Peterborough Phantoms head coach Slava Koulikov praised the character of his players following the opening leg of the NIHL Division One South play-off final.
Koulikov was hugely impressed with the showing of his side in the final period of their showdown against Basingstoke – the team who pipped them to the title on goal difference - at Planet Ice last night (March 31).
A Nathan Salem equaliser earned Phantoms a 1-1 deadlock and ensured the teams will go into second leg battle tonight (April 1, 5.30pm) locked together on aggregate.
“Ourselves and Basingstoke have been neck and neck all season,” said Koulikov. “I think we all expected a close game and that is what we got.
“We were on the back-foot for a lot of the second period, but we only conceded one goal and were still in the game.
“We told the guys in the locker room that we had nothing to lose. We asked them to give their all for the last 20 minutes and they were fantastic in that final period.
“Basingstoke’s goalie was brilliant, but we eventually got the goal we deserved. The character of the guys really impressed me.
“I can’t say we deserved to win the game, but I don’t think we deserved to lose it either. It’s 1-1 and there is everything to play for in the second leg tonight.”
And Phantoms’ performances on the Hampshire ice of their rivals will give them hope of lifting the play-off crown.
They triumphed 2-1 in Bison’s backyard in a league clash in late December and performed well for much of a 4-3 defeat in their return trip in early February.
Koulikov added: “We know we can win in Basingstoke although I have to admit that we were probably not the best team that night.
“I did think we played better than Basingstoke when we lost 4-3, but we didn’t get the result.
“We know we can put up a good fight down there and we have to play solid hockey for 60 minutes.
“We’d love to see as many of our fans there as possible.”