Saturday’s destination was the newly refurbished Planet Ice, Milton Keynes where the Lightning would take on the Phantoms.
The journey passed smoothly, memory from my time working there got Ben and I navigated to the arena easily and by fortune a car left a space not more than a 100 yard walk from the entrance so we got parked easily too.
From the outside of the Leisure Plaza it’s easy to be impressed. What was an old area is now fresh, clearly still under development but the bits that were done are impressive. Making our way to the entrance, which is now at the opposite corner of the rink from the previous incarnation you could see into a bright, airy and clean looking foyer. We were met by Vito Rausa, the Lightning GM, who gave us a tour of the new facility, showing us the cafe, the bar and the VIP hospitality area.
Climbing the staircase to the bar area leads into a bright bar, filled with atmosphere even though it’s still 45 minutes ahead of face-off. It’s our first view of the rink too through the bar windows and again you can’t fail to appreciate the improvements made. The old rink was functional, the new rink is functional, fresh and very presentable. It’s something for the team, Planet Ice and the community to be proud of and after a year and a bit on the road something for the Lightning to call home and to rebuild from after their time in Coventry.
After having a view of the rink from the bar we returned downstairs and bought a couple of soft drinks from the cafe area and then made our way into the rink. Rink side you are well aware of how bright, light, airy, fresh and clean the new facility is. By now, warm up is coming to a close and it’s not far ahead of face-off and the teams are off the ice following warm up.
The Phantoms took to the ice first, playing a road game in their home kit to allow the Lightning to wear their away coloured charity shirts. Following the Phantoms introduction to the supporters the lights dimmed and we waited the home team to skate out. The lights then swung into action and the home team took to the ice welcomed on by their fans.
With formalities done it was time to drop the puck and get the game underway. Dan Boardman was the man given the arm bands to take charge of this derby “Ashes” clash.
At 6.00 the game’s first powerplay was converted into the game’s first goal as Edgars Apellis beat Jordan Hedley who had started in net for the Phantoms. The shot came through a screen but the screen was high, the visiting fans celebrated and it was 0-1. 3.40 Marc Levers made it 0-2 as Hedley found himself out of position on the shot. With Levers coming up the right wing Hedley had originally committed to his left post but then moved to the right, anticipating a pass that didn’t come, and Levers slotted into the open left portion of the net. Goal 3 came at 13.06 from Luke Ferrara who’s shot beat Hedley for speed, and at this point Nick Poole called the home team time out.
With Stephen Wall on the bench and available to play I had expected the time out was to steady the team and swap goalies but Hedley continued in net. The remaining 6.54 of period 1 was completed scoreless.
At the other end of the arena Phantoms had started their import netminder Janis Auzins. He’s a marmite character it seems, you either like him or hate him. Slava Koulikov had brought in an import goalie in his second season at Slough and made Kamil Jarina’s presence in the net work for the Jets. This season he was in a more enviable position having been able to sign the team he wanted in the summer the Phantoms of 14/15 were built around the import nettie, rather than built without an overseas goalie then slotted in.
Auzins was finally beaten by Milan Kostourek at 32.40, a powerplay goal for 1-3 and to keep the game alive. At the end of the second period, with the score standing 1-3 I called an OT finish to the game which almost turned out to be true.
Period 3 saw the Phantoms defending a well choreographed attack from the Lightning. Kostourek scored his second at 50.06 and at 52.24 Stanislav Lascek finished from Blaz Emersic and it was 3-3 with 7.36 left to play. Slava Koulikov took the Phantoms time-out and the game got back underway.
The remainder of the game was played on a knife edge, both teams created and weathered periods of pressure. Auzins made some great saves and was saved by his pipe work as well. Lightning worked well together going forward, Phantoms broke quickly on the transitional play and both goalies were tested hard. With my prediction of overtime looking to come true James Ferrara pulled out the game winning goal with 28 seconds left in the game.
While the Phantoms celebrated the goal and the officials confirmed the details with the scorer the Lightning gathered in front of the bench to discuss the final 28 seconds of the game. The goaltender was pulled and 6 on 5 was the order of play. The Phantoms weathered the storm and took the points in what had been a tense and exciting clash.
With the game complete presentations were made to the respective MoMs with Auzins getting the award for the Phantoms and Milan Kostourek the home team award. There was also a presentation to Adam Carr in recognition of his 500th EPL game.
After the game, and in fact during, I wondered why Stephen Wall hadn’t been given the start. It’s a question I’d also pondered a couple of weeks ago when the Lightning played in Basingstoke. At Guildford when the Phantoms had played there the Flames had started Hadfield and opened a 3-0 lead before the Phantoms came back to 3-3. At that point in time Paul Dixon swapped Hadfield for Rockman and the more experienced man closed out the game allowing the Flames their win. Here the Phantoms had opened the lead but the Lightning had pulled back to level. Was there an opportunity or a need to swap to the more experienced goalie at any point during the game?
Taking nothing away from the home team, they had had a poor start to the game but they played a good game after the first 15 minutes to get themselves right back into contention. Sometimes you can get away with a poor passage of play and still get the result but on the night it wasn’t to be.
With their win the Phantoms had overtaken the Bison into second place in the league. Bison in third have four games in hand on the Phantoms and the Tigers in the lead have three games in hand but never the less the Phantoms will play at Telford on Sunday in a 1 vs 2 clash which had traditionally been a bottom of the table clash. Telford have enjoyed the much published cash injection from their new owner which has turned around their fortunes but for the Phantoms their change has come in the form of a new Head Coach rather than a budget boost. Given the opportunity to coach Slava Koulikov is proving himself a good coach, a good tactician and a successful coach. He has turned around a lower table club into a club looking to finish at the higher end of the table.
With only four fixtures in the league on Sunday the Lightning travel to Manchester to take on the Phoenix and the Phantoms play their second road game of the weekend with a trip to Telford.