ICE HOCKEY: Super Slava reflects on a year of winning trophies and chasing titles for Peterborough Phantoms

Phantoms forward Darius Pliskauskas bears down on the MK Lightning goal. Photo: Alan Storer.

Phantoms forward Darius Pliskauskas bears down on the MK Lightning goal. Photo: Alan Storer.

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Coach Slava Koulikov has reflected on a year of huge achievement for the trophy-winning, title-chasing Peterborough Phantoms.

Koulikov has masterminded the most memorable spell in the club’s recent history after leading Phantoms out of the doldrums to claim English Premier League play-off glory last term.

Players from both sides swarm around the goal of Phantoms' netminder Janis Auzins in the home game with MK Lightning. Photo: Alan Storer.

Players from both sides swarm around the goal of Phantoms' netminder Janis Auzins in the home game with MK Lightning. Photo: Alan Storer.

And his players have continued their progress in the current campaign after spending several spells at the top of the standings.

They go into 2016 one point behind new leaders Basingstoke, but armed with a game in hand. They also face the Bison in a pair of mouth-watering top-of-the-table clashes this weekend.

Koulikov said: “We can look back and say that 2015 has been a very good year for the Peterborough Phantoms organisation.

“We got stronger and stronger from January onwards and we all know how it ended with that great weekend in Coventry.

“We did well just to make it to the play-off finals by beating a tough Swindon team and then beat the big favourites Telford in the semi-finals when very few people believed we could.

“The guys came up with another big performance to beat Manchester in the final and none of us will forget the feeling of lifting the trophy.

“But it was important to make sure we built on that success this season and we are doing that by fighting at the top end of the table.

“There is no doubt in my mind we have over-achieved massively throughout 2015 and that is down to the coaching staff and the guys in the locker room.

“We don’t have the finances or the depth of other clubs so it is a fantastic achievement from everyone involved to be within one point of the top of the league.

“But we are only just over halfway through the season and we know there are many things that will have to go right if we are to challenge to win the league.

“The main goal has always been to at least equal our finishing position of fourth last season.”

Phantoms’ fine year deserved a better climax than back-to-back defeats at the hands of big rivals Milton Keynes last weekend.

Koulikov’s men slumped to a pair of 4-2 scorelines which, along with a hat-trick of festive wins from Basingstoke, led to a five-point cushion turning into a one-point deficit at the EPL summit.

The picture can change again this weekend when the leading two teams do battle on successive nights with a Saturday showdown in Hampshire (January 2, 6.30pm) being followed by a Planet Ice return clash the following night (January 3, 5.30pm).

Phantoms ended Basingstoke’s unbeaten home record last month and also boast two early-season home successes against them.

Koulikov added: “Last weekend was not a great one for us. I didn’t think we deserved anything in Milton Keynes, but felt we did enough to get a result in the home game.

“It wasn’t to be though and now we have to regroup and focus on making this weekend a better one.

“Of course that won’t be easy because Basingstoke are a very good team, but we’ve picked up three wins against them this season and hopefully we can come up with more good results.”

Koulikov will make a late decision over the participation of injury victims Cam McGiffin and Edgars Bebris.

Defenceman McGiffin picked up a hip problem that forced him out of the away defeat in Milton Keynes on Boxing Day and missed the following night’s home reverse.

Forward Bebris is nursing a fractured little finger sustained in the December 20 game at Manchester and sat out both Christmas derby fixtures.