TONY Hand’s Manchester Phoenix lost their playoff title on Sunday night to the Basingstoke Bison, but they didn’t go down without a fight.
Phoenix, who battled past an impressive Swindon side on Saturday afternoon, saw their league and playoff double mission ended at the final hurdle.
On Saturday at the showpiece finals weekend in Coventry, Phoenix trailed to the Cats 3-2 going into the final period with Andy McKinney and Michal Psurny on target for Manchester.
McKinney grabbed his second mid way through the third period to carry the league champions into overtime where a powerplay opportunity was fully obliged with a spectacular sudden death winner from Frantisek Bakrlik.
The win put Hand’s side into the final to face Basingstoke Bison, whom Phoenix beat to clinch the league title, after they brushed aside Guildford Flames 5-2 in the second game on Saturday.
Phoenix started brightly in the final on Sunday, but couldn’t find a way past Bison netminder Dean Skinns until mid way through the second period as Robin Kovar slid the puck in on the powerplay.
Bison, however, responded immediately through ex-Manchester forward Ciaran Long as he raced in on goal to beat Steve Fone.
Bison then netted a penalty shot to take the lead going into the final period, but James Archer quickly brought Phoenix level after the restart.
However back to back goals from the Bison put them in control with strikes from Joe Baird and Tomas Karpov.
Kovar struck his second of the night for Manchester with little three minutes remaining but as Phoenix pushed forward to find an equaliser, Bison hit an empty net goal to seal the win.
Coach Hand said: “We gave it everything we had and I am tremendously proud of the whole locker room for their efforts. Basingstoke were the better side and congratulations to them.
“We just had nothing left in the tank at the end but can hold our heads high. Thanks also to the fans. They have been brilliant all weekend and really gave us a boost throughout.”