With Basingstoke having a double away weekend next weekend and Guildford also not having a home game, and my Jets fans on Tour buddy being away on holiday next weekend too, we decided to take in a second game this weekend and added Flames vs Phantoms to the Bison vs Phoenix game we had seen the night before.
A Sunday date with the M25 is always a gamble but thankfully other than a small pocket of congestion around the M3 junction the journey was a smooth one and we arrived in time to see the teams take the ice for the line ups.
With the Phantoms riding high in the league table I was expecting a close game, probably a single goal win for the visitors although my difficulty in predicting was that I hadn’t as yet seen the Phantoms in action.
The one thing I was particularly intrigued to see was the Phantoms goaltender. In a four import league using one of those slots on a goalie is always a gamble and they have to be stand out. At Slough last year, after a shaky start, Kamil Jarina proved himself to be the best netminder in the league until his bicep injury ended his season but he was worthy of his slot. Janis Auzins gained infamy in the opening clash against Basingstoke Bison but my interest was in his netminding capabilities rather than his penalty attracting abilities.
The game got underway with Roman Szucs taking charge and you couldn’t split the two teams. Auzins got the start for the visitors with Gregg Rockman starting in the Flames net. Both netminders made good saves but Luke Ferrara scored a powerplay goal at 10.22 to get the scoring underway and give the visitors a lead. Special teams also counted for the second goal as the Flames tried, tested and proven powerplay, levelled the game with Duggan feeding Longstaff who’s inch perfect feed to Kohut just needed the Flames import to do the finishing touch and bulge the netting behind Auzins.
Where the first period had been pretty level the second period saw the home team edge ahead. They were quicker to the pucks, their passing was sharper and the Phantoms looked to be tiring after what had been a tough test the previous night against the Telford Tigers. Goals from Markus Kirstofferson and Danny Meyers at 25.00 and 35.45 ensured the Flames took the second interval with a 3-1 margin.
The third period saw both teams carry on where they had left off at the 40 minute buzzer. The Phantoms gave their all but just didn’t seem to have full tanks to give from while the Flames enjoyed their lead and the capitalised on it. Jozef Kohut ended his game early with a 2+10 check to the head call at 49.40 but despite his absence the Flames continued to press on. David Savage scored a powerplay goal at 52.33 and 49 seconds later Matt Towe made it 5-1. Some big saves from Gregg Rockman ensured that was the final score as the Phantoms spent the final minute or so of the game at their own end of the ice.
On Twitter many of the Phantoms fans told me they believed their team had given their all 24 hours previously and therefore were drained ahead of the Sunday game. In person many of the Flames fans I spoke to said how much better that performance had been than the previous week’s loss to the Tigers.
Gregg Rockman is a goalie who I had seen for many seasons start in goal for the Jets. A netminder who is more than capable of winning games single handed but who had had a few off games in the last season. Now back in a regular starting role, back in his familiar number, Rocky is proving Dixon right in signing him last season. Many of the Flames fans questioned the signing but Mark Lee had run out of steam and if you are a contending team then you need a contending netminder. Rocky gives them that. Last night he wasn’t perfect, the metal work saved him on one occasion but he was very good. His save percentage was above 95%, some of those saves were easy but some were great saves, close in sniper shots that he had to work hard to save.
I said last season that I thought the Flames team would be due an overhaul soon, I believed it would have been the summer just gone. The senior players are senior in age, not just experience and responsibility. Paul Dixon is 41, David Longstaff is 40, Jozef Kohut is 39. Branislav Kvetan is 37 and that’s a lot of big players advancing in years. All can still do their jobs on the ice, and it’s important to say that those years of experience are invaluable but what that does mean is that the Flames will lose a great deal in a relatively short time when these players call time on their careers. Theirs will be big skates to fill when the time comes and their departures will certainly put the Flames into a transition phase.
The Telford Tigers have thrown their names in the ring this season as contenders, the Basingstoke Bison have been contending for a while now, the Manchester Phoenix may or may not pull round their average start so the Flames will have big competition if they are to win silverware this season.