Koulikov hopes his young guns will fire Phan­toms into the play-offs

The Peterborough Evening Telegraph - - World Of Sport - By Mark Plum­mer ICE HOCKEY COR­RE­SPON­DENT

A place in the top half of the English Pre­mier League ta­ble is the ini­tial tar­get of Peter­bor­ough Phan­toms coach Slava Koulikov this sea­son. Koulikov be­gins his third full cam­paign at the helm af­ter trans­form­ing the city club from wooden spoon dodgers into tro­phy-win­ners since his late 2013 ar­rival.

The new sea­son fol­lows a sum­mer of tran­si­tion for Phan­toms with seven mem­bers of the team which fin­ished as league and EPL Cup run­ners-up last term hav­ing moved on and an­other, vet­eran de­fence­man Ja­son Buck­man, re­tir­ing and tak­ing up a coach­ing po­si­tion.

Plen­ty­ofnew­face­shavear­rivedasare­sul­tandtheen­dresul­ti­sas­quad­boast­ing­th­etwo things sup­pos­edly needed to chal­lenge­for­sport­ing­suc­cess – youth and ex­pe­ri­ence.

Koulikov said: “There is no doubt we have over-achieved in the past two years.

“If we­canget­intothat­po­si­tion to chal­lenge for tro­phies again, it would be per­fect.

“But the re­al­is­tic goal is to en­sure we have the sta­bil­ity and con­sis­tency to pick up the re­sults that get us into the play-offs.

“If we can boast a win ra­tio of around 50% I will be sat­is­fied. Bet­ter­ing that should get us into the top half of the ta­ble and­hope­ful­lythat’s within reach.

“The dif­fer­ent struc­ture in the play-offs this year with a group for­mat makes it a bit eas­ier for the sides who fin­ished sixth, sev­enth and eighth to reach the fi­nals week­end.”

Koulikov could be for­given for be­ing en­vi­ous giv­ing the mega-bucks bud­gets ru­moured­to­beavail­able­to­some of his coach­ing peers in the sec­ond tier of the sport.

But he is quite happy with the funds and play­ers at his dis­posal, and he hopes his ploy of bring­ing in a num­ber of younger re­cruits could pro­vide a long-term re­ward.

He added: “We saw last sea­son that other clubs have the spend­ing­pow­er­tochange their squads if they do not start well. Guild­ford did it last sea­son and then won two tro­phies as a re­sult.

“It’s a hard job for me with not hav­ing one of the big­gest bud­gets. We have to find the right play­ers for the right price and make sure they fit into our struc­ture over a num­ber of years.

“But it is also tough for the coaches who do have the big money. They are un­der pres­sure to get the guys in to win tro­phies and then have to man­age the egos that come with it.

“There are a cou­ple of rea­sons why we have drafted in a lot of younger play­ers.

“Firstly, we wanted to cre­ate a long-term squad with good depth and the way to do that wasto­bring­in­more­play­ers.

“Se­condly, I find­thaty­oung guys are hun­gryand­will­ing to learn, and will hope­fully give us the edge fur­ther along in the sea­son.

“I’m awarethaty­oung­play­er­swill­makemis­take­sandthe main thing is to en­sure they learn from them and then start to make the right de­ci­sions con­sis­tently.

“We do also have plenty of ex­pe­ri­ence with our im­ports and our se­nior Brits like Marc Lev­ers, James Fer­rara and Tom Norton.

“Other guys such as Scott Rob­so­nandBenRus­sel­la­reestab­lish­ing them­selves in the EPL with ev­ery sea­son and have played a lot of hockey at this level for their age.

“Theav­er­ageage­oftheroster is just un­der 25 and that doesn’t con­cern me in the slight­est.

“I’mvery­hap­py­here. I have a good re­la­tion­ship with the own­ers and pro­gres­sively the club is go­ing in the right di­rec­tion.”

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