The positive of key players returning offset the negative of a third successive home defeat for Peterborough Phantoms last night (February 26).
Coach Slava Koulikov described a 4-1 home defeat at the hands of reigning English Premier League champions Basingstoke as ‘frustrating’.
It was actually a fifth loss in the last seven games for a Phantoms side who are not quite building the momentum they would like ahead of challenges for EPL Cup and play-off glory.
But the presence of netminder Janis Auzins, defenceman Scott Robson and captain James Ferrara on the Bretton ice after injury lay-offs provided plenty of cheer to the Phantoms supremo.
And Koulikov didn’t appear to be too concerned even though this result left the city side’s bid to finish third in the standings in jeopardy. The visitors’ success now leaves them just three points behind Phantoms with a game in hand.
He said: “Janis practised a lot during the week and we decided that half a game would be good for him.
“We have to manage two things here – his injury and the fact we need him in game-shape for the cup final.
“It was a positive to see him back on the ice, and the same goes for ‘Robbo’ and Jimmy too.
“Those things really please me even though the result didn’t go our way.
“I thought we did okay in the opening two periods and the scoreline could have been a bit closer.
“One of the Basingstoke goals was very interesting to say the least, and I think another one could have been prevented as well.
“But I have to give Basingstoke full credit for executing a really solid plan in the final period when they frustrated us.
“It’s not the first time that we have been unable to find a way back when chasing a game at home, so we have to work out how to change that.
“Basingstoke will no doubt believe they can finish third now, but if we win our remaining games we will keep that position.
“We have three league games left and we’ll be going full tilt in all of them.”
Phantoms fell behind when Aaron Connolly tipped in a Basingstoke opener and the Bison doubled their lead in unlikely fashion when import Rene Jarolin fizzed a shot on the turn, from close to the boards, past Auzins.
Their advantage grew again less than 90 seconds into the middle session as Ciaran Long burst into the zone before finishing smartly.
Ales Padelek struck on a powerplay just after Auzins’ pre-planned withdrawal to give Phantoms hope of a fightback, but that was ended when Derek Roehl forced the puck past back-up netminder Adam Long five minutes into the final period.
But there was at least a late burst of excitement for the Bretton faithful as Petr Stepanek accepted the offer of a dust-up from Declan Balmer.
It was probably an invitation the Basingstoke defenceman ended up regretting as big Stepanek unleashed a flurry of big punches in one of the most one-sided scraps you’ll ever see.
Phantoms only have one fixture again this weekend – a Saturday (March 4) trip to Hull, where they are yet to collect a point this season.
31:15 Padelek (PP) ass: Stepanek/J. Ferrara
13:01 Connolly ass: Baird/Towalski
17:38 Jarolin ass: Davies/Hiadlovsky
21:28 Long ass: Davies/Roehl
45:11 Roehl ass: Davies
PHANTOMS – Petr Stepanek
BASINGSTOKE – Tomas Hiadlovsky