Guildford were without the injured Branislav Kvetan and the extra import to sit out was Curtis Huppe. Slough were missing Andrew Melachrino.
The game started with an absolute tragedy for the Flames when Mark Lee was seriously hurt after just 35 seconds. Darius Pliskauskas was traversing the crease to follow the puck and his and Lee’s skates appeared to tangle forcing Lee’s leg the opposite way to the rest of his body. Nasty injury and Lee was stretchered off and taken to hospital. James Hadfield took over in goal.
The next 8 minutes were a niggly affair and referee Nigel Boniface taking control with a series of minor penalties. The last of them had just finished when Jozef Kohut scored the opening goal of the weekend. Timed at 8.53, assists went to Greg Chambers and Milos Melicharek. The large Guildford contingent was up on its feet on 12.53 when Jez Lundin scored an absolute screamer from the left point to give the league champions a 2-0 lead. Flames were well worth their 2-0 lead at the end of the first period.
The second period saw the Jets claw themselves back into the game as Guildford appeared to be sitting back on their lead. This is always a dangerous tactic against the Jets’ free scoring forwards and talisman Ryan Watt got them back into the game with a goal on 13.36, assisted by Darius Pliskauskas and Dan Davies. The period ended with a shot count of 12-12 and the Jets right back in the game.
General opinion was that the next goal was going to be a key factor in the result and it went to the resurgent Jets on 42.12 when Aaron Connolly found the net. The goal was assisted by Zach Sullivan and Mindy Kieras. Jets began to dominate the game as the Flames looked jaded and the winning goal came with 4.10 left on the clock. Ryan Watt scored his second of the day, assisted by Dan Davies to send the Jets through to Sunday’s final. Man of the Match awards went to James Hadfield for Flames and Ryan Watt of the Jets.
The long awaited clash between the bitter rivals separated by the Pennines took place on Saturday evening. A sell out Skydome, festooned in Phoenix colours behind one goal saw an absolute cracker of a match.
Steeldogs were without influential D man Pavel Gomeniuk and Phoenix iced a full squad . It took only 14 seconds for referee Roman Szuchs to call his first penalty as he sent Andre Payette and James Archer to the box on 2 minute minor slashing and roughing calls respectively. Ladislav Harabin went to the box on a holding call on 6.14 and just after the penalty ended, Sheffield took the lead. With Phoenix struggling to get Harabin back into position Lloyd Gibson scored, assisted by Janis Ozolins. Just over two minutes later, Phoenix were level as Stephen Wallace found the net, assisted by Ladislav Harabin and Tom Duggan. A possible deciding factor happened on 12.15 when Harabin received a high stick as he tussled for the puck against the boards. Janis Ozolins was initially called for the infringement but, after discussions, it was Ashley Calvert who received the match penalty and put Phoenix on a 5 minute powerplay. Manchester took full advantage of the powerplay with two goals. The first came from James Archer who took advantage of a pin point pass from Tony Hand. Tom Duggan was credited with the second assist, timed at 14.52. It was 3-1 to Phoenix three seconds before the end of the Dogs’ penalty as Martin Cingel hit a crisp shot past Ben Bowns with assists going to Slava Koulikov and Jaroslav Spelda. The period ended with Phoenix well on top, outshooting the Steeldogs 16-10.
Ladislav Harabin returned at the start of the second period which downgraded Calvert’s match penalty to a game therefore making him eligible for Sunday’s final should Sheffield progress. Edgars Berbris brought the Dogs right back into the game with his team’s second goal, on the powerplay assisted by Janis Ozolins and Luke Brittle. Phoenix however appeared to take a stranglehold on the game with a fourth goal at 33.25 with a Ciaran Long goal. Assists to this goal were given to Ben Wood and Josh Ward. The match boiled over at the end of the period with various arguments breaking out as the teams made their way to the locker room. A scrap between Ciaran Long and Andre Payette ended with both going to the box on a 2 plus 2 roughing penalty. Other minutes were awarded to Long, Cingel and Haywood.
Into the third period and Phoenix looked like they had booked their place in the final with a fifth goal. James Archer got his second of the night on 44.29 to make the score 5-2, assisted by Tony hand and Juraj Faith. The Steeldogs had other ideas and took full advantage of Phoenix appearing to take their feet off the gas. Three unanswered goals in five minutes sent the game into overtime. Firstly Andre Payette scored at 53.13 and was followed 23 seconds later by a Ben Morgan goal. The same player scored a superb goal with just 1.24 left in the game to send the Dogs’ fans delirious and the Phoenix fans into stunned silence.
Neither team were able to find a winner in overtime, mostly down to a fantastic save at either end of the ice by Stephen Fone and Ben Bowns.
Penalty shots and, predictably, Janis Ozolins scored the first shot to put the Dogs in front. Slava Koulikov missed, Greg Wood missed then Juraj Faith brought the scores level again. Both teams missed their third penalty shot (Andre Payette and Ciaran Long). Edgars Berbris failed to beat Stephen Fone and it was left to Stephen Wallace to win the game with his shot and send Phoenix and their delirious fans through to the final.
A great hockey game, played at 100mph and a fantastic advert for EPL hockey.
On to the final game on Sunday afternoon
Slough Jets 4 – Manchester Phoenix 1
Slough iced without Andrew Melachrino and Phoenix were without Jaroslav Spelda, who warmed up but was unable to play due to a hamstring injury.
The first 10 minutes were pretty even with both teams looking like they were afraid of making a mistake. The first action came on 13.07 with a poor check to the head by Adam Greener on Tony Hand which resulted in a 2+10 penalty for the Slough D man. Tony Hand himself was sent to the box on a hooking call at 14.24 and a minute later Jets had the lead. The lethal combination of Calder, Pliskauskas and Davies scored on the powerplay with Adam Calder receiving the congratulations. Slough doubled their lead, again on the powerplay, as Luke Boothroyd sat out a hooking call. Joe Greener broke into the offensive zone and found Dan Davies who played the puck on to Doug Sheppard to score a lovely goal. Phoenix battled away and pulled a goal back on 18.29 as Ciaran Long scored with an assist going to James Neil. End of the period 2-1 to Slough Jets.
Slough upped the pace in the second period and took the game to a visibly tired Phoenix team and made it 3-1 on 38.38 with a Darius Pliskauskas goal, assisted by Dan Davies. Nothing much else of note in the period and Slough went for the second cup of tea in good shape and 3-1 up.
Phoenix badly needed a second goal early in the third period but it was Slough that broke the hearts of 550 Phoenix fans with a killer fourth goal on 41.44. It was that man Pliskauskas again who hit the twine, assisted by Dan Davies, who had an assist on all four Slough goals. Phoenix battled gamely but Slough just sat on their lead, mopping up what little pressure Phoenix could muster and held on for the win and they became EPL Play-off Champions in their 25th anniversary year. Man of the Match awards went to Ciaran Long for Phoenix and Darius Pliskauskas for the Jets.
So, one game too many for a squad that has fought adversity all season due to the most horrendous injury list ever known by coach Hand. We can all be proud of our team’s efforts and their second place in the league and play off runners up spot. A fantastic effort by a determined group of players.