More silverware in sight for Slava and his Phantoms

Man-of-the-match Taylor Romeo holds off the MK defence. Picture Tom Scott
Man-of-the-match Taylor Romeo holds off the MK defence. Picture Tom Scott
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Head coach Slava Koulikov insists Phantoms are determined to sample that trophy-winning feeling again.

The city men have more silverware in their sights as they travel to Basingstoke for the opening leg of their NIHL South Cup showdown tonight (Thursday, 7.45pm).

Phantoms will then have the chance to lift the trophy on home ice in the second leg on Wednesday, March 13 – just as they did when capturing the NIHL Autumn Cup earlier in the campaign.

A fascinating showpiece lies ahead against the Bison with both teams having triumphed twice in their opponents’ rink this season in NIHL Division One South games.

Phantoms won 2-1 and 3-2 (after penalties) in trips to Hampshire and also led until the closing stages of their other visit which eventually ended in a 4-3 defeat after another shoot-out.

But Basingstoke have enjoyed success at Bretton with 5-3 and 3-2 (after penalties) wins in their last two trips following a 3-1 loss earlier in the campaign.

The two teams are also split by only one position and two points in the league standings after 36 games with second-placed Phantoms just having the edge.

“It would be a huge achievement to win two trophies in the same season,” said Koulikov.

“The guys deserve a lot of credit for reaching another final at such a tough level and hopefully we can get over the line again.

“Ourselves and Basingstoke have had close match-ups all season and everything suggests the final will be tight as well.

“I’d love us to be able to finish the final in the first leg, but that is very unlikely to happen as Basingstoke are very strong at home.

“But we also have to ensure that we are not beaten heavily and that we bring the tie back to our building for the second leg still alive.

“We need to be at our very best – individually and as a team - in all six periods of hockey in the final.

“It was an unbelievable feeling to lift a trophy in our rink and in front of our own fans.

“The atmosphere was incredible in front of a huge crowd and it took a while for that success to sink in.

“It’s something myself and all of my guys would love to experience again.”

Star forwards Petr Stepanek and Corey McEwen are both expected to shake off injuries in time to play.

That’s a major boost for Koulikov who has spoken of his admiration for the job done by Bison player-coach Ash Tait.

The former Great Britain forward faced a mammoth summer rebuild following the departure of title-winning coach Doug Sheppard and many of his players to Bracknell.

Koulikov added: “Ash had a great career as a player and he is already proving to be a good coach.

“It is very tough to have to sign almost a completely new team, but he did it and he did it well and they have had a really good season.

“They were written off for competing for trophies this season – just as we were by some people – but here we both are in the final and fighting for this cup.”

n Phantoms then have two NIHL Division One South games this weekend.

They go to Streatham on Saturday (5.30pm) before hosting rock-bottom Invicta on Sunday (5.30pm).