Assistant coach Jason Buckman insisted Peterborough Phantoms’ latest NIHL National Cup setback came complete with plenty of positives - even though it put a big dent in their hopes of honours.
The city team were beaten 7-4 by Sheffield Steeldogs tonight (December 17) as they dropped to the bottom of Group B. It was a fourth loss in six outings in this competition and proved to be a painful experience for netminder Euan King, who was knocked out as the home side scored their fourth goal in the second period.
Phantoms had earlier eased into an early two-goal advantage in a clash of two sets of table-toppers at iceSheffield, but the NIHL Division One South leaders then conceded five unanswered efforts as the North section pacesetters seized the initiative.
“It was obviously not the result we wanted,” said Buckman. “But the performance was actually very good. A lot of the small things we haven’t seen for a while were there again and that is encouraging.
“The final scoreline does not reflect how well we played and we feel a bit hard done by on the refereeing front. Had a couple of calls gone our way, it could have been a different game.
“We dominated for large portions and we liked a lot of what we saw, but we couldn’t come away with the two points.
“We have to win our last two games in the group and hope the other results go our way. We’re not going to write it off just yet.”
Head coach Slava Koulikov returned to the Phantoms bench after leading Great Britain Under 20s to bronze medals in their World Championship event in recent days.
His side enjoyed a terrific start with two goals in the space of 33 seconds as an unassisted Owen Griffiths opener was quickly followed up by a strike from player-coach Tom Norton.
But their advantage was wiped out before the end of the opening section by a brace from Steeldogs import Milan Kolena.
The Czech’s leveller actually arrived when his side were short-handed during a five-minute penalty that followed the ejection of defenceman Tim Smith for a hooking offence.
And the home side completed the turnaround to take command courtesy of three further goals in the second period.
James Spurr, a treble winner with Phantoms almost a decade ago, put Sheffield ahead for the first time and their advantage was extended by Ash Calvert in a controversial incident. Calvert was involved in a coming together which left King briefly unconscious and unable to continue.
Youngster Jack Peacock stepped in between the pipes and was beaten by a Liam Charnock powerplay effort just past the mid-point of the contest before Darius Pliskauskas reduced Phantoms’ arrears late in the period.
Callum Brownley ensured they increased again less than two minutes into the final stanza before Pliskauskas struck again on a powerplay.
Nathan Salem thumped a shot against a post late on after Peacock was pulled as Phantoms mounted a late bid to claw their way back into the contest, but the outcome was put beyond doubt when Sheffield defenceman Lewis Bell fired into the empty net inside the final minute.
Phantoms dropped back to the bottom of the group as a result of their latest Group B loss. They trail Sheffield by one point and sit two points behind group leaders Hull - and they have also played two more matches than both of those sides.
Phantoms still have to entertain Sheffield and Hull at Planet Ice in games that are yet to be scheduled.
Forward James White returned after a groin problem tonight but defenceman Ed Knaggs wasn’t involved following international duty with Koulikov’s GB side.
Phantoms now face a crucial spell of NIHL Division One South action over the festive season. The first test is a home date against Swindon on Saturday (December 23, 7pm).
Phantoms were knocked off the top of the standings tonight by Basingstoke, who now lead the way by one point.
10:21 Kolena ass: Bell/Calvert
16:25 Kolena (SH) ass: Calvert/Bell
22:59 Spurr ass: Relf
25:28 Calvert ass: Kolena/Spurr
31:13 Charnock (PP) ass: Morgan/Bell
41:46 Brownley ass: Morgan
59:21 Bell ass: Kolena/Calvert
6:52 Griffiths unassisted
7:25 Norton ass: J. Ferrara/Padelek
37:20 Pliskauskas ass: Jamieson
46:48 Pliskauskas (PP) ass: J. Ferrara
Sheffield – Ash Calvert
Phantoms – Darius Pliskauskas