Sunday night’s road trip had only one possible destination as the Guildford Flames were the only local team at home. Their opponents were Slava Koulikov’s Peterborough Phantoms who were on Spectrum ice for the second time in the season.
After journeying through Windsor, Staines and Chertsey to join up with the final section of the M25 Ben and I arrived in good time for the face-off. We saw an impeccably observed minute’s silence for Remembrance Sunday but then rather than taking our position for the face-off we headed to Wimpy for a burger. The week before I had missed the first 1.50 of the game due to the traffic but this week through choice I missed the start of the game.
Guildford had opted to start Rocky’s number two in goal while Janis Auzins tended the Phantoms net against James Hadfield. The first period saw both teams share 18 shots equally and both netminders make 9 saves. Both netminders found the saves they had to make relatively easy as neither team fully found their straps in the first period.
8.33 passed in period two before the Spectrum speakers rung out with the sounds of the NYR Goal celebration as Owen Fussey scored the first goal of the game. The first goal came at even strength, a good play, well drilled and well finished for 1-0 and a single goal splitting two fairly evenly matched teams.
Match referee Jonathan Liptrott then changed the momentum of the game with a penalty called against the Phantoms netminder. I know from reading forums and social media that the Phantoms netminder splits opinion. He’s a marmite character, he’s loved or hated but so far in the second period he had done his team proud. He had made a particularly good double save in the 26th minute of the game, denying two close in chances and showing very good reactions. By now however Guildford had broken through and were one ahead when the Phantoms netminder made another fantastic save.
A breakaway Flames player was attempting a close in shot and striving for reach to beat Auzins but the netminder made a fantastic save. The striving player, already off balance, went down. From my view on the goal line, no call to be made, the netminder clearly attempted the save, the player completed his downward movement. Penalty call made of tripping on the Phantoms netminder and David Longstaff converts the resulting powerplay at 32.04.
At 32.32 McKinney makes it 3-0 and the Phantoms take what must have been a tactical time-out. 28 seconds ago there had barely been anything in between the teams but the tripping call at 31.22 and resulting powerplay had swung the whole balance of the game. Slava took his time-out probably to take momentum out from the Flames, to have a break and re-group.
The tactical decision worked, the huge momentum swing resulting from the netminder penalty had ceased and the contest was back at even keel. At 35.44 Phantoms opened their scoring through Apelis and at 37.51 Alan Lack made it 3-2, the first goal’s scorer being the assistant on the second.
The second period ended 3-2 and the Phantoms now had taken the momentum.
The start to the third period was crucial. Flames had the goal lead on the board, Phantoms the momentum and the game was anybody’s for the taking.
Darius Pliskauskas netted the third and equalising goal at 45.14, a scorcher from still one of the most talented forwards in the league. His goal showed why he is one of the most respected non EIHA trained players playing in the league and he had put his team level.
Hadfield, having just conceded a goal was setting about recomposing himself for play to recommence when Gregg Rockman stepped onto the ice. The Flames first choice goaltender headed for the net and the second choice headed to the bench.
In the long term without doubt that will hurt Hadfield. He had saved 15 of 18 shots but he was hauled in favour of the more experienced Rockman. Would the netminder swap have happened had it been the other way round?
Rockman came into a tied game with 14.46 left to play, cold. It had been some time since warm-up, he only managed a few stretches before the puck dropped but on his side a wealth of experience and the much greater skill level of the two goalies. It was a gamble but tactically it was the right decision. Had the game gone to overtime or penalty shots, which at that point in time was still possible, then Rockman would have been the man the Flames would have wanted backstopping them.
As it was his 6 saves ensured the game didn’t go that far as while Rockman did the business in front of the home net with little fuss Danny Meyers did the business at the other end with 7.19 left in the game for 4-3. The Flames grew in confidence as often a team reacts to a netminder change. With no time-out left to take the decision to pull Auzins at the other end had to come on the fly.
With the last minute coming on the clock Auzins made two or three moves towards his bench only to have to turn back again as the Flames had broken the Phantoms forward moves. Eventually with Phantoms in control and moving forward the extra skater replaced the goalie but the gamble failed and Kristofferson and Huppe advanced and combined for an empty net goal and 5-3 and another blast of the NYR Goal music.
The Flames completed their win, the Phantoms for the second time at the Spectrum left without any points. I’m sure Phantoms fans rued the middle period tripping call on their netminder that changed a 1-0 game into a 3-0 game.