Cruikshank treble denies Phoenix

Friday, 16th January 2009

Sheffield Steelers 5 - 3 Manchester Phoenix

A tough Friday night assignment for the Phoenix saw them cross the Pennines to take on the league-leading Sheffield Steelers, but boosted by the return to the line-up of power forward Kyle Bruce, and a titanic struggle that was feisty throughout narrowly went the way of the home side courtesy of a hat-trick from Brad Cruikshank.

A quick start by the league-leaders saw them race into a two goal lead by the seventh minute courtesy of Robert Dowd in the third minute with a shot that Stephen Murphy would normally have saved and then Brad Cruikshank, on a powerplay, as he deked around the Phoenix goalie after a clearance pass had stayed in the defensive zone after hitting the referee. Phoenix weren't fazed by the earlier deficit and rebounded in some style in the eighth minute with David-Alexandre Beauregard sweeping home with a backhand shot assisted by Tony Hand. The visitors bench was pumped up and they began to exert more pressure on the home side and deservedly drew level in the 13th minute as Luke Fulghum and Beauregard combined for Tony Hand to score from a narrow angle on the left flank. Phoenix enjoyed some excellent possession and it was the Steelers who were happier to hear the hooter to end the first period.

Sheffield looked to re-establish dominance in the second period only for their cause to be hampered by the loss of Robert Dowd in the 25th minute with what appeared a nasty knee injury. The home side picked up the pace and Cruikshank fired them back in front with a low shot from the slot for his second of the game in the 27th minute. Sheffield killed a Slashing penalty on Dagenais before tempers frayed with Steelers Scott Basiuk and Phoenix Bruce Mulherin both picking up 5-minute major penalties for Fighting. Phoenix again tied the score this time with a superb shorthanded effort by Tony Hand, scoring his second of the game from another tight angle, this time from the right flank in the 38th minute with Alex Dunn serving an Interference minor.

Another bright start to the third period by both sides saw the game ebb and flow, before Sheffield caught Phoenix with a two-on-one break with Finnerty sweeping home the go-ahead goal in the 45th minute. Phoenix dug in and kept the home side on their toes before Cruikshank completed his personal treble in the 53rd minute capitalising on a failed clearance. The tetchiness that had threatened to boil over finally arrived in the 58th minute as Kyle Bruce was adjudged a Slashing penalty and he and Cruikshank dropped the gloves for a full-blooded scrap. Phoenix tried desperately to force a fourth goal, but the Steelers held firm and stretched their lead at the top if the league to seven points.

Phoenix captain Kenton Smith commented, "Our guys worked their socks off tonight and at times we dominated the Steelers. To be fair, they took their chances and we didn't and that was the difference between the teams. It was tough physical game and it was good for us to have Kyle back tonight as he help balance the team and he stood up to the challenge late on superbly."

Tony Hand

Tony Hand scored 2 goals and earned the Man Of The Match Award for the Phoenix.

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