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Manchester Phoenix face back-to-back away games this weekend as they continue their pursuit of English Premier League leaders Basingstoke Bison.
The team are without veteran player-coach Tony Hand, who is in Latvia in his capacity as Great Britain coach. Despite some brave performances, defeats against the hosts and France have ended Team GB's hopes of qualifying for the 2014 Winter Olympics, so the boys back home will no doubt be looking to cheer up the boss with some important league wins.
The weekend starts with a trip to Surrey on Saturday night to take on second place Guildford Flames. Phoenix have won all three league encounters with the league champions so far this season but ended up on the wrong side of a 6-4 defeat in the EPL Cup semi-final first leg on 30 January.
Guildford are the EPL's top scorers with 167 goals and pose an offensive threat on all three forward lines through players like Jozef Kohut, Natham Rempel, Milos Melicherik, Ben Campbell, Stuart Potts and former Phoenix man Curtis Huppe.
But Phoenix are just seven goals behind them and with star man Michal Psurny in deadly form in recent weeks, will be confident of giving the Flames a run for their money – even without the playmaking skills of Hand.
Sunday sees Phoenix hit the road to Peterborough for a tricky tie with the Phantoms.
Head coach John Kynaston's side sit eighth out of ten teams in the EPL but are capable of beating anyone on their day – as Phoenix found out when the Phantoms snatched a 4-3 win at the Altrincham Ice Dome on 20 January.
Peterborough will also be feeling confident after bagging their first four-point weekend of the season with a 3-2 win over Milton Keynes Lightning last Saturday and a 5-3 decision over Sheffield Steeldogs.
Sniper Ondrej Lauko provides the Phantoms' main goal threat, while Tom Carlon and Maris Ziedins are dangerous playmakers and Calgary-born captain Jeff Glowa adds steel and skill. Great Britain U20s forward Luke Ferrara, one of three brothers at the club along with Robert and James, is also having an excellent season with 38 points in 37 games.
With Phoenix battling injuries and with their inspirational player-coach away, it promises to be a tough weekend – but the team will be focussed on hanging on to the coattails of the league leaders as the season enters the final straight.
By Andy Jowett