Peterborough Phantoms took a big step towards silverware when booking their place in the NIHL Autumn Cup final last night (November 9).
Phantoms battled to a 3-3 draw in the second leg of their semi-final showdown against Swindon at The Link Centre to clinch a 7-6 aggregate triumph following a 4-3 on home ice the previous Friday.
It was a success sealed by a goal from import star Ales Padelek late in the third period, but one which was built on the solid foundations provided by a terrific performance from netminder Jordan Marr.
He played a starring role on a night when the Wildcats managed almost double the number of on-target attempts – 39 to 20 – of Phantoms, but it was the city men who finished ahead on the scoreline that really mattered.
And, after being dumped out at the same stage of the same competition by the same opponents last season, their revenge was well worth the wait.
Head coach Slava Koulikov said: “Swindon is a tough place to go and the guys had to dig really deep – starting with our netminder who kept us in the game at times and was a huge part of the success - and finishing up front.
“It was almost a reverse of the first leg where an even first period was followed by one team dominating the second period. At our rink it was us and last night it was Swindon.
“Then in the third period it evened out again and we managed get that important goal and the guys then put everything on the line in a brilliant ending.
“It was great to see ‘Padi’ score as he led by example for 60 minutes. His work-rate and determination were phenomenal, and he got his reward.
“Swindon gave us the two toughest games we’ve had this year and huge credit to my guys for coming through them and reaching the final. It’s a real character win for us.”
Phantoms saw their aggregate advantage wiped out after little more than a quarter of the opening session as Toms Rutkis pounced to put Swindon ahead.
But the city side conjured a turnaround later in the first period thanks to their potent forward line of Petr Stepanek, Martins Susters and Corey McEwen.
The former slammed in an equaliser before the latter put them ahead with Susters having a hand in both efforts.
Those exploits left Phantoms with a two-goal cushion on aggregate, but a double-salvo from Swindon late in the second period put them back ahead on the night and restored parity overall.
Captain Jan Kostal claimed the first of them before Edgars Bebris – an English Premier League play-offs winner with Phantoms back in 2015 – got in on the act.
Phantoms were millimetres away from an immediate response as Glenn Billing hit the bar before the buzzer, but they did succeed in finding the net again in the final period as Padelek settled the tie.
Swindon then pulled netminder Renny Marr – the younger brother of Phantoms’ formidable last line of defence – with 75 seconds to go in a desperate late attempt to strike back.
They soon found themselves with a six-on-four advantage for the closing minute when Susters was penalised for tripping and Stepanek earned himself a misconduct call from referee Stephen Matthews, but Phantoms stood firm to book their place in a final showdown against Sheffield.
The dates for those clashes are yet to be confirmed, but Phantoms now switch their attention back to NIHL Division One South ahead of a crucial league clash tomorrow (November 12).
The third-placed city side entertain table-topping Bracknell at Planet Ice (5.30pm) having already seen off the Bees on their own Berkshire ice last month.
5.47 Rutkis ass: Nell
37.01 Kostal ass: Johnson/Nell
38.52 Bebris ass: C. Jones/Rutkis
15.13 Stepanek ass: Susters/McEwen
18.11 McEwen ass: Susters/Stepanek
55.19 Padelek ass: Robson/Buglas
SWINDON – Toms Rutkis
PHANTOMS – Jordan Marr