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Saturday, 11 April 2015
Ice Hockey: Phoenix produce comeback to make Coventry
MANCHESTER PHOENIX 4 – 5 BASINGSTOKE BISON
2nd leg: Basingstoke 2-4 Manchester
(Overall agg: 8-7 PHOENIX win)
Tony Hand’s Final skate out in Entrance at home
Manchester Phoenix qualified for their sixth successive playoff weekend, despite suffering a crushing blow in their hopes to advance to the EPL Playoffs weekend on Saturday after a 5-4 loss to the Basingstoke Bison. The following night saw Phoenix win 2-4 to take the tie to an overall win of 8-7, in a nail biting contest that went right down to the wire.
The first leg was played in Altrincham where Phoenix had never hosted the first leg of a play-off tie since swapping leagues back in the 2009/2010 Season. Manchester was hoping to make amends for their under achievement in the standings this year, where they finished in Sixth place.
The game was a replay of last year’s playoff final, with the Bison on that occasion running out the winners. Both teams didn’t give an inch at the start of this play-off tie, with the difference being in the approach by both sides. While Basingstoke’s game plan was heavy hitting and trying to force quick breaks, for Manchester it was a case of just playing the puck around hoping to capitalise when the chances came.
Michael Wales picked up the first penalty of the tie after tripping up Frankie Bakrlik in his own zone, sitting out for two minutes. Phoenix netted the opening goal of the game on the powerplay after Swedish defenseman Johan Burlin’s shot took a deflection to beat Dean Skinns in the Bison net at 4.19, assists going to Tony Hand and Robin Kovar.
Crowd watch on the 1st leg of the Quarter final.
Basingstoke replied over a minute later, when an in form Ciaran Long buried a shot from a Joe Greener pass to make it 1-1. At 8.40, Ben Wood restored the lead for the home side as he threw the puck on goal from a tight angle to put Phoenix in the lead at 2-1. Nicky Chinn then picked up a 2 plus 10, for a checking from behind penalty right in front of the Manchester bench.
Chinn’s penalty handed Phoenix another powerplay opportunity which they took full advantage of. Their third goal came from a poor clearance by a Bison defender from behind his own net with Tony Hand claiming it just inside the zone before passing to Frankie Bakrlik and his wrist shot beat Skinns to score at 10.39.
Ryan Watt then picked up a charging call after a late hit on Jared Dickinson. Steve Fone made some important saves in the period and kept the hosts two goals to the good. The second period saw Phoenix carrying on from where they left off after the opening period of play, with the home side stifling their opponent’s play and not allowing them many chances.
Basingstoke then netted at the halfway point through player coach Doug Sheppard, after Ciaran Long found himself with plenty of space after James Neil slipped behind his goals to give Long time to pick his coach out for a tap in at 30.51.
With the Bison pressuring the Phoenix back line, Phoenix conceded once again not long after. Aaron Connolly got away with a whack on Johan Burlin in the build up who stayed down for a few seconds, before getting back up on his feet and delivering a huge hit on Connolly on the boards. Burlin let his emotions get the better of him, as with that check he put himself out of position and left Joe Rand free and his quick release at the near post saw the Herd 3-3 in a short space of time.
Phoenix were imploding and saw them then go behind as a shot by Joe Baird was deflected away, Aaron Connolly then pushed it on goal and with the puck loose, with Joe Rand netting his second of the game with a poke home at 32.57. Tony Hand called a time out to re-group and regain some concentration back within the ranks. Manchester then tried to find a way back into the game as the change to the Basingstoke game plan was now working which put Phoenix in trouble.
With the visitors on top in the game, Phoenix netted an equaliser again the run of play. Robin Kovar scored the tying goal for 4-4 game at 35.57, after a long ice pass by Shaun Thompson. Kovar struck the puck so hard that the puck went through the netting. Bison players complained that the goal shouldn’t stand as it didn’t go in but despite the protests the goal stood.
With the contest swinging back and forth between the two sides, it certainly made for an interesting game to watch. With the game nicely poised all square after two periods of hockey, it would be a case of who blinks first being the side to miss out. Heading into the third period saw both sides trying to find the important next goal. Basingstoke looked the better side and had Steve Fone making not just big saves, but massive save to deny the Bison.
Eventually the defending play-off winners got the next big goal and saw a difference in emotions between the sides. Basingstoke battled against a tired Manchester team and when Joe Greener passed to Doug Sheppard, whose shot was saved by Fone, the rebound falling back to Sheppard who squared it to Ciaran Long open at the front of net to bury it for a 5-4 score. The Phoenix looked tired and out of steam with the Bison notching up a gear, while the hosts had Steve Fone to be thankful for as he made a string of huge saves to rob his opponents of any more goals to see the Phoenix trail by a goal heading into 2nd leg down south.
After the horn sounded Frankie Bakrlik and Declan Balmer got into a very heated discussion and a scrum developed between the two sides.
During the after match presentations, it was announced that the club would retire the number 9 shirt in honour of Tony Hand for his services to ice hockey and the Club.
Tony Hand takes one last applause from the ‘Faithful’
On Sunday Night in Basingstoke the 2nd leg was played and with Bison coming out victors over Phoenix on their last six successive games in Hampshire, it was always going to be a tough match. Manchester made a great start when Bobby Chamberlain netted thanks to a Jacob Corson-Heron assist at 7.41 to tie the overall score at 5-5 and 1-0 on the night. Returning to the Bison line-up for the playoffs, Tomas Karpov levelled the game at 1-1, before Joe Greener struck to make it 2-1 after the first.
The Czech combination of Robin Kovar and Frankie Bakrlik saw the latter making it 2-2 early on in the second period, with the visitors re-taking the lead five minutes later as Jacob Corson-Heron netted the third goal for Manchester, making the aggregate score 7-7. Robin Kovar then scored on the powerplay with Tomas Karpov in the penalty box putting them in the lead in the tie 8-7 and 4-2 on the night. Just before the end of the second stanza, Declan Balmer was kicked out for a tripping penalty on Bakrlik and saw the Bison man out of the game.
With a massive 20 minutes left to play for both sides, there was a difficult but superb rear-guard action at the back for the Phoenix as they held on heroically to book their place in the EPL Play-off finals in Coventry, to overcome the Bison in another enthralling set of games between the two and extend the career of Tony Hand MBE for at least one more game.