Phoenix edge Giants in a barnburning first leg

Sunday, 8th March 2009

Manchester Phoenix 4 - 3 Belfast Giants

Manchester Phoenix will take a precious one-goal lead into the second leg of the Challenge Cup final on March 17th after a quite superb first leg game in Altrincham on Sunday night.

Giants GM Todd Kelman speaking after the game admitted, "What a great game, a fantastic atmosphere, there can't be one supporter of either team who went away from here tonight not feeling they got their moneys worth of entertainment. If that's not one of the games of the season, I don't know what is."
Phoenix player coach Tony Hand commented, "The guys worked their socks off tonight, the effort was phenomenal considering the number of games we've played recently. Even when we led 4-0, we knew that the Giants had the capability to strike back, they are arguably the most offensive team in the league and we made them work for their chances."

Right from the first face-off, Sunday's game was played at a frenetic pace with the Giants laying an early siege to the Phoenix goal. The home defended resolutely and hit back in perfect fashion taking the lead in the seventh minute as Luke Fulghum scored from close range on their first powerplay opportunity. With both side committing to all-out attacking, the game swung from end to end at breakneck pace with both goalies seeing plenty of action in a tight first period.

The second period began in similar fashion to the first, with both sides throwing everything into attack, the clear intent from both clubs being to win the game. Phoenix fans were on their feet again in the 25th minute as Tony Hand fed Bruce Mulherin for the second goal, and less than ninety seconds later, the roof nearly came off the Ice Dome as Brett Clouthier laid a big hit on the boards and then got quickly to the net to backhand home the Phoenix third goal. And six minutes later, a classic flowing move saw Kenton Smith find Tony Hand and his almost telepathic understanding with David-Alexandre Beauregard saw the Montreal native make it a 4-0 score to send the home supporters into near delirium. Belfast used their timeout to steady the ship and the ploy worked as captain and former Phoenix star George Awada cut the lead to three in the 33rd minute.

Phoenix had used a tremendous amount of energy in the opening two periods, but with the partisan crowd cheering them on, they kept the Giants from scoring again until the 46th minute when Colin Shields netted on a delayed penalty against the Phoenix. A so far tremendous game was now bordering on epic as both sides upped their effort with even more strong physical play and still more attacking play. Both goalies were riding their luck as well as making superb saves and both sets of defencemen were working overtime. Belfast gave their travelling supporters reason to cheer loudly with just over five minutes to play as Evan Cheverie cut the home advantage to just one goal. The home raised their voices again in support of the Phoenix team and the players responded by seeing out the closing moments to record a morale-boosting victory and a one-goal lead to take to Belfast for the second leg.

Phoenix forward Lucas Burnett remarked, "Our supporters were unbelievable tonight, the noise in here was awesome. They really lifted us when we needed it, it was like having another guy out there."
Tony Hand closed saying, "We've got a lead to take to Belfast and that is an important boost for us. The pressure is now on the Giants for the second leg in Dundonald. It's a small building with a limited capacity and we know we'll have well over a hundred Phoenix fans there to get behind us again."

Phoenix travel to Belfast for the second leg of the Challenge Cup Final on Tuesday March 17th. The game will be played at the Dundonald Ice Bowl with face-off at 7.30pm.

Kyle Bruce

Kyle Bruce was Phoenix Man of the Match

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