Manchester Phoenix bounced back from a shock 3-2 defeat on Saturday to pick up a 5-2 win over Milton Keynes Lightning last night as Ciaran Long and Derek Campbell made their last appearances for the club.
The weekend double-header against the Lightning started with Phoenix falling behind to a Lukas Zatopek goal despite outshooting Milton Keynes 17-5 in the first 20 minutes.
Manchester managed to turn things around with goals at the beginning and the end of the second stanza. Joachim Flaten levelled the score 16 seconds after the puck dropped with an assist from player-coach Tony Hand. Then with just 30 seconds left, Campbell chipped in his seventh goal since arriving on a short-term deal last month, assisted by Hand and captain Luke Boothroyd.
But the third period saw the Lightning strike with two goals in a remarkable six seconds to snatch the win.
Blaz Emersic managed to poke a loose puck past Phoenix goalie Steve Fone on 55.27. The Slovenian then turned provider to set up GB forward Leigh Jamieson for a quick-fire second to leave the Phoenix shocked.
With title rivals Guildford Flames and Basingstoke Bison both winning on Saturday night, Tony Hand’s men needed to regroup quickly for Sunday’s home game with the Lightning.
Before the face-off, Ciaran Long received a standing ovation when it was confirmed it would be his last game for the club after two eventful years at the Ice Dome. The Birmingham-born forward is moving to a job closer to home.
But as Long and Campbell headed for the exit, Phoenix fans received a boost as Liam Chong made his long-awaited home debut. The forward signed for the club in the summer but has been sidelined with a ligament injury.
When the action got underway, Phoenix were nearly shocked again Jamieson rang a shot off the post after just 18 seconds.
The scare sparked an immediate response from the home side and Manchester took the lead when James Archer deflected James Neil’s shot from the blue line past a stranded Alex Mettam.
After the two sides traded penalties for much of the first period, Phoenix made the man advantage pay with 3.35 to play when Luke Boothroyd arrived at the far post to tip home Michal Psurny’s cross-ice pass (pictured).
Milton Keynes posed a constant threat on the break and they caught Phoenix cold just over a minute later when Jamieson’s pass released Emersic, who pulled the puck around goalie Steve Fone and tucked it home.
Phoenix survived another fright with just five seconds remaining when Kamil Tvrdek knocked Luke Boothroyd’s loose pass out of the air, but he shot went wide when he probably should have punished the uncharacteristic mistake.
The Lightning pushed hard for an equaliser in the second period but some inspired play by Phoenix’s Ondrej Pozivil doubled the home side’s lead with 1.48 to go. With Manchester a man down after Derek Campbell was called for roughing, the Czech D-man picked up Tom Duggan’s pass, flew down the flank and fired a smart shot over Mettam’s shoulder.
But any degree of comfort for the hosts was wiped out 13 seconds into the final period. Phoenix surrendered possession in their own zone when a bad bounce bamboozled their D-men and Jamieson and Tvrdek combined to make it 3-2.
Once again, it fell to Tony Hand to steady the Phoenix ship. The veteran player-coach battled over the blue line a fired a vicious slap shot past Mettam to re-establish the two-goal lead 16.11 left on the clock.
Milton Keynes pulled their goalie as the game ended the final seconds in a desperate bid to get back into it but the gamble backfired when Joachim Flaten, whose parents had travelled from Norway to watch the game, shot into the empty net to seal a 5-2 win.
With Basingstoke Bison suffering a shock 4-3 loss at Sheffield Steeldogs and Guildford Flames winning 6-4 at Bracknell Bees, the weekend’s results leaves Phoenix in third place in the EPL, three points behind the Bison and four behind the table-topping Flames.
Manchester host the league leaders next Saturday in a game that could have a huge influence on the destination of the EPL title.
They then travel to bottom club Telford Tigers on Sunday.
Saturday 5 January
Basingstoke Bison 5-1 Telford Tigers
Guildford Flames 3-0 Peterborough Phantoms
Milton Keynes Lightning 3-2 Manchester Phoenix
Sheffield Steeldogs 3-5 Swindon Wildcats
Slough Jets 6-4 Bracknell Bees
Sunday 6 January
Bracknell Bees 4-6 Guildford Flames
Manchester Phoenix 5-2 Milton Keynes Lightning
Peterborough Phantoms 3-4 Slough Jets
Sheffield Steeldogs 4-3 Basingstoke Bison
Telford Tigers 4-8 Swindon Wildcats
By Andy Jowett
Pic: Räi Pekkänen