Despite increasing negativity from the Phantoms fanbase after Saturday’s home defeat to Sheffield Steeldogs, coach Slava Koulikov refuses to accept that his team were in anyway flat and insists that there is no reason for fans to get stressed over current form.
“We were not flat. In the first period we were pretty good, we had a lot of energy and Steeldogs were on the back foot and the second period was pretty even. We are a team that will compete for everything and we are not going to lay down. Our play was gritty and we never backed out of the play and we didn’t back down from the physical hits nor the physical play”.
Its a view that seems to have few backers among the fans who witnessed another frustrating home defeat but they may be even more concerned to hear that the Phantoms coach feels that a more exciting “cut and thrust” style of hockey is simply not going to happen with the current team. “We simply don’t have cut and thrust on this team ! We lost four of five top end guys so we know what the picture of this team is”.
That may prove to be a view that dissenting voices find difficult to comprehend. The only forwards the club lost over the Summer were Pliskauskas, Jamieson, Salem and Griffiths, none of whom played with any great “cut and thrust”, none of whom racked up anything like a decent points return with a combined contribution of two goals per game between them and their replacements would surely promise more “cut and thrust” via Petr Stepanek and Corey McEwen alone.
Coach Koulikov rightly points out that our goals against record is decent and in line with aspirations at around two goals per game but knows that we have to produce more at the other end. “We need to get goals and sometimes you have to get them not from pretty plays but from just making things happen and getting dirty in front of the net and picking up the secondary pucks around there. How are we going to achieve that ? Well we are working on practices and our powerplays were working very well at the start of the season but over the last three games we can’t get anything out of it so that’s something we need to look at too”
“We shouldn’t get stressed about things not going right. Both games we’ve lost at home could easily have been our games”.
So …… are there real grounds for concern here ?
Facts are that neither Romford nor Sheffield are lightweight teams this season. Both teams currently rank #1 in their divisions and both will prove tough challenges for any team. Slava is also right to point out that the statistical breakdown of both recent home defeats would suggest that Phantoms should have won both games and that is far more encouraging than if the same statistics suggested we were being dominated and outplayed. It is clearly all about execution and conversion of the chances we create and if that improves then the solid defensive foundation we have should combine to deliver positive results.
There is a real issue and a worrying issue of an already dwindling fanbase struggling to hold on to what they are seeing on the ice. Slava may have the technical and tactical expertise to explain and make sense of what he is seeing but the fans are genuinely struggling and that could add up to very real problems going forward.
To many of the fans, the hockey they are watching is boring and lacking in the pride, the passion, the determination, the cut and thrust and all that they expect to see, particularly on home ice. Even if the fans are “wrong” in the eyes of club officials, those views have to be taken very seriously by both them and the coaching team because if fans vote with their feet than we ALL lose ….. whether they were right, wrong, confused, uneducated is all completely irrelevant.
I’ve posed the question for many seasons now, are we REALLY playing the right game for taking advantage of our home ice …… small rink, poor ice, occasionally hostile atmosphere ? Is it not the case that visiting teams are wrapping us up at Bretton simply by rolling their sleeves up and outworking and out muscling us using precisely the style of hockey that used to make Bretton a fortress ? Do we need to at least have a plan B for when we can’t “out play” the visitors ….. a plan B that delivers a greater reliance on intensity and physical play rather than neat passing plays ? Does the very real need to improve home gate receipts make a more entertaining style of hockey a greater priority ….. a style that ALL fans can appreciate and enjoy rather than just the hockey die-hards who might possibly make sense of it all ?
My message to frustrated fans would be to continue to make known your concerns and frustrations because whether the club and players enjoy seeing them or not, they are very important but …… stick with YOUR team. Things are not as we want them at the moment but don’t walk away because walking away doesn’t threaten the positions of coaches and players, it threatens the future of YOUR hockey club.
When your family members are struggling, you don’t walk away ….. you get behind them and support them. We can’t complain that the commitment is lacking on the ice unless we demonstrate that our commitment to back them remains strong off the ice. It isn’t easy, it isn’t even enjoyable at the moment but tough it out and give the team the best possible chance to pull through and power out of this bad patch.
If that doesn’t work then we should expect changes …… in whatever form they may take.