The Manchester Phoenix, the defending league champions were the first visitors of the official season to the Hangar to face the Slough Jets. Tony Hand’s team had seen a few changes over the summer with many new faces replacing some of the league winning Phoenix team members.
The Phoenix pre-season consisted of home and away matches against the Sheffield Steeldogs while the Jets played home and away against both Swindon and Bracknell to set themselves up for the new season.
Saturday night served as a tough reminder that even one bad shift in a 60 minute game can cost. The Phoenix opened with a shorthanded goal and quickly followed with a powerplay goal. I haven’t seen the footage from video or goal cam yet before I write this but from where I stand it definitely looked like there were bodies in the crease but the referee would have a much better view of the situation than me.
The first period ended up with the Phoenix holding a 4 goal unanswered lead and that’s a difficult obstacle to overcome in hockey. The easiest thing in the world to happen would have been for the Jets to drop their heads in the interval and for the Phoenix to steam roller them over the final 40 minutes but what happened was anything but.
The Jets came out with a heightened intensity in the second period and in no time had pulled back a goal. The second period dominance was switched and gave an indication of what is to come this season as the team becomes further gelled and accomplished. The second and third periods saw the home team treat their noisy fans to a great comeback and they pulled back to within a goal.
Last minute of the game and momentum was with the Jets so the logical thing to do was to pull the goalie and go all out with an extra attacker. Despite some great defending by the Jets after the turnover the open net was too wide a target to be missed and the game buried by the Phoenix with an empty net goal.
Was 3-5 a fair score? Probably not, 3-4 was probably the fairer score. I think the right team got the result on the night but that extra empty net goal at the end adds to the margin more than there actually was.
Are the Jets the finished article yet? Obviously not. The second and third period showed glimpses of what’s to come but to be the finished article we’ll need to see the third period display for all 60 minutes of the game. It’s early days yet, there’s a long way left to travel through the 2011/12 season and with so many new players and a new coach it was never going to be an easy start to the season.
On paper the Jets look a strong competitive side but we all know ice hockey isn’t played on paper and the key to success is translating the paper performance into on the ice. I’m confident having seen the third period played last night that there is plenty in the tank and the solid foundations that are being laid will be good to build on for the season.
For the first 20 minutes last night the Phoenix were clearly the better team. For the middle 20 minutes the teams competed level and for the final 20 minutes I believe the Jets were the better team, generating some good scoring chances and scoring under pressure.
Obviously I’d have been happier with the win last night but which set of fans will be happier long term? The set who left with two points after winning 1 period out of 3 or the set who may not have left with the points but won 2 out of the 3 periods and know that with just that little extra push they have at the very least a competitive team to cheer on this season and I’m sure more than competitive.