Peterborough Phantoms fans could be forgiven for pinching themselves when they wake up this morning (December 20).
But it is not just a pleasant, pre-Christmas dream . . . their team really are five points clear at the top of the English Premier League.
An impressive 6-2 success against Guildford at Planet Ice was the biggest of three sources of cheer for Phantoms and their followers last night (December 19).
While they were completing a hat-trick of triumphs against the Flames, and wrapping up a fifth win six games, their two closest sets of challengers were being beaten.
Second-placed Basingstoke were bashed 6-3 by rejuvenated Sheffield while third-placed Milton Keynes were embarrassed on their own ice by bottom side Hull.
Of course, returning coach Slava Koulikov, was only concerned by the display delivered by his own team – one which unsurprisingly earned plenty of plaudits.
“We were magnificent in the first and third periods,” said Koulikov, who only arrived back from his World Championships (Division 1B) duty with Great Britain Under 20s little more than an hour before face-off. “But, if I want to find a negative, we had a lapse in the second period.
“We gave away two pretty poor goals due to not having the right defensive coverage, but we discussed it and put it right in the locker room.
“The guys came out in the final session and out-worked and out-played Guildford again to earn a big two points and increase our lead at the top of the table.
“I could go through the whole team from my netminder Janis Auzins to our development forwards like Martins Susters and Brad Moore, and every single guy was excellent.”
Phantoms needed only 91 seconds to hit the front as Edgars Bebris was in the right place to finish after Craig Scott had rescued the puck from behind the net.
Their second goal was similarly carved out as Ales Padelek’s postage-stamp pass from behind the goal was slammed in by the on-rushing Milan Baranyk.
Padelek went from provider to goalscorer when extending Phantoms’ advantage early in a second period in which Guildford were the better team.
The Flames got their reward for applying plenty of pressure when striking twice in the space of 74 seconds courtesy of Matic Kralj and Andrew McKinney.
Tom Duggan, who had assisted on both Guildford goals, was then extremely fortunate not to be thrown out for jumping Marc Levers following a hit on another Flames man.
Duggan escaped with a two-minute roughing penalty and a 10-minute personal misconduct which could quite easily, at that point, have become a major talking point.
But Phantoms ensured the only words leaving the lips of those present at Planet Ice post-game were praising the home team’s heroics.
They seized back the initiative impressively in the final session to emerge as emphatic winners.
The outstanding Craig Scott thumped a fierce drive past Wall after Eddie Bebris had caused Guildford’s giant defenceman Rupert Quiney to crumble with a huge hit on the boards behind the net.
The three-goal cushion was restored with a hint of good fortune when Darius Pliskauskas saw his reverse-stick effort loop up and into the corner of the net, beyond the reach of the flummoxed Flames goalie Stephen Wall.
And the treble-winning Phantoms netminder of 2008-09 fared little better when the Bebris-to-Scott combination came up trumps again with a final goal with just under four minutes remaining to seal two more well-deserved points.
Phantoms hit the road for their final trip of the season to Deeside tonight to take on Manchester Phoenix (6.30pm).
And Koulikov is expecting a tough test from the eighth-placed and short-benched hosts coached by the legendary Tony Hand.
Koulikov said: “We have already dropped one point on the road to Manchester and don’t want to drop another one.
“They are a good team and the only problem they have is they are playing short-benched. But they did not have a game last night so they will be fresh and firing against us.”
1:31 Bebris ass: Scott/Weldon
8:04 Baranyk ass: Padelek/Robson
22:14 Padelek ass: Gibson/Buckman
44:46 Scott ass: Bebris
51:33 Pliskauskas ass: Levers
56:11 Scott ass: Bebris/Robson
35:31 Kralj ass: Duggan/Godfrey
36:45 McKinney ass: Duggan/Quiney