Manchester Phoenix renew their pursuit of the EPL title this weekend with a visit to second place Basingstoke Bison and a home game against the Peterborough Phantoms.
Tony Hand’s charges are looking to build on back-to-back 6-1 wins against league leaders Guildford Flames and bottom side Telford Tigers last weekend, which left them two points off top spot.
Phoenix will need another big performance on Saturday to get a first win of the season against the Bison, who have taken four victories from the four previous meetings between the clubs.
Manchester can call on the second hottest attack in the league, having lit the lamp 145 times in 35 games, but the Bison boast the EPL’s meanest defence, having conceded just 82. Basingstoke are backstopped by the league’s top goalie in Stevie Lyle, who looks set to remain with the Hampshire club despite rumours linking him with a move back to Cardiff Devils in the Elite League.
Phoenix will need to be on their toes defensively too, as Basingstoke’s Greg Chambers has notched 56 points so far this season, while Greg Owen has 50 and player-coach Doug Sheppard has 45.
The Bison have also bolstered their forward line with the signing of Nicky Watt from Swindon Wildcats. The 26-year-old, who came through the junior ranks in Basingstoke, will make his EPL debut for the Bison against Phoenix, linking up once more with Jaroslav Cesky, his line-mate for two seasons at Bracknell Bees and one in Swindon.
Looking ahead to Saturday’s clash, Hand said: “Tough games are coming thick and fast but we are ready for Bison. They have had the upper hand so far this season but we go to their place with confidence and looking for the points.”
Sunday will see Peterborough Phantoms visit the Ice Dome for the fourth meeting between the two sides this season. Those previous games have produced plenty of goals and drama, with Phoenix suffering a 5-4 shootout loss on Halloween before a rollercoaster 7-5 victory in November (pictured) and a 3-2 shootout win just before Christmas.
GB U20 forward Luke Ferrara, along with his brothers James and Robert, has been an integral figure for the Phantoms this season, producing 17 goals. Only import forward Ondrej Lauko has more with 23 in 35 games.
In defence, giant Slovakian defenceman Josef Sladok is sure to give Phoenix a rough ride, having clocked up 173 penalty minutes already this season.
A victory over Peterborough would give Phoenix their seventh home win on the bounce and keep them in the mix for the title as the business end of the season approaches.
Face-off on Sunday is 5.30pm. Tickets are available via the Manchester Phoenix website.
By Andy Jowett