Professional Phoenix blank ‘Rays

Thursday, 29th January 2009

Manchester Phoenix 4 – 0 Hull Stingrays

Manchester Phoenix turned in a professional performance on Thursday night to take a 4-0 lead from the first leg of their Knockout Cup tie against an injury-hit Hull Stingrays.

Phoenix player coach Tony Hand expressed his satisfaction at a job well done when he commented, “We knew Hull would come and try and make things difficult for us and they defended doggedly all night. What pleased me most of all was the guys sticking to the plan we discussed before the game, maintaining a high level of concentration throughout. I thought we were professional in both our approach and execution and in a two-legged tie like this, it was important that we take a lead into the second leg.”

Hull arrived in Altrincham missing four players through injury and were soon defending as Phoenix opened brightly, but netminder Curtis Cruickshank managed to keep the scoreboard blank until the 18th minute. With Troy Neumeier in the penalty box for the visitors, Phoenix kept the puck in the offensive zone and good work from Nathan Ward and Kyle Bruce ended with captain Kenton Smith lifting a short-range shot into the top corner to open the scoring.

The second period saw Hull trying hard to open up the game and they actually outshot their hosts, but found Phoenix netminder Stephen Murphy in a determined mood between the pipes. Incredibly, the two best chances of the period went to the Phoenix while shorthanded with Alex Dunn in the penalty box. First Bruce Mulherin broke the length of the ice only for Cruickshank to foil his low shot and seconds later, the Hull goalie raced off his line to poke check the puck away from Luke Fulghum as he tried to double the home advantage. Phoenix finally made it two-nil in the 36th minute as a sweet pass from Hand found Brett Clouthier on the edge of the goal crease and his neat re-direction of the puck gave Cruickshank no chance.

Heading into the third period, Phoenix looked to extend their lead and it was player coach Tony Hand himself who notched the third goal in the 46th minute mopping up a rebound off a David Beauregard shot. With Murphy in impregnable form in goal, Phoenix were able to keep his opposite number under pressure and the fourth and final goal of the evening came in the 57th minute as Ward and Bruce Mulherin put the Stingrays defence under the cosh and Kyle Bruce forced the puck home.

The second leg of the tie is a Valentines Day clash in Hull on Saturday February 14th and Bruce Mulherin added, “We did what we needed to do tonight in taking a lead from the game. In the second leg, they’ll have to try and open the game up and that should give us chances to hit them on the counter attack.”

Phoenix play back-to-back games with the Nottingham Panthers at the weekend, travelling to the East Midlands on Saturday for a 7.00pm face-off in the National Ice Centre before the return game on Sunday in Altrincham with the usual 5.30pm start time.

Stephen Murphy

Phoenix Man of the Match Stephen Murphy posted his second consecutive shutout, his third of the season

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