Play off weekend preview

Thursday, 4th April 2013

J Davidson sponsored Manchester Phoenix will be making their 4th trip in 4 years to the play off finals in Coventry this coming weekend after a resounding 7-2 ( 10-6 aggregate) win over the Bracknell Bees.

The Phoenix nemesis this season, Basingstoke Bison, await them in the evening game on Saturday at the Coventry Sky Dome.

Doug Sheppard’s troops have had the upper hand over Phoenix this season, winning 5 of the 6 regular season games. However, the play offs are a different kettle of fish. Basingstoke struggled to get past free scoring Swindon Wildcats and their end of season form was certainly not that of the early part of the year. They managed to steady the ship to end up 2nd to champions Guildford Flames.

Like Phoenix, Bison have not been without their injury problems this season. Key defender Kurt Reynolds has been a long term casualty with a broken leg although murmurings coming out of the Bison camp seem to hint he may play a part in the weekend. Jacob Corson-Heron has also been missing since November with a knee injury.

Player coach Doug Sheppard, who has re-signed for next season, tinkered with the squad, releasing giant defender Tomas Fojtik and bringing in Jaroslav Cesky to bolster their attack in October and grabbed Nicky Watt from Swindon in January.

Phoenix had the luxury of a full squad for their quarter final victory over Bracknell and, on their game, will be out to redress the negative balance against Bison this season. They are certainly capable as their 6-2 win in the final league meeting between the sides showed.

The game on Saturday could go either way and could be full of goals or a tight defensive tussle. Basingstoke play a patient game and hit hard on the break, with top net minder Stevie Lyle expected to keep the puck out at one end and forwards Joe Miller, Greg Chambers and Doug Sheppard doing the damage at the other end. Stevie Lyle may well be the key to the result. He has had an outstanding season and was certainly the difference between the sides in their meetings so far.

Phoenix are hitting form at the right time and 10 goals last weekend would indicate they have the scoring touch to trouble the Hampshire side. 43 goal marksman Michal Psurny said at the end of season awards that we had the play offs to win and his goalscoring will certainly head them in the right direction. Phoenix have been getting goals on all three lines this season and their balanced side have a great chance to make the final for the second successive season. The defence will need to be tight and a lot may depend on the outcome of an appeal against Ondrej Pozivil’s match penalty last weekend.

Coach Hand commented on the weekend: “Play off weekend is something special and we all strive to get there. Basingstoke are a good team with a good coach in Doug Sheppard and we will have to be on top form to go through to Sunday. We are ready. I thought we played some of our best hockey of the season last weekend and we will carry that forward to Coventry. The atmosphere will be fantastic with the event being sold out.”

MD Neil Morris said: “Just to be at Coventry is amazing after the trials and tribulations we have gone through this season. One more push required this weekend to realise a dream. Me, Tony and the boys will be doing everything we can to bring the trophy back up the M6.”

Face off will be 7pm and over 500 Phoenix fans will have a long Saturday wait to cheer their favourites in the semi final.

First up is a meeting between defending league champions, Guildford Flames, and Milton Keynes Lightning. Guildford have the edge in the head to head, winning 4 of the six games but Lightning are a tough play off side and this game looks too close to call.

Flames have been free scoring this season with ex Phoenix striker Curtis Huppe scoring 50 goals. Veteran David Longstaff has hit 34 and Jozef Kohut 21, making the Surrey outfit the league’s top scorers. Lightning, on the other hand, have not scored as many goals but have the meanest defence in the league. One to watch on their side is Czech forward Kamil Tvrdek who has hit 50 points in his 37 games this season.

Everything points to an exciting weekend of hockey in Coventry. Phoenix have the largest support of all the teams and they will be in fine voice to cheer the lads on to play off success.