It proved to be one weekend too far for a Peterborough Phantoms roster stretched to the limit.
The city club were beaten for the second time in as many days as Basingstoke Bison collected a 5-2 success at Planet Ice last night (February 15).
The numbers game (or lack of) finally caught up with Slava Koulikov’s side. They went into this English Premier League clash with six men missing and by two-thirds distance that figure had grown to eight.
Young prospect Connor Stokes was forced out of the action by a shoulder injury while Will Weldon was controversially thrown out on a five-plus-game penalty for a check to the head.
It was a decision apparently made on the say-so of a linesman and, according to those who had the benefit of video evidence, particularly harsh as Weldon made contact with the shoulder of Bison man Stuart Mogg.
The final minute of the second period proved to be the most pivotal of the contest as Basingstoke moved into a two-goal advantage seconds before a clearly irate Weldon departed.
Koulikov admitted: “It was a pretty even game for the first half-an-hour, but playing short-staffed for six weeks then told.
“I didn’t really see the incident with Will, but losing him and Connor when we were already so short on numbers didn’t help us.
“Physically we just couldn’t match Basingstoke and we were making the sort of errors mentally that tend to come from tiredness.
“We had a run of six games where we only dropped one point so we are certainly not going to get down about one weekend of losses.
“We will put it behind us and move on.”
Phantoms had twice hit the front during the first period courtesy of slick powerplay goals finished off by Marc Levers and Edgars Bebris. Those efforts sandwiched a Bison effort on a numerical advantage as Tomas Karpov touched in a Miroslav Vantroba blast.
It was a level game again a minute into the middle session as Joe Greener and Doug Sheppard passed the puck through a statuesque Phantoms defence to leave Ciaran Long a simple finish.
Basingstoke then hit the front when a hopeful Vantroba shot from the blue-line deceived Phantoms netminder Janis Auzins as it looped through traffic in front of his net and dropped in.
Robbie Ferrara was denied an equaliser by a smart save from Bison goalie Dean Skinns before Auzins denied Greener in a one-on-one short-handed situation.
But he couldn’t come to the rescue again as Greener finished off another Bison breakaway with 32 seconds of the period remaining and Karpov put the result beyond doubt early in the final session.
Despite being down to 12 skaters (many of them looking jaded) Phantoms continued to threaten during a series of powerplays, but they were unable to rescue the situation as they suffered a fifth defeat in the six-game series against Basingstoke.
Phantoms remain fourth in the standings, but are now three points behind Bison.
They face another important clash for league position in their only game of the coming weekend when hosting fifth-placed Swindon at Planet Ice on Sunday (February 22).
6:20 Levers (PP) ass: Weldon/Bebris
14:19 Bebris (PP) ass: Koulikov/Baranyk
13:15 Karpov (PP) ass: Vantroba/Rand
21:00 Long ass: Sheppard/Greener
26:11 Vantroba ass: Karpov
39:28 Greener ass: Long
44:58 Karpov ass: Long/Vantroba
Phantoms – Edgars Bebris
Basingstoke – Ciaran Long