Brave Phoenix fall short in Knockout Cup

Thursday, 26th March 2009

Belfast Giants 4 - 2 Manchester Phoenix

Giants win 7 - 5 on aggregate

A tremendous effort from the Manchester Phoenix in their second Cup Final of the season went unrewarded as the Belfast Giants lifted the Knockout Cup trophy courtesy of winning the third period of a keenly contested game.

Phoenix endured a long bus ride to Stranraer before the two-hour ferry crossing practically to the doorsteps of the Odyssey Arena for the second leg of the Knockout Cup Final. Amazingly and despite having Alex Dunn missing from the line-up, the Phoenix didn't let the travel hamper them in the first period as they took the game to the Giants from the first face-off to give their travelling army of fans the best of starts by taking the lead in the fifth minute. Lucas Burnett and Luke Fulghum combined to carve out the opening for David-Alexandre Beauregard to beat Stevie Lyle to give the Phoenix the early advantage. Both sides had powerplay opportunities in the first session with neither capitalising on their respective man advantages. Phoenix were playing controlled hockey while the Giants, with home ice advantage, looked nervous and despite dominating the shots on goal count, it was they who welcomed the first break despite trailing to the only goal of the period.

Phoenix went two men short early in the second period as Bruce Mulherin and Beauregard were penalised for High Sticks and Tripping respectively. On the 5-on-3 powerplay, the Giants camped in the Phoenix zone and whilst the Mulherin penalty was killed, they couldn't prevent the Giants from drawing level in the 25th minute as Colin Shields found George Awada and he squeezed the puck past Stephen Murphy from a tight angle on the left wing. After that, it was the Phoenix turn to dominate the play as they laid siege to the Giants goal and the home side rode their luck to keep the game tied. Giants were unlucky to see a shot beat Murphy and come back off the goalframe, but as the hooter sounded at forty minutes, the destiny of the cup came down to one final period.

The home side got off to the perfect albeit slightly lucky start to the third period as a shot from Andrew Martins hit the post before rebounding into the net off the back of Stephen Murphy with only 45 seconds gone. Phoenix didn't panic and after both sides had failed on powerplay chances, they drew level in the 48th minute as a great pass from Luke Fulghum found Josh Garbutt breaking into space and he arrowed his shot past Lyle. Martins then missed a great chance for the Giants as they again picked up the pace and they re-took the lead with just over ten minutes to play as Howells released David Phillips and he gained the zone before firing a wrist shot past Murphy. The Giants sealed their victory and second cup final win over the Phoenix in ten days as MacMillan opened the door before feeding Paul Deniset in the 52nd minute to give the home side a two-goal spread. Try as they could, Phoenix were unable to find another way past Stevie Lyle even when awarded a late powerplay as their brave effort came up just short.

Phoenix player coach Tony Hand commented, "I'm immensely proud of the effort my guys put in here tonight. We've made it to two cup finals and both of them have been very close affairs - against a very strong Belfast squad. We've played so many games recently, and then missing Alex tonight, we just ran out of gas when we needed it. But now we've got to try and put this disappointment behind us, there's not a lot of time anyway for us to dwell on it, as we go to Nottingham on Saturday. We've battled hard all season long and we'll give it our all to try and get to the Finals Weekend - the players, the fans and everyone behind the scenes at the club deserve it."

Phoenix are in Elite League Playoff action over the weekend. They travel to the Nottingham panthers on Saturday night for a 7.00pm face-off in the National ice Centre, before the Panthers come to Altrincham on Sunday in the return leg with a 5.30pm face-off time.