Ashes clashes sure to be feisty on the ice but friendly off it

Janis Auzins saves for Phantoms against Manchester Storm. Picture: Alan Storer
Janis Auzins saves for Phantoms against Manchester Storm. Picture: Alan Storer
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Their clubs might be the fiercest of rivals, but Phantoms coach Slava Koulikov insists he is relishing a friendly rivalry with new Milton Keynes chief Pete Russell.

The city side take on the Lightning on successive nights this weekend in the annual ‘Ashes’ clashes on the eve of the new English Premier League season. Phantoms travel to Buckinghamshire on Saturday (7pm) ahead of a Sunday return clash at Planet Ice (5.30pm).

And while these occasions have a habit of getting feisty on the ice, there is likely to be nothing but respect between the rival coaches.

Koulikov enjoyed two successful seasons as a player under Russell, who is also head coach of the Great Britain team, at Slough, winning the play-offs in 2009/10 and capturing the League Cup in the following campaign.

He said: “I’m looking forward to having a friendly rivalry against Pete as a coach. He is someone I know well and I enjoyed my time playing for him at Slough.

“We won two trophies in two years and he did tremendously well in making sure he got the best out of the squad he had there.

“I’m expecting him to do a very good job at Milton Keynes as well and I class them as a team who will be fighting at the top of the table. They have a mix of some very experienced imports and a lot of young British talents.”

Koulikov is keen to ensure Phantoms step up on the performances they produced last weekend when being held to a 3-3 deadlock by lower-level Solway Sharks ahead of a 7-3 defeat at the hands of slick Elite League newcomers Manchester Storm.

And while the club’s supporters are sure to be keen for their side to lay down a marker against their arch rivals, Koulikov insists results will not be his top priority.

He added: “Of course we would like to win the games for the fans, but results are not all that matters to me.

“The main thing is about putting in the right performances. Pre-season games are about developing and correcting things to make sure we are in the best possible place for the start of the league.

“I was pleased with a lot of the things I saw last weekend. We played very well in particular in the first period against Manchester and set ourselves a good standard.

“We couldn’t keep it going though at the end of a very tiring week in which we had a pre-season camp that was probably five times tougher than the one we went on ahead of last season.

“This weekend we are looking to put together 60-minute performances in games which will be a bit more physical than those last weekend.”

Star defenceman Tom Norton was not risked last weekend due to a slight knee problem. He is likely to feature against Lightning.

Teenage talent James White faces a lay-off after dislocating a shoulder against Solway.