Peterborough Phantoms could hardly have delivered a statement of NIHL Division One South title intent any more clearly last night (January 6).
The city team produced one of their finest performances and collected one of their best results of the campaign when slamming form team Raiders 7-1 at Planet Ice to continue their challenge for league honours.
Slava Koulikov’s men could have been forgiven for going into this game with trepidation given they had lost four of their previous six games(admittedly picking up a point in three of those reverses) while Raiders arrived on a nine-game hot streak (including a Challenge win against a touring American military team).
The Romford side’s fine record at Planet Ice - which includes a win in Bretton last season and a controversial overtime triumph at the beginning of the current campaign - could have been another cause for concern.
But Phantoms were either blissfully unaware of those statistics or opted to use them as motivation fuel during a dominant 60-minute display which featured a hat-trick from import star Ales Padelek.
The Czech veteran played a pivotal role in the city side’s two goals in the first period. He was the architect of their opener when his exquisite pass was given
the finish it deserved by Glenn Billing and then doubled the lead with a fizzing shot during a five-on-three powerplay.
But for regular saves from Raiders netminder Michael Gray and a Billing shot taking an unfortunate kiss off the pipes, the advantage would have been greater.
But Phantoms didn’t have to wait long to extend their advantage as Billing laid on a third goal for Padelek early in the second session before again being denied by a post himself.
However, there was no stopping Padelek from finding the twine as he completed his hat-trick with a rasping shot from the point following a face-off as Phantoms began to run riot.
Raiders claimed a fortunate reply as a Liam Chong effort deflected in off the skate of Phantoms player-coach Tom Norton, but that was only a temporary blip as Corey McEwen put away a Petr Stepanek pass to ensure normal service was resumed.
Only a terrific Gray stop denied the second generation star another goal within 30 seconds, but Phantoms did succeed in lighting the lamp twice more in the final period and McEwen was involved in both goals.
He was perfectly placed to strike on a five-on-three powerplay after Stepanek slammed a ferocious shot into the glass behind the goal and then had a hand in the move that led to Martins Susters tricking his way through the traffic before finishing expertly.
The reaction of Raiders to their heavy drubbing was poor with former Phantoms man Mason Webster - once a play-off winner with the city club - incurring the wrath of Koulikov for picking a fight with teenager Jack Escott.
It was an act later described as being ‘gutless’ by Koulikov who was left visibly angered in the aftermath of a needless incident which followed a split-second after Raiders import Blahoslav Novak was thrown out for slashing.
That unsavoury act aside there was nothing for the Phantoms chief to be disappointed about as he puts his domestic duties on the backburner to lead Great Britain Under 20s challenge at the World Championships in Estonia.
Koulikov misses the club’s next four games, including home (January 12) and away (January 13) dates against strugglers Milton Keynes Thunder this coming weekend when assistant coach Jason Buckman and director hockey Jon Kynaston will be in charge of a city side who remain a point behind leaders Swindon but boast four games in hand.
3.14 Billing ass: Padelek/J. Ferrara
16.42 Padelek (PP) ass: Norton/Marr
23.32 Padelek ass: Billing/J. Ferrara
34.25 Padelek ass: J. Ferrara
38.48 McEwen ass: Stepanek/R. Ferrara
42.24 McEwen (PP) ass: Stepenak
46.10 Susters ass: Stepanek/McEwen
36.10 Chong unassisted
PHANTOMS - Ales Padelek
RAIDERS - Michael Gray