Peterborough Phantoms overcame the odds, as well as red-hot opponents, in the English Premier League last night (October 16).
The city men shrugged aside an increasing casualty list to claim a much-needed 3-1 success against Swindon Wildcats at Planet Ice.
And they did it courtesy of a performance that bore all the hallmarks of a Slava Koulikov team – togetherness, spirit and a huge work ethic with bodies frequently being put on the line.
No-one was more impressive than Janis Auzins as he came within a matter of minutes of a shut-out when pressed back into service following a five-game absence with a knee problem.
But the return of the inspirational netminder was offset by the loss of import forward Ales Padelek to what was described as a ‘slight injury’. The Czech veteran joined fellow frontmen Connor Glossop and Sam Towner, and defenceman Craig Wallis on the sidelines.
Even though short-benched, Phantoms were still able to call on the services of 10 forwards and five defenceman, although the latter number was reduced to four after the loss of teenager Tom Stubley in the second period.
He played no further part after being on the receiving end of a hit which left him with shoulder damage, but that was just another hurdle for Phantoms to overcome as they claimed the most satisfying of successes.
Proud coach Koulikov said: “I got the performance from my team on Saturday night in Basingstoke, but we didn’t get anything out of the game.
“That meant it was all about getting the result against Swindon and we managed to do that by scoring when we had the opportunities and defending for our lives.
“To beat the team who have been on a hot run, when we have such a short bench, is a great effort. All the credit goes to the guys for putting in relentless hard work.
“It was very important to be able to call on Janis against a team in Swindon who have so much offensive power.
“He produced a huge performance, but I don’t want to single out individual after such a complete team display.”
Phantoms punished a couple of spills from Swindon netminder Stevie Lyle, little more than five minutes apart in the opening period, to open up a handy advantage.
Owen Griffiths pounced for his second Phantoms goal – both of which have arrived against his former club – after a Ben Russell shot had caused problems for the visiting shot-stopper.
And the advantage doubled when Griffiths’ forced a save and recent import recruit Wehebe Darge was on hand on gobble up the rebound and claim a first home goal.
Swindon posed the greater threat in a blank second period as Phantoms’ powerplay unit failed to make the most of a couple of five-on-three situations.
But it looked as though the increasingly aggressive Wildcats were running out of ideas in the final session until they halved their deficit with just under four minutes to go as Jonas Hoog found space to finish at the back post.
That could so easily have been the trigger for a collapse from a depleted Phantoms side, who had thrown away a four-goal cushion in their previous home game, but any tension that may have been apparent among supporters certainly didn’t spread onto the ice.
They were helped by Swindon defenceman Stevie Whitfield collecting a penalty within a minute of them cutting their arrears and just as that numerical advantage ended, Phantoms made sure of victory with a clinching goal.
It could hardly have been more welcome for the goalscorer or his team as import ace Darius Pliskauskas snapped a long drought with his second goal of the season when slotting into the corner of the net.
It was a pleasing conclusion to a memorable night. Plenty more are now required for eighth-placed Phantoms to climb the table.
10:05 Griffiths ass: Russell/Darge
15:24 Darge ass: Griffiths/Archer
58:40 Pliskauskas ass: Darge/Levers
56:09 Hoog ass: Malasinski
PHANTOMS – Janis Auzins
SWINDON – Neil Liddiard