Peterborough Phantoms coach Slava Koulikov hailed a ‘huge achievement’ after his players secured a runners-up finish in the English Premier League last night (March 16).
The city men nailed down second spot with two games to spare and in emphatic style as they saw off a weakened Telford outfit 5-1 at Planet Ice.
It continued the rapid progress of a club who were slumped in second-bottom and missed out on the play-offs completely just two years ago – now they’re a team to be feared at the other end of the second tier.
They boast the finest netminder in the league, an excellent all-British defensive corps and attacking players capable of picking the toughest locks. Men such as Milan Baranyk and Ales Padelek are an absolute joy to watch.
And, most satisfyingly of all, their huge progress has been achieved by hard work and excellent coaching rather than by throwing around big bundles of cash.
Koulikov said: “I know Telford were short-staffed due to injuries and suspensions, but their quality was still clear to see.
“We knew what was at stake and we performed very well to get the two points required to seal second place. It is a huge achievement for us and continues our progress year-on-year.
“Last season we were fourth and didn’t make it to the latter stages of the EPL Cup. This season we have taken another big step forward to finish second and reach the cup final.”
Phantoms needed little more than three minutes to hit the front when the magnificent Baranyk forced in a Craig Scott pass to notch his eighth goal in the last five games.
The advantage doubled when Lloyd Gibson was left with a simple tap-in on a powerplay just past the mid-point of the opening session, but Telford halved their arrears when Daniel Rose fired into the bottom corner.
Another numerical advantage led to another Phantoms goal as Marc Levers pounced to deliver the only blow of the middle session before the hosts put the outcome beyond doubt during the final stanza.
Padelek pinched possession of the puck and gloriously swapped passes with Baranyk to add a fourth goal before Baranyk also laid on the final strike for Scott.
Phantoms can now play free of pressure in the final weekend of the regular season.
They face a trip to EPL Cup final conquerors Guildford on Saturday (March 19, 6pm) before entertaining Sheffield at Planet Ice the following night (5.30pm).
Koulikov must decide whether or not to take players out of the firing line ahead of the play-offs with the quarter-finals taking place over the Easter weekend.
One man who could be rested at the weekend is netminder Janis Auzins. He was replaced for the final couple of minutes last night after appearing to be in discomfort when making a save earlier in the third period.
Phantoms still have defenceman Jason Buckman nursing a knock while fellow stopper Craig Wallis is unlikely to play again this term due to a wrist injury.
Koulikov added: “I will put my thoughts together in the next 24 hours regarding how we approach the weekend.
“The only thing on our agenda was to get two points against Telford and we have done that. We can now decide what to do in the next games.”
3:06 Baranyk ass: Scott/Robson
10:32 Gibson (PP) ass: Norton/Padelek
26:59 Levers (PP) ass: Padelek/Pliskauskas
43:05 Padelek ass: Baranyk
58:31 Scott ass: Baranyk/Norton
12:47 Rose ass: Makrov/Scott
Phantoms – Milan Baranyk
Telford – Callum Bowley