Rookie netminder Sam James enjoyed a fairytale home debut as his man-of-the-match display helped Peterborough Phantoms to a comeback success last night (September 14).

The 19 year-old local lad – a member of the Peterborough system since the age of eight – made a string of fine saves as Slava Koulikov’s side stung the Sheffield Steeldogs 5-3 to grab a first win of the new English Premier League campaign.

James had received his first taste of second-tier hockey the previous night following import ace Janis Auzins’ ejection from a stormy defeat at reigning play-off champions Basingstoke.

Auzins’ subsequent suspension ensured a first full appearance quickly followed and James let no-one down as he back-stopped a success achieved thanks to a rousing recovery from 3-1 down.

“It has been an exciting opening weekend,” said player-coach Koulikov. “Two points are the very least we deserve from the two games we’ve been involved in.

“I can only praise the guys for the way they fought back from 3-1 down on our own ice against a good Sheffield team to get our first win.

“I certainly can’t fault young Sam’s performance either. He got a few minutes in Basingstoke on Saturday night and knew he had to be ready for a full game against Sheffield.

“He did very well and I’m sure he has a bright future in the game.”

James received top-notch protection from the Phantoms defensive corps with Tom Norton again oozing class and James Hutchinson continuing his return to his best.

Summer recruit Scott Robson also looked assured in his home debut until being forced out of the action by an ugly check from Steeldogs player-coach Andre Payette in the second period.

Incredibly it went unseen and unpunished, but Phantoms chief Koulikov was at pains to stress inexperienced referee Paul Brooks handled the game well.

Phantoms also lost the services of Marc Levers in the middle session as he picked up a five-plus-game penalty for slashing. Steeldogs man Lee Haywood collected a game penalty for spearing in the same incident.

Phantoms were staring down the barrel of an opening weekend blank at the point of those dismissals. They initially hit the front through Jason Buckman but then allowed the visitors to zoom into the driving seat in an often fractious game.

The lead was short-lived as Payette pounced on a powerplay to level before goals from Lloyd Gibson and Greg Wood gave the visitors a handy cushion early in the middle stanza.

But Phantoms transformed the game with a burst of three goals in little more than three-and-a-half minutes around the second break.

Norton stylishly halved their arrears before Edgars Bebris bagged a satisfying leveller against his old club 70 seconds later to send the sides back to the locker rooms on level terms.

And it didn’t stay that way for long as Milan Baranyk tipped in after fellow import Darius Pliskauskas had unlocked the Steeldogs defence 42 seconds after the restart.

Phantoms preserved their narrow advantage during a tense closing period, seeing out a late penalty kill before Sheffield pulled netminder Dalibor Sedlar with just under 90 seconds remaining.

It was a move which backfired spectacularly as the import stopper had not even had time to get comfortable on the bench before Luke Ferrara clinched Phantoms’ victory with an empty-netter for the second successive Sunday.

The previous weekend he had completed an Ashes rout of arch-rivals Milton Keynes, last night he ensured Phantoms put their first points on the EPL board.

Report courtesy of the Peterborough Evening Telegraph