Peterborough Phantoms head coach Slava Koulikov hailed a ‘huge’ point in the NIHL Division One South title race last night (December 29).
The city side were pipped 5-4 in overtime by Swindon after twice building and then surrendering two-goal advantages in a thriller at the Link Centre.
It was the first time in four clashes this season that Phantoms have dropped a point against the Wildcats, but Koulikov still declared himself pleased with the outcome.
An early powerplay opener from Nathan Salem and Owen Griffiths’ second goal in as many games against his former club put Phantoms on top in the first period.
Their advantage was wiped out by a brace from Swindon player-coach Aaron Nell, who struck twice in less than four minutes during the middle stanza.
Phantoms replied with another quick flurry of their own in the final session as Ales Padelek restored a lead which was extended by player-coach Tom Norton.
But recent Swindon signing Edgars Bebris – a play-off hero with Phantoms back in 2015 – cut the hosts’ arrears before Nell completed his hat-trick to restore parity with little more than two minutes remaining.
Swindon then secured victory just before the mid-point of overtime when Stevie Whitfield struck. That may well have happened sooner but for a fine display from Phantoms netminder Euan King, whose exploits earned high praise from Koulikov.
The display of King was described as ‘outstanding’ as he lined up in Wiltshire less than 24 hours after becoming a father for the third time overnight.
“There is no doubt in my mind that we picked up a huge point,” said Koulikov, whose men had beaten Swindon 6-2 on home ice last Saturday (December 23).
“We got goals at the right times, but Swindon were the better team and there were spells where we rode our luck.
“Yes, we were two goals up on two occasions, but Swindon didn’t ever deserve to be two goals down.
“We’re halfway through an important run of games and we’ve picked up three points out of four. We have to be happy with that.”
Phantoms have also collected seven points from a possible eight in their four clashes against Swindon this season.
The latest point moved them level with Basingstoke at the NIHL Division One South summit to set up two crucial clashes against the Bison.
Phantoms travel to Hampshire tonight (January 30, 6.30pm) before welcoming Basingstoke, who boast a game in hand, to Planet Ice on New Year’s Day (5.30pm).
Koulikov added: “We knew that results against our fellow former English Premier League teams were going to be crucial this season.
“Seven points against Swindon has certainly exceeded my expectations and it would be awesome to be able to repeat it in the games against Basingstoke. If that does happen I’m sure we will win the league.
“But Basingstoke are a completely different team with a completely different style to Swindon. We need to take things one game at a time and focus on the first battle tonight.”
23:11 Nell ass: Kostal/Nethersall
27:02 Nell ass: Bullas/Birbraer
51:15 Bebris ass: Whitfield/Power
57:41 Nell ass: Birbraer/Hill
62:24 Whitfield ass: Kelsall/Bullas
2:56 Salem (PP) ass: Pliskauskas/Jamieson
15:09 Griffiths ass: Robson/Padelek
44:52 Padelek ass: Weldon
49:40 Norton ass: Billing
Swindon – Aaron Nell
Phantoms – Euan King