We sat down for a chat with Phantoms Head Coach, Slava Koulikov, ahead of Friday night’s National Cup Final first leg against the Telford Tigers. 

Last weekend saw the Phantoms lose their winning run with two defeats on the road, in Telford and Bracknell. Koulikov was keen to take the positives from both games ahead of the biggest week of the Phantoms’ season so far. 

“Saturday was a good game between two good teams, and it could’ve gone either way. It was unfortunate for us that it went their way; I thought we played and competed well, but we didn’t get the luck on the night. On Sunday we were weak in the D zone. In the other two zones we were good and created enough to score six or seven goals, but the D zone assignments were missed, and we hung Ryan out to dry too many times in the game. It was out of character; we spoke about it after the game and we’ll put it right.” Koulikov said. 

Whilst last weekend’s results were undoubtedly disappointing for everyone involved, Koulikov thinks it could have been a blessing in disguise, with the team now eager to return to winning ways, as well as winning the cup. 

“We wanted to win the games at the weekends but in a way, it could turn out to be a positive and give a bit more motivation to get back to winning ways. But when Friday comes around, we can’t think about last weekend or in the run of games with Telford this year, finals are always different. There are certain things for the coaches to look at, but you draw the line under the other games and move into Friday.”

Since Slava’s arrival six years ago, the Phantoms have enjoyed plenty of success and have featured in numerous finals. Not all of them ended in victory, but the progression of the club since his arrival in Peterborough has been clear to see.

“Over the six years I’ve been here, we’ve had eight cup finals including playoffs and that speaks for itself how well the team has done over the years. When you compete every year and guys are doing such an amazing job, as a coach you enjoy being part of it and being around the guys and seeing them giving their all for the team.” Said the Phantoms’ Head Coach. 

The majority of the Phantoms squad were part of last season’s treble winning team and will still remember how it feels to get their hands on a trophy. Slava is keen for his players to enjoy the occasion, but to also leave everything out on the ice, to give them the best possible chance of feeling that winning feeling once again. 

“When it comes to the big stage, you have to enjoy it, play with confidence and leave everything out there. We’ve done and achieved so much in the last year and three quarters with minimal changes to the team, so it comes down to enjoying the final and the moment, and with that enjoyment they must leave everything out there and compete. Tactically, we’re ready, so we need to play with confidence and passion to try and win another trophy.” Coach Koulikov said. 

Telford have had an excellent year themselves and look set to lift the NIHL National league title in a matter of weeks. They’ve beaten the Phantoms on all four occasions the sides have met this term, albeit by close scorelines. But Slava knows that none of that means anything when it comes to a cup final, it’s a stand-alone game where form and records mean nothing.

Slava said: “It’s anyone’s trophy, they’re a very solid team who have a lot of little details right. They’re well organised and Tom Watkins is proving that he’s a very good coach. That’s why they’re going to win the league.We’ve done a good job as well this year so its two good teams, two gameseverything else goes out of the window, whoever plays their best will win.”

“It was good to play them on Saturday to recap the way they play but we have to adjust throughout the game to the game situations and read the game to do what needs to be done in that moment.” He continued.

Last year, all three trophies were won on home ice with the second leg’s taking place at Planet Ice Peterborough. This year, the Phantoms will play at home in the first leg, before travelling to Telford to try and seal the victory. Koulikov knows it is important to try and take a lead to Telford with them, but it isn’t absolutely vital, as the second leg presents the team with 60 more minutes to get their hands on the cup. 

“We’d obviously like to win at home, to make sure that a) we win and b) we please the fans who will bring a great atmosphere. But Telford showed in their semi-final that a first leg lead doesn’t decide the tie because there’s still another 60 minutes after that. That being said, we don’t want to wait and start playing in the second leg, we need to focus on doing the right things, compete for every puck and do everything we can on Friday to make good things happen, then we focus on the second leg.” Slava said. 

Since Slava’s arrival, the fans have taken him to their hearts as he’s continuously signed, coached and iced hugely competitive teams who have what it takes to battle for every piece of silverware available to them. Throughout the last six years, Slava has developed a real affinity for the club and for the players he has coached. He wants the Phantoms to win the cup for the players, the fans and for the organisation as a whole.

“It’s better to be with the same club for a period of time, to know how the club work and with that, it gives more stability to work with the majority of the same guys. In the bigger picture, as long as you have hunger for success, to work and improve the team and yourself, that’s what’s important and whilst you’re enjoying it, good things can happen. I always give credit to the guys on the ice and for the fans, players and the organisation you want to make those memories and have those moments of winning. You obviously don’t want to have the feeling of losing. We’re competing for every trophy every year right now and the guys make the difference, it’s not easy to enjoy coming in and blocking shots for seven months but the guys still come in smiling and it’s all the little details that make you want to work with the group and help them to be successful.” Slava concluded.

If you have plans, cancel them. If you’re coming to the game, bring a friend. This is not a game to be missed as the Phantoms go in search of yet another trophy. Tickets are available HERE or from the Planet Ice Box Office upon arrival at the rink.

Doors will open at 6:30pm ahead of a 7:30 face off in Peterborough. Remember to wear your brightest white clothing and collect a white towel to help us #WhiteOutTheRink.

If you cannot attend the game, full match updates will be available on our Twitter account @GoPhantoms.

We will also be live streaming the game HERE!