The DALROD sponsored Peterborough Phantoms finished 2015 with their first point-less weekend of the season after falling to a 4-2 defeat at the hand of the MK Lightning on Sunday evening.

A near capacity crowd at the Peterborough Ice Arena were entertained by two local teams looking to add to their top of the table points tally. There could be no better advert for hockey at this level, and hopefully some of the newcomers to the rink will come back for more; this has been a season where it has felt like attendances have been up, but let’s face it – if the crowds aren’t coming through the turnstiles to see the table-topping play-off champions, there’s little hope of getting them through the gates in the future.

After a delayed start, to allow all of the supporters to get into the rink, the game got off to a frantic opening and the twenty minutes that followed provided the thrills and spills of two local rivals going at it hammer and tong.

Much of the Phantoms’ good work came through Tom Norton, Milan Baranyk and Ales Padelek, and as early as the third minute Norton shaped as if to fire a rocket from the blue line, yet played a delicate pass to Padelek, who was foiled by an on form Dean Skinns in the Lightning goal.

Norton was involved again moments later as the Lightning’s Frantisek Bakrlik took a high sticking penalty which saw a melee between the Phantoms’ D man and Jordan Cownie.

The home side took the lead on 6 23 just as Bakrlik’s penalty expired; Craig Scott dug the puck out from Skinn’s goal and passed to an onrushing Martins Susters who calmly fired the puck into the top of a gaping net, scoring his first home goal for the Phantoms in the process.

The lead would last just two minutes as that man Bakrlik scored the first of his brace jamming in at Auzins’ near post on 8 33.

On 12 46 an encounter that had already seen plenty of physical play exploded as Marc Levers followed up a shot from point by Padelek and MK’s Christie took exception to Lever’s stick challenging his netminder and threw the first punch, which saw Levers respond in kind. Both men landed blows, but on balance, honours to Levers on this occasion.

If both sides were fired up by the Levers-Christie roughing it would be the visitors who would score the next goal, through former Phantom, Lewis Hook. Just as he had done 24 hours earlier, Hook found the net, picking the puck up on the boards and finding time to pick his spot past a screened Auzins on 13 58.

Remarkably, the Phantoms restored parity just 22 seconds later. Lloyd Gibson found Milan Baranyk on MK’s blue line and the Czech forward wheeled round Skinns’ net and found Padelek who jammed the puck into the goal at the back post.

The pivotal moment in the period came with just 5 14 remaining. Phantoms’ fans howled for an interference call on Emersic who seemed to plough into Auzins, referee Thompson saw things differently, giving Auzins a tripping penalty and Greg Pick a roughing call in the ensuing melee.

The Lightning’s powerplay put the Phantoms under real pressure, and just as the Phantoms had received one man back Bakrlik scored his second of the evening – skating unopposed in the Phantoms’ zone before their fourth skater could get into position, and firing a bullet from the blue line for what was effectively the game winning goal.

Before the puck was dropped to start the second period Milan Baranyk and Grant McPherson came to blows following a clash at the face-off that saw both players roll into the MK bench, giving us a 4-on-4 start to the period.

Jason Buckman went close with a shot from distance that found the side of the net and Jordan Cownie produced a highlight reel spinorama that almost beat Auzins, yet despite the fact that there were shots at both ends, and penalties for Norton and Wallis (Phantoms) and Hook (MK), there would be no further scoring.

The Phantoms shaded the opening minutes of the final period, with both Pliskauskas and Scott working Skinns, and the same forwards going close again after Weldon and Griffin picked up penalties for interference and roughing respectively.

Lewis Hook provided a moment of magic skating from his own blue line and wrapping round Auzin’s net before seeing the chance snuffed out. One again, Hook’s close puck control and speed saw him threaten; I’d liken his play to being very similar to that of Milan Baranyk for the Phantoms – two players that can turn a game with their guile and who both love that move round the back of a net.

With the game winding down and with 1.21 remaining Koulikov pulled Auzins but the Phantoms couldn’t make their numerical advantage count, and Adam Carr put the final touches on the MK victory with an empty net score.

Man of the Match went to Craig Scott for the Phantoms and Dean Skinns for Milton Keynes.

Matchnight Stats here

–Phil Smith
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