ICE HOCKEY: Controversial end to Wildcats' fine season

Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard: Aku Pekkarinen, defence man for Swindon Wildcats Aku Pekkarinen, defence man for Swindon Wildcats

SWINDON Wildcats' fine season came to a disappointing end when they lost their play-off semi final tie against the Manchester Phoenix in controversial circumstances on Saturday, writes George Royle.

Swindon forced some great saves from Stephen Fone in the Manchester net during the early stages of the match and it was against the run of play when Andrew McKinney of the Phoenix squeezed the puck home through traffic with eight minutes gone.

Ryan Aldridge's side responded in the perfect manner just a few minutes later when Sam Smith skilfully lifted the puck over Fone's attempted block.

Swindon subsequently absorbed a lot of pressure from a surging Phoenix team but managed to hold out and take the 1-1 scoreline into the second frame.

As both sides started to adapt to the much larger ice surface that Coventry has to offer, the game opened up which provided a great spectacle for supporters.

The Cats managed to take the lead midway through the middle period as Aaron Nell found himself in space and converted from close range.

The Wiltshire side didn't manage to hold their lead for long as Michal Psurny scored a wonderful individual effort, skating through all five Swindon skaters before wrong-footing Stevie Lyle and tapping the puck in.

The goals were coming thick and fast in the second period as Swedish forward Jonas Hoog gave his side the lead again after successfully converting a rebound.

Swindon managed to hold the 3-2 lead and set up a very exciting final stanza of action.

Supporters of the league's 10 teams who made the trip to Coventry were being treated to a thrilling encounter.

Midway through a tense third period Manchester grabbed the equalising goal as Robin Kovar put McKinney in for his second of the day.

After a big final 10 minutes for the Cats, including a good penalty kill, the game went to overtime.

The controversial moment came when the referee gave a penalty against Swindon's Finnish defence man Aku Pekkarinen, but every spectator in the arena failed to see it.

On the resulting powerplay, Frantisek Bakrlik fired home a powerful slapshot from the blue line to end Swindon's dreams of making the final.

After a poor opening half of the season, the Cats were magnificent on the run-in with Jan Kostal sparking the comeback.

Head coach Ryan Aldridge has assembled a good looking side, and if he can keep the majority of the players for next year's campaign, it could be a silverware-winning season for the Wildcats.

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