Peterborough Phantoms have just enjoyed the mother of all four-point weekends.
The city men beat their biggest rivals on Saturday (January 28) and the reigning champions on Sunday (January 29) - a pair of English Premier League results that would always be worthy of recognition against fellow top-four teams.
But these were no ordinary successes in Milton Keynes (3-2) and at home to Basingstoke (4-1). The victories, against the teams directly above and below them in the standings, were achieved despite third-placed Phantoms having the sort of lengthy casualty list that has led to other second-tier teams being on the receiving end of heavy drubbings and even the odd double-figure capitulation in recent weeks.
Three influential forwards (Petr Stepanek, Marc Levers and Will Weldon), two senior defencemen (Scott Robson and Ben Russell), and one highly-promising blue-line prospect (Callum Medcalf) sat out the entire weekend.
But Slava Koulikov summoned a pair of Herculean efforts from his remaining troops to collect two results which he feels highlight the significance of every single player in the Phantoms squad.
“I have always said that we have no small roles here,” admitted Koulikov. “Every single guy is as important as the next man and that has been proved this past weekend.
“I have to be honest and admit I didn’t expect us to be able to win both games, but the guys gave me a pleasant surprise.
“Our netminder played well on both nights, we had great defensive coverage, the young forwards - people like James White, Owen Griffiths and Brad Moore - gave us incredible levels of energy, and we were able to put the puck in the net when we had opportunities.
“We had to soak up a lot of pressure during the course of the weekend, but we knew that would probably be the case. There were times when we were outplayed, but we kept our discipline, stuck to our plan and managed to come away with four points.
“While Milton Keynes is always our big rivalry, Basingstoke was the bigger game in many ways as we ideally wanted to keep them behind us in the table.
“That was in our minds when we made a plan for the weekend, but we got into a position in MK that meant we really had to go all out for the win there.
“To pick up two points on Saturday was really pleasing, but the guys overcame the tiredness to put in another great performance to beat Basingstoke.
“I don’t know whether you can say that this four-point weekend is better than any other we’ve had, but myself and the guys are very proud of the results.”
Phantoms’ mammoth performance in Milton Keynes, less than 24 hours earlier, was probably a factor as the opening period against Basingstoke just simmered gently rather than immediately came to the boil.
There were few clear opportunities in a blank 20 minutes, but stumbling Bison netminder Tomas Hiadlovsky was almost caught out by an Owen Griffiths swipe from the boards, which hit the base of his near post before he could gather.
The visitors’ Czech custodian, and Phantoms netminder Janis Auzins, did both make a couple of smart, and more orthodox, saves - the pick being Hiadlovsky’s effort to deny Tom Norton on a powerplay.
The breakthrough eventually arrived a quarter of the way through the middle session as Ales Padelek started and finished a breakaway which also involved a smart return pass from Martins Susters.
The same Phantoms player doubled their advantage a few seconds for the mid-point of the game when his shot bamboozled Hiadlovaky, who jumped in his crease only to see the puck bounce under him.
Basingstoke hit back by cashing in on a spell of five-on-three play as Ciaran Long blasted past Auzins, but Phantoms’ two-goal cushion was restored by a Norton powerplay strike. The defenceman has really become a threat in such situations during the course of the current campaign.
And Phantoms clinched victory with the only addition to the scoreline in the final period. It was provided by Edgars Bebris, who made no mistake with a penalty shot after being sent somersaulting by Hiadlovsky.
The goal, which put the result beyond doubt, came immediately after Phantoms had soaked up almost 90 seconds of five-on-three pressure from the visitors. Bebris actually burst into the Bison zone straight from a stint in the penalty box.
His recent return could be a key moment in a season which promises a serious prospect of silverware for a Phantoms team so widely written off back in the summer.
Phantoms have another tough weekend ahead. They host improving Guildford on Saturday (February 4, 7pm) before going to Telford the following day (February 5, 6pm).
25:08 Padelek ass: Archer
29:45 Padelek ass: J. Ferrara
38:48 Norton (PP) ass: Archer/Padelek
52:33 Bebris (PS)
32:08 Long (PP) ass: Roehl/Davies
PHANTOMS - James Ferrara
BASINGSTOKE - Ciaran Long