Phantoms deserve their rest after a hectic 16-day spell

Jarvis Hunt knocks MK Thunder's Hallden Barnes-Garner off his feet.
Jarvis Hunt knocks MK Thunder's Hallden Barnes-Garner off his feet.
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Head coach Slava Koulikov admitted Phantoms have exceeded his expectations during a terrific season.

The city team lifted the NIHL Autumn Cup last Friday night and then stretched their lead at the NIHL Division One South summit to three points over the weekend.

Koulikov viewed a 4-3 defeat at Basingstoke last Saturday – where his side were pipped on penalties after earlier holding a three-goal advantage – as a valuable point gained.

It was just a third league loss of the campaign and only one of those – in a November home clash against Swindon – has arrived in regulation time.

But Phantoms responded well to complete a hectic recent schedule with a 3-0 home triumph against Milton Keynes Thunder the following evening. That triumph came complete with a shut-out for netminder Jordan Marr on a night when closest challengers Swindon lost to Raiders.

Koulikov said: “We’ve come through eight games in 16 days and the guys have battled hard every time they hit the ice.

“We knew MK would make it tough for us, but Jordan stood tall again to ensure we got another important result. He has been fantastic since the first time he pulled on a Phantoms jersey and he deserved his shut-out.

“There was no disappointment whatsoever on Saturday night in Basingstoke either even though we couldn’t quite hold on to our lead.

“We came through three games in three days with a trophy and 75 per-cent of the league points. If someone had put that on the table for me last week I would have accepted it straight away.

“It is always a bonus when the teams chasing us are beaten, but our focus is always on our own performances and ensuring we do the right things to win the games we’re involved in.

“It is a huge achievement to be sitting on top of the league and to already have a trophy in the bag. I thought I could only dream of being in a position like this, but the guys have made it a reality.”

Phantoms are now without a game until next weekend when they face two other teams chasing title success. Koulikov takes his men to closest challengers Swindon on Saturday, December 29 before hosting Basingstoke at Planet Ice on Sunday, December 30.

Phantoms could well find themselves knocked off the top by then with Swindon and Basingstoke both playing three times while the city side enjoy a well-earned rest.

Koulikov added: “That is definitely not going to be an easy weekend, but we want to be involved in big games and we’ll go into them with positivity thanks to what we have already achieved.

“Our aim is to win the six-game series against every other team. If we do that we will be in a good position at the end of the season.

“Right now we need a rest and the break has definitely come at a good time. Everyone has been told to stay away from the rink and switch off from hockey this week.

“We’ll get back on the ice on Boxing Day for our normal practice schedule to prepare for the games that weekend.”