Koulikov hopes his young guns will fire Phantoms into the play-offs

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A place in the top half of the English Premier League table is the initial target of Peterborough Phantoms coach Slava Koulikov this season.

Koulikov begins his third full campaign at the helm after transforming the city club from wooden spoon dodgers into trophy-winners since his late 2013 arrival.

The new season follows a summer of transition for Phantoms with seven members of the team which finished as league and EPL Cup runners-up last term having moved on and another, veteran defenceman Jason Buckman, retiring and taking up a coaching position.

Plenty of new faces have arrived as a result and the end result is a squad boasting the two things supposedly needed to challenge for sporting success – youth and experience.

Koulikov said: “There is no doubt we have over-achieved in the past two years.

“If we can get into that position to challenge for trophies again, it would be perfect.

“But the realistic goal is to ensure we have the stability and consistency to pick up the results that get us into the play-offs.

“If we can boast a win ratio of around 50% I will be satisfied. Bettering that should get us into the top half of the table and hopefully that’s within reach.

“The different structure in the play-offs this year with a group format makes it a bit easier for the sides who finished sixth, seventh and eighth to reach the finals weekend.”

Koulikov could be forgiven for being envious giving the mega-bucks budgets rumoured to be available to some of his coaching peers in the second tier of the sport.

But he is quite happy with the funds and players at his disposal, and he hopes his ploy of bringing in a number of younger recruits could provide a long-term reward.

He added: “We saw last season that other clubs have the spending power to change their squads if they do not start well. Guildford did it last season and then won two trophies as a result.

“It’s a hard job for me with not having one of the biggest budgets. We have to find the right players for the right price and make sure they fit into our structure over a number of years.

“But it is also tough for the coaches who do have the big money. They are under pressure to get the guys in to win trophies and then have to manage the egos that come with it.

“There are a couple of reasons why we have drafted in a lot of younger players.

“Firstly, we wanted to create a long-term squad with good depth and the way to do that was to bring in more players.

“Secondly, I find that young guys are hungry and willing to learn, and will hopefully give us the edge further along in the season.

“I’m aware that young players will make mistakes and the main thing is to ensure they learn from them and then start to make the right decisions consistently.

“We do also have plenty of experience with our imports and our senior Brits like Marc Levers, James Ferrara and Tom Norton.

“Other guys such as Scott Robson and Ben Russell are establishing themselves in the EPL with every season and have played a lot of hockey at this level for their age.

“The average age of the roster is just under 25 and that doesn’t concern me in the slightest.

“I’m very happy here. I have a good relationship with the owners and progressively the club is going in the right direction.”