Peterborough Phantoms survived an almighty scare to make a happy homecoming last night (November 29).
The city team delivered a performance of class and character to sink reigning champions Manchester and ensure a second period collapse was not costly.
Slava Koulikov’s side emerged in possession of a 5-4 victory to strengthen their grip on second spot in the standings in the opening instalment of a Planet Ice double-header this weekend.
Phantoms took command early on with a three-goal salvo during a blistering display in the first session.
Ebgars Bebris combined with Milan Baranyk to opening the scoring with a picture-book goal and then returned the compliment for Baranyk to double the lead.
Marc Levers slammed in Phantoms’ third goal after Darius Pliskauskas has wrestled back the puck to leave the bewildered champions craving the sanctuary of their locker room.
Whatever legendary Phoenix player-coach Tony Hand said during the first break had the desired effect as his team dramatically changed the game.
They wiped out their three-goal arrears in under four minutes of second period action with a brace of Frantisek Bakrlik goals being followed by a freak leveller.
Levers inadvertently fired the puck into his own net which had been left empty as netminder Janis Auzins left the ice with the hosts on a delayed penalty.
It was a quite calamitous conclusion (credited to Manchester man Michael Psurny as the last visiting player to touch the puck) to a disastrous few minutes and only some smart Auzins saves prevented Phoenix from hitting the front.
But Phantoms made it to the buzzer on level terms and this time it was Koulikov’s turn to deliver the wise words in the confines of the dressing room.
Phantoms were galvanised ahead of the final session and completed a fine recovery act to win the game courtesy of a pinpoint powerplay blast from Tom Norton and captain James Ferrara’s pounce on a rebound.
Bakrlik did complete his hat-trick as Manchester set up a grandstand finale, but Phantoms stood strong to pocket the points.
Injured boss Koulikov admitted: “I’m very proud of the players for getting a result in the circumstances.
“We have people missing and a couple of new guys involved for the first time so we can be pleased with the way we won the game.
“We were excellent in the first period, but the second period did not go our way and I wanted it to end as soon as possible.
“We had a chat in the dressing room and told the guys they could still go out and win the game. There was no shouting or screaming – we just made them realise what they needed to do and they pulled it off.”
In addition to Koulikov, who is nursing a fractured wrist, the Phantoms roster was also missing forward Luke Ferrara. He was drafted in by Elite League side Sheffield.
Import wizard Darius Pliskauskas shrugged off illness to be involved while defenceman Greg Pick returned from a month-long injury lay-off.
Newcomers Martins Susters and Mason Jon Webster also made their presence felt.
Susters played junior hockey at Phantoms before moving to Nottingham, but has now returned for the rest of the season. Webster is on a two-week trial after being spotted playing for English National League outfit Haringey Racers.
Both of those players will feature when Phantoms bid to complete a four-point weekend by seeing off Basingstoke at Planet Ice tonight (November 30, 5.30pm).
The participation of Ferrara in the second-versus-third clash is not clear though with Sheffield also in action. Basingstoke were beaten 4-2 at home by leaders Telford last night.
7:22 Bebris ass: Baranyk/J. Ferrara
12:20 Baranyk ass: Bebris
16:57 Levers ass: Pliskauskas
46:20 Norton (PP) ass: Pliskauskas/Baranyk
48:32 J. Ferrara ass: Bebris
23:23 Bakrlik ass: Psurny/Hand
26:17 Bakrlik ass: Kovar/Thompson
27:02 Psurny (ENG): unassisted
57:45 Bakrlik ass: Hand/Psurny
Phantoms – Milan Baranyk
Manchester – Frantisek Bakrlik