The DALROD sponsored Peterborough Phantoms hosted the Solway Sharks on Sunday evening in the first of 3 successive EPL Cup games.
Sharks made the trip with just eleven skaters including four current Under 20’s players and seven who have come through our junior program, whilst the Phantoms played an all British team, resting all of their imports.
The game started at a blistering pace as both teams looked to take an early advantage. Within the opening minute a quick break down the left by Phantom’s player-coach Slava Koulikov saw Gary Russell block at his near post and Stuart Kerr was on hand to pick up the rebound and wheel to the right-hand boards. Looking up the young defender saw former Phantom Richie Bentham ahead and the Solway marksman powered up the wing before firing past Dan Lane from the face-off circle to give the visitors a shock lead after just 1.05 of the game.
Sharks could have doubled their score just two minutes later when Ross Murray met a Duncan Speirs pass in the slot but his goal-bound shot was blocked by Lane’s pads.
On the five minute mark James White finished a strong skate down the right wing with a shot which Sharks netminder Gary Russell smothered at his nearside post.
While the Phantoms had the majority of the possession in the opening period, the Sharks were always looking for the breakaway, and looked dangerous whenever they found themselves in free ice.
The second period started with another early goal, this time after just 17 seconds. From the opening face-off Joe Coulter and Ross Murray combined to send Stevie Moore down the right to score through Lane’s five hole as he cut in towards goal.
The Phantoms weren’t giving up and twice went close to reducing the deficit with Russell making a great save first from Greg Pick and then from Marc Levers early in the period.
Six minutes into the period the impressive Struan Tonnar found himself free on the right but with no obvious support he tried a speculative shot that somehow cannoned into the Peterborough goal via a defenders skate and the keepers’ back to give the Sharks a 3-0 lead.
Slava Koulikov had seen enough and immediately called a time out to change his teams’ tactics. Koulikov now encouraged his charges to play a patient game around the Sharks goal and pass the puck at speed in an effort to pull the defence out of position and create better shooting opportunities. Under increasing pressure the Solway rearguard finally failed in the thirty-sixth minute when Koulikov and Will Weldon worked the puck out from the back boards for Cam McGiffen to slam home on a delayed penalty and make it a 3-1 game at the break.
The final period started with Dan Lane being replaced by Adam Long in the Phantoms goal.
Just like the opening two periods, the final period started with an early goal, as the Phantoms piled on the pressure in front of a subdued home support, who were still in shock at being 3-1 down to the NIHL side.
With Joe Coulter sitting a high sticks penalty, Edgars Bebris and Koulikov exchanged passes to create the space for James Ferrara to fire home, top shelf, from the slot and make it 3-2.
Phantoms now turned up the pressure and controlled the game and an equaliser was always on the cards. Another Phantoms powerplay in the 53rd minute gave Bebris and Marc Levers the chance to set up Koulikov to score with a blistering shot from the left-hand face-off circle and it was all square.
Four minutes later and the Phantoms took the lead for the first time in the game, when Koulikov and James Ferrara combined to allow Will Weldon to tip home the formers slapshot from close range.
With the comeback complete, no-one had given the script to the Sharks, who refused to roll over and let the Phantoms claim the victory. With 2 minutes of the game left, Sharks coach Grubb pulled the keeper in favour of an extra skater and his tactic worked when a blocked Stevie Moore shot fell for Ross Murray to fire home from a narrow angle to make it 4-4.
With everyone now thinking the game would end in adraw, and people hunting to see if it would stay a draw, or if we would play Overtime and potentially penalties, the Sharks answered the questions just 13 seconds later. From the restart the puck found its way back to the Peterborough goalmouth and when it wasn’t cleared first time Richie Bentham pounced to put Solway 5-4 ahead.
Phantoms pulled Long for the final minute but despite the Phantoms having a number of shots on Russell, the Sharks threw themselves in front of everything and on the night deserved their 5-4 victory.
Man of the Match went to Gary Russell for the Sharks and Will Weldon for the Phantoms