Manchester Phoenix’s English Premier League campaign got off to the perfect start at the weekend with a convincing 5-1 win over Telford Tigers – and an 11-2 mauling of bitter rivals the Sheffield Steeldogs.
Tony Hand’s side came roaring out of the blocks on their road trip to Telford, rattling in three goals in the first period courtesy of Michal Psurny on the power play, new signing Frantisek Barkrlik and Liam Chong.
Phoenix were cruising shortly after the break when another new boy, Czech forward Robin Kovar, added a fourth.
The new-look Tigers, who upset Phoenix on a couple of occasions last season, came back at the visitors and they got on the scoresheet midway through the period thanks to a power play goal from summer recruit Nathan Salem.
But it was little more than a consolation as Phoenix defenceman Joe Graham hit number five – and his first goal since rejoining the club from Peterborough.
Phoenix had successfully negotiated a potentially tricky road trip with ease and with two points in the bag, their attention turned to exacting revenge of the Sheffield Steeldogs for their defeat in the War of the Roses preseason challenge.
Sheffield came into Sunday’s game without captain Greg Wood and top defenceman Ben Morgan, and they suffered another major blow after less than seven minutes when starting goalie Dalibor Sedlar was forced off the ice with a groin strain.
In came 16-year-old backup Thomas Barkworth and he faced a hail of pucks as Phoenix piled on the pressure. There was nothing the teenager could do about the opening goal as powerhouse defender Robert Schnabel hit an unstoppable thunderbolt from the blueline.
Sheffield pulled an equaliser out of nowhere when Lubomir Korhon slalomed past two men and presented winger Matt Calvert with a tap-in.
Phoenix retook the lead on the power play with 4.30 on left on the clock when Hand slid a pass across the crease and Kovar tucked the puck under Barkworth from close range.
Manchester broke Sheffield’s resistance early in the second period with an avalanche of goals. New boy Jack Watkins started the rout with an impressive wraparound goal before Bakrlik poked home a rebound and captain Luke Boothroyd put home another perfect Hand pass on the power play.
Sheffield made it 5-2 with a neat passing move with 4.47 but it proved only a temporary relief as Hand set up Bakrlik before the Czech forward completed his hat-trick thanks to an assist from compatriot Psurny.
Phoenix took some mercy on the Steeldogs as Hand, who had already racked up four assists, sat out the final 20 minutes.
But by now, the home side’s players were queuing up to get on the scoresheet. Ben Wood whipped home a wrist shot, before Schnabel hit another howitzer and Andy McKinney got the goal his hard work deserved to make it double figures.
Sheffield were utterly demoralised and even agitator extraordinaire Andre Payette, who could normally start a fight in an empty rink, looked out of sorts when trying to provoke James Archer into dropping the gloves.
Phoenix wrapped up their demolition job when Boothroyd was given all the time in the world to pick his spot and the skipper duly hit the top corner to make it 11-2.
With four points in the bag and his team top of the table after two games, player-coach Hand could not ask for more from the opening weekend – but he will know that much tougher tests lie ahead.
Phoenix face Slough Jets in a double header next weekend, visiting the Hangar on Saturday night before the return game in Altrincham on Sunday (face-off 5.30pm).
Saturday 14 September
Basingstoke Bison 1-2 Swindon Wildcats
Bracknell Bees 4-7 Sheffield Steeldogs
Slough Jets 1-6 Guildford Flames
Telford Tigers 1-5 Manchester Phoenix
Sunday 15 September
Guildford Flames 5-3 Bracknell Bees
Manchester Phoenix 11-2 Sheffield Steeldogs
Swindon Wildcats 1-2 Slough Jets OT
Pic: Richard Amor-Allan