Manchester Phoenix coach Tony Hand ready for big weekend in EPL title chase
Manchester Phoenix face a tricky road trip to Swindon Wildcats before the Altrincham Ice Dome plays host to a top-of-the-table showdown with Basingstoke Bison on Sunday.
While the clash between the EPL's first and second place teams is arguably the biggest ice hockey game in the country this weekend, Manchester player-coach Tony Hand knows Phoenix can ill afford to look past the Wildcats – particularly after last Sunday's encounter between the two sides at the Ice Dome (pictured).
Phoenix looked to be on the way to a comfortable win after goals from Ondrej Pozivil, Michal Psurny, Ciaran Long and Tom Duggan had opened up a 4-0 lead midway through the second period. But Swindon stunned the home crowd with four unanswered goals – including a hat-trick from Czech forward Michal Kapicka – to tie the game. In the end, Phoenix captain Luke Boothroyd saved the day with a winner in overtime.
All the signs point to another enthralling contest on Saturday. Manchester may have won all three encounters between the two so far this season, but the Wildcats have been no walkovers, losing on penalties, in overtime and in a 5-4 squeaker back on 30 September.
Sunday's clash with Basingstoke also has all the hallmarks of a classic. It's first against second, with the free-scoring Phoenix taking on the meanest defence in the league and the Bison's star goalie Stevie Lyle.
It's also a match sees Manchester going for a tenth win in a row at home against the only team they have not beaten this season. Indeed, Basingstoke were the last team to come away with all the points from the Ice Dome with a 2-1 victory back on 16 September. The other encounter between the two in Basingstoke ended in a 3-1 win for Bison.
As if that wasn't enough intrigue for one match, Sunday's game will see Scottish teenager James Smith make his first appearance against the Phoenix. The 18-year-old arrived from Elite League side the Fife Flyers earlier this week to replace Jacob Corson-Heron, who will miss the rest of the season with a serious knee injury.
Looking forward to the action, Hand said: "We have two tough games again this weekend. Swindon showed us all last Sunday they are a team that does not give up. We played well down there last time out and we are looking forward to the game.
"As for Sunday, they don't come any bigger than first against second playing each other. Bison are a well balanced team and we will have to be at our best against them at the Dome.
"They have a mean defence but we are scoring goals and there is no reason why we cannot continue our fantastic home run with a win. We suffered last week with injuries to Stephen Fone and Ondrej Pozivil but they are both responding to treatment and hopefully we will have a full squad for the weekend games."
Tickets for Sunday's game are available from the Manchester Phoenix website.
By Andy Jowett