Ice hockey - Memorable night for Phantoms as they win the play-off final

Phantoms celebrate their EPL play-off final victory. Photo: Alan Storer

Phantoms celebrate their EPL play-off final victory. Photo: Alan Storer

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Peterborough Phantoms are the English Premier League play-off champions.

The city team’s remarkable rise from the doldrums came complete with a silver lining as they lifted the trophy following an Easter Sunday service which will live long in the memory.

A 5-2 victory over Manchester Phoenix at the Coventry Skydome yesterday (April 5) capped a glorious campaign in which Phantoms proved they are once again a force in the second tier of the sport.

Even those wearing the most rose-tinted sets of spectacles would have struggled to foresee such a turnaround for a club who missed out on the play-offs completely just last season.

And unlike that of double-winning Telford, their rise has been achieved without massive financial investment. If the league table was based on budget, Phantoms would still be battling at the basement.

It is a victory for astute player-coach Slava Koulikov and his knowledgeable coaching team.

It is a victory for the hungriest, hardest-working set of players in the English Premier League backed up by the finest netminder by far at this level in Janis Auzins – a deserving recipient of two man-of-the-match awards during the finals.

And it is a victory for an army of almost 400 fans who flocked to Coventry, made the most noise all weekend, roared their team to glory and loved every minute of some wild celebrations which seemed to go on almost as long as the game itself.

The club’s first trophy for six years – since their famous treble of 2008-09 - is surely just the first of many for Koulikov in a coaching career which promises so much.

It also provided a glorious send-off to co-owners Rob and Sue Housden who are stepping aside after 14 years of prominent involvement in city ice hockey.

That was no heat-of-the-moment decision either. Their handover to board members and major backers Dave and Jo Lane has been an open secret for some time.

And no-one could possibly argue Phantoms’ success was not deserved. They lost only two of 12 periods across two ultra-demanding play-off weekends and finished the job in style by beating the last two sets of league champions.

Any fears that Phantoms would have little left in the tank after their Herculean effort of the previous afternoon to sink Telford at the semi-final stage proved unfounded.

They made their customary quick start with two goals in the space of two minutes putting them in command against a Manchester side who had taken the league title last term.

The excellent Milan Baranyk bundled in the first before Scott Robson buried the second on a powerplay.

A third goal from Baranyk only served to emphasise their dominance before Koulikov and Edgars Bebris were a whisker away from further breakthroughs.

But some sluggish defensive work allowed Manchester a foothold in the contest late in the opening session as one-time Phantoms man James Archer reacted quickest to turn the puck past Auzins on a powerplay.

The second period also followed a similar Phantoms script as they found themselves killing a succession of penalties dished out by referee Tim Pickett – an official certainly not doing the city side any favours for the second successive afternoon.

That inevitably led to plenty of Phoenix pressure and they eventually struck again when Frantisek Bakrlik blasted past Auzins with just over two minutes left on the clock.

Baranyk thought he had delivered the perfect response by completing a hat-trick, but the goal judge had a different view and the Phantoms celebrations were quickly cut short. The Czech forward then saw another good opportunity saved in the final second of the session.

They had to pass a huge test of their discipline and character in the third period as more key decisions went against them.

Irritating Phoenix import Bakrlik received no punishment for drawing blood from Robson as he repeatedly jabbed his stick into the downed defenceman and then wiping out Luke Ferrara close to the benches.

But Phantoms kept their cool to emerge victorious. Marc Levers gave them breathing space when striking on a five-on-three powerplay before James Ferrara confirmed their crowning as play-off champions inside the final minute with what he described as ‘the worst goal I’ve ever scored’.

It might not be one to trouble the goal-of-the-season judges as he took several attempts to swat the puck past Manchester netminder Steve Fone, but it was a fitting finish to a fabulous season.

The local lad who first strapped on a pair of skates in the Peterborough junior system at the age of five hit the clincher and lifted the trophy after skippering his team to glory.

And you know what that means? Peterborough Phantoms are the English Premier League play-off champions.

MATCH DETAILS

Phantoms

2:13 Baranyk ass: McGiffin/Bebris

4:05 Robson (PP) ass: Bebris

13:17 Baranyk ass: Bebris

52:33 Levers (PP) ass: Pliskauskas/Bebris

59:21 J. Ferrara ass: Kumeliauskas

Manchester

18:15 Archer (PP) ass: Burlin/Hand

37:59 Bakrlik ass: Graham

Men-of-the-match

Phantoms – Janis Auzins

Manchester – Tony Hand