SWINDON Wildcats got their EPL campaign off to a dramatic start with a 4-3 penalty shoot-out victory over Manchester Phoenix in Altrincham tonight.
Cats were magnificent across 65 minutes of hockey and a nerve-rattling shoot-out, with Aaron Nell, Ollie Betteridge and Tomasz Malasinski netting for the visitors.
Michal Psurny, Jamie Archer and Frantisek Bakrlik scored for Manchester, who missed twice in the shoot-out through Psurny and Adam Walker, while Malasinski and Kostal scored for Swindon.
Wildcats started the game in the worst possible fashion and fell behind with 1.13 on the clock. Stevie Lyle could only half-save Tony Hand’s shot and Archer was in the right place at the right time to tap home.
The visitors’ task was made that little bit harder by Kenton Smith’s 10-minute penalty for abuse of an official and, although not shorthanded, the Cats started to wobble. Only a couple of good stops from Lyle and some less-than-convincing offence from Phoenix allowed Swindon to stay in the game.
In the second half of the opening period, however, Ryan Aldridge’s men found their skates. Nell, Malasinki and Betteridge all tested Steve Fone in the Manchester goal and Aldridge could afford a smile as he crossed the ice for the break with his team a single goal behind.
Phoenix began the second period like they’d started the first and Cats had to work hard defensively to keep their hosts at bay. Eventually Manchester breached the Swindon D-line, however, when Frantisek Bakrlik was gifted space and produced a fizzing shot which beat Lyle.
Briefly it felt as though the Cats were going to be overrun but, with Robin Kovar in the penalty box, Cats took advantage just before the end of the period. Henri Sandvik and Adam Harding connected beautifully to tee up Malasinski, who tapped home.
With just 31 seconds of the final period played, Cats drew level. Kostal and Sandvik were involved in the scramble that up to Betteridge’s fairly tame effort creeping through the legs of Fone.
Parity didn’t last long, however, and Swindon found themselves back behind two minutes later when Psurny ghosted round behind the visitors’ goal and scrambled the puck past Lyle.
It looked like that might just be enough for Manchester to win the match outright but with less seven minutes left, Swindon levelled matters for a second time, Nell streaking clear to beat Fone head on.
With no further scores in normal time, the game went to sudden death overtime. Cats dominated the extra period, with Nell spurning one glorious chance to put the visitors in front. Despite losing the same man to a late penalty, Cats hung on for a shoot-out where Nell and Walker both missed before Kostal and Archer found the net.
With tension mounting, Malasinski kept his nerve to put the pressure on Archer, and it was too much for the Phoenix man, who saw his shot saved by Lyle.