MK LIGHTNING will be looking to use victory in their annual Ashes challenge matches against rivals Peterborough Phantoms as a springboard to English Premier League success this season.
The battle for local pride is expected to be hotter than ever this weekend as Lightning take on Peterborough twice in the space of 24 hours – a week before their opening EPL game of the season against Manchester Phoenix.
Phantoms come to town on Saturday night before Lightning make the trip to Cambridgeshire on Sunday, and games between the two sides are always hotly contested.
But several player transfers between the two sides this summer will ensure an extra edge to the weekend’s fixtures, with Lightning going into the match in good shape having recorded a routine 3-0 victory over Telford Tigers in their pre-season friendly last weekend.
Lightning defenceman Tom Norton signed for Phantoms during the close season on a two-way contract with the Nottingham Panthers, and is joined by forward Jamie Line – a product of the Lightning youth scheme.
Meanwhile Lightning’s defensive ranks are reinforced by the addition of former Phantoms stalwart, netminder Stephen Wall, who left Peterborough last November to seek a new challenge.
Phantoms have a point to prove this season after a pretty terrible 2011/12 campaign which began with defeat to Lightning in the Ashes and ended in an eighth place finish, while Lightning took fifth.
The Milton Keynes leg saw Lightning carry a dominant 5-1 win into the away game, with three of those goals coming in under six minutes.
And despite Phantoms threatening a comeback on their home ice, Lightning had done enough to ensure the Ashes returned with them on Sunday evening as they lost 3-2 but earned a 7-4 overall success.
One Lightning man unlikely to feature against Phantoms is netminder Jordan Hedley, despite putting in a man of the match performance in the Telford game.
The 16-year-old impressed in his first senior game for the club, even saving a penalty as Lightning cruised to victory with goals from Adam Calder, Adam Brittle and Leigh Jamieson.
Hedley has trained with the team for two years, but EPL rules won’t allow U16s to play. However, having celebrated his birthday in August, coach Nick Poole rewarded him with his chance, and he took it with an accomplished display.
The EPL season begins on Saturday, September 22 with a home game with Manchester Phoenix, followed by a trip to Guildford Flames the next day. That represents a tough start for Lightning as they face the sides who finished first and second in the league last season.
But before then comes their always entertaining matches with Phantoms and the chance to give the supporters something to brag about against their biggest rivals.