Wildcats lie in wait for play-off dress rehearsal

Mason Webster and Sheffield's Callum Pattison have a punch-up. Picture: Alan Storer
Mason Webster and Sheffield's Callum Pattison have a punch-up. Picture: Alan Storer

Phantoms face a play-off dress rehearsal on the final weekend of the English Premier League regular season.

The city men travel to Swindon on Saturday (6pm) to take on a Wildcats side they are also certain to face in the quarter-finals of the battle for end-of-season honours.

The two teams are locked together in fourth and fifth places in the table and that means this is a big game in its own right with the outfit who finishes higher earning the right to select when they stage their home leg of the play-off tie the following weekend.

Phantoms player-coach Slava Koulikov, who has masterminded two triumphs at the Link Centre already this season, said: “We have built momentum in recent games and while we want that to continue, it is obviously the following weekend that is most important.

“But ourselves and Swindon will both want to finish in fourth to have the right to choose when we stage our home leg in the play-off.

“We both have different styles and ways of playing the game which only adds to it and it will be interesting to see what tactics we both use when facing each other so close to the play-offs.

“Whatever happens this weekend we will have a top-five finish and that is a huge achievement for our club.”

The regular season ends on Sunday with a Planet Ice derby date against arch-rivals Milton Keynes (5.30pm).

The availability of long-term injury absentee James Hutchinson remained in the balance yesterday. The classy defenceman was due to provide results of a recent MRI scan to Koulikov at a practice session last night.

Koulikov does not expect the knocks which kept defencemen Cam McGiffin and Scott Robson, and forward Edgars Bebris out of last Sunday’s 5-4 terrific triumph over runners-up Guildford to prove serious.

Netminder Janis Auzins returned to the fray against the Flames after being rested for a 4-3 overtime triumph against Sheffield Steeldogs the previous night when fellow import goalie Greg Blais made his debut for the club.

CONTRACT TALKS

Slava Koulikov is happy to leave talks over his future on the back-burner.

Koulikov’s 18-month deal as player-coach is due to expire at the end of the campaign and he has held provisional talks with club chiefs over an extension. But, with the play-offs looming large on the horizon later this month, Koulikov insists he currently has more pressing matters to attend to.

He said: “I’ve spoken to the club and things are in motion, but there is nothing definite in place yet. At the moment we are just focusing on getting everyone right for the play-offs. My future is not at the top of my list of priorities right now because I’m sure we can get it worked out.”