Bulldogs’ netminder Phil Pearson living the dream with Manchester Storm

Bulldogs’ netminder Phil Pearson will be back-up for Manchester Storm against Guildford Flames this weekend. Picture: Andy Bourke/Podium Prints.

BRADFORD BULLDOGS netminder Phil Pearson is living the dream after being asked to step up and be back-up netminder for Elite League Manchester Storm this weekend.

With Storm’s regular No 2 James Downie having been loaned out to Elite League rivals Nottingham Panthers for the remainder of the season, Phil is stepping up three levels to fill-in behind coach Ryan Finnerty’s first-choice goalie, Jason Bacashihua.

The Storm – who also have former Bulldogs forward Jacob Lutwyche in their ranks – failed to make the EIHL play-offs this year and close out their regular season campaign with a double-header against Guildford Flames, the first instalment being at home at Planet Ice Altrincham on Saturday night (7pm).

“I grew up watching Storm and I went to their first-ever game,” said Phil, who played 18 games for the Bulldogs this season and topped the NIHL North Two stats with a save percentage of .922. “So to be able to train and just be on the bench and be in among the team is like a childhood dream come true.

“When you’re a kid you look up to teams like that and, at the time, they are obviously your heroes.”

Having been recommended to help Storm out during practice sessions from early March by goalie coach Dave Clancy, Phil believes his game has improved, helping him for the Bulldogs in the closing weeks of an NIHL North Two campaign which saw them just miss out on the play-off finals weekend.

Having not taken to the ice until his early 20s – and not icing between 2013-2016 – this weekend is a significant achievement.

“When I first started at Storm, I wasn’t having the best of times at Bradford,” he added. “I was doing okay but I was in a bit of a slump. Training at Storm has helped get me out of that and I started to pick up towards the end of the season with the Bulldogs.

Phil Pearson is excited about his opportunity with Manchester Storm this weekend. Picture courtesy of Steve Brodie/Telford Tigers Photos.

““It’s a lot quicker and you always have to be ready because it isn’t often that they miss the net – the biggest difference has been the speed, power and accuracy.

“When they asked me if I fancied being back-up, I jumped at the chance. I’m going into the weekend not expecting any ice time at all. If I do get on at all that would just be unbelievable and the icing on the cake.”

Phil is quick to praise the influence Bradford has had on his career, from the moment they gave him a way back into the game in 2016 after he had taken a three-year break.

“It was Bradford that gave me a chance of playing league hockey again back in 2016,” he explained. “Andy Brown has been great, as have the manager Joanne Gibson and assistant coach Hannah (Gibson). The lads are great too – I love being in the Bulldogs changing room.

Bulldogs head coach Andy Brown, right, and assistant coach, Hannah Gibson. Picture: Andy Bourke/Podium Prints.

“It was disappointing to miss out on the finals weekend, but we’ve not been helped out with injuries and other players who were on two-way deals at times. So you do miss players like that but, all in all, it’s not been a bad season and if the season had been 20 games instead of 16 I believe we’d have made the play-offs. We finished strongly but just ran out of games.”

Bulldogs head coach Andy Brown says the chance to be Storm’s back-up netminder this weekend is fully deserved.

“Phil’s had en exceptional year for us and his game has really come on,” said Andy. “His stats speak for themselves and he is somebody who is prepared to work hard at his game week-in, week-out. We’re lucky to have been able to have both him and Sam Bolwell this season.

“To get an opportunity like this with the Storm is fantastic for him and just rewards for his efforts. He has been training with them for a while now and so he should fit in on their bench comfortably. Hopefully, he’ll get a bit of time in between the pipes but, if not, it will still be a great experience for him.”