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Manchester Phoenix beat Milton Keynes Lightning before sweeping aside Slough Jets with a club-record score of 12-2 to extend their hot streak to eight games at the weekend.
Phoenix travelled to the Lightning’s temporary home at the Coventry Skydome expecting a tough test against a Milton Keynes side that have already beaten reigning league and cup champions the Guildford Flames.
The visitors took the lead midway through the first period when Frantisek Bakrlik continued his outstanding start to the season with another goal, with the assist going to Czech compatriot Robin Kovar.
At the other end, Steve Fone pulled off a great save to deny the Lightning in a three-on-one break before Phoenix forward Michael Psurny set up assistant captain James Archer make it 2-0 on 28.40.
A 10-minute penalty for combative forward Richard Bentham could not slow Phoenix’s momentum and player-coach Hand notched the third when he picked up a pass from former Lightning player Jacob Corson-Heron and beat MK goalie Stephen Wall up high.
The hosts pulled one back almost straight away through Finnish forward Janne Jokila, but Phoenix held on comfortably to take two points back to Manchester.
Saturday’s result was overshadowed by the news that former Phoenix forward Scott Mackenzie had left the ice on a stretcher after a hit while playing for Telford Tigers against Peterborough Phantoms. The Scottish forward was taken to hospital with a suspected concussion but has thankfully returned home and looks to avoided serious injury. Everyone associated with the EPL wishes Scott a speedy recovery.
Sunday’s game against the Jets started with Phoenix facing a flurry of early penalties. But Manchester’s offensive juggernaut could not be stopped even when a man down and the hosts took the lead when former Jet Bakrlik collected Hand’s defence-splitting pass and rifled a shot beyond netminder Gregg Rockman. Michal Psurny added an unassisted on 11.50 to take a 2-0 lead into the break.
Phoenix pressed home their dominance in the second period as the Jets were blown away by seven goals. Hand tucked away a rebound from Luke Boothroyd’s shot before Bakrlik added his second of the night, with even goalie Fone getting on the scoresheet with an assist. Liam Chong finished Andy McKinney’s pass and Robin Kovar pounced on another rebound as Phoenix swarmed all over the Jets.
Ales Padalek brought brief respite for Slough with a goal on 35.46 but Phoenix hit back with three goals a little over three minutes through James Archer, a backhander from Psurny and a close-range effort from youngster Jack Watkins.
Phoenix rested Fone for the third period, with Jorge El-Hage again coming in between the pipes. Hand also retired from the fray to watch the final stanza from the bench.
The home side wrapped up a franchise record score when Archer slalomed through the shell-shocked Slough defence and slid the puck past Rockman, before Richard Bentham drove a shot home and Chong added his second with a short-hander. Michael Wales notched one for the Jets to provide a crumb of comfort.
With title rivals Guildford slipping to a 5-4 shootout defeat against Basingstoke Bison on Sunday, Hand’s side have opened up a two-point gap at the top of the EPL ahead of a huge double-header with the Flames.
But the wily veteran knows it is still early days and will be keeping his players feet on the ground.
Phoenix’s man of the match from Sunday’s rout, James Archer, said: “We are just taking one game at a time and concentrating on improving things in training.
“Next weekend we have a tough test against Guildford Flames but we are playing with confidence and will give a good account of ourselves.”
Pic: Yolanda Amor-Allan
EPL results: Week 4
Saturday 5 October
Basingstoke Bison 2-3 Guildford Flames
Milton Keynes Lightning 1-3 Manchester Phoenix
Peterborough Phantoms 2-6 Telford Tigers
Slough Jets 8-4 Bracknell Bees
Swindon Wildcats 3-2 Sheffield Steeldogs
Sunday 6 October
Bracknell Bees 3-0 Sheffield Steeldogs
Guildford Flames 4-5 Basingstoke Bison
Manchester Phoenix 12-2 Slough Jets
Swindon Wildcats 3-4 Milton Keynes Lightning
Telford Tigers 5-1 Peterborough Phantoms