From the first puck drop on the 9th September 2023, to the final goal on the 28th April 2024 it's fair to say that it's been a season that no-one could have predicted !

We asked Tom Lea, from our matchnight media team, to give us a recap of the rollercoaster 8 months that were the Planet Ice National Ice Hockey League Season 2023-24.

2023-24 Season Review (Pt1)

2023/24 has been a turbulent year for the Waldeck Peterborough Phantoms with injuries galore from day one, right until the end. The team has battled through adversity to solidify a mid-table finish and earn their spot in the NIHL National Final Four Weekend.

After pre-season clashes with the Raiders and the Telford Tigers, Phantoms’ league campaign didn't get off to the best of starts, as they were beaten 6-5 and 7-5 by the Hull Seahawks and Bees IHC respectively. But they didn't let that and a subsequent defeat to the league winning Leeds Knights get them down, as Luke Ferrara and Lukas Sladkovsky hat-tricks helped them on their way to their first win of the season – 10-4 over the Bristol Pitbulls.

They followed that victory up with their first four-point weekend of the season as they defeated the Telford Tigers and Raiders, both by a 3-1 scoreline. Martins Susters, Ales Padelek and Jarvis Hunt with the Saturday night goals in the home win over the Tigers.

The arrival of forward Ivan Björkly Nordström bolstered the Phantoms' forward ranks at the end of September and the 6ft 7 21-year-old has averaged over a point a game in his debut season in the NIHL National. He ended the league season with 23 goals and 26 assists for 49 points in 48 games and has continued his form into the playoffs with several big performances and points to aid the Phantoms’ efforts in the Group Stages.

The return of Ralfs Circenis was also a welcomed boost for the Phantoms as the Latvian dual national forward returned from the Bristol Pitbulls for the second half of the season. He hit the ground running on his return to Planet Ice Peterborough, scoring Phantoms’ fifth goal in a 5-3 victory over the Solway Sharks. The 26-year-old proved to be an important addition to the Phantoms roster and ended with 24 points in 30 games.

The festive period was tricky to navigate for the Peterborough Phantoms as the roster was decimated by injuries. The injuries meant plenty of opportunities for the younger players on the team alongside the additions of young Scottish forwards, Torran Anderson and Connor McNulty – who signed two-way deals to ice for the Club during the Christmas schedule. Anderson grabbed himself a huge goal in a game which saw Phantoms claim a point against the Milton Keynes Lightning, whilst both impressed with their hearty performances during their short stint in the side.

2023-24 Season Review (Pt2)

Connor Glossop was added to the side at the turn of the year, but it was one in, one out in Peterborough as Martins Susters was forced to step away from the sport through injury. Glossy has been somewhat of an unsung hero for the Phantoms since his arrival for his second stint in Peterborough, with his hard-working, energetic style breathing life into a Phantoms side still battling hard against injuries.

Slava Koulikov has safely secured himself legendary status since he joined the Peterborough Phantoms in 2014 with a trophy laden spell at the Club, most notably our success here in Coventry in 2015. At the start of 2024, Slava was inducted into the Peterborough Phantoms’ Wall of Fame, sitting alongside several key figures in the history of ice hockey in Peterborough. An achievement well-earned and we hope to continue our successes under Slava long into the future.

Building for 2024/25 began in the background as Phantoms secured Ivan Björkly Nordström, Callum Buglass and Jarvis Hunt to new deals and have since signed Luke Ferrara and Billy Thorpe to multi-year extensions as Slava Koulikov continues to work his magic at Planet Ice Peterborough.

In March, the Phantoms’ injury nightmares continued as they lost Duncan Speirs to a triple leg break which required multiple surgeries. It was a huge blow for Duncan and his team with his season being over, and the team losing another of their key assets.

In the end, Phantoms consolidated their fifth-place league position, booking themselves a spot in the NIHL National Playoffs Group A, alongside the Bees, the Hull Seahawks and the league winning Leeds Knights. Four wins was the target set by Head Coach Koulikov and in the end, that turned out to be exactly what the Phantoms needed to qualify for the league’s showpiece event.

Phantoms kicked their Playoff campaign off in style with a four-point weekend in back-to-back games with the Bees. Phantoms won 5-3 in Slough, before defeating Dominik Gabaj’s side 4-1 on home ice to put themselves in a strong position going into the final four games.

Their third game saw the Leeds Knights travel to Planet Ice Peterborough for what turned out to be one of the most dramatic games of the entire season. Third period goals from Austin Mitchell-King and Callum Buglass saw Phantoms battle back and earn overtime, before Ferrara and Mitchell-King scored penalty shots to secure a vital third win of the Playoffs for Slava’s side.

After defeat in the corresponding game in Leeds, Phantoms knew one win from two against Hull would see them book their spot in the Final Four. And in another barnstorming game, Mr Reliable Luke Ferrara popped up with a huge overtime winner, ensuring Phantoms were 6-5 victors and their spot in Coventry was confirmed.

2023-24 Season Review (Pt3)

The Waldeck Peterborough Phantoms took on the Bees, Hull Seahawks and league winning Leeds Knights in the Playoff Group Stage and booked their place in the showpiece event in Coventry with a string of excellent performances and results which saw Slava’s side beat all three teams at least once.

Telford Tigers awaited Phantoms in the second semi-final in Coventry, with the Knights having already booked their spot in the final when they beat the Swindon Wildcats on Saturday afternoon.

Phantoms led 2-0 and 4-2 in regulation against the Tigers but Tom Watkins’ side battled back to force overtime. Callum Buglass found the overtime winner, sending Phantoms into the Playoff Final for the first time since 2019.

It was a tall order for Phantoms to claim the cup as they faced the league winners in the final and the Knights led 1-0 at the end of period one, but Jarvis Hunt and Ivan Björkly Nordström put Slava’s side 2-1 ahead early in the second.

In the end, the game was tied at 3-3 and was decided on penalty shots. Phantoms faced elimination when Matt Barron scored, but Brad Bowering saved the day with a goal of his own. And after Jordan Marr made a great save, Luke Ferrara stepped up, found the top shelf and ensured Phantoms would return home with the 2023/24 NIHL National Playoff title.

“I’m so proud of everyone connected to the Peterborough Phantoms organisation. My players, the staff and the fans. For this to be achieved, we all had to be on the same page, we all had to buy in to the plan if we were going to be able to execute that plan and that’s exactly what happened at the weekend.” Slava said.

“My players executed the game plan to a tee and given the challenges everyone knows we’ve had this season, they deserve endless amount of credit for that.”

“We haven’t had a fully fit roster since the second game of pre-season, we’ve had suspensions, we’ve been really unlucky whereby once we’ve got a player back from injury - another has picked something up and it’s been constant all year.”

“Marrsy was absolutely brilliant in every game in the Playoffs, not just at Coventry, and he deserves so much credit for his performances and the huge saves he’s made in each game when we’ve needed him to come up clutch for us.”

“There were so many amazing performances from our guys in the playoffs, so many guys who shouldn’t have even been playing because of injuries, but they all fought through them and put their bodies on a line for this team and this club, and they’ve all been rewarded by winning the Playoff Championship.”

“We only had seven forwards and five defencemen for most of the run to the trophy and we’ve played, and beaten, teams with so much depth. I couldn’t be prouder of my guys for what they’ve done.” Slava continued.

And he was keen to acknowledge the Phantoms fans and thank them for sticking with his team throughout a testing season.

“We’re extremely thankful to our fans; they’ve stuck with us through a really tough season and we’re so happy we were able to repay them with this trophy - this is for them as much as it is for the players and staff.”

2023-24 Season Review (Pt4)

Amongst the thrills and spills of the Playoffs, it was announced that Phantoms captain, Will Weldon, will retire at the end of the 2023/24 season.

He arrived in Peterborough ahead of the 2011/12 season, brought to the club by then player coach, Chris Allen. In his early days, he featured alongside some prominent names of Peterborough hockey, including Maris Ziedins and James Ferrara.

The former Great Britain U18 and U20 International has been a mainstay in the Phantoms team ever since and was awarded an ‘A’ for the first time in 2013/14 as he cemented his place amongst the leadership group within the team.

For the last three seasons, he’s led the Phantoms as our captain, following the retirement of James Ferrara. He’s worn his heart on his sleeve for 13 years in Phantoms colours and will go down as a legend for his dedication to our club.

Prior to the start of this season’s playoffs, Welds had played 575 games, scored 104 goals and collected 205 assists, leaving him with a total of 309 points. He’s also the Phantoms’ all-time leader in penalty minutes with 902.

A winner of multiple personal awards alongside many trophy successes, Welds has been a real leader for our Club, and we’ll be eternally grateful to him for everything he’s done here.
Thanks for everything, Captain, and all the very best in your retirement!

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