Speedway: Aces Shoot down the Stars

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Speedway: Aces Shoot down the Stars

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BELLE VUE  ACES   52    KING’S LYNN STARS  38

The Belle Vue Aces bounced back after a pair of disappointing losses to the flying Coventry Bees last week as the men from Kirkmanshulme Lane put on a fantastic display in front of the Sky TV cameras on Monday Night, where the Aces out-gated and over powered a strong King’s Lynn Stars side 52-38.

After the surprising point they managed to picked up on Friday night against Coventry down at Brandon Stadium, they looked to make try and amends for their horror show the week prior and they more than did that, with the home side putting on arguably their best team performance to date of the season so far.

The opening race saw the battle of grand prix riders, with Aces Matej Zagar facing the King’s Lynn’s top man in Danish rider Niels Kristian Iversen. Heat one saw the Slovenian come out on top and saw his team mate in Australian Max Fricke, holding off the Dane off for three laps before eventually Iversen got by him after a little error by Fricke to see a opening 4-2 race win for the hosts.

Three successive 5-1’s for the Aces put them in the driving seat early on in the meeting, with Steve Worrall and Stefan Nielsen scoring a maximum heat win themselves in the reserves race. Belle Vue never relented from the opening race and had in the very next race Dakota North taking the race win alongside Captain Scott Nicholls, to see the score move onto 14-4 for the Manchester club after three races.

Craig Cook and Stefan Nielsen then team rode for a third straight 5-1 for the Aces and saw the away side struggling to get close to their opponents in the contest.

King’s Lynn then responded with a maximum heat victory of their own in heat 5, through the pairing of Robert Lambert and Lewis Kerr, which saw the Stars duo cut the deficit down to ten points.

Stars team manager Rob Lyon, then nominated Danish GP star Niels Kristian Iversen for double points in heat six, with the hope that they could capitalise on their maximum heat advantage but the plan backfired on the Norfolk side. Dakota North who was guesting from the Poole Pirates made a brilliant gate to get out in front of Iversen and with Craig Cook getting up to join North, it saw them both team ride and keep out Iversen, as the home side grabbed yet another a maximum and notched up their fifth one of the match.

By heat 11 the score had moved onto 39-21 to Belle Vue and saw the cursed rain starting to fall mid meeting and had the track becoming a bit greasy for the riders. Robert Lambert then won his second race of the night to bring an end to Dakota North’s winning streak in the match, and it saw the added bonus of his team mate Niels Kristian Iversen securing third place for a 4-2 to the Stars.

The battle of the big guns in heat 13 saw a surprising race result, with the 5-1 going to the visitors after Danes Iversen and Kenneth Bjerre managed to get the better of the inform pair of Scott Nicholls and Matej Zagar in the heat and helped see the Stars restoring some pride back to their side.

Rory Schlein then kept the run of Stars riders taking the chequered flag to three in a row in heat 14, as the former Aces man helped make King’s Lynn side using the ending of the meeting to be a damaged limitation exercise.

Craig Cook rounded off the evening with a race win for the home side in the final heat of the night, with the Cumbrian rider giving the Aces a confidence booster ahead of a daunting trip down to Wimborne Road on Wednesday night, when Belle Vue travel down to Dorset and face the reigning league champions the Poole Pirates.



Belle Vue Aces 52

1. Matej Zagar - 3 3 3 1 =10
2. Max Fricke - 1 1 3 0 =5
3. Dakota North (G) - 3 3 2 1* 0 =9+1
4. Craig Cook - 3 2* 3 2 3 =13+1
5. Scott Nicholls - 2* 2* 0 0 =4+2
6. Steve Worrall - 3 0 X 1* =4+1
7. Stefan Nielsen - 2* 2* 1 2 =7+2

Kings Lynn Stars 38

1. Niels-Kristian Iversen - 2 1^ 1 2* 2 =8+1
2. Robert Lambert - 0 3 2 3 1* =9+1
3. Rory Schlein - 0 1 1* 3 =5+1
4. Nicklas Porsing - 1 0 1* =2+1
5. Kenneth Bjerre - 1 0 2 3 =6
6. Lewis Kerr - 1 2* 0 2 3 0 =8+1
7. Ashley Morris - 0 0 0 = 0

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Sledge Hockey: Phoenix Win, but Survive Late Rally

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CARDIFF HUSKIES     2   4   MANCHESTER PHOENIX 

This past Saturday saw the start of the 2015 Planet Ice Sledge Hockey season getting underway and saw the Manchester Phoenix recording an opening day win down in South Wales, with a 4-2 win over the Cardiff Huskies. Two goals apiece by Anthony Booth and Karl Nicholson saw the Phoenix overcome their opponents, but boy was they made to sweat over it, after two late Huskies goals made the score closer.

Cardiff came out the traps the better of the two teams in the early stages of play and had the visitors not given a chance to get any momentum going early on. Play seemed to be majorly played out of the Phoenix zone with the Huskies camping out around the Manchester zone and test goaltender Steven Midghall.

The home side had a few chances which brought little rewards for them in their attacks as they had to contend with an on-form netminder in Steven Midghall, with the Phoenix man making some vital saves in the game to deny them early goal. Manchester’s defense held firm and was rock solid when under some severe pressure and did great to soak up the play.

Slowly but surely though, the Phoenix side grew into the game and took the lead very much against the run of play in all fairness, when forward Anthony Booth dispossessed a Cardiff defenseman by the boards and scored with a wraparound effort in which he flicked the puck by Gareth Rees for a 1-0 lead at 11.41.

The Huskies who have a physical style of play to their game, saw them throwing a few heavy hits with Paul Furber making most of the hits on his own. His physical play saw his undoing, when the referee called him for roughing and saw him have a mini pushing match with Karl Nicholson after the whistle at 13.21 gone in the period.

With the away side on the powerplay, it saw the Phoenix getting a foothold in the game with Steven Midghall making some incredible saves to stop the Huskies forwards. With the powerplay over, it saw Graham Wilson receiving a call on him for elbows and was much to the defenseman’s disbelief ,as he didn’t agree with the call at all.

Just two minutes into the second period and the Phoenix doubled their lead through GB International Karl Nicholson, with the Phoenix man putting the puck by Rees in the Huskies nets and see the visitors going two up at 17.05 with Anthony Booth credited with an assisted.

Cardiff’s own GB international was penalised for T-Boning, with Scott Turner out of action for the next two minutes while he served his penalty. Both sides played four on four hockey after Anthony Booth took Alex Weaver down by the shoulder and served a roughing penalty.

The game was at times frustrating to watch with both sides wearing similar colours of Black and Red and also despite the attempts to avoid colour clashing by the official, it proved it wasn’t possible. Manchester grew in confidence and saw them take the wind taken out of the Huskies sails with their second goal, as that seemed to be the key point in the game.

Cardiff swapped netminders with Han O’Connor replacing Gareth Rees between the pipes and saw the home side trying to force themselves back into the contest. Manchester suffered an injury scare late in the period when Anthony Booth picked up a knock off a heavy hit that left the Phoenix man struggling momentarily.

Karl Nicholson thought he had scored Phoenix third goal when his shot saw the puck dangerously close to the line, but the puck was cleared off the line by the Cardiff defenseman to see the referee wave it off.

With the period over it saw the Phoenix 2-0 up with one period left to go in the game and try to hold the lead in the match.
With Manchester fairly much in control of the game for the most of it, it saw them move further ahead in the game when a puck got by the Huskies defenseman in the Phoenix zone and Booth was quick as a flash to power up ice and go one on one with O’Connor but it the forward fired his shot high into the net for a 3-0 score at 36-26.

Steven Midghall once again was frustrating the home side with the netminder having a blinder between the posts with a string of good stops. With the game heading into the final five minutes of the contest, it saw Karl Nicholson making it four for Phoenix as his back-handed effort seemed to catch the O’ Connor on the helmet going in but could only see it go into her net.

With the match looking a forgone conclusion at 4-0 for the visitors, it saw late drama at the end of the clash, with Manchester having a concentration lapse for 19 seconds.
Firstly Lloyd Woodyatt chased down a Phoenix defenseman behind his own nets and once he gained control of the puck he managed to sneak it in at near post for a 4-1 score at 43.46.

Then from the restart a puck inside the Manchester saw the visitors unable to clear the danger away from the front of the nets and Scott Turner was on hand to fire home and see a late rally on for the home side, however it was just too late in the day.

The horn sounded and saw the Phoenix breathe a huge sigh of relief, as the away side wavered towards the end and it may well have been a different story if there was an extra five minutes.
The two late goals was a bit unfair on Midghall after he put on an excellent performance in goals. However Cardiff’s effort in the game saw them deserving a goal.

Aces ‘STUNG’ at home by the Bees…AGAIN!!!

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BELLE VUE ACES  39      COVENTRY BEES 51

Local lad Jason Garrity showed his hometown team what they missed out on with the Droylsden-born racer completing a 12 point maximum as he led the Coventry Bees to a thrashing over an awful Belle Vue team 51-39.
Belle Vue looked to kicked on from last week’s home win over Leicester, but after the opening race it saw the visitors take advantage and dominate from then on.

Matej Zagar who won the controversial Polish GP on Saturday night saw him beaten by Danish number one for the Bees in Hans Andersen, in which he brought home the bacon in heat one with fellow Stuart Robson as the scored a 4-2. Jason Garrity shown his love for the Kirkmanshulme Lane circuit as he beat off the Steve Worrall and Stefan Nielsen in the reserves race.

With three successive shared heats in the meeting it saw the visitors then pull out two maximum heat wins, with Stuart Robson pinching second place off Max Fricke on the line to see him and Jason Garrity taking a 5-1, before the following race saw Hans Andersen and Chris Harris beating the Aces pairing to move 10 points in front after heat Six with a 26-16 lead.

Heat Seven saw Belle Vue Team Manager Mark Lemon move quickly to try and claw the deficit back, where upon he nominated Scott Nicholls as a tactial rider and go for double points in the race. Nicholls made a poor gate with the Bees duo shutting him down but instead saw Matej Zagar ride off and show his opposing riders the fastest way round the track for a 3-3, but with Nicholls relegated to the back it saw the Aces unable to gain points back.

Coventry extended their lead to 12 points with the West Midlands side quicker out the gates all match and when Jason Garrity and Stuart Robson secured another 4-2 for the Bees it was virtually game over. Heat 10 saw the Aces Captain Scott Nicholls and Guest Josh Gracjzonek picking up the home sides first heat advantage of the night, as they scored a 4-2 it saw the Bees take the following two races with the same result.

Heat 13 with the big guns facing off, it had Chris Harris holding off Zagar and Nicholls to see a share of the spoils and see Coventry win the meeting. However with two races left it was simply pride left to race for and pride they they shown too, with an unlike sight of former Glasgow Tiger in Josh Gracjzonek and Edinburgh Monarchs rider Craig Cook team riding to see the Aces bring it back within 10 points for 37-47.

The final race of the night saw another race win for the Coventry side as Hans Andersen and Chris Harris took a 4-2 to finished off a convincing win for the away side and see the Bees stay unbeaten on the road so far the season. For Belle Vue the Aces have a chance for redemption on Friday night as they race down at Brandon in the reverse fixture, to where they hope to avenge this result.

Belle Vue ACES 39

1. Matej Zagar 0 3 0 1* =4+1
2. Max Fricke 2 1 1* 2 =6+1
3. Josh Grajczonek 0 0 1 3 =4
4.Craig Cook 3 1 2 2* R =8+1
5. Scott Nicholls 3 0 3 2 2 =10
6.# Steve Worrall 1* 0 2 2 =5+1
7.# Stefan Nielsen 2 0 0 F =2

Coventry BEES 51

1. Hans Andersen 3 3 2 0 3 =11
2. Stuart Robson 1 2* 1 R =4+1
3. Danny King 2 2 1 0 =5
4. Joonas Kylmakorpi 1* 1* 3 1 =6+2
5. Chris Harris 1* 2* 3 3 1 =10+2
6. # Jason Garrity 3 3 3 3 =12 MAX
7. # James Sarjeant 0 2 X 1 =3

#= Reserves

Speedway: Captain Scott leads the Aces to Victory

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BELLE VUE ACES 55  –  37   LEICESTER LIONS 


Belle Vue recorded their first win of the season after three successive losses on the road as the Aces hammered the Leicester Lions 55-37 with Captain Scott Nicholls top scoring with 13+1 in the win, as Belle Vue got revenge for Saturday’s loss at Beaumont park against the Lions.

The Aces had failed to pick up a single point on their travels in the opening three matches of the season and they made sure that it wouldn’t be a fourth in a row.
Both sides cancelled each other in the opening two races with a pair of 3-3’s, but the duo of Simon Stead and Scott Nicholls team rode brilliantly to score a maximum 5-1 in heat 3 and from that point onwards the Aces were always in control.

A couple more shared heats between the two sides had the score progressing to 17-13 before another maximum by the home side in heat 6, saw Scott Nicholls and Craig Cook getting a 5-1 for the home side. GP star Matej Zagar saw the Slovenian and Simon Stead claiming a 4-2 with local lad Kyle Howarth splitting the pair up after Howarth who was guesting for the Lions, saw him come in to replace Greg Walasek after the Polish rider sustained an hand injury when his team mate Szymon Wozniak clipped his wheel.

Howarth was then nominated for double points in the following race by the Lions management, but could only claw two points back as Craig Cook took the race win ahead of the Leicester pair, for a 5-3 heat advantage. Belle Vue then started to pull away from their opponents with a couple of heat advantages and had the Aces up 38-24 after ten heats.

Heat 11  saw the race of the night as new signing by the Aces in Max Fricke, saw him battling with Szymon Wozniak up at the front of the race and saw Matej Zagar relegated to the back of the pack but soon forced his way through the field. Firstly he went by Rory Schlein to go third and then on the final bend of the last lap, the Slovenian brilliantly fired his way round Wozniak to secure a 5-1 and all but seal victory.

Belle Vue’s reserve pairing of Stefan Nielsen and Steve Worrall had to make do with the minor places in the second reserves race of the night, as Josh Auty for the Lions once again shown his liking for the Kirkmanshulme Lane circuit with the Yorkshireman picking up his second race win of the night and had a good meeting with 9 points.

Matej Zagar was at his stunning best once again, as the ‘showman’ put on one more brilliant ride to deny the Leicester Lions duo of Jason Doyle and Rory Schlein in heat 13, where the Slovenian passed Rory Schlein up the inside and then tracked down Jason Doyle entering the third lap when the Aussie lifted. Zagar then powered round the Lions number one to take the race win and saw the Slovenian warm up well for the first Grand Prix of the year in Warsaw, Poland this weekend.

Scott Nicholls then took the penultimate race as he held off the challenge of Josh Auty for a 4-2 with Craig Cook finishing third. Belle Vue’s captain wasn’t done yet as he was chosen in the final race alongside an impressive home debut by former Edinburgh Monarch Max Fricke but the Lions had the last word as a 4-2 heat win was mere consolation and saw a hard battling Lions side unable to stop an on fire Aces side on the night.


Belle Vue ACES = 55

1. Matej Zagar 2 3 2* 3 = 10+1
2. Max Fricke 1* 2 3 3 0 = 9+1
3. Scott Nicholls 3 3 2* 3 2 = 13+1
4. Craig Cook 3 2* 3 1 = 9+1
5. Simon Stead 2* 1 3 0 = 6+1
6. Steve Worrall 2 1* 0 1 1* = 5+2
7. Stefan Nielsen 1* 0 2 = 3+1

Leicester LIONS = 37

1. Jason Doyle 3 1 1 2 1 = 8
2. Kyle Howarth (G) 0 3 2 4^ 0 3 = 12
3. Grzegorz Walasek 1 withdrawn = 1
4. Szymon Wozniak 2 X 0 0 2 = 4
5. Rory Schlein (G) 0 0 1 1* = 2+1
6. Josh Auty 3 X 1* 2 3 0 = 9+1
7. Simon Lambert 0 1* 0 0 = 1+1

Ice Hockey: EPL PLAYOFF FINAL; Phantoms Crowned Playoff Champs

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PETERBOROUGH PHANTOMS  5   –  2  MANCHESTER PHOENIX 

Peterborough Phantoms were crowned the English Premier League Playoff champions for 2015 at Coventry’s Skydome Arena on Sunday evening, after the East Anglian outfit beat the Manchester Phoenix 5-2 in the final to see them lift their first silverware in just over Six years since they last won it back in their grand slam season of 2008-09. Two goals by Phantoms Czech forward Milan Baranyk saw him steer the Phantoms to a deserved victory over a Manchester side who had worries off- ice slightly distracting them slightly from the big finale to the season and also saw a goodbye to a legend of British Ice Hockey too.

Shortly after Manchester Phoenix 7-4 semi final win over the Milton Keynes Lightning, a statement was put out online about allegations over the running of the club by a person close to the ice rink of which the Phoenix play out of.  That news certainly didn`t help the club out on the eve of its biggest game of the season, as it took from their victory over the Lightning nearly and almost saw one of the biggest story in the playoffs, to which it would see Tony Hand lacing up a pair of skates for the final time in a Playoff finals weekend ever again.

Peterborough on the other hand had everything in their favour; the Phantoms came through a thrilling game against the Telford Tigers and also faced the Phoenix in which they had lost only once all season to in the regular season. Manchester would look to try and take it their opponents after their bad form in the league against them; however it was the other way round, as they were floored within the opening five minutes of the game that saw them conceding two early goals to set the Phantoms on their way to glory.  Peterborough Phantoms came out on fire and could easily have a scored a goal inside the opening two minutes of the game with the Phoenix defense or better yet, lack of it, not marking up and caused themselves problems at the back.

Milan Baranyk saw his shot finding the back of the net at 2.13, with Cameron McGiffin and Edgars Bebris assisting on the opener to give them a great start. Manchester was caught cold and when a poor call by Referee Tim Pickett saw him initially giving Ben Wood for a high stick call, he then changed it to an elbowing one and saw the Phoenix on a penalty kill. Wood didn’t have to sit there for too long, as Scott Robson scored to make it 2-0 at 4.05 with Bebris once again claiming an assist.

The Phoenix ‘Faithful’ that had been the noisiest blocks of the weekend, now found themselves sat in stunned silence at what they were watching in front of them, as it was like a horror show on ice watching their side being torn apart by a fast and drilled Phantoms side with ease and to which Manchester didn’t seem to be able to contain.  Some blatant calls were being missed on the Phantoms in the opening period and that included a Phoenix man having his leg took right from under him and fall backwards in clear view of the official, but Pickett refused to call it.

Peterborough could easily have been five up in the game before the tenth minute or so, with Steve Fone looking visibly rattled from the opening exchanges where the Phantoms were clearly bossing the game and saw Milan Baranyk scoring his second goal of the game to put Peterborough in a commanding 3-0 lead and perhaps won them game early doors. With less than two minutes of play to go in the first, James Archer struck on the power play at 18.15 to see the Phoenix given a lifeline in the match, as really they should have been dead and buried by now but they were still hanging in there, but only just.

The second period saw the Phoenix trying to generate something, but were unable to complete passes at the right times or just mishandle the puck in their opponents zone.  If calls were going badly for the Phoenix in the first period then the second period saw a reversal of fortunes from the match official, as Manchester was awarded three powerplay chances in the period and failed to capitalise on all of them and didn’t cause any trouble or panic around the Phantoms defense or Janis Auzins in goals either.

When the Phoenix did get into good positions it saw them given half chance and they weren’t able to make the breakthrough past Peterborough netminder Janis Auzins, who was clearly not in the mood to give up a goal and faced so many weak shots that it was like catching practice for the goaltender.  Manchester enjoyed a ton of possession and controlled the period, but they just lack a cutting edge and didn`t really threaten the Phantoms with their attacking play at all.  As time tick down on the second period of play, it saw Frankie Bakrlik miscue on shot and somehow saw him managed to evade Auzins and find the twine at 37.59 with Joe Graham assisting.

With the score line flattering Manchester in all fairness, it saw the Phoenix tire in the final period of play and the bigger bench of the Phantoms proved to be the difference.  Phoenix couldn`t fully keep up the quick tempo their rivals were playing due to the lack of bodies in their side and saw Slava Koulikov using speed a lot more in the third, to get behind the Phoenix defense and cause them more trouble for the men from Altrincham.  With tiredness, comes frustration and when Scott Robson looked to have hold of Frankie Bakrlik’s stick when laying on the ice, the Czech man tried to get his stick free from the Peterborough man and had to yank it out of his clutches to get his stick free and saw the Phantom man stay down and had the Peterborough demanding the Phoenix man was ‘OFF’.

With the Phantoms fans wanting the Czech man penalised, the forward was let off the hook and saw some theatrics starting to occur from the Phantoms players and led to some penalties against the Manchester side.  Peterborough were clearly targeting Bakrlik and off the play had the Manchester man slash a Phantoms player hard in the leg and had him stay down and saw the game getting more nasty now. Phoenix though saw their players not up for any rough stuff as it was clear some were out on their feet and shattered.

With the final ten minute of play to go it saw Peterborough move 4-2 ahead with a power play goal on a Frankie Bakrlik penalty for high sticks, as Marc Levers poked the puck home and saw Steve Fone having a stinker of a game and was a real shame as it had to happen in the final. Darius Pliskauskas and Edgars Bebris set up Levers for his goal at 52.21 and then with less than a minute to go in the game, it had the Manchester fans standing up saluting their side singing ‘we are proud of you’ and just to add to salt to the wounds, another loose puck in the crease was forced home by Peterborough’s captain James Ferrara as he cemented a deserved win for his side.

The traditional sight of sticks, helmets and gloves lay strewn across the ice, as the players celebrated their win and left the Phoenix side looking dejected at the far end and getting the feeling of déjà vu all over again after last year’s defeat to the Basingstoke Bison in the final as well. It was not to be the fairy tale ending for the British ‘Great One’ in Tony Hand, as he and his side just ran of gas in the season and after the game saw every Peterborough Phantoms player make the effort to shake hands with Tony Hand  and shown some class doing it too.

Hand was shoved forwards towards the Phoenix fans and was forced to do the ‘Victory Wave’ towards his own fans for the last time as a player and was a nice way of thanking them and the supporters showing their support back to him after a terrific career lasting 34 seasons.  Only thing left was for James Ferrara to lift the EPL Playoff trophy for 2015 and saw the Phantoms crowned champions to round off a perfect week for them after Slava Koulikov was voted ‘Coach of the Year’ in the EPL, it also saw new owners at the club and who have been their main sponsor for a long time and look like they want to move the club forward too.

ICE HOCKEY: EPL PLAYOFF SEMIS: Phantoms Scare off Telford & Phoenix dispel the Lightning

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TELFORD TIGERS  2  –  4  PETERBOROUGH PHANTOMS 

This past Easter weekend saw hockey fans descend upon the Coventry Skydome for the English Premier League Playoffs Finals, as the Telford Tigers, the Peterborough Phantoms, Milton Keynes Lightning and the Manchester Phoenix faced off to be crowned Playoff champions 2015.

Saturday was Semi-Finals days and saw the opening game of the weekend pit the league champions the Telford Tigers up against the Peterborough Phantoms. Telford headed into the match as big favourites to progress through to the final, after they had ran away with the league title and was expect to stay on course to complete a treble.

In the case of Peterborough, it was one of hoping to cause an upset along the way and see the newly crowned Coach of the Year in Slava Koulikov wanting to show off why he was deserving of that award. The game started with some very physical play by Telford, while the Phantoms chose to kept things simple and concentrate on playing the puck than the body and was a total flip of what everyone expected to see. 

Peterborough scored the opening goal of the contest just 1.56 in the match, when Luke Ferrara passed across the front of goal to the back post and has Slava Koulikov on hand to quickly fire it home for the Phantoms to give them an early one goal lead.

Telford continued their hard hitting game and had nothing to show for it at all. However a charging call that was called against Edgars Bebris of the Phantoms side, gave the Tigers a chance to respond and respond they did. As with less than a minute gone on the power play for the Tigers Max Birbraer was given the puck and his blast from the blue line found it’s way top corner by Janis Auzins for a goal and made it level at 1-1 with 11.14 gone.

The Phantoms caused the Tigers a lot of problems going forward with their quick plays and got behind their defense too with some patience precise attacks. Tom Pickett was the referee the Semi final and made a few questionable calls and missed a lot on both sides in the game. Telford’s Jonathon Weaver picked up a 2+10 penalty for a check from behind on a Peterborough player that sent him crashing into the boards and with two seconds remaining in the period Luke Ferrara blasted one home to restore the lead for the Phantoms to head 2-1 up after one.

Early in the second period and it saw the Phantoms losing Edgar Bebris for the remainder of the match, as he was called for a high sticks penalty and drew blood on his opponent, just 42 seconds in the middle period. Despite Telford having the edge in possession it was still very much a case of the Phantoms doing a great job in frustrating the opposing forwards and picking them off when they could. Peterborough found themselves 3-1 up at the midway stage in the game, after Darius Pliskauskas made a nice turn in the Tigers zone and then found the net to score an unassisted goal for a two goal cushion.

Telford tried everything against the Phantoms to take them out of their game plan, but Peterborough stuck to their task brilliantly throughout and was proving why Slava Koulikov was the coach of the year with his team working hard and well drilled team against a juggernaut in the Tigers. Peterborough frustrated their rivals and saw them looking fairly in control after two periods of play and looked like the Tigers were done for.

However the start of the Second period saw Telford back in the game as some nice build up play by Jonathan Weaver and Scott McKenzie; saw a blistering shot come in from Rick Plant to see Janis Auzins beaten in the Peterborough goals to make it a one goal game. Telford came close and was knocking on the door of Auzins, but is defenseman playing well to thwart all attempts that came in. With the Tigers pushing further for the tying goal it left the Telford backdoor open and the Ferrara brothers in James and Luke, set up Darius Pliskauskas to seal the game for their side. It saw Lithuanian sniper cut through the Tigers defense and went one on one with Tom Murdy before making a move on him and sliding it in for a huge roar in the Skydome Arena, to which the fans of almost every other clubs set of supports joined in on the Phantoms fifth goal celebration and condemn the double winners this season to a surprise end.

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MILTON KEYNES LIGHTNING   4  –  7  MANCHESTER PHOENIX 

Ice Hockey: Phoenix produce comeback to make Coventry

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MANCHESTER PHOENIX   4 – 5  BASINGSTOKE BISON

2nd leg: Basingstoke 2-4 Manchester

(Overall agg: 8-7 PHOENIX win)

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Tony Hand’s Final skate out in Entrance at home

Manchester Phoenix qualified for their sixth successive playoff weekend, despite suffering a crushing blow in their hopes to advance to the EPL Playoffs weekend on Saturday after a 5-4 loss to the Basingstoke Bison. The following night saw Phoenix win 2-4 to take the tie to an overall win of 8-7, in a nail biting contest that went right down to the wire.

The first leg was played in Altrincham where Phoenix had never hosted the first leg of a play-off tie since swapping leagues back in the 2009/2010 Season.  Manchester was hoping to make amends for their under achievement in the standings this year, where they finished in Sixth place.

The game was a replay of last year’s playoff final, with the Bison on that occasion running out the winners. Both teams didn’t give an inch at the start of this play-off tie, with the difference being in the approach by both sides. While Basingstoke’s game plan was heavy hitting and trying to force quick breaks, for Manchester it was a case of just playing the puck around hoping to capitalise when the chances came.

Michael Wales picked up the first penalty of the tie after tripping up Frankie Bakrlik in his own zone, sitting out for two minutes. Phoenix netted the opening goal of the game on the powerplay after Swedish defenseman Johan Burlin’s shot took a deflection to beat Dean Skinns in the Bison net at 4.19, assists going to Tony Hand and Robin Kovar.

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Crowd watch on the 1st leg of the Quarter final.

Basingstoke replied over a minute later, when an in form Ciaran Long buried a shot from a Joe Greener pass to make it 1-1. At 8.40, Ben Wood restored the lead for the home side as he threw the puck on goal from a tight angle to put Phoenix in the lead at 2-1. Nicky Chinn then picked up a 2 plus 10, for a checking from behind penalty right in front of the Manchester bench.

Chinn’s penalty handed Phoenix another powerplay opportunity which they took full advantage of. Their third goal came from a poor clearance by a Bison defender from behind his own net with Tony Hand claiming it just inside the zone before passing to Frankie Bakrlik and his wrist shot beat Skinns to score at 10.39.

Ryan Watt then picked up a charging call after a late hit on Jared Dickinson. Steve Fone made some important saves in the period and kept the hosts two goals to the good. The second period saw Phoenix carrying on from where they left off after the opening period of play, with the home side stifling their opponent’s play and not allowing them many chances.

Basingstoke then netted at the halfway point through player coach Doug Sheppard, after Ciaran Long found himself with plenty of space after James Neil slipped behind his goals to give Long time to pick his coach out for a tap in at 30.51.

With the Bison pressuring the Phoenix back line, Phoenix conceded once again not long after. Aaron Connolly got away with a whack on Johan Burlin in the build up who stayed down for a few seconds, before getting back up on his feet and delivering a huge hit on Connolly on the boards. Burlin let his emotions get the better of him, as with that check he put himself out of position and left Joe Rand free and his quick release at the near post saw the Herd 3-3 in a short space of time.

Phoenix were imploding and saw them then go behind as a shot by Joe Baird was deflected away, Aaron Connolly then pushed it on goal and with the puck loose, with Joe Rand netting his second of the game with a poke home at 32.57. Tony Hand called a time out to re-group and regain some concentration back within the ranks. Manchester then tried to find a way back into the game as the change to the Basingstoke game plan was now working which put Phoenix in trouble.

With the visitors on top in the game, Phoenix netted an equaliser again the run of play. Robin Kovar scored the tying goal for 4-4 game at 35.57, after a long ice pass by Shaun Thompson. Kovar struck the puck so hard that the puck went through the netting. Bison players complained that the goal shouldn’t stand as it didn’t go in but despite the protests the goal stood.

With the contest swinging back and forth between the two sides, it certainly made for an interesting game to watch. With the game nicely poised all square after two periods of hockey, it would be a case of who blinks first being the side to miss out. Heading into the third period saw both sides trying to find the important next goal. Basingstoke looked the better side and had Steve Fone making not just big saves, but massive save to deny the Bison.

Eventually the defending play-off winners got the next big goal and saw a difference in emotions between the sides. Basingstoke battled against a tired Manchester team and when Joe Greener passed to Doug Sheppard, whose shot was saved by Fone, the rebound falling back to Sheppard who squared it to Ciaran Long open at the front of net to bury it for a 5-4 score.  The Phoenix looked tired and out of steam with the Bison notching up a gear, while the hosts had Steve Fone to be thankful for as he made a string of huge saves to rob his opponents of any more goals to see the Phoenix trail by a goal heading into 2nd leg down south.

After the horn sounded Frankie Bakrlik and Declan Balmer got into a very heated discussion and a scrum developed between the two sides.

During the after match presentations, it was announced that the club would retire the number 9 shirt in honour of Tony Hand for his services to ice hockey and the Club.

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Tony Hand takes one last applause from the ‘Faithful’

On Sunday Night in Basingstoke the 2nd leg was played and with Bison coming out victors over Phoenix on their last six successive games in Hampshire, it was always going to be a tough match.  Manchester made a great start when Bobby Chamberlain netted thanks to a Jacob Corson-Heron assist at 7.41 to tie the overall score at 5-5 and 1-0 on the night. Returning to the Bison line-up for the playoffs, Tomas Karpov levelled the game at 1-1, before Joe Greener struck to make it 2-1 after the first.

The Czech combination of Robin Kovar and Frankie Bakrlik saw the latter making it 2-2 early on in the second period, with the visitors re-taking the lead five minutes later as Jacob Corson-Heron netted the third goal for Manchester, making the aggregate score 7-7.  Robin Kovar then scored on the powerplay with Tomas Karpov in the penalty box putting them in the lead in the tie 8-7 and 4-2 on the night.  Just before the end of the second stanza, Declan Balmer was kicked out for a tripping penalty on Bakrlik and saw the Bison man out of the game.

With a massive 20 minutes left to play for both sides, there was a difficult but superb rear-guard action at the back for the Phoenix as they held on heroically to book their place in the EPL Play-off finals in Coventry, to overcome the Bison in another enthralling set of games between the two and extend the career of Tony Hand MBE for at least one more game.