Peterborough Phantoms will go into the new English Premier League season in the same way they ended the last one . . . in possession of a trophy.
Admittedly the Ashes crown held aloft by captain James Ferrara at Planet Ice last night (September 6) is rather insignificant compared to the play-off silverware he proudly clutched at the Coventry Skydome back on Easter Sunday, but a 9-7 aggregate triumph over arch-rivals Milton Keynes was certainly enjoyed by players and supporters alike.
In fact a 4-4 Saturday deadlock in Buckinghamshire followed by a 5-3 success on home ice 24 hours later ranks as just about the perfect preparation for a new, six-month, 54-game slog in the second tier of the sport.
Having failed to hold a lead four times on enemy ice, Phantoms wisely left it until late to hit the front in the return clash as two goals in the final four minutes settled the issue.
Import star Milan Baranyk and newly-arrived goalscoring sensation Craig Scott grabbed them in the closing stage of a game in which their side had spent long periods trailing by two clear goals.
Phantoms coach Slava Koulikov said: “I was very happy to see the guys fight back in the way they did after falling behind.
“It is not easy to recover from two goals down, but the spirit and hunger is clearly there and that is great.
“We made better plays as the game went on, took it to MK and got the win in the end. Credit to the guys for that.
“The results weren’t the most important thing for me this weekend, but it is great for the supporters to win a trophy and also good for the morale in the locker room.
“Now we must keep working hard in practice this week and make sure we are ready to start the league in style at the weekend.”
Phantoms were punished for a slow start to the second leg as they conceded twice in the opening three minutes to Lightning defenceman David Clements.
His goals - a hopeful effort through traffic and a smart finish to a well-worked powerplay – arrived just 69 seconds apart.
One powerplay of their own aside, in which visiting netminder Dean Skinns made several smart saves and Ales Padelek hit the pipes, Phantoms didn’t look particularly threatening in the opening session.
That issue was clearly addressed in the locker room as they emerged for the second period on the front foot and Tom Norton’s blast briefly halved their arrears before new MK import Marko Luomala responded within a minute.
But the hosts seized the momentum to haul themselves level as Scott - the son of a high-class MK player of the 1990s - struck twice in the space of three minutes.
The final period was full of excitement - apart from a five-minute delay due to a problem with the moorings on one of the new goals in use for the first time.
The target was firmly in place when Baranuk rattled a rising shot over the right shoulder of Skinns, and the visiting netminder was beaten again as Scott completed his treble (and registered a fifth goal of the weekend) after Norton had led a break-out and laid the puck on a plate.
If early indications are anything to go by, Phantoms will make exciting viewing in the coming months. They look to have plenty of creativity and productivity going forward with Scott a stand-out pre-season performer, but there is certainly an air of susceptibility to their defensive ranks.
An all-British back-line will no doubt be reliant on the regular heroics of import netminder Janis Auzins behind them. The best goalie in the league will need to be just that.
They open their EPL challenge with a trip to Swindon on Saturday (September 12) ahead of an opening home test against Basingstoke the following night (September 13).
25:50 Norton ass: J. Ferrara/Padelek
36:49 Scott ass: Padelek
39:46 Scott ass: Pliskauskas/J. Ferrara
56:18 Baranyk ass: Levers
59:02 Scott ass: Norton.
1:48 Clements ass: Billing
2:57 Clements (PP) ass: Jarolin/Emersic
26:43 Luomala ass: Cook/Farn
Phantoms – Craig Scott
Milton Keynes – Dean Skinns