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Manchester Phoenix 3 MK Lightning 1

November 23, 2009

Manchester Phoenix 3 MK Lightning 1
Altrincham Ice Dome
22 November 2009

Lachowitz 7.36, Hagelberg 46.26, Courtenay 59.55

Carr 55:45

Rob Lachowitz scores the home side's opener -

The biggest game of the English Premier League season so far came a day after its most surprising result.

On Saturday evening top-of-the-table Manchester Phoenix crashed to an 8-3 defeat away to Romford, the league’s worst side. Milton Keynes Lightning, hot on the heels of Phoenix, cruised to a 7-1 home victory over Guildford Flames.

Both sides were able to put out full-strength sides and the game started at a ferocious pace: Ed Courtenay ripped a shot into MK keeper Barry Hollyhead’s midriff as Phoenix put together crisp pass after crisp pass in the final third. The visitors broke forward well but Phoenix’s Steven Fone was far better protected by his defence than on MK’s last visit to Altrincham and had to deal with fewer shots than usual in the opening period.

Phoenix deservedly opened the scoring on the power play after Hollyhead could only parry a strong shot from Jaakko Hagelberg; Rob Lachowitz knocked the puck home before MK’s keeper could smother the rebound. The pace of the period continued until the end and words were exchanged as the sides left the ice.

The goalless second period was scrappier, but no less intense. Both sides had 14 shots saved as the game got chippy; tempers frayed as Phoenix’s excellent Greg Wood took a swipe at Lukas Zapotek following a tangle, both taking 2 minute minor penalties for roughing. Hagelberg and Lewis Christie then exchanged delay of game penalties after a tussle, but the noisy fans inside the Ice Dome had to wait until midway through the third period before the gloves came off: the energetic Iain Bowie scrapping with Lightning number 9 Grant McPherson.

By this point Hagelberg had made it 2-0 Phoenix when he banked the puck in off Hollyhead’s legs six minutes into the final period; it was almost 3-0 soon after when Adam Walker lashed a shot against the inside of the post. A few minutes later Hollyhead received a 10-minute misconduct penalty (served by Jacob Heron) for repeatedly complaining to the officials, but his side halved the lead when captain Adam Carr, returning from a 2-minute spell in the penalty box, picked up a pass to leave Phoenix outnumbered.

Assisted by the import pairing of Monir Kalgoum and Andre Smulter, a neat move saw Fone outsmarted and Carr pass the puck into the gaping net with the clock reading 04.15 to play.

A tense few minutes inevitably followed, during which Lightning called a time-out as they enjoyed a power play when Phoenix player-coach Tony Hand was sent to the box for hooking.

Pulling Hollyhead for the end of the power play made it 6-on-4, and upon his return to the ice Hand missed the open net by inches from his own half. The league’s top scorer Ed Courtenay was more assured, and broke away down the right to seal the victory, and Phoenix’s top-of-the-league status, with just five seconds to play.

It was tense, pacy, close-run, and skilful: the biggest game of the season so far was also among the best the Altrincham Ice Dome has seen in its near-three years of ice hockey.

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