As we enter the Phoenix years, we start with the aftermath of the Manchester Storm demise and seen a group of people getting together to form the group FOMIH, (Friends of Manchester Ice Hockey) the task they set was to bring the game of the Ice Hockey back to the city and avoid no Hockey in the area. Neil Morris took over the reigns as owner of the newly named PHOENIX, and saw him appoint former Newcastle, Durham and Storm player in Rick Brebant as player coach. The Canadian was given the task of Coaching a team mixed with experience and players from the local area, as it started a new chapter of hockey in Manchester.
The opening game saw the Manchester Phoenix opening up their league campaign with a 4-0 home win over the London Racers at the MEN Arena, to see a good start for the new team in their inaugural season. A low point in the year was a massive loss handed out to them against the Coventry Blaze, but the flip side saw the Phoenix finishing sixth and was competitive. Phoenix also made a coaching change as former Cardiff Devils head coach in Paul Heavy took charge for the rest of the season.
Manchester made the Playoffs final weekend in Nottingham, before they were thrashed in the Semi-finals 6-1 by the hosts the Nottingham Panthers.
There has been an ongoing theme for the Phoenix over their entire history when it comes to playing without a home, as they couldn’t afford to play out of the Arena due to the low crowds they were getting in such a massive venue as the cost was a financial nightmare. So for two seasons the club mothballed and had no hockey in Manchester, which had fans having to watch hockey elsewhere for their fix. The Phoenix made a welcome return in the 2005-06 season where Great British legend Tony Hand was named as the third head coach in the Phoenix history and saw him putting together a fairly solid side.
Phoenix was forced to played on the road for a majority of the season, while their new home was in the process of being built in Altrincham and so saw Deeside and Ice Sheffield literally being their home away from home. Hand brought in two signings in mid February that seemed to help the side improve, in the form of Anthony Battaglia brother of NHL star Bates, who played for the Carolina Hurricanes, while other addition was in tough guy Brett Clouthier as he was cut from the Sheffield Steelers and Hand was quick swoop for him.
On February 25th 2007 the Phoenix moved into their new home the Altrincham Ice dome, but saw them lose out 5-4 to the Basingstoke Bison in their home opener. It took a fair few games to see them picking up their first ever win at the new building, and also took time to get used to their new surroundings. Phoenix reached the playoffs for the second time in a row, but was knocked out in the quarter-finals stage by the Cardiff Devils in a tight two legged affair.
The 2007-08 season was the last in the Elite League for the club after some disagreements behind the scenes with a couple of teams saw the Phoenix status become untenable, yet despite this they still achieved a second successive sixth placed finish. It had seen a promising new year for the Altrincham based side, with the Phoenix making it against the odds to two cup finals, both against the Belfast Giants and led to playing a schedule of a game almost every three days to make sure they fulfilled their league programme.
In the end they simply ran out of steam and lost both finals to the Giants and their league form dipped and slipped to sixth. Manchester then looked to the play-offs and faced their favoured opponents over the season in the Nottingham Panthers. Phoenix had a better record against the Panthers in the regular season and was their preferred choice in the play-offs. Sadly though Nottingham beat the Phoenix and saw a season in which they were very much punching above their weight in the Season.
Manchester then moved to the EPL (English Premier League) in 2008-09 season, where it saw them and fellow Elite alumni the Basingstoke Bison moving together. A season of the unknown took place for the side, as they had no clue of what to expect from the league and saw the Phoenix finish in 5th place and edged out the Peterborough Phantoms in a thrilling quarter finals to reach the playoff finals weekend. Manchester though lost out to the eventual winners the Slough Jets in the semi finals, going down 2-1.
Phoenix took their first ever league title the next season, as they beat off the Guildford Flames in a tense title run in as they completed the success in the final home game against the Swindon Wildcats. When the playoffs came around it saw yet more disappointment in Coventry for the Phoenix side, as a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to MK Lightning had seen them peg it back after being 2-0 down with a brace of goals in final two minutes. Leigh Jamieson scored an overtime winner to put Manchester out and was a successful season despite the loss.
Manchester had a couple of seasons that saw them up there but faltered in retaining the title or regaining it, however the playoffs saw them break their final duck, with a heart stopping 6-5 shootout win over the Sheffield Steeldogs saw them progressing to the final, but once again they fell at the final hurdle losing out again to the Slough Jets in a one sided final.
The next year saw them go one better, after another tough semi final battle against the Basingstoke Bison and won an amazing shootout thanks to James Archer netting the winner. Manchester met the Guildford Flames and sealed their first Playoff title with a victory over the Flames 5-2, with two strikes by Czech forward Michal Psurny giving Manchester the trophy.
For the 2013-14 season, it had the Phoenix lifting their second league title in the club’s history after a nail biting title decider against their rivals for the title the Basingstoke Bison at Altrincham and seen Manchester win 5-2 and spark off wild celebrations at the end of the game.
For the fifth successive season in a row it saw the Phoenix falling at the semifinals stage yet again, in what as a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Milton Keynes Lightning and kept their tag of being’ ‘Always the bridesmaid and never the bride’ when it came to the EPL Cup.
Come playoff time though and it saw them reaching the Playoff final for a third time and came up against a highly motivated Bison side, who gained revenge over the Phoenix for their title loss as they beat them convincingly to become double winners. The game also coincided with the retirement of former NHL defenseman in the Phoenix ranks of Robert Schnabel, with the Czech giant heading back home to Prague.
Last year was one the worst seasons I’ve witnessed, with the team finishing in sixth position in the table and was also their lowest ever placed finish in the EPL since moving to the league. With ‘Schnabs’ retired, it meant the side needed to bring in new blood and the signing of an Import D man was vital to try and at best cushion the loss of the big man. Sadly what they brought in was a well below standards player that looked massively out of his depth in the EPL and also in a majority of other hockey leagues i hazard to guess.
A late signing by Tony Hand who normally finds gems late in the day, but instead signed a dud in Swede Johan Burlin. At first glance fans looked in awe of him and looked like a player that not many opponents would argue with, Instead he proved to be arguably the biggest flop not only for Phoenix but in the history of Manchester hockey in my honest opinion. A defenseman that was unable to defend and was so badly caught out of position every time, that his teammates had to cover for his usual lapses and would be fair to say I was never a fan of his either.
Despite the previous season where the side looked cohesive and was scoring goals for fun, this past year was more like they had hardly met each other before and that passing was rare ability. The three Czech Imports that led the way to the title in 2013-14 season, that being Michal Psurny, Robin Kovar and Frankie Bakrlik, last term it saw them struggle to replicate their exploits and all had particularly poor seasons by their high standards. Manchester made it through to another playoffs weekend and for the fifth time in a row, the Phoenix reached the final and faced the Peterborough Phantoms.
Manchester head coach Tony Hand MBE announced pre season that he would bow out after the season and this would have been a perfect way to cap his career off with one last trophy. Peterborough over the regular season had the Indian sign over the Phoenix, with the Phantoms winning five out of the six games and continued the trend on with the East Anglian side running out 5-2 victors in the final to take the title and have Phoenix not for the first time in the season runners-up, after having previously lost to the Telford Tigers in the EPL Cup.
The weekend was a mixed one for the Phoenix, as one hand they reached the final after no one gave them a chance of getting there, but it was overshadowed by the now ‘well known’ post put out seconds after Manchester had booked their place in the play-off final, as on a British Ice hockey forum it saw a statement from Silverblades basically saying that hockey will be back in September but not the Phoenix.
This as many of you know has seen arguments and statements put out left, right and centre from all parties involved, that being Planet Ice Ltd, Silverblades as a joint one and then Manchester Phoenix through Red Hockey Media which took a 34% stake in the club towards last season along with the addition of the Bracknell Bees as well. Red Hockey Media is a group that is owned by Wayne Scholes who is the owner of the Telford Tigers Hockey club and has spent big in reversing the fortunes of the Shropshire club, almost a rags to riches story so to speak.
There had been alleged arguments between Scholes and Planet Ice in the past, also there has been Neil Morris the Phoenix owner having his own running battles with the heads of the Silver Blades rink in Altrincham. During the playoffs weekend in Coventry it all came to a head and this story has run and run and then dragged and dragged, it has had more legs on it then a millipede.
Also the way it has it been portrayed by some people on-line, you would think that this was like some storyline from the WWE, as the way it seems to be. There has been public meetings with one announcing on the same night and has been a kind of tit for tat move that saw one the biggest news stories of the summer, with the return of the Manchester Storm coming back to the Ice this upcoming September and playing not only in the ELITE LEAGUE but also out of the Altrincham Ice dome.
It has seen this kind of momentum swing with those at the head of this whole situation, making it truly feel like a wrestling storyline and messy too. Personally for me the longer this has been drawn out, the more I’ve not particularly missed September coming that quickly and people on both sides of the fence have accused the other of causing problems. This has caused a lot of friction with Manchester fans, and has been a case who the normally good humoured hockey fans now becoming bitter and some showing resentment to the other side during this whole ordeal.
The whole situation has led to legal proceedings taking place and been messy from the outside looking in and with accusations made about the Phoenix owner Neil Morris on money issues, it can only get more messy you feel down the line. On the hockey front of things, a decision was made to play out of Deeside for the upcoming season for Phoenix, while the club awaits to get their new rink sorted out and long term future secured with RED Hockey helping out. One thing that has grated on me in this whole scenario is the way you must be in one of the two camps, you are either PHOENIX or STORM. I`ve mentioned to friends and others that I am a fan of ALL Manchester hockey teams and that I am not getting dragged into the whole picking favourites. I will support the Phoenix,Storm,Aces,Tornados, sledge side and Women sides too!
During this off season I have flip flopped from one to the other when reading statements or other things, and this left many friends I know disillusioned with the game and taking a break from it. This will seem very controversial coming from me in what I am about to say, but as those that know me very well, I am not the most controversial person you’ll come across in your life. However, taking the early disagreements out of the equation and moving forward, I’d have to say in my opinion and from statements I’ve read, one side has come out and tried to get on with things and that has been the Storm.
While an argument can be made that Phoenix have been sorting out venues and legal proceeding, the Storm who replaced them at the ice dome have gone about their business hiring very well, especially bringing in the experience of Neil Russell from the Belfast Giants,as he was one of many people over in Northern Ireland that helped put Belfast firmly on the hockey map. Along with him they have the Great British coach in Pete Russell and MK Lightning coach in the EPL as well, as the Scotsman will be helping out in a way to bounce ideas off the new player-coach Omar Pacha.
Phoenix have been pretty quiet with their plans for a few week now after the big blow out Storm and have at times shot themselves in the foot with some almost cryptic statements being posted during this off season. Speaking to people from other clubs and even some Phoenix fans to, even they have struggled to fathom out what these statements are all about, with some using the phrase.’Huh?! which sums up how effective they have been.’. For this season at least, it seems the move to Deeside is either going to be the final rites for the Phoenix or a damaged limitation one for them and a taking a big hit and hoping to recoup it back once the new home is up and built. However, with not many fans finding it viable for personal reasons to get to North Wales during the season, it will be a fun time for all associated in things Hockey between the Storm and the Phoenix.
But as i started saying in part one about hockey in Manchester and to borrow a quote from the wrestler Sting and slightly alter it, ‘The Only thing sure for Manchester Hockey…. Is that Nothing’s for sure!’.