MK LIGHTNING may already have a piece of silverware in the cupboard thanks to their Ashes Trophy victory against Peterborough Phantoms, but they will gladly swap that for one of the big ones as they get their English Premier League campaign under way this weekend.
And the challenge in their opening game at Planet Ice on Saturday could not be bigger with the visit of league champions Manchester Phoenix for a 7pm face-off at Planet Ice.
Phoenix were on the verge of lifting the title the last time they came to the city back in March and edged out Lightning 6-5. But that counted for nothing a couple of weeks later when Lightning beat them 3-2 in overtime to go through to the play-off final at Coventry Skydome.
Captain Adam Carr said of the opening visitors: “It’s always fun to play against Manchester, we always seem to have good games against them. They’re one of the top teams in the league and of course reigning champions. You couldn’t pick a better fixture to start off our season.
“There is a feeling of excitement around the place about the coming season, the Manchester game will be a great start and a good test for us, and hopefully we can set the tone for the rest of the year!”
Lightning may have regained the Ashes Trophy last weekend against old rivals Peterborough, but in truth it was a bit of a stuttering start with the side often struggling to put together the kind of moves that will be needed to beat the top teams in the league.
For their part Phantoms looked like a side that will struggle to make much impact this term and will be relying on an experienced defensive line-up to keep the goals against down. Up front import forwards Maris Ziedins and Jeff Glowa did not have the kind of service they needed, and in the end Lightning ran out 7-4 winners on aggregate.
Lightning went ahead after 2m 30s when Michael Wales tipped in a blue line blast from Lukas Zatopek. And that’s the way it stayed for the next 37 minutes until Gracik, who made a quiet start but gradually became more influential, converted a Blaz Emersic set up on the powerplay.
Phantoms momentarily had cause to hope that they could get something out of the game when James Ferrara found himself in space for a powerplay strike at 44m 21s.
But just over two minutes later Lightning restored the two goal gap with Gracik to bag his second at 46m 49s and earn the man of the match award. Fellow newcomer, defenceman Tom Norton, made it 4-1 40 seconds later, with Leigh Jamieson blasting his way through to add a fifth goal on 52m 25s.
At Peterborough the following day it was a different story with Lightning on the backfoot for long periods and falling behind to a Ferrara goal on 16m 27s before being hit with another blow thanks to a Bochna goal at 18m 5s.
Lightning found it difficult to fight back but they did so with Michael Farn firing home from the blue line on 53m 30s and Carr getting an equaliser at 54m 36s. Ziedins then put Phantoms ahead again on the night with 1m 13s remaining – too late though to affect the destination of the trophy.
Following Manchester’s visit on Saturday, Lightning head up the M1 to face Sheffield Steeldogs on Sunday.