Crucial Christmas period coming up for the Phantoms

Euan King faces a race to be fit to face Swindon.
Euan King faces a race to be fit to face Swindon.
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A positive mindset and complete performances are head coach Slava Koulikov’s wishes as Phantoms prepare for a crucial spell of Christmas hockey.

The city team face clashes against their two biggest rivals for the NIHL Division One South title in the coming days.

The first of those is a home showdown against Swindon on Saturday night (December 23, 7pm). Then it’s two clashes against a Basingstoke side who knocked Phantoms off the top of the standings last weekend.

“It’s a very important period with a lot of big games for all of the teams fighting for the league title,” said Koulikov.

“We have to go into it with a positive mindset and look to pick up results. We don’t want to put ourselves in a hole and have to chase for the second half of the season.

“It’s been a while since we played at home and hopefully we can entertain the fans and give them a good result just before Christmas.

“We beat Swindon in overtime the last time they were here and then won by one goal away so everything points to another close game.

“I don’t think it is a concern to not be top. We have only dropped three points and that is not a bad position to be in by any means. We have gone from a team always pushing the best to that side that others are trying to push, and we are still learning.

“We have produced some outstanding performances, but we need to develop the consistency of playing for 60 minutes every time we hit the ice because every game is essential.”

Koulikov took plenty of heart from Phantoms’ performance during an NIHL National Cup defeat at Sheffield last Sunday.

They lost 7-4 - a defeat which drops them to the bottom of the Group B standings.

“The only things that disappointed me were the score and some of the things that went against us,” added Koulikov.

“I am the first man to let my guys know about it when they don’t perform, but that wasn’t the case on Sunday. They fought from the first puck-drop to the last whistle against injuries and injustices.”

Phantoms have home games against Hull and Sheffield to come in the National Cup and will almost certainly need to win both to advance.

Netminder Euan King faces a race to be fit to face Swindon after being knocked out during the loss in Sheffield.

Koulikov will decide between teenage back-up Jack Peacock and Dan Lane, who plays regularly for the club’s second team, if King does not make it.