game.
With neither side giving ground on their opponents, it saw the contest change a few minutes after the tying goal by the Devils, with Referee Whittle calling a penalty on Tim James for Teeing and then shortly after made a call on Stephen Thomas for Elbowing, which put the Phoenix on a 5 on 3 powerplay.
Cardiff defended very well and even had a couple of chances themselves on the penalty kill and looked like Manchester had missed out with the two man advantage.
With the first penalty expiring and seeing James return to the ice, it then saw Nicholson cut into the Cardiff zone before laying it off to Rob Allen who put it home for a power play goal and made it 3-2 to the Phoenix.
Cardiff weren`t happy with the official and much like Manchester when they felt hard done by, instead of forgetting and moving on they seemed to have lost their concentration and in all honestly cost them a draw at the very least.
Phoenix held onto the one goal win and moved level on points with both Peterborough and Kingston in the table at the moment in time.
Manchester Phoenix 5 – 6 Kingston Kestrels*
(* =Phoenix won by forfeit 5-0)
On the 9th of August, it saw the final league home game of the season for the Manchester Phoenix with them taking on the Kingston Kestrels in what turned out to be an exciting but controversial encounter too.
Prior to the game the Kestrels was missing five of their players in the line-up due to different reasons. Ian Warner was caught up in traffic en-route to the rink and so saw the game forfeited to the Manchester side, due to the severe lack of numbers.
However after a bit of a discussion between the teams, it was decided to make the best of a bad situation and had two Phoenix players join the Kestrels to make numbers up and have an exhibition game against them instead.
The two drafted in for the Kingston side saw Karl Nicholson a former Kestrels man himself putting the old jersey back on again and Steve Bradley dressing for the Kestrels.
The opening period saw Matt Clarkson fire in two goals for the Kestrels select side, after he cancelled out an early strike by Rob Allen that saw Manchester the much better side in the game and the two goals were very much against the run of play.
After two goals in seven seconds gave the Kingston side a nice little cushion, they then added a further goal forty-six seconds later, when Karl Nicholson put home for 3-1.
In the Second period it saw some normality back, as with Ian Warner making it to the rink to play in the remaining two periods after being held up in traffic, it meant that Nicholson could return to the Phoenix line up again for the rest of the game.
It saw the Kestrels go further ahead through Matt Clarkson netting his hat trick goal and fifth for the visitors to go 5-1 ahead and looked to be a mountain to climb for the hosts.
Nicholson then scored two quick goals to put the home side within touching distance of the visitors, with the forward scored his third of the game but second for the home side.
Ian Warner then scored a lovely solo for the visitors with the Phoenix defense looking like statues and saw the forward for the Kestrels cut up the middle to make it 5-3 after two periods of hockey.
In the third period of play, it saw Nicholson score his hat trick goal for the Phoenix and also set up Anthony Booth for the tying goal to make it 5-5 with seven minutes remaining in the contest. It made the game a very entertaining and exciting one for the fans in attendance too.
With Manchester looking the side in the ascendancy in the game, it saw heart ache late on for the host in final two minutes of the contest.
Both sides had chances and saw Bryan Hackworth, who was arguably the man of the match for the visitors coming up big with some great stops to see Manchester unable to take the go-ahead goal.
Kingston then launched another attack and seen Matt Clarkson send a pass up ice toward Ian Warner and he put it by man of the match Steve Midghall, to see the Kestrels take it late on 6-5 with a minute and thirteenth left to play.
The aftermath of the game saw the decision to award the Phoenix a 5-0 win by default after the Sledge hockey board had no other choice than to award the game.
Peterborough Phantoms 7 – 3 Manchester Phoenix
Manchester ended their league campaign with a journey down the A1, to the home of the reigning league champions the Peterborough Phantoms and where a win for the Phoenix would see them face Peterborough in the end of season playoffs and on the flip side, if Phantoms won it would see them become league champions for the second year running.
Manchester had a slim chance of lifting the title themselves, but they would have to win by a ridiculous amount of goals to see that happen and in reality it was never going to happen.
Phoenix though did take the lead against the champions-elect, through an Anthony Booth strike that came after a minute of play and then had Matthew Coleman equalise for the Phantoms to make it 1-1.
A crazy first period saw the Phantom go from 2-1 down when Karl Nicholson scored, only for goals by from Gary Farmer, Tyler Christopher and Jon Le Galloudec to put the home side 4-2 ahead after the first.
Gary Farmer completed his hat trick in the second period as he helped the Phantoms move further in front at 6-2, before Rob Allen scored a consolation goal for the Phoenix and then had Tyler Christopher round off the scoring as he put the icing on the cake for the Phantoms, to see them retain their title.
An interesting stat for the Phoenix and something that they have that Kingston and Cardiff can`t boast is that Manchester was the only side to score against Peterborough all season.
Manchester meet Cardiff for the second successive season in the playoffs as they face off in the 3rd /4th playoff.