Banners On The Road – Wightlink Raiders vs Chelmsford Chieftains 19/4/14

NIHL South 1 Playoff Final 1st Leg

Wightlink Raiders 3-3 Chelmsford Chieftains

Barker x 2 (1pp)         Brittle (5on3 pp)

Vizzari                      Connolly

                                Turner (pp)

The game: The hosts went into the game with Matt Colclough between the pipes facing off against Euan King for the league and cup champion Chieftains.

The game started out nice and open, both teams getting chances in what was an initial feeling out process for both sides. The Chieftains tested Matt Colclough and a well worked move by the Raiders forced a save from King from a shot at the top of his crease.

Corey Watkins was making it his role to mark and agitate the ever dangerous Luke Brittle and he was rewarded when he drew a slashing call, sending Brittle to the box for an early chance. The hosts piled on the pressure, the best chance coming when Jeremy Cornish fired a no look pass from beside the goalpost to Steve Osman in the slot but King made a good save.

Where Watkins was sticking to Brittle, Nathan Taylor was doing a similar job on Gary Clarke but it was the Wightlink man who fell foul of the referee Mr Solovjovs when he was called for interference. It was made worse shortly afterwards when Cornish was called for roughing after a gloved punch to Chelmsford’s big import defenceman, Tibor Schneider giving the visitors a 5 on 3 powerplay and despite some excellent stops by Colclough, eventually the pressure told. A broken play saw Clarke feed Luke Brittle who needed two attempts but eventually beat Colclough from the angle at 09:30.

The Chieftains were firmly on the front foot at this stage and were quickly back to the front of the net. The puck was past Colclough but the goal was called off for reasons that remained unknown to many, the announcement being made right as the crowd was making noise. It didn’t matter shortly afterwards as the visitors got their second goal. Danial Volrab fed John Connolly at the side of the net and he beat Colclough shortside at 11:59 to double the advantage.

The Raiders looked rattled and needed something to spark them into life and were given an opportunity when John Connolly was rightly called for interference sending the Raiders to the powerplay. It didn’t take the hosts long to strike, the puck was cycled round to the point where NIHL South 1 all star Alex Barker hammered the puck past King at 13:50 to put the Isle of Wight on the board.

The Raiders went straight back to the front of the net in an attempt to get the puck past King but the only connection was between Jeremy Cornish’s stick and the mask of the Chelmsford backstop.

The end of the period saw the sides trade penalties; Julian Smith was called for holding before Damon Larter was forced into hooking back Gary Clarke on the shorthanded breakway.

The period ended in a bad tempered fashion when Yousif Abu Saada landed a monstrous hit on a Chelmsford player that was called as a check to the head with Darren Brown picking up a roughing penalty for his part in the afters. The Chieftains took advantage on the powerplay as Matthew Turner struck on the powerplay at 19:42 to make it 3-1 to the visitors at the first buzzer.

The hosts had looked a touch sluggish in the first period and needed to find a way to get themselves back into the contest. The Raiders were the fastest out of the gate for the second period and got a good bounce that gave them what they wanted. A shot from Corey Watkins rebounded off of King onto the stick of Matt Vizzari. The Canadian import mishandled but got just enough on the puck to squeeze it between King and the post at 24:11.

The Chieftains were back to the powerplay when Craig Tribe checked his former Bison teammate Daniel Volrab into the Raiders net and it looked to be 4-2 shortly afterwards as a long drive went past Colclough into the net but all the celebrations were called off when one of the linesmen signalled that the play was offside and was treated to a Tibor Schneider death stare.

The game became a battle of attrition; the quality of the play dropping and the contest became a battle of wills and grit as the teams put the expansive hockey away to try muscle and claw their way past each other. The Chieftains hit posts, the Raiders had a good chance in the slot that was missed by Corey Watkins but nothing was doing in either direction.

The Raiders had a late powerplay chance when Michael Ranby was called for roughing. The home side threw the kitchen sink at the Chieftains goal in an attempt to get an equaliser before the buzzer but were stopped by some excellent penalty killing and fantastic netminding by Euan King who seemed determined to frustrate the vocal home support.

The final period of the season at the Ryde Arena got underway in much a similar way to the first period; both sides seemingly scared of making a mistake and the feeling out process began again. Who was feeling the fatigue? Where were the holes in the armour? Who wanted it more?

Nathan Taylor tangled with John Connolly which saw the Chelmsford man pulled to the floor and his head bounce off the ice which leads us to a BOTW public service announcement; if a player is down on the ice, clearly shaken up and getting checked out by the physio, don’t boo him. Connolly was fine and back to action moments later but never boo a man down on the ice. Rant over.

Oddly after the break to check on Connolly, the game started to really open up a bit. The game became a real end to end affair with some really good hockey taking place on the notoriously small Ryde ice surface.

Matthew Turner was called for interference before Matthew Vizzari fell foul of Mr Solovjovs for a charging call that was incredibly harsh given the Canadian had not taken more than 2 steps from the goalpost to the end boards.

The game felt like it had a goal left in it and the Raiders made sure that they were the ones to get it. After a period of sustained pressure on King’s goal, the equaliser came. Some neat passing found Alex Barker in the slot who fired a slapshot through the 5 hole of King to tie the scores at 58:25.

The Raiders decided they wanted a winner before the final buzzer and kept pressing. In the final few seconds, Barker was set away and it was a straight foot race between King and the Raiders’ all star forward. Brittle tripped Barker and King won the race to the puck. The ref had his arm raised for the call on Brittle but the final act was the buzzer ending what had been an entertaining contest at 3-3 ahead of the second leg on Chelmsford.

The Raiders: It really was a game of three periods for the hosts; the first was uninspired, the second was gritty and determined and the third was like the Raiders of old full of determination and direction. Finding themselves 3-1 down at the end of the 1st period, the Raiders refocussed and clawed their way back into a tie when if they’d continued playing how they had been, they could have found themselves blown out of the water.

Simon Hobbis was a good choice for man of the match, the GB under 18 international playing a calm and composed game from the back that belied his years. He joined the rush when needed, made smart plays and looked like a higher level of hockey calls him.

That said, Alex Barker was outstanding last night. The former Slough man was the Raiders most potent attacking threat all night and surely has to be high on the list of wanted returnees by management.

Some of the bigger Raiders names were rather quiet during the game; Matt Vizzari and Steve Osman didn’t have the impact that many might have hoped they had but this was countered by some superb role play by Corey Watkins and Nathan Taylor whose man marking of Brittle and Clarke sometimes crossed the line into “handy stickwork” but was effective. They are the sort of gritty players built for “old time” playoff hockey.

The key to the Raiders getting a result in Chelmsford? Go out in the first period and hit anything that moves wearing a Chelmsford shirt. The Raiders need to get the Chieftains off of their game. The tie turned in Wightlink’s favour on this night when the game turned into a more gritty affair. The Raiders are not the most skillful team so they have 1 option; out work them.

The Chieftains: Cardiff NIHL Devils/Satans goalie/bench coach/waterboy Dan Brabon told me on the run up to the game that Chelmsford would impress and that they did. Watching the Chieftains, it’s easy to see why they are on the verge of a grand slam. They are a very highly skilled side with a deep bench. The team is well rounded and has players to play all the necessary roles needed for success at any level.

Julian Smith got the man of the match beers but with all due respect to him, Euan King was robbed. The former Peterborough goalie who started the season with the London Raiders came into the game with a 0.95 save percentage in his 7 league games and pulled off a performance that totally supported those numbers. He had a decent defensive effort in front of him but some of the stops under pressure were simply outstanding. He will be disappointed with the Raiders’ third goal but overall it was a performance worthy of praise. It’s crazy to think he’s only 24.

As Gary Clarke skates off into the sunset after the second leg, he certainly seems to want to go out on a high and the Chieftains player/coach doesn’t look like a man who is hanging up the axe. The speed is still there, the hands are still there and the hockey brain is still very much there. He was a threat to the point the Raiders had him man marked every time he was on the ice and that didn’t always work. All the best in retirement, Gary.

It was a solid team performance by Chelmsford but they will be displeased at letting the lead slip. Whilst they are still very much the odds on favourites for the tie, essentially starting from 0-0 with one game to play at the Riverside, they can’t allow Wightlink a chance to do anything. If the Chieftains play their game and don’t allow the Raiders an inch, it’ll be another trophy heading to Essex.

Overall: The result was probably the correct one; 3-3 speaks to the decent performance of both sides. It wasn’t the prettiest game of hockey I’ve ever seen but it was entertaining. It was the two best sides in NIHL 1 South going at each other for the big prize and tonight they have 60 minutes to decide the winner. The game had a bit of everything; good plays, tough action, a good and vocal crowd and the requisite plate of cheesy curly fries.

I’m still utterly confused by the Vizzari charging call but it was a good evening and we await tonight’s second leg with anticipation.


Building the Herd – Kurt Reynolds

#7 Kurt Reynolds

Position: Defence

Born: Basingstoke, Hampshire

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 17/4/14

(c) 5 Hole Photography

(c) 5 Hole Photography

It begins again; after announcing Doug Sheppard would remain at the helm for the foreseeable future, the Bison have announced the first official member of the squad that will defend the double is EPL first team all star, Kurt Reynolds.

Reynolds, 27 has signed a deal to keep him with his hometown team until 2016 having just completed his 6th consecutive season in Bison colours. The last member of the final EIHL Bison roster still at the club, Reynolds played under 19s hockey at Guildford before heading to the US in 2003. After spells with the Soo Indians and Hartford Junior Wolfpack, Reynolds returned to Britain in 2007 with the Bracknell Bees in the EPL and helped the Berkshire side to a 3rd placed finish and the playoff final.

Reynolds’ performances for the Bees as well as 2 games with the Nottingham Panthers saw him get the call to the Elite League the next season as part of the Bison’s 20th anniversary roster where he 4 goals and 8 assists in 54 games.

When Planet Ice hit the reboot button on Bison hockey for 2009/10, Reynolds was the only player to remain at the club as Steve Moria took the reigns of command and both sides have never looked back. Whilst his 2012/13 campaign was ended prematurely by injury, Reynolds has been a mainstay as a top 4 defenceman for the Bison and is widely heralded as one of the best players in the EPL. Reynolds has hit 280 appearances for Basingstoke scoring 82 points over that time. Injuries and suspensions not withstanding, Reynolds should make his 300th Bison appearance sometime around November 2014. Kurt played in the 2008/09 EIHL all star game as well as having been selected as a 1st team all star this year alongside Tomas Karpov.

The Beast is back. This signing is a smart PR move on the part of the Bison right off the bat. With the rumour mill in overdrive last summer that Kurt was off to Guildford, Sheppard has got arguably the best player in the league back and got it announced quickly to set the minds of the fans at ease as well as probably convince a few people to part with their season ticket monies as well.

As the Sheppard signing was a no brainer for Bison management, so this signing is for the coach. Reynolds is an A+ player night in and night out for the Bison. Positionally sound, great vision on the ice, rarely makes a bad play, fantastic hands, can turn on a sixpence; it sounds hyperbolic but it’s not. Anyone who watches Reynolds is aware of just how talented he is at this level. How many times have we watched him in a corner against 2 or even 3 opposition players and still walk out with the puck?

One of the big differences for the Bison this year that helped in the trophy hunt was having Reynolds fit enough to play over half the games. Yes there was an injury but missing 6 games is a massive difference from missing 27. When Reynolds was lost at around Christmas time of the 12/13 campaign, the Bison found themselves in a real bind. Sheppard had gambled on the 4 import forward structure which was fine provided our defence remained healthy and losing Reynolds was a massive problem. British quality import defenceman at EPL level don’t grow on trees. Obviously Reynolds wasn’t the only reason for the problems last year nor is his loss an excuse but how much of a difference does a fit Kurt Reynolds make to the Bison roster? It’s pretty massive.

Reynolds is a leader by how he plays. Cool, calm and collected, he isn’t particularly vocal on the bench or on the ice. When Joe Miller left for Telford and vacated one of the alternate captain slots, a lot of people instantly said to me “it’ll be Reynolds surely.” I disagreed and said Aaron Connolly not because Reynolds couldn’t do it but because he didn’t need it. Aside from Aaron being a much more vocal player, sometimes it’s a good thing to just let your best players play and not need to worry about being a “leader” on and off the ice and I’ve always felt that way about Kurt. If Sheppard did put a letter on Reynolds for next season then great and he’ll do a fantastic job but if he doesn’t then it’s really no big deal.

The two year deal is a bonus that suits all parties. The Bison have one of their best players locked up for the next two years which a good length of time to once again evaluate this next phase of Doug Sheppard’s tenure in charge. Reynolds get 2 years of a spot on a team that is challenging for silverware regularly and play in front of a crowd who loves him whilst being close to his off ice interests. The fans get two years of Kurt Reynolds. Everyone’s happy.

It’s obviously tough to say what’s going to happen with Kurt at the moment considering that the roster officially consists of him and Sheppard but whoever comes and goes, there’s one piece of the blueline we really don’t need to worry about.

Welcome back, Kurt; as you would say, bosh!


Curtain Down 2013/14

The season is officially done. 2013/14; a season that will go down in history as one of the most successful the Bison have ever had has come to an end so it’s time to round out the campaign. This is Curtain Down.

The playoff weekend:

It was fantastic to see Paul and Becky Shipman as well as meet baby Sam and catch up with Stu, Kerry and Isaac Coles again which is always a nice addition to the hockey.

When I missed the 2013 playoff weekend due to celebrations for my mother in law’s 60th birthday, my wife mentioned that had I missed us winning it, I’d be insufferable. My wife is an astute woman.

The weekend was outstanding. You meet people for fleeting moments or have a few moments of banter or chanting but that’s all you need. Playoff weekend is always good fun.

I managed to have some cherry and cinnamon mead, roast gammon and lamb rogan josh and that was just at the Shipmans! It should be said though that there can’t be a more hockey sight than 4 people standing outside Subway scoffing down a sandwich all looking so nervous that the sandwich could easily reappear.

The overriding feeling of the weekend though was anticipation. It felt all weekend like the Bison could pull it off. It wasn’t without worries of course because this is the Bison and they enjoy making us all have a heart attack but it was great.

Points if you noticed the following things at playoff weekend;

  • DangerMouse

  • Superted who went from being excited to pensive to sad to happy

  • Any Australian hockey jerseys

  • Scott McKenzie sober

The season:

People were writing off the Bison really early in the summer. The team was not meant to challenge, the netminding would see us win nothing, I remember one person saying the money had clearly run out for players when Sheppard announced Standing, Mogg and Dewey in one press release. There was a lot of really weird stuff being said long before the roster was complete.

In the documentary “4 Nights in October” about the Boston Red Sox’ run to the 2004 American League title (and if you’ve not seen it, find it because it’s spectacular), Red Sox manager Terry Francona says that yes, the team has a lot of characters but it also has a lot of character which might be the best way to sum up this team.

The 2013/14 Bison has been a team that is much more than the sum of its parts. Sheppard went out and got a team that really got the mix right. It had skill, it had leadership, it had energy, it had grit and it all came together to make something really good.

There were wobbles obviously and not everything went right on every night. There were setbacks, some had to get off along the way and others got on but the train kept moving. Ultimately Doug Sheppard deserves a lot of credit for putting this team together, the right team that has made the Basingstoke Bison a force in the EPL. I’m not going to sit here and say that I knew the season would end so well because a) you never do know and b) I’ve watched enough hockey to know that you rarely get what you want. You rarely do but this time, I’m pretty sure we did.

A grade for the season? It has to be an A. Written off before and during the season, the Bison won two out of three trophies, took the league to the penultimate weekend before a second placed finish and a lot of people are having to stare at a portion of humble pie over the summer. We can dream of what 2014/15 will bring.

The thank yous:

I’ll start with who I should always start with; my wife Emily never finds any of the ranting, raving, early Sunday mornings or late evenings spent writing silly. She never asks questions when I say that I’m heading to the rink for this or that and always understands. She will always be BOTW’s biggest supporter and thank you for being so understanding of the sport that I love and the writing.

Grant King of 5 Hole Photography is, frankly, superhuman in his efforts for the club when it comes to his photos and the fact that he allows me to use his work is something I’m very proud of. His photographs always make BOTW look that much more professional and make Running with the Herd especially that little bit more alive. I say it loads but given the season we’ve just had, go look through www.5holephotography.co.uk and find a picture to buy.  Grant’s work capturing the best season the club has had in the last few years deserves support and broadcast. Also be sure to check out his motorcycle photography over the summer.

My friendship with Jessica Blackburn and Hannah Farmer started when the pair of them “complimented” (I think) my $20 Edmonton Oilers jersey in the bar. Their Mo-vember stuff was a great addition to the blog this season and I hope to have them do that and more next season.

I also need to thank the other members of the EPL “bloggers union”; all those that wrote for “Standing in the Way” before the season began and showed support over the season but a special mention to Ben Knight and all at the Manchester Phoenix official podcast and Ben Callaghan of On The Prowl (though no thanks Ben for the Jan Melichar keyring and magnet). A mention as well is needed for Patrick Smyth of the now official Belfast Giants podcast, A View From The Bridge; thanks for the support and congratulations to AVFTB on their new status within the Giants organisation.

John Neville, Paul West and Graham Bell for being accommodating to what I do deserve a thank you as well.

Thanks as well to all the players and others that took the time to speak to me and be interviewed over the course of the season. We’ve had current Bison (Muzzy Wales speaking to me in the midst of a fire alarm being set off was fun), ex Bison and for all the flack Mr Scholes takes, he gave up 30-40 mins of his time and sat in a hotel in Liverpool to speak to me. Cheers, Wayne.

I could take an age thanking all my friends who I see at the rink every week. You all know who you are and I appreciate your friendship, support and for never failing to tell me when I’m wrong. You are all awesome.

Lastly, to Doug and the players without whom I have nothing to write about; thanks for taking us all on a very wild ride.

What’s to come

So what for Banners On The Wall? The same mantra as always; doing what works without stagnating. BOTW (somehow) has a reputation for quality and being a go-to place for quality coverage of this team and the EPL. I want that to continue. I’ve said for a while that one day, the title of this blog would be something tangible. The space is filled. We have something to put on that wall and BOTW will be there to watch the attempts to add to it.

We’ll be back when the next player signs or leaves. Stay safe and so long till next time.

Anthony


Running with the Herd – Manchester Phoenix vs Bison 6/4/14

EPL Playoff Final

Manchester Phoenix 3-5 Basingstoke Bison

Kovar x 2 (1pp)               Long

Archer                           Rand (ps)

                                     Baird

                                     Karpov

                                     Connolly (eng)

Ciaran Long scores on the breakaway in the Bison's 5-3 win over Manchester in the playoff final (c) 5 Hole Photography

Ciaran Long scores on the breakaway in the Bison’s 5-3 win over Manchester in the playoff final
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Our time: The Bison headed into the game the same as the day before. Manchester entered the contest with the same lineup as they had for their semi final against Swindon; Jack Watkins and Liam Chong sat out with injury and Tony Hand added Jared Dickenson to the roster. James Neil was rumoured to miss out but played, reportedly with a broken toe.

The Phoenix had the best of the early chances as they put rubber on Dean Skinns early. Robert Schnabel was set up for a customary huge blueline drive that the Bison backstop plucked out of the air with a crowd in front of him. Basingstoke were responding by hitting anything on the ice wearing a Phoenix logo as the Herd, in their red away cup jerseys looked to try and knock Manchester’s skill players off their game.

The Bison started to get going and got some good chances of their own; Doug Sheppard was denied on the wrap around and a Kurt Reynolds shot was turned away by Stephen Fone in the Phoenix net. Joe Baird went even close as his shot hit the edge of Fone’s glove but deflected away into the corner.

The Bison were caught out shortly afterwards as Frankie Bakrlik managed to break out and headed straight for the Bison net. One on one with Dean Skinns, the Phoenix’s semi final match winner made a move but Skinns made the initial save. With EPL all star Michal Psurny baring down, Skinns again stood strong and made the second stop to keep the score at 0-0.

The Bison then had to deal with the added pressure of being a man down when Andy Melachrino was called for slashing. The Bison made their protests known after feeling a couple of interference calls had been missed but the Phoenix were heading to the powerplay. The Bison managed to keep the league champions at bay, punctuated by a massive hit on Robin Kovar by Kurt Reynolds.

When back to full strength, the Bison forecheck managed to force a turnover in the Phoenix zone. The Herd crashed the net but Fone stood strong on his post and kept the puck out. The Phoenix backstop was called into more action as Richard Bentham was called for slashing as the Bison looked for an opening. Tomas Karpov tried a soft, angled shot similar to one that saw him score on Dalibor Sedlar in the quarter finals but Fone was equal to the effort.

The Phoenix came back and got a string of shots on Dean Skinns but the first buzzer sounded with the score locked at 0-0 after 20 minutes of enthralling hockey.

Manchester had the first good shot of the second period and when Richard Bentham got a little too close to Dean Skinns, Joe Baird stepped in and the two had a word but little else. This wasn’t going to be a game where things got out of hand. There was too much at stake.

Whilst all players on both sides were putting their bodies on the line, Nicky Chinn clearly wasn’t expecting a late and illegal looking hit from a Phoenix player but neither Mr Thompson nor Mr Hogarth were about to call a penalty. In the confusion, Joe Rand sped goalwards with the puck and forced Fone into a save.

Bakrlik and Reynolds chased after the puck into the corner by Skinns but the Phoenix forward was adjudged to have tripped Reynolds sending the Herd to the powerplay. The Bison fans were out of their seat after a great passing move set up Chinn for a chance in the slot but the shot that some thought was in was actually wide.

The Phoenix had a chance on the powerplay shortly afterwards when Ciaran Long was sent to the box for boarding former Bison, Jacob Corson-Heron. Long skated off to chants of “Manchester reject” from some Phoenix fans and those shouts turned to cheers as the Phoenix took the lead. As with so many things for Manchester this season, it came through Michal Psurny and Tony Hand who worked the puck to the front of the net. Hand’s shot rebounded off of Skinns and sat neatly for Robin Kovar to tap into the net at 28:47.

The Phoenix faithful roared their approval but were soon reduced to stunned silence when Ciaran Long came back to haunt them almost immediately. Under a bit of pressure from Tomas Karpov, Andy McKinney fell over on the puck at his own blueline. Long pounced on the loose puck, made a move and slotted the puck past Fone to tie the score at 29:13.

The Bison were soon facing another penalty killing situation when Miroslav Vantroba was rightly called for holding. There was soon controversy however as a high hit to Doug Sheppard saw the Bison player/coach down on the ice. The officials discussed what they had or hadn’t seen and no penalty was called on the play much to the distaste of the Bison players and fans.

Play restarted but the Phoenix powerplay unit couldn’t keep the puck inside the zone and suddenly, Joe Rand was away. As the Canadian sped towards Fone, he was dragged down from behind by Kovar and Mr Thompson raised his arms above his head to signal for a penalty shot.

After what seemed like an eternity, Rand was given the signal to go and he took off from centre ice. Heading out towards Fone’s left then cutting back in, Rand kept his speed, took a moment then fired past the netminder into the back of the net at 31:36. It had taken the Bison just under 3 minutes to go from behind to taking the lead.

The Herd smelled blood and pressed for another and nearly had their third when Aaron Connolly walked out of the corner and forced Fone into a spectacular save.

The Phoenix were given another powerplay when Reynolds was called for boarding Hand; an unlucky call as Hand turned his back on the hit at the last moment and the hit looked much worse than it actually was.

Rand had another shorthanded chance and the Phoenix pressed hard but they were caught as Reynolds stepped out of the box and was free on goal. The all star defenceman was in on Fone but was denied by a huge double pad stack save to keep the score at 2-1.

The Bison were still having the better chances as Joe Baird and Joe Greener both went close but the second period ended with the Herd still holding the lead.

Joe Baird battles Ben Wood in front of Dean Skinns. (c) 5 Hole Photography

Joe Baird battles Ben Wood in front of Dean Skinns.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

The third period didn’t start well as the Bison managed to get caught for an icing infraction and have too many men on the ice all at once. The officials chose the icing infraction and it instantly proved costly. A repeat of Manchester’s first goal with different players saw James Archer on hand to tap the rebound past Skinns at 42:30 to level the scores.

The Bison wrestled control of the game back and pressed to regain the lead. Luke Boothroyd stopped a shot with his leg and then the Bison went even closer. Doug Sheppard found Andy Melachrino at the side of the net who shot. Fone made a save but the puck squirted free and was tapped in by Sheppard. One problem; Mr Hogarth had lost sight of the puck and blew his whistle before Sheppard put the puck over the line.

Rather than get too frustrated, the Bison set back to the task and it paid off. With the Bison having got the cycle going, the puck was worked back to Joe Baird who drove the puck goalwards and a deflection off of a Phoenix player took the puck past Fone to nestle in the bottom of the net at 47:53.

The Phoenix tried to hit back and the game was still massively open even at this late stage; Joe Graham having a huge drive that was saved by Skinns. Doug Sheppard put a pass to Tomas Karpov in space who hit the blueline, wound up and fired a bomb that rocketed past Fone at 50:01 to make it 4-2 to the Bison and the Herd fans were beside themselves.

When first Corson-Heron and then Joe Graham went to the box for slashing and delay of the game respectively, Bison fans were hoping for the final nail in the coffin but the Phoenix penalty killers did an excellent job in not allowing the Bison powerplay to get a foothold.

The Phoenix found themselves on a powerplay when Aaron Connolly pushed the net off in a scramble in front of Dean Skinns and was punished with a delay of game penalty. The powerplay produced no results to begin with and Manchester took their timeout to organise a plan of attack which eventually worked. Some neat movement of the puck from Schnabel to McKinney found Kovar alone in the slot to fire past Skinns at 56:49 to make it 3-4.

It became do or die for the Phoenix as they pressed forward and the Bison tried to weather the attack. Chance after chance came but the Herd were holding firm as time ebbed away.

The clock ticked on; 50 seconds and Fone headed to the bench for the extra attacker and there was nothing but pressure on the Bison net. A shot came in and Skinns held on with 16 seconds to play.

The faceoff came and the puck ended up round the boards and the Phoenix man on the blueline couldn’t stop Aaron Connolly taking it out of the zone. The Bison’s alternate captain advanced up the right wing with most of the Skydome willing him to find the empty net. Connolly was taking no chances and took the zone, dragged it around the sprawling defender before firing the puck into the goal at 59:58 and letting out a guttural roar along with the fans in attendance.

The players flooded off the bench and mobbed Dean Skinns to the roar of approval from the travelling Herd fans at the Skydome as the team that many said were destined to struggle had ignored their supposed destiny and instead had written history. The Basingstoke Bison had won the EPIHL playoff championship. They done the double and had ended the 25th anniversary season in the grandest of styles.

Aaron Connolly goes "bar down" on the empty net to seal the playoff title for the Bison. (c) 5 Hole Photography

Aaron Connolly goes “bar down” on the empty net to seal the playoff title for the Bison.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

The celebrations begin (c) 5 Hole Photography

The celebrations begin
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Job done: The playoffs are a sprint rather than the marathon that is the regular season but they are an important sprint. It’s a matter of coming good at the right time. That being said the Bison ultimately played their game in the playoffs. There was no special game plan, it was their game versus our game and on the day, our game won. They shuffled the lines about a bit but ultimately this was no different from what has become “Bison hockey” under Doug Sheppard; speed, skill and physicality in equal measure and shutting teams down.

Tomas Karpov said in his interview with Bison Bites (now available on iTunes and Stitcher Radio, stick the cheque in the post please, Graham) that the man of the match means nothing in a moment like this and that’s fair enough but Karpov’s performance was excellent on the night. Then again, so was everyone’s performance. It’s hard to really pick someone out of that group of players. The entire defence were superb, Dean Skinns in net was on fine form again, the line of Chinn, Connolly and Rand were hitting anything that moved.

What was really impressive was the mental toughness of the Bison. They went a goal behind, didn’t wobble and in fact fought back to get a lead that they never lost. When that 3rd Phoenix goal went in, it could have been panic stations but the composure remained right up until Aaron Connolly started celebrating to the point he looked like he was going to smash his stick in half by slapping it on the ice because it was that happy.

Where the cup final second leg was parts determination and holding on, this game was a knock down drag out war but it was a war that the Bison won. They should be rightly proud, they were outstanding.

Defeated but unbowed; the Manchester Phoenix players come together in front of their fans after their 5-3 defeat to the Basingstoke Bison. (c) 5 Hole Photography

Defeated but unbowed; the Manchester Phoenix players come together in front of their fans after their 5-3 defeat to the Basingstoke Bison.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

A word on our opponents: There are two sides to every story of course and the Manchester Phoenix more than played their part on this occasion. The league champions had not been given the easiest of rides by Swindon the day before, arguably even being outplayed for stretches, the Phoenix needed to bring their A-game and did look strong. The Phoenix tried to play their brand of expansive hockey, to up the tempo and keep the Bison on the back foot. They knew the momentum of the game would go back and forth and looked to set themselves up to weather the storm and then hit back. The issue for the Phoenix was they did look tired at points, there were moments where the rough ride from Saturday was telling but never to a point you could write Manchester off. You can never write Manchester off. At 2-2, the game was very much in the balance but when Joe Baird scored the 3rd and a quickly followed 4th, the Phoenix had a bit too much of a job on their hands.

Luke Boothroyd was a fair choice for man of the match. The EPL player of the year was on form and made some fantastic defensive plays alongside the now retiring Robert Schnabel (all the best, Rob). For me, Robin Kovar looked like a man who was trying very hard with minimal reward on Saturday so he was due a goal over the course of the weekend. Otherwise, much like the Bison, this was a team performance by the Phoenix. They went into battle, put their bodies on the line for each other and unfortunately for them and their dedicated fanbase, came up short this time. However when you lose in the final game of the season which means you lose out on a trophy and the fans react by singing “we are proud of you”, your organisation is doing something right, on and off the ice. All the best for the summer Phoenix fans.

Lowlight of the night: None, none whatsoever

Highlight of the night: I thought you’d never ask…

Basingstoke Bison; 2013/14 EPIHL Playoff Champions

Basingstoke Bison; 2013/14 EPIHL Playoff Champions

Bison captain, Nicky Chinn poses in front of the travelling fans with the playoff trophy. (c) 5 Hole Photography

Bison captain, Nicky Chinn poses in front of the travelling fans with the playoff trophy.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Grant asked me to include this one...can't think why (c) 5 Hole Photography

Grant asked me to include this one…can’t think why
(c) 5 Hole Photography


Running with the Herd – Bison vs Guildford Flames 5/4/14

EPL Playoff Semi Final

Basingstoke Bison 5-2 Guildford Flames

Karpov pp                    Kristofferson

Chinn                          Kvetan pp

Vantroba

Rand

Greener

Tomas Karpov slides the puck past Gregg Rockman to open the scoring in the Bison's 5-2 win over Guildford (c) 5 Hole Photography

Tomas Karpov slides the puck past Gregg Rockman to open the scoring in the Bison’s 5-2 win over Guildford
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Fire eaters: The Bison headed into the game with Michael Wales out of the lineup but on the bench in tracksuit and foot cast. The Flames scratched Mark Lee, Milos Melicherik (who was bench coaching), Chris Cooke, Curtis Huppe and Andrew Sharp with Gregg Rockman between the pipes.

The Bison had an almost immediate chance to get themselves on the board when Andy Hemmings was a bit overzealous on the first hit of the game and was adjudged to have boarded Tomas Karpov. The Herd got their powerplay unit to work but couldn’t find a way past Rockman.

The early exchanges were very even as both sides tested the defences of their opponents in the opening few minutes. The Flames were next to the man advantage when Aaron Connolly was called for interference but the best chance of the powerplay came shorthanded from Joe Greener; his shot being deflected wide by Rockman’s pads.

The game continued to go back and forth with neither side giving much quarter to the other. The players and fans were noticeably on edge and the teams looked like they were terrified to do much for fear of making a mistake.

When Martin Opatovsky was sent to the box for crosschecking, the Bison struck. Gregg Rockman went behind the net but was caught by Andy Melachrino and Tomas Karpov, the Czech racing out from behind the cage to tap the puck home at 11:50.

The Flames upped the pace of things shortly afterwards and had the Herd on the backfoot. It took the Surrey side just over 2 minutes but they found themselves level when a Jez Lundin shot was saved by Skinns but the rebound found its way to Marcus Kristofferson in tight who tapped home at 14:07.

The Flames pushed on looking to take the lead but the Bison managed to hold firm despite looking a little shaky. There was some relief for the Herd when Aaron Connolly was taken down by Rick Skene which drew a tripping penalty but the Bison couldn’t get settled on the powerplay and nothing came of it. Both teams held out until the first break with the score tied at 1-1 which was a fair reflection of the first 20 minutes of action.

The second started very evenly but it felt like the Bison needed a bit of a spark to up their game. With everything so tightly poised, one goal either way would have a massive impact.

Earlier, in the first quarter final, Michael Psurny of Manchester had scored a sublime goal where he’d gone through two defencemen before sliding the puck past Stevie Lyle in the Swindon net. Nicky Chinn had clearly seen this goal and felt he could do better. Having taken the feed from Tomas Karpov, the Bison captain went round one man, past another and out waited Gregg Rockman before sliding the puck into the net at 23:57 to give the Herd the lead. It was a huge goal at a time the Bison really needed one. It was a captain’s goal.

The Bison smelt blood and kept coming forward and were unlucky not to be back on the powerplay when a clearance appeared to go straight over the plexiglass but after a chat was deemed not to be a penalty.

It wasn’t to be an issue shortly afterwards when another spell of Bison pressure told. The Flames struggled to clear the zone and a loose puck was jumped on by Miroslav Vantroba. The Slovak took the puck, made a move then switched to the backhand and found the gap between Rockman’s pads to make it 3-1 Bison at 28:17.

It looked to be getting better for Basingstoke when Kvetan was sent to the box for tripping Karpov but the Bison were nearly stung by Marcus Kristofferson. Dean Skinns had gone behind the Bison net to collect the dump in but was caught by the Swede. A certain shorthanded goal was denied when Zach Sullivan appeared out of nowhere and got in the way just enough to stop the Flames cutting the deficit.

That stop by Sullivan would prove huge moments later. With pressure still being put on by the Bison, a mixed up line sent out after the powerplay came to an end paid dividends when Cameron Wynn picked up the loose puck and sent Joe Rand on a charge to the Guildford net where he found a way to squeeze the puck past Rockman at 31:43 to make it 4-1 and forced the Flames into taking the timeout.

The Flames were given a few opportunities to make amends before the break as the Bison were stung for too many men when Tomas Karpov was a little too quick off the bench to a puck and then 1:11 of 5 on 3 when Joe Baird was called for boarding and then Vantroba for holding but the Bison’s penalty killers managed to hold the Flames to the outside and saw out the second period with the score at 4-1 to the Herd.

The third period started and to have a chance of getting back into the tie, the Flames needed to try and up the physicality against the Bison but instead found themselves on the end of a slashing penalty to Josef Kohut but the Bison weren’t able to use the advantage.

It was a typical Bison leading the game performance; the onus was put on Guildford to find a way past the Herd and the Bison took their chances as they came. The Bison were playing their brand of shut down hockey and it was working.

Jez Lundin was sent to the box for slashing Tomas Karpov but again the Herd were unable to extend their lead on the man advantage but the Herd were stung minutes later.

Kurt Reynolds was apoplectic to be called for high sticks by Mr Thompson but it sent the Flames to the powerplay and it was as simple as 1, 2, 3. Faceoff to winger to Branislav Kvetan stepping in and it was a lovely shot over the glove of Dean Skinns at 53:37 for 4-2.

Understandably this put everyone on a bit of an edge, the players included but eventually the game was well and truly put to bed. Cameron Wynn took the feed from Ciaran Long and having scored a lovely goal on Dailbor Sedlar in the quarter finals, fancied his chances and shot. Rockman made the save but with the puck lose, Rockman couldn’t stop Joe Greener’s drive to the net and the puck was bundled over the line with the Bison assistant coach being credited with the goal at 57:57.

The final couple of minutes wound down as the Bison held the Flames at bay as the 350 odd fans from Basingstoke rose to their feet to salute the players and the collective realisation that there was one more dance and it was with the Manchester Phoenix to be playoff champions.

Cameron Wynn battles with Flames' forward Martin Opatovsky (c) 5 Hole Photography

Cameron Wynn battles with Flames’ forward Martin Opatovsky
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Half way up the hill: Cup final against Milton Keynes; Bison score first, concede shortly afterwards and wobble to the end of the first period before breaking out in the second period with 3 goals and force the timeout at around the halfway mark before shutting down the opposition in the third to close out the game. That…it was all that.

Ultimately the Bison wobbled but eventually established their game and couldn’t be beaten by Guildford who didn’t have an answer for the Herd’s physicality and direct approach.

Nicky Chinn was outstanding all night. The skipper put his body on the line and truly led from the front but the most important bit was that goal. Jokes about copying Michael Psurny aside, the Bison were on the back foot at the start of the second period and when we needed someone to step up and make something happen, the captain stepped up and made it happen.

The other person who really needs mentioning at this point; Joe Baird. A couple of months back I made a point of praising Baird because his game isn’t one that normally gains a lot of plaudits but where Chinn led from the front, Baird led from the rear. He was beyond solid; held back when needed, jumped into the play when needed, made all the right decisions, made good outlet passes. It was the best game I’ve seen Joe Baird play, the performance of a veteran really rising to the occasion.

The goals were all very well taken, special mention to Miroslav Vantroba’s dangle into the backhand and the team defence was outstanding against a dangerous Flames side.

The Bison put their destiny in their own hands. Sunday promised the world.

The teams shake hands at the end of the semi final, what would prove to be the final game of Flames' defenceman Rick Skene's storied career. (c) 5 Hole Photography

The teams shake hands at the end of the semi final, what would prove to be the final game in the storied career of former Bison defenceman, Rick Skene.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

A word on our opponents: It wasn’t the finest hour in the history of the Guildford Flames. The first twenty minutes were pretty good, very good even. The second twenty however were a disaster and the third saw them run out of steam.

Hindsight is 20/20 of course but had the Flames gone 2-1 up rather than 2-1 down, then it could have been a very different story. The Flames had the Bison on the backfoot and the Surrey side were playing some really slick and impressive hockey. Sadly for Flames fans, Nicky Chinn pulled a bit of magic out of the air and the Bison rode that wave of confidence. I haven’t seen a Flames fan argue differently, they were beaten by the better side on the night.

Jez Lundin was an odd choice for man of the match given he appeared to be on the ice for so many of the goals. I was impressed once again by Martin Opatovsky who must be very high on the list of people to re-sign in Guildford. Branislav Kvetan as well looked decent and scored a really nice goal, showing his offensive talents aren’t just limited to a booming slapshot.

Gregg Rockman had an interesting game; there are some saves he didn’t know that much about but made some very good stops. However he got minimal help at times from his defence and that showed.

Where the Guildford Flames go from this season is an interesting question, one we’ll probably deal with in greater detail at the start of next season when we know the shape of the roster but there will be some real soul searching at the Spectrum this summer. One person we know already who won’t be back is Rick Skene who has announced his retirement and we wish Rick all the best.

Lowlight of the night: Highsticks call on Reynolds, pretty much all I have.

Highlight of the night: Nicky Chinn’s goal was just sublime.

It will now always be known as "that goal" (c) 5 Hole Photography

It will now always be known as “that goal”
(c) 5 Hole Photography


Czech yourself – BOTW speaks to Tomas Karpov

It’s fair to say that Tomas Karpov has had a good season. 37 goals and 39 assists for 76 points in his first full season in addition to being named a first team all star by Ice Hockey Journalists UK and the “coveted” Banners On The Wall player of the year honour; he’s a popular guy. Banners On The Wall caught up with the Bison’s #44 as the season comest o a climax at the playoff weekend in Coventry.

(c) 5 Hole Photography

(c) 5 Hole Photography

We’ll start with the news that you’ve been named a 1st team EPL all star. Congratulations, how does it feel?

Thank you. It is great feeling. I am also happy for other three teammates who were named. It just shows how strong our team is this season.

Born in Benesov, you were part of the Sparta Prague system for many years. Sparta is a famous name in world hockey, what’s that system like to be a part of as a young player?

They bought me when I was just 12. It was very exciting time for me. On the other side I had to wake up at 5:30am every day and my dad or mum drove me to a train station so I could get to Prague where I went to new school. In the afternoon I had practice and then went home. Since I was 15, I lived in Prague with my aunt and uncle and can not thank them enough how they helped me but yes Sparta is big name and I enjoyed playing there.

You spent 2 years in the WHL with Moose Jaw and Calgary, making the WHL finals with the Hitmen. How did you end up in Canada and what was the impact of the experience on you as a player and a person?

I was drafted by Moose Jaw in CHL Import draft in 2007 after the U18 World Championship. It was big step for me to different country, the best junior league in the world. I met new people, improved my English; a great experience.

In my second year I got traded to the best team on our league, the Calgary Hitman and played at the NHL rink in front of 18 000 fans sometimes. We won league by a distance but lost in play off finals against Kelowna. We had great team but they had some individuals who won it for them like Jamie Benn who scored winning goal for Canada at Olympics this year or Tyler Myers who had the biggest salary in NHL last year even he was just 22.

Your former team mate Martin Jones has made quite a stir with the LA Kings this season. Are you still in touch with him and has he got you tickets yet?

Martin is great guy. He was actually my roommate for all the trips and we hang out a lot outside of hockey as well. He had great seasons in AHL past couple of years but LA has strong goaltending so he never got a chance on first team. I am glad he showed everyone this year he could be number one. As for tickets; I will ask him! How many tickets do we need?

You came back from Canada to Sparta and played in the Extraliga but also were loaned out a lot to 1.Liga clubs. Was it frustrating to not be playing more in Prague or were you just happy to be playing?

I got chance to play for Sparta and I thought that it is enough. I didn’t work on myself as I should and that was probably one of the reasons they got rid of me even though I think I was better then couple of players who stayed.

Next year I still had a good position with very good team in the second league but I broke my ankle in the third game of the season and I also didnt get very well along with coach and it was probably my worst season.

In January 2013, you answered the call from Tom Watkins and joined the Telford Tigers. What made you decide that it was time to leave your home country?

After my worst season I was loaned to Beroun which was one of Sparta’s farm teams and 20 miles from Prague so I could stay home. We had a young unexperienced team because our owner did not have much money. Sometimes we did not have sticks, tape and stuff like that. The owner wanted to take off 20% of our monthly salary after second month because we were second last. Even though I had pretty good year (I was captain at the time) I decided not to accept it and with other 3 players, left. Sparta did not want me but because I grew up there they could ask money from a club to loan me if I wanted to play in the Czech Republic and because, for whatever reason they asked for so much, teams did not want me. So I decided I wanna go play abroad.

That Telford team you played in was short on wins but full of heart and character. Do you have good memories of your time with the Tigers?

It was my first experince playing hockey in England; new people, different hockey. I was lucky to be on team with couple of Czech-Slovak imports who helped me a lot with everything. I have some good and bad memories from Telford but overal I enjoyed it.

What made you decide to join Basingstoke?

I knew Basingstoke was good team. When Tim (Burrows) told me Doug wanted to talk me, I was pretty excited and I liked what he planned for this season. I hoped to be on winning team and I made best possible move.

When Tim Burrows signed for the Bison he described you “a playmaker with ability to score who works hard”, do you think that’s a good way to describe your game?

I used to describe myself more as a playmaker. This year I found out I can score as well and I like it. (We won’t lie, we’re pretty happy about it as well. Ed)

What are the real differences between the way hockey is played here and in the Czech Republic?

Hockey in the Czech Republic is more professional. You train in the morning and you don’t have a second job. You have more tactics in game as well. I would compare EPL to the third best league in Czech but some teams could play on second as well!

You’ve developed quite a partnership with Andy Melachrino; is there a reason why you think you work so well together?

Doug put us together since the first practice and we stick to it. Because of that we know where we are on the ice and we know what we could except from each other. That’s a big advantage. We also enjoy it which is important.

When the final buzzer sounded on the EPL cup final, how did it feel?

Relieved! Milton Keynes fought hard until Mely scored that third goal and if he did not we would have had our hands full of defending our end.

Can this Bison team win the playoffs?

Yes!

Any message for the Bison fans as the season comes to a close?

Thank you for all your support! Best fans in the league by far! You are a big part of our wins.

Final question: Will you ever tell the monkey?

I will never tell the monkey!


Running with the Herd – Bison vs Sheffield Steeldogs 30/3/14

EPL Playoff Quarter Final 2nd leg
Basingstoke Bison 6-2 Sheffield Steeldogs
Karpov pp                        Wood
Long                                    Bebris
Rand x 2
Melachrino
Wynn

Basingstoke Bison win 8-2 on aggregate

 

Reach for the sky: Bison headed into the tie with only the loss of Michael Wales to concern them, the lines shuffles to reunite Doug Sheppard and Joe Greener who were joined by Cameron Wynn. Rand and Connolly were teamed with Nicky Chinn which saw Sheppard continue with the new look KLM line of Karpov, Long and Melachrino. The Steeldogs were without Lewis Bell, Andre Payette and Tim Smith with Tom Barry and Cameron Brownley added to the roster.

After the very tight and nervy 2-0 win for Basingstoke the night before, the first few exchanges were tense for both sides. The Greener, Sheppard and Wynn line combined for good early chances and Dean Skinns was forced into save from Greg Chambers and Edgars Bebris put the ensuing rebound wide.
The Bison got the first powerplay chance of the night when Tom Squires hauled down Nicky Chinn and was called for interference. The Herd’s special teams unit set to work and got the cycle going with great effect. Joe Greener fed Karpov out of the corner and with the Steeldogs defender screening Sedlar, the Bison’s all star forward slid a slow moving shot past the Sheffield netminder who was down and set at 04:46 to extend the Bison’s aggregate lead.

The Steeldogs pressed quickly looking for a way back into the tie and got some good shots on the Bison net. Greg Wood followed the puck towards Skinns, being closely marked by Joe Baird. The two toppled to the ice as the whistle blew and a little scuffle ensued. Baird was called for interference for his challenge on Wood and the Steeldogs made short work of the powerplay. The visitors instantly got traffic to the net and bundled the puck over the line past Dean Skinns at 06:07 to tie the score on the night.

The game continued its somewhat nervy feel and both sides looked dangerous knowing a goal either way could have a massive say on the outcome of the tie. The Bison had a powerplay chance from a tripping call on Bebris but couldn’t use it effectively. Joe Rand went close with a trademark drive to the net but put the puck wide and the Steeldogs tried to repeat the action that resulted in their first goal but couldn’t find a way past Skinns.

A bad change gave the Steeldogs a 3 on 1 break but rather then use the extra men, Lubomir Korhon decided to shoot from distance and his shot went well wide. It was to prove costly moments later as the Bison came flying up the ice. The puck was worked brilliantly at speed from Melachrino to Karpov who put the puck on the stick of Ciaran Long who fired high over the shoulder of Sedlar at 15:30 for what has to be a contender for the Herd’s goal of the season.
The remainder of the first period saw a couple of chances but the first twenty minutes of the contest came to a close with the Bison ahead on a superb display of team skill.

The hosts kept up the pressure at the start of the second, immediately charging to the net and Rand was denied by a save from Sedlar but the Canadian was not to be denied for long, an Aaron Connolly shot rebounding off of Sedlar into Rand’s path and he made it 3-1 on the night at 21:55.

The Bison were having the better of the play but the Steeldogs were still having moments of good pressure, pinning the Bison back in the zone and forcing Dean Skinns into successions of quick saves. Nicky Chinn had a guilt edged chance off a feed behind the net from Rand but Sedlar plucked the puck out of the air.

Tom Squires and Tomas Karpov came together, Karpov being adjudged to have slashed the wrist of the Sheffield man which drew a crowd. The Steeldogs couldn’t make anything of the powerplay and when Karpov returned to the ice, he returned to his old tricks. The Czech forward picked up the pick in the slot, held off his man and proceeded to round the back of the net and shoot off his backhand but he missed the net by inches.

The opportunities came thick and fast; a shot from Melachrino was tipped wide by Rand, Korhon, Squires and Duncombe forced good glove saves from Skinns.
Craig Elliott was called for high sticking on Baird in the last minute of the second and earned himself an extended sit down at the buzzer when a conversation about his penalty with Mr Cloutman resulted in a misconduct.

The Bison couldn’t take advantage of the penalty spanning the period break but weathered a bit of pressure from the Steeldogs before effectively killing off the tie. Nicky Chinn, apparently wanting to prove that it wasn’t just Tomas Karpov that can dangle round entire teams, toedragged round players before feeding the puck to Rand who had all the time in the world to backhand past a sprawling Sedlar at 44:02.

The traditional physical Steeldogs style had been lacking from the game but an unlikely member of the Bison roster found himself in the middle of the one real bit of action. Greg Wood lined up Danny Ingoldsby in front of the Steeldogs bench, catching the Bison youngster with what looked to be an elbow. Ingoldsby stood up and found himself tussling with a couple of Steeldogs players which saw Tom Squires and Lubomir Korhon join Ingoldsby in the box.
The play continued with a few shots either way but it appeared the young man had a long memory as on the next shift Ingoldsby lined Squires up and waffled him in front of the Bison bench at the end of his shift, the youngster climbing over the boards to cheers from the fans and his team mates.

The Bison were firmly in control of the contest and with under 8 minutes to go, turned the screw; a neat pass from Ciaran Long fed Andy Melachrino in space at 52:12 and seconds later Miroslav Vantroba sent Cameron Wynn away. Wynn saw his initial shot saved but collected the rebound and fired home from the angle at 52:28 for 6-1 on the night. The Steeldogs called their timeout and swapped Sedlar for backup Brad Day.

The Steeldogs did get the last word on the scoresheet, a neat pass from Korhon into the slot for Bebris saw the Steeldogs man fire past Skinns at 54:37 to reduce the deficit to 6-2 on the night.

Craig Elliott sound found himself back in the box, a low and nasty hit on Connolly called as clipping but the Bison seemed happy to just hold the visitors at bay for the last few minutes.
The clock ticked down for the final time this season at the Basingstoke Arena and the Bison had stamped their ticket to their second consecutive final four weekend in emphatic fashion.

 

Eyes on the prize: At the end of the EPL Cup final, I talked about doing things the easy way or the Bison way. Against Milton Keynes, they chose the Bison way; a method which gives the entire Herd fanbase a collective aneurism. Against Sheffield last night they didn’t give the visitors a choice as to what way it would be. The Steeldogs were blown away.

The Bison went out, played their game and the visitors had no answer for it. The line of Karpov, Long and Melachrino in full flight were a joy to watch and will be a constant danger for any team they face. The lines that were rejigged looked really useful as well against a team that were short of players and looked tired.

Cameron Wynn was a fair choice for man of the match. It’s easy to look at it as “well the youngster scored a nice goal, let’s give it to him” but this was Wynn’s best performance in a Bison jersey that I have seen. Put on a line with Sheppard and Greener, all the criticisms that many have had of Wynn’s game over the season seemed to fall by the wayside. He was strong on the puck, wasn’t easily outmuscled, got stuck in when in front of the net; he looked like he truly belonged. The goal as well was a well worked piece of skill, the eventual shot that beat Sedlar going in from a very tight angle.

Nobody really had a bad night though the chance again to give Connor Standing ice time passed us by and the lack of a shift at all for Carl Graham seemed confusing. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t argue with watching Kurt Reynolds and Zach Sullivan play 25 minutes a night because they’re a joy to watch but the Bison had this game sown up in the third period and we couldn’t find a way to give our backup some ice time or thought it might be an idea to rest someone from our top 4 defenders? The decision seems odd to me but a merely a mild gripe on the back of a convincing win.

The Bison head into Saturday’s semi final with Guildford full of confidence after a convincing win. They’ve made it to the dance again and hopefully they find a way to keep dancing through to the end of Sunday.

 

A word on our opponents: A massive thank you to the dedicated band of Steeldogs fans that made it down from God’s own country last night. Sadly their team were short benched, without their talismanic coach on the ice and looked tired and short of ideas.

It was a dogged (no pun intended) and determined Steeldogs performance but one that was ultimately not to be. They went out and tried to play hockey the Bison’s way rather than their own way and got beaten as a result. Sheffield coach Andre Payette has said on many occasions that they can’t beat teams on skill but didn’t play their usual physical style. The Bison played a speedy game and there seemed to be no answer from the visitors.

Greg Wood got the beers for the visitors and did the best job he could of leading from the front. Lubomir Korhon as well looked dangerous but made a poor decision to shoot from the blueline when the Dogs had a 3 on 1 overlap into the Bison’s zone. Edgars Bebris as well looked very solid and the fact he qualifies as a Brit is a massive bonus for this Sheffield side because he is better than some imports in this league. He took his goal tonight very well.

Dalibor Sedlar didn’t have the best of nights but a shortened Steeldogs defensive corps didn’t make things easy for him. When the Bison scored twice in 16 seconds to make it 6-1 on the night, the least the coaches could do was end the suffering. Good on Brad Day for getting out there, looking confident and stopping what shots he did face.

Sheffield already have some key pieces locked in for next season and now can spend a summer deciding what direction to go in. Whether Andre Payette returns to the ice remains to be seen but a sincere amount of best wishes to Andre as he rehabs his leg and all the best to Sheffield in the off season. Stay safe, Steeldogs fans.

 

Lowlight of the night: Elliott clipping Connolly, looked nasty.
Highlight of the night: Bison’s second goal, gorgeous stuff and a cracking finish from Long.


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