Phoenix aim to rise to challenge of clinching EPL double

MANCHESTER Phoenix head into the English Premier League play-off finals weekend looking to make it a double celebration.

Tony Hand’s team - already regular season league champions - head into the final four showdown at Coventry’s Skydome Arena along with MK Lightning, Guildford Flames and Peterborough Phantoms.

Phoenix, who are firm favourites, take on MK Lightning in the first semi-final on Saturday (face-off 3pm) before league runners-up Guildford take on Peterborough (7pm). The winners of the two semi-finals will then meet in Sunday’s final (4pm).

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The champions qualified for the semi-finals thanks to a 10-4 aggregate victory over Sheffield Steeldogs in the quarter finals.

A 5-2 win over Swindon secured the league championship and their roster also boasts the three top scorers in the league. Former Sheffield Steelers favourite Hand and imports Marcus Kristoffersson and Curtis Huppe have all notched up more than 100 points each in just 54 regular season games.

But as Sheffield Steelers and Cardiff Devils found out at the Elite League playoff Finals last weekend, regular season success counts for nothing in ice hockey’s post season, as both were seen off by the Nottingham Panthers, who had finished the regular season a distant fourth.

Peterborough provided the shock of last weekend’s EPL quarter finals when they came from behind to beat third-placed Slough Jets 3-2.

The Phantoms, who finished sixth in the regular season, will be looking to cause another upset when they take on a Guildford side which includes former Sheffield Scimitars forward Matt Towe.

Milton Keynes, though, defeated fourth place Basingstoke to qualify for the semi-finals and their general manager Vito Rausa says they will be going all out to end Manchester’s interest in the play-offs at the first hurdle.

“The players will be doing absolutely everything they can to repay the fans’ faith in them,” he said.

“Manchester certainly didn’t expect to lose against Peterborough a fortnight ago, and our last three games against them showed exactly how far we can push them.”

Phoenix, though, will be strong favourites to at least reach the final. They lost just one of the six league meetings against Milton Keynes and only eight games all season.