Manchester Phoenix aim to kick off 2013 with double Lightning strike
Manchester Phoenix will be looking to start the new year with back-to-back wins against Milton Keynes Lightning as they attempt to close a two-point gap at the top of the English Premier League.
Phoenix travel south on Saturday night before the Lightning come to Altrincham Ice Dome on Sunday.
Tony Hand's side are in good form, having won five out of six games during the busy festive period.
This weekend will nevertheless be a tough examination of their championship credentials as Milton Keynes are just one place behind Manchester in the standings and last week they defeated the then league leading Basingstoke Bison.
Phoenix also have some painful first-hand experience of the Lightning's offensive capabilities, having suffered an 8-2 shellacking at the Thunderdome early in the season.
However, Hand's charges have had the upper hand on the southerners since then, edging a penalty shootout at the Ice Dome in October before a 4-1 away victory in November and a 2-0 home win early in December.
Phoenix have also been given a boost with the news that Liam Chong could make his long-awaited debut this weekend.
The Chelmsford-born forward signed for the club in the summer but has been sidelined with a ligament injury ever since. After a lengthy rehabilitation, he is now in the frame to give Phoenix a timely offensive boost heading into the business end of the season.
Looking ahead to the weekend's action, Hand said: "It has been a very hard couple of weeks over the festive season but I am very pleased with what we have achieved. Apart from a disappointing evening in Sheffield, we have played some great hockey and got just reward for our efforts. Our injury problems seem to be receding and we are looking forward to another successful weekend.
"Milton Keynes always provide a tough test for us and this weekend will be no exception. I expect Nick [Poole] to have his team fired up and ready for us and we will need our A game to succeed."
Elsewhere, league leaders the Guildford Flames host Peterborough Phantoms on Saturday before a road trip to Bracknell Bees the following night. The Flames have won four on the bounce and currently top the EPL on goal difference from Basingstoke.
The Bison, meanwhile, are at home to bottom club the Telford Tigers and away to the struggling Sheffield Steeldogs this weekend.
By Andy Jowett