Phoenix overcome injury plight to beat the Giants

Sunday, 22nd March 2009

Manchester Phoenix 4 – 3 Belfast Giants
(after overtime)

In a game that doubled as the final home league game for the Phoenix and the first leg of the Knockout Cup Final, Manchester Phoenix overcame triple injury worries to snatch an overtime victory thanks to Nathan Ward’s crunching shot.

The overtime result however only counts in the Elite League with the 3-3 tie at sixty minutes the result in the first leg of the Knockout Cup Final.

Phoenix were dealt any early injury concern inside four minutes on Sunday evening as Alex Dunn suffered a back injury in front of his own goal whilst preventing a Giants raid on the home goal from giving the visitors the lead. After a delay, Dunn was helped off the ice and back to the locker room where he was to receive treatment from the club doctor and physiotherapist for over an hour before he emerged to watch the closing minutes of an enthralling game. Against the odds, Phoenix took a fifth minute lead as excellent work down the left flank by Kyle Bruce and captain Kenton Smith saw Lucas Burnett drill a shot through Stevie Lyle in the Giants goal. The Giants turned up the heat thereafter and they dominated the possession and the scoring chances. With referee Hanson awarding the visitors four first period powerplay, the re-shuffled phoenix defence with Nathan Ward dropping back to replace Dunn was working overtime and it wasn’t until the final minute of the period that Belfast got the equaliser their pressure had warranted, as Tyler Howells arrived in the slot to blast home a feed from George Awada with Ward in the penalty box.

If the early loss of Dunn wasn’t enough of a hardship for the Phoenix to contend with, they lost another defenceman, Luke Boothroyd midway through the second period following an unpunished high-sticking that resulted in the GB International leaving the game with a gaping wound in his chin. After examination by the club doctor, Boothroyd went to hospital for what was expected to be double figure stitches to close the wound. Depleted at the back, it came as no great surprise that Phoenix then fell behind as Bobby Robins fired home on a clean face-off win from Paul Deniset in the 33rd minute. The 35th minute saw Tyler Howells assessed a 2+2 penalty for Accidental High Sticks and Brett Clouthier retire to locker room for stitches in the resulting cut to his top lip. Phoenix made the most of the resulting powerplay as Luke Fulghum made the most of more good approach work, this time from Tony Hand and Kenton Smith to take the teams to the second break tied at two each.

Into the third period and with both sides wanting to establish a lead in the Knockout Cup final, incredibly it was the Phoenix who gained the lead again. Josh Garbutt and Bruce Mulherin worked the opening and Fulghum gleefully powered home his second of the game in the 45th minute. However entering the final ten minutes, Phoenix ran into penalty trouble as first Tony Hand was penalised for Delay of Game and then Kyle Bruce for Hooking. The second penalty proved crucial as the Giants drew level with Andrew Martin finding Colin Shields to score on the 55th minute powerplay. Tensions that had clearly tested at various points throughout the game came close to boiling over in the 58th minute as Brett Clouthier of the Phoenix and Bobby Robins of the Giants clashed, both receiving Roughing minors for their troubles before Giants David Phillips was given a ten-minute Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty with just four seconds to go in regulation time.

The clock ran down and the 3-3 scoreline was confirmed as the result for the Knockout Cup element of the game, while sudden death overtime ensued for the second point in the League element. And against all the odds, it was the home support celebrating as just over two minutes into overtime, netminder Stephen Murphy found Man of the Match Fulghum and he in turn found Nathan Ward raiding down the left hand side and he blasted an unstoppable shot past Stevie Lyle to end the Phoenix home league campaign on a victory.

Phoenix player coach Tony Hand remarked afterwards, “We knew it was going to be a battle, but to lose both Alex and Luke was something nobody could have bargained for. After that, the effort and belief that the rest of the guys showed was nothing short of incredible. Nobody gave the game up, nobody dropped their heads, everybody just dug deeper and deeper to keep us in contention. Naturally, we’d have liked to take a lead to Belfast on Thursday for the second leg of the Knockout Cup Final, but we know exactly what we’ve got to do. Hopefully, both Alex and Luke will be able to play and if we can show the same kind of desire and intensity we know we’ve got a great chance to bring home a cup.”

Phoenix travel to Belfast on Thursday for the second leg of the Knockout Cup final. The game will be played in the Odyssey Arena with face-off at 7.00pm.

Luke Fulghum

Luke Fulghum scored two goals to earn his Man of the Match Award for Phoenix

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