Phantoms players were left devastated and, in some cases, in tears after losing their National Championship Play-Off Final tonight by the narrowest of margins as Hull Pirates edged them out in a thrilling head-to-head with an overtime 3on3 winner.
Saturday evening’s semi-final had seen Phantoms tested to the full by a tenacious Sheffield Steeldogs who served up a typical hard working performance that saw them hanging tough right through to the second break when the scoreline stood at 4-4 but a typical last period power-up saw Phantoms cruise away to take a 9-4 victory. Their opponents on Sunday were to be NIHL North Champions Hull Pirates who recovered from an early two goal deficit to defeat Bracknell Bees by 5-2.
The final showdown itself saw Pirates live up to their swashbuckling name as they launched into Phantoms with pace and aggression that deservedly saw them go 2-0 up early doors. To their credit, Phantoms dug deep and slowly turned the tables to bring the game back to 2-2 at the first break thanks to a quick release from Ales Padalek that caught netminder Smith napping and an astonishing solo effort from Callum Buglass who powered around his man before carving in from wide to tie the game.
Pirates continued to take the game to Phantoms in period two with a fast and razor sharp transitional play that repeatedly turned defence into attack and once again took the lead but Slava Koulikov’s side were in no mood to roll over and Glenn Billing pounced on a loose puck to bring it back level by the second break.
Everybody anticipated another big final period and Phantoms were certainly in the ascendancy for the first ten minutes but were unable to convert their dominance into a go-ahead goal and they were punished at the midpoint when Pirates again pounced on some loose play in front of Jordan Marr to go 4-3 ahead. The clock started ticking down alarmingly fast but Phantoms stayed cool and captain James Ferrara tied the game to take the big final down to 3on3 overtime.
Phantoms had the jump on the extra period and went desperately close to forcing the puck home. They even had a big 1on1 break away when the puck was poked up the boards to Glenn Billing but Smith made a huge save to keep the game alive. On the next Phantoms attack, Pirates made a huge steal in their own end to set up a 2on1 breakaway which despite Phantoms players desperately trying to make up the yards, they finished superbly to take the spoils ….. a dramatic climax to what had been a thrilling game from start to finish.
In truth, Sunday’s final more than hinted at being a game too far for Phantoms which given their exploits of late was no big surprise. They had their chances and could easily have taken their fourth trophy but in all honesty, Pirates probably deserved this one not least for their relentless efforts in sending forward wave after wave of attacking threats. Their intensity and energy levels were beyond belief at times and it took a very good side to keep them at bay for over sixty minutes.
Hockey can be a cruel game when a season’s haul of three major trophies can be made to seem nothing by virtue of defeat in the final game of the season but that reality was etched across the faces of every Phantom as they left the ice at Coventry. However, they will and they should get over that one because Team Phantoms 2018/19 are not only deserved Treble Winners but have been a joy to watch in what has been a hugely successful season.
Every single one of the players and backroom staff deserve to take a bow and deserve recognition for what they have delivered. It has been a season that has not only delivered success on the ice but has reignited a lot of lost passion off the ice and they collectively offer a very bright future for the seasons ahead.
Well done Team and thank you !