Standing in the Way – Peterborough Phantoms

Well we’re finally there, the last of the Standing in the Way series. 8 teams down and here is the last of this season’s opponents for the Bison in the EPL for 2011/12. I hope you’ve enjoyed the series and it’s given you some sort of idea as to what to expect from our foes across this season. Anyway, enough of sentimentality, lets take a look at them.

 

Name: Peterborough Phantoms

Home Ice: Peterborough Arena

Player/coach: Chris Allen

Last season: 6th, playoff semi finalists

Top scorer: Jeff Glowa, 36 goals + 54 assists = 90 points

Match night ticket price: £12 adult, £7.50 Concessions, £5.50 child, £28 family (2 adults + 2 children), £30 family (2 adults + 3 children)

 

Goalies:

 

Phantoms’ netminding duo from last season return again for the 2011/12 season as Stephen Wall and Damien King return as number 1 and 2 between the pipes.

 

Newcastle born Wall first appeared in senior hockey in 2002/03 for the Newcastle Vipers, then in the British National League before making his first trip to Peterborough for the 2003/04 season. After spells in Bracknell and Slough between 2005 and 2007, Wall returned to the Phantoms for 2007/08 where he has remained ever since.

2008/09 was arguably the banner year for Wall’s career as he backstopped the Phantoms to the elusive EPL grand slam of league, cup and playoffs with a 2.95 GAA and a .917 save %. During that season he also managed to find time to guest three times for the Bison and once for Manchester in the EIHL.

Times have been harder for the Phantoms since then both financially and in terms of results but Wall have remained a constant rock at the back for them. After a difficult season which saw the Phantoms finish 6th, his stellar performances in the playoff quarter final against Slough saw Peterborough upset the odds and set up a trip to Coventry for finals weekend where they were, sadly, thumped by Guildford.

 

Stephen Wall is one of those players I enjoy watching even if he’s playing against us. Now 30 he literally seems to have been around for ages and frustrates forwards at every turn. As if Wall wasn’t an apt enough name for a netminder anyway, #93 is still one of those netminders who will give his team a chance to win at EPL level every night. Almost the anti Carl Ambler in his approach to netminding, Wall is normally very calm and controlled in his play. His positioning is always of a high standard and shares something of a quality with former Bison netminder Kevin Reiter in that he seems to do better when busy.

 

The second leg of the playoff semi final saw Wall not only post a shutout but save over 60 shots as the Phantoms overturned a 2-0 deficit to score the winner in overtime. This is the sort of big game play you need from your goalie on the big stage to have a chance to win games and Wall gives that to them.

 

His stats have dropped a bit since that grand slam season but nonetheless still found himself in the top 10 goalies in terms of the numbers he posted. Last year’s 3.38 GAA and .962 save % was better than title winning netminder Stephen Fone and Mark Lee of Guildford who backstopped the Flames to the playoff title. Along with Barry Hollyhead he also led the league in shutouts with 4. Long story cut short, Wall is the sort of netminder that would make most if not all the teams in the league because he can do the business.

 

Damien King is the real home town boy; born in Peterborough and has only ever played for Peterborough. I did wonder if the club’s new link up with Chelmsford thanks to Dwayne Newman being player/assistant coach there would see King drop to the ENL for more ice time but another year as Wall’s back up learning from him won’t hurt him either.

King is of hockey stock, his father Kevin is a former centre and coach of the Phantoms and his brother Euan a former netminder. He played just over 500 minutes last season in relief of Wall, tallying 3.39GAA and .895 save % which is decent if not all star material.

 

I don’t think Peterborough is in a similar situation to their local rivals Milton Keynes in that I don’t see there being as much of a split in the netminding duties. Wall is the undisputed number one in this situation and unless he completely melts down I don’t see King getting a great deal of time. For his development I hope he gets a chance at a bit more ice time if he earns it because if the Phantoms can develop King into a starting netminder it will only bode well for them. With 17 year old Dan Lane also added to the squad for this season (in a similar way that Connor Standing is for the Bison) the Phantoms system can produce the talent.

That’s not to say Wall’s on his way out anytime soon, at 30 he’s still got many years ahead of him.

 

Defence:

 

No better place to start on the defence than new Phantoms player/coach himself, Chris Allen. Allen was a former first team all star with Kingston Frontenacs in the OHL and was drafted in the 3rd round of the 1996 NHL entry draft by the Florida Panthers. If it adds any sort of perspective, Stanley Cup winning captain Zdeno Chara was drafted 4 places above Allen and drafted 5 rounds later by Toronto was a chap by the name of Tomas Kaberle.

Allen bounced around the minor leagues in North America before coming to Europe in 2004 when he moved to Finland. After a season in Asia he came to Britain, playing in the EIHL with Edinburgh and Coventry in 2009/10 before moving to the EPL last season. Allen started the season with Telford before being let go due to finances where he moved to Peterborough as injury cover. Allen finished up the season playing for Merano in Italy

So Allen is now back in Cambridgeshire as the man in charge of the Phantoms as well being the lone import at the back. Allen has never been a massive scorer throughout his career but a player with his calibre and pedigree should (if he can play the full season) be able to be a solid defensive presence whilst racking up some points along the way. Just don’t expect him to do a Marcel Petran impression any time soon.

However perhaps Allen will take a different tact. He is a talented enough shut down defenceman that maybe he’ll focus on being defensively focussed and allow others to contribute to the attack while he concentrates on other things. That said, the Phantoms don’t have a British defender that can give them 40 or 50 points which may force Allen to break the habit of a career and try and put up big points.

 

Adding some extra veteran presence on the blueline is the well travelled but always reliable Greg Randall. Randall has spent the majority of his career playing in Milton Keynes for the Lightning, Randall signed for Peterborough where he last played in 1998 for the Pirates. After two seasons in Bracknell were Randall put up decent numbers on a poor team, Greg has moved a bit further north to try and improve his fortunes. Randall can play either forward or defence but as he’s listed as a d-man on the Phantoms website, don’t expect him to spend much time up front if any at all. 66 points in two seasons with the Bees from the back is not bad going for anyone. The majority of the points have come from assists with the odd goal thrown in for good measure but you can’t argue with the defence being able to pass the puck forward well to help the forwards. Randall’s always somewhat unassuming whenever I see him play; a solid if unspectacular presence.

 

One person Bison fans will need no introduction to is the man, the beard, the legend; Rick Skene. Skene joined the Bison for last season after 5 seasons with our “friends” in Surrey. It went slightly unnoticed due to his injury at the end of last season but 2010/11 was a career year for Skene in terms of assists (15), points (16) and penalty minutes (104). That said scoring points isn’t the key to Skene’s game, simply a bonus. Rick is an old fashioned, grizzled shut down defenceman. His job is to get in the way, shut the play down and make sure the forwards don’t score. As we’re all familiar with in Basingstoke Skene will hit like a train and will make sure a forward remembers that he’s been there. Hopefully for Rick’s sake the knee injury that hampered the end of last season is fixed. However we also know Skene’s fault which is his lack of mobility at times. His lack of speed meant that on occasions he was caught out by speedier forwards.

 

Another new signing for the Phantoms is 21 year old Joe Graham. Graham came through the Nottingham junior system and made his début for the Panthers at 17 in 2007/08 season. After making bit appearances for the Panthers, Graham dropped to the EPL for 2009/10 to sign for the Manchester Phoenix in their first EPL season, tallying 22 points in 51 games. Last season Joe headed further south where he signed for the Guildford Flames. Graham scored 13 points for the Surrey side as they exorcised their demons and won the EPL playoffs.

I never know what to think about Joe Graham. He’s not a big scoring defenceman so you don’t notice him for that. He’s not a massive shut down defenceman so nobody mentions him for that. I think I need to sit down and watch him more than I do. Flames fans were not massively keen on him last season but perhaps being in a team where he’ll get more responsibility will bring out the best in Graham. I also promise to pay more attention to how he plays over the course of the season.

 

Nathan Pollard’s twin brother Connor is a forward playing in the ENL for Wightlink Raiders. Nathan on the other hand is a defender and is full time on the Phantoms roster this season having made his first appearance for the senior team last year whilst also playing under 18s hockey. In the U18s last season Nathan scored 47 points in 17 games which, if he’s a defenceman makes me think he’s like a mini Mike Green but as we’ll obviously have to see how he adapts to full time EPL play.

There are two things that are certain; 1. It is good to see a player that has come through the junior system get his chance to be a full time player for the EPL Phantoms and 2. Allen isn’t completely mental and wouldn’t have Pollard in there if he didn’t think he could do the job.

 

The other member of the defence is 17 year old Jonathan Williamson who will play for the juniors whilst training with the seniors and playing when the junior schedule allows. In the U18 league so far, Williamson is averaging a point per game at the moment so if Allen can get the youngster time in the main roster he will.

 

This is an interesting if somewhat average looking defence. It will cause some surprises but over the course of the season it’ll be interesting to see how they do against a form team with a lot of fire power.

 

Forwards:

 

Getting your leading goalscorer to return is always a positive boon for any club. When he’s a 90 point scorer even better! Jeff Glowa is now into his 8th season in British hockey and he is a familiar name to those who have been around the game for a while. He established himself in Britain with the Hull Stingrays where he played for them in the BNL, EPL and EIHL and was a leading points scorer for the side whatever league they played in. When former Hull team mate Curtis Cruickshank became the Phantoms coach last season, he convinced Glowa to leave the new era at Hull to join what Cruickshank was trying to do at Peterborough. Whilst the side only finished 6th, 90 points and a playoff semi final is a good first season for most in the EPL. With a new look Phantoms team and a new coach, Glowa’s role won’t change. He is the top line centre for this team and his job will be to score as much as possible and distribute the puck at a high level. Now 35 years old, Glowa is an elder statesman and a leader on this team and fans will expect him to lead the team and team scoring again.

 

Also expected to contribute highly to the scoring is new import Erik Bochna and fan favourite returnee import Maris Ziedins.

 

Bochna, now 34 has played in the EPL before in 2007/08 when he split the season between Swindon and Romford. It was a productive season for Bochna who scored 73 points combined for the two sides, 54 in 26 games for the Raiders. Since playing in the EPL Bochna played two seasons in France with Dijon and Gap before returning to his homeland of Slovakia to play for HC 46 Bardejov where he scored 30 points in 36 games. Bochna’s is obviously a little older than the last time he played there but he appears to have not lost the scoring touch. We’ve spoken before on here about how players from the Slovak 2nd division do in the EPL and whilst Bochna won’t, in my opinion, be top of the scoring charts, if he can put up 50-60 points, he will help the offence no end.

 

Maris Ziedins is a very popular man in Peterborough. Now into his 5th season with the Phantoms, the 33 year old Latvian has 290 points in 181 EPL games. A 1.6 points per game average is just the sort of numbers you want from an import forward. A massive 47 goals last season as well shows just how deadly Ziedins can be in front of net. His goals scored and points totals have actually improved year on year that he’s been in the league.

Ziedins for me is a massively underrated import, mainly because he plays for Peterborough. Tell me honestly, how many of us would turn down signing an 86 point scorer who got nearly 50 goals? Yeah, didn’t think so. If you have someone like Glowa feeding a natural goalscorer like Ziedins the puck then you have to respect that as a legitimate threat. Issue is, if you shut then down, do the Phantoms have the talent in the rest of the roster to pick up the slack?

 

Back for the Phantoms in a totally non surprising turn of events are the Brothers Ferrara, James and Luke.

The elder at 23, James played against the Bison in EPL with the Phantoms and EIHL with the Nottingham Panthers between 2006 and 2009 before he left the Panthers to return to the Phantoms during the 2009/10. A flexible player who can play forward or defence, James has never been a very high scoring player but is a very capable third liner with the ability to drop back to the blueline or have a solid two way game from the second line as required. He may however be required to step up a bit more and score more this season, especially due to some of the players the Phantoms have lost which we’ll get to later.

 

Younger brother Luke is someone who really impressed me last season. Having made his debut for the senior team in 2009/10 where he scored 11 points in 48 games, he had something of a breakout year in 2010/11 scoring 27 points in 50 games in the EPL whilst wearing a facecage. He also added 25 points in 7 games for the U18 Phantoms for good measure. I’ve got Luke down as a real star of the future who will be looking to play a lot of minutes this season. I’m somewhat surprised he’s not on a 2-way contract for this season but these things will come with time. A naturally talented player who we should expect big things from in years to come but at 18 we can’t expect miracles right now.

 

Another local product who paid his dues in the juniors and ENL before joining the Phantoms full time is James Spurr. Now 22, Sheffield born Spurr made his first foray into the EPL in 2005/06 while still playing with the juniors. Since then he’s slowly been eased onto the Phantoms roster full time whilst playing junior and making fleeting appearances in the ENL for the Peterborough Islanders.

2008/09 was his first full time season of EPL scoring 12 points as the Phantoms won the whole kit and caboodle before scoring 27 points in 48 games the next season, his career year to date.

Spurr is a decent player who should provide a little of third line scoring is all goes well. He also takes very few penalty minutes so can be relied upon not to do anything too stupid out there.

 

Making his first EPL appearance this season is Nottingham junior system product, Will Weldon. Weldon is 18 and is coming off the back of an impressive season where he scored 29 points in 25 games for the Nottingham Lions in ENL 1 North and a staggering 79 points in 13 games in the U18 league for the Nottingham Leopards. Those numbers are worth taking a chance on at EPL level for an 18 year old I feel.

It remains to be seen what Weldon does full time at EPL level. He’s had a few call ups to cover the bench for the Panthers so he’s obviously not a slouch. He had 3 points in his first 2 weekends of action for the Phantoms as well. If he gets the ice time, Weldon could be a real dark horse signing though it’s a little early to be counting the chickens on him. I knew very little about him before researching this piece but I’m intrigued to see how he plays. His 70 points for the Leopards were 27 goals and 52 assists which speaks of a great distributer of the puck. Training alongside someone like Glowa will only help that aspect of his game.

 

On junior contracts and training with the senior team are Luke Barber and Mitch White. Barber’s stats are decent in juniors but White seems to be on a rampage. Last season in U18s, White scored 29 points in 17 games for the Junior Phantoms, this season he has 30 points in 6 games! Not too hard to see why Allen has taken a chance on him.

 

Sadly for the Phantoms they’re already suffering a bit in the forward steaks. Dean Tonks who was so impressive for Solihull in the ENL last season signed then moved to New Zealand, Warren Tait signed then moved to the EIHL and the Steelers to cover injury and the popular Shaun Yardley has just been ruled out for the season due to a knee injury. It has thrown some of Coach Allen’s plans into disarray but expect people to come in and fill the gaps if they can be found at the right price.

 

Overall:

 

Some people had the Phantoms finishing bottom of the league, below Telford who as I mentioned I don’t think look that strong. I don’t think the Phantoms look that bad overall but like last season they don’t look spectacular.

 

Like all Phantoms teams they will be hard working and play with a lot of passion. Wall is a solid netminder who relishes the big game atmosphere but it’s the other parts that concern me.

The defence are not the most mobile and will be hard hitting and focussed towards shutting players down and remembering they’ve been shut down. The lack of speed though could hurt them against teams with really speedy offences or players like Darius Pliskauskas of Slough who seems to actually possess afterburners in his skates.

 

The forwards could go either way. Glowa, Bochna and Ziedins are all proven at this level but below that it’s a bit hit and miss. Ferrara junior and Weldon will be interesting to watch but that lack of secondary scoring could really hurt the Phantoms in the clutch if teams find a way to shut down the imports. The Phantoms lack a really solid British goalscorer in my eyes though with Allen looking to replace the losses and injuries, we’ll have to see what he can do to fill the gaps.

 

The Phantoms will be in the hunt for a playoff spot but it might not be the 6th spot they secured last season. They’ll be an entertaining team to watch but as the league appears to be a lot closer than some suspected Peterborough could rise as high as 5th or fall like a stone. Only time will tell.

 

EDIT: As I was about to post this the Phantoms announced the signing of Richard Bentham who started the season with Invicta Dynamos. Bentham is a decent player but it really doesn’t change much with regards to the prediction I’ve made above. His signing has managed to annoy some Dynamos fans but it’s a good move for Bentham and all the best to him.

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