Running with the Herd – Bison vs Manchester Phoenix 18/10/14

EPL

Basingstoke Bison 4-3 Manchester Phoenix

Karpov                         Thompson dpg

Long x 2                       Kovar

Sheppard                     Burlin

Back to where we started from: The Bison welcomed Ciaran Long back from injury and Aaron Connolly back from suspension but were without Matt Selby who was suffering from the effects of his clash with Chris Wiggins in last Sunday’s disappointing loss to Bracknell which saw Michael Wales play shifts on defence. The Phoenix were without James Archer and Jacob Corson-Heron and added Jared Dickinson. It was an all star battle in the nets as Dean Skinns took on Stephen Fone.

Games between the Bison and the Phoenix are traditionally open affairs played at speed but there was an early incident saw an unusual moment of confrontation; Michal Psurny took the stretch pass but was offside and the whistle blew. Psurny fired a slapshot at Skinns which instantly drew the ire of Declan Balmer and others. There were some shoves and cross words but no penalties from Mr Thompson.

Once that was out of the way, the game settled into the usual Basingstoke vs Manchester mode of both teams playing fast paced exciting hockey that yielded chances at both ends. Robin Kovar got the step on Declan Balmer but was denied by Skinns and Grant Rounding won the battle on the boards but his short side shot couldn’t find his way past Fone.

Then a moment of controversy; Mr Thompson’s arm rose on the delayed penalty for Joe Baird slashing his man. As Manchester had the puck, play continued and the visitors pressed towards the Bison net when the whistle blew. Then the puck ended up in the net as Shaun Thompson bundled the puck past Skinns and Mr Thompson signalled for the goal. The home players and fans were irate but the official held firm and the goal counted at 06:12.

The Bison channelled their efforts into trying to respond and came close in a scramble but Nicky Chinn couldn’t find a way to fire through the crowd. Kovar made a lovely move around Wales when he jumped into the play and was clear in on Skinns but the Bison backstop stood his ground.

The return of Aaron Connolly to the lineup added an extra element of pace to the Bison’s game. When the Herd’s alternate captain was set free up the middle, he was denied by Fone but was slashed on his way through by Jack Watkins which gave the hosts a powerplay. It took the Bison just 5 seconds to score as the faceoff went to Melachrino to Long to Karpov and the Czech star fired past Fone at 11:43 to tie the scores.

Aaron Connolly was given another chance to rush at Fone but was denied once again. Frankie Bakrlik stepped into Kurt Reynolds to stop the Bison defenceman gaining the zone. It looked to be interference but as no call came the Phoenix continued to attack and Bakrlik was on the end of the move but couldn’t beat Skinns.

The Phoenix’s import forward soon found himself in the box for slashing moments later but the Herd couldn’t utilise the man advantage; the best chance falling to Andy Melachrino when some slick passing made it’s way to the front of the net but Melachrino lost the handle and the puck scuffed off of his stick and away. The Phoenix had a 2on1 chance shorthanded but were denied by some excellent play by Kurt Reynolds.

The period was finely balanced seeing big hits flying from Wood and Vantroba and good saves from Fone and Skinns as they denied Michael Wales and Ben Wood’s tip shot respectively.

The Bison had the last chance of the period, a shot from Joe Baird tipped by Joe Rand but Fone made the save. The first period ended 1-1 which was a fair reflection on the balance of play.

The second period started off in much the same way as the first had ended with both teams having their chances but it was the Phoenix that struck first. With the visitors pressuring the Bison net, Skinns was drawn out of position and Bakrlik fed Kovar to fire into the open cage at 23:48.

It didn’t take long for the Bison to respond. The Herd pressured in the zone but the puck went astray off of a deflection from a Phoenix stick. The puck stopped at the feet of Ciaran Long who gathered himself, turned, saw the gap over Fone’s shoulder and fired. The puck went past Fone and hit the corner of crossbar and post before hitting the back of the net at 24:32 to make the score 2-2.

Manchester came back into the game in an attempt to get the lead back, the best chance falling to Ben Wood as the puck fell to him in front of the net but he could only get the puck to trickle wide of the post.

The Bison were sent back to the powerplay when Jack Watkins got the knee out on Stuart Mogg just before the half way point of the game however Stephen Fone was in top form making two saves in quick succession including one from an unmarked Andy Melachrino just metres in front of the Phoenix net.

The Bison were having more of the shots and the chances but Ciaran Long spurned a huge chance when he took the feed at the top of the crease. Fone dropped down to make the save and Long tried to lift the puck over the sprawling netminder but lifted it so high he got the netting over the plexiglass.

Long would punish the Phoenix moments later; with the Bison cycling the puck Long took the puck on the halfboards, looked up and seeing another gap that only he could see, hammered the puck goalwards and it found the gap to give the Bison the lead at 34:44.

The Bison kept coming as they tried to extend their lead forcing Fone into a string of quick saves but couldn’t add to their total and the Phoenix pressed as the period came to a close. Adam Walker got into a with Joe Baird but his shot could only find the side netting. Frankie Bakrlik’s hard work created a chance as he went around the back of the net but his centring feed went through the crease and out the other side as there was nobody there to connect so the period ended with the Bison still 3-2 ahead.

Manchester headed into the third period determined to bring the scores level and got their wish less than 90 seconds into the frame. With the Bison starting the period a bit flat, the Phoenix got the cycle going, fed the puck up to Johan Burlin whose drive along the ice found its way through the screen and past Skinns at 41:24 to tie the game at 3-3.

However again the Bison found their way back, this time taking around 80 seconds to wrestle the lead back. Some good work by Aaron Connolly and Ciaran Long drew Fone out of position, the feed came to Sheppard who span on a sixpence and blasted into the net at 42:46 for a 4-3 Bison lead.

The pace of the game in the final period was still impressive given how the teams had been in the preceding 43 minutes and of course it led to chances; Burlin was fed for another blast from the point but this time Skinns was equal to the task and Aaron Connolly and Michael Wales both had chances that Fone was equal to. Michal Psurny even tried shooting from almost the exact point where Long had scored his second goal but there was no gap for him to score this time.

Time was running out for the Phoenix and they started cranking up the pressure as Psurny and Burlin both had chances. The Bison reverted to their normal game plan in such situations as they sat back and hit on the counter, Joe Rand coming close but ultimately denied by Fone.

Whilst the game had been high quality, the conditions had not been ideal. Temperature issues had caused lots of condensation on the boards causing issues for fans trying to see on occasions and also a mist kept descending on the game which, whilst it added a mild gothic feel to proceedings was making it hard to see parts of the rink at times and it worked against the Phoenix. Joe Greener was called for highsticking Joe Graham with 5 minutes to go and the Phoenix were about to head to the powerplay when Mr Thompson decided the mist was so bad that the teams needed to skate around to clear the fog. Whilst entirely justified given it was getting tough to see what was going on, it killed the momentum the Phoenix had going into the powerplay. This was somewhat demonstrated moments later when as the Phoenix moved the puck well, Kovar shot into the midriff of Skinns missing his team mate Bakrlik unmarked at the backdoor.

Time ticked on and the Phoenix still couldn’t find a way through. With 2:05 to play, Tony Hand called the timeout to try and plan what to do but the Bison had their plan as well. The Herd came out and played the high forecheck which pinned the Phoenix back giving them no chance to pull Fone for the extra attacker. The Bison put the pressure on and held on as the buzzer went signalling a return to the win column.

For the Long-est time: Another high paced, high quality, low PIMs affair between the Bison and the Phoenix was just what the doctor ordered especially for those present at the loss at The Hive the week before.

The return of Ciaran Long to the lineup was eagerly anticipated by Bison fans who felt that the Herd had been lacking a creative spark during his time out. Little did we know the impact he would instantly have. With Michael Wales taking shifts on defence, it meant the Greener, Long, Sheppard line wasn’t seen but the lines were shuffled all night and it didn’t seem to matter who Long was with to cause havoc with the Phoenix defence. Both goals were superb individual efforts for different reasons but both superb examples of the vision that Ciaran has.

The Bison also benefited from the return of Aaron Connolly from suspension as his speed up the middle caused a manner of issues. You can see the frustration brewing for Connolly as he seems desperate to score at home but can’t seem to find the final touch. You have to think it’s coming but his energy is a vital asset to the Bison and they able to play at a higher tempo as a result.

The one player who deserves a lot of plaudits though for last night was Miroslav Vantroba. The Slovak is always a solid player whose high level of consistency always gets overshadowed in some respects by the fact that Kurt Reynolds is that good and that bit more visable but this for me was arguably Vantroba’s best game in a Bison jersey. With no Selby, players stepped into the hole he left in terms of physicality and minutes and Vantroba was a machine; making big hits, blocking shots, even making the odd uncharacteristic surging run into the offensive zone which made me think Mikko Purontakanen had returned. Declan Balmer deserves credit as well for what was also probably his best game in Bison colours, a fitting way to celebrate his GB u20 call up. Dean Skinns had another night where he made a couple of top quality saves when the defence weren’t rubbing out the play themselves including a couple of saves that prove his status as top quality in this league.

The overall performance will have pleased Doug Sheppard I think. It was an industrious team win over a fellow title challenger where the team only gave away 1 actual powerplay, came from behind twice and won.

A word on our opponents: Whilst the scoreline had a similar look, this was a very different game for Manchester than their last visit to Hampshire. For one thing they finished with all their imports and didn’t look utterly lost in the second period. What will trouble Tony Hand was again, in the death, Manchester didn’t really threaten.

Across the 60 minutes it was a good performance. The Phoenix’s passing game was outstanding and their ability to stretch the play is second to none in this league which players able to play the long outlet pass that instantly has teams scrambling.

Whilst Robin Kovar was decent enough I don’t think I would have given him the beers. A short bench meant Ben Wood played as a forward but was probably the hardest worker on the Phoenix roster all night. He played high energy, finished his hits and even had a couple of good scoring chances though was kept off of the scoresheet.

The other player worthy of the beers was Stephen Fone. Whilst there was nothing he could do about a couple of the goals, Fone made a variety of saves including at least two or three when it seemed that Bison players were certain to score from the top of the crease. It was probably the best I’ve seen Fone play in Basingstoke. However the Phoenix netminder wouldn’t have been called into so much action had his defence given him better cover.

The Phoenix were short benched and this obviously takes a toll but having taken the timeout with just over 2 minutes to play and then not getting a shot on target and getting pushed back to the point where Fone couldn’t be pulled is not a situation that Manchester want to be in. This is the second of 3 planned visits for the Phoenix to Basingstoke and I have express my first slither of doubt about the Phoenix; if they can’t find a way to come through tight games like this then the title won’t stay in Altrincham.

Lowlight of the night: Phoenix’s 3rd goal, utterly avoidable

Highlight of the night: Long’s first goal which was an utter peach of a shot that Fone had no chance with.


The BOTW Podcast – episode 4

This week’s BOTW podcast sees us travel in time…it’s like Doctor Who at BOTW Towers!

We go into the past as we have a special chat with former Manchester Storm fan favourite, former ISL 2nd team all star and the current coach of Eisbären Berlin, Jeff Tomlinson. Jeff talks about the video that brought him to Manchester, getting his head around the league meaning more than the playoffs and how he still keeps tabs on British hockey.

We also look to the future and the return of hockey to Milton Keynes as the Lightning’s match night DJ, Mike Walls joins the show ahead of Saturday’s return to the Thunderdome.

All that plus the usual look at the results and fixtures.

Remember to subscribe to The BOTW Podcast on iTunes HERE (go on, leave us a rating) and make sure you let us know what you like on Twitter or the BOTW Facebook page once you’ve listened.

The BOTW Podcast; the news and views from the EPIHL, all levels above, below and inbetween.

 


Running with the Herd – Bison vs Sheffield Steeldogs 11/10/14

EPL

Basingstoke Bison 5-3 Sheffield Steeldogs

Rand x3 (1 sh)             Squires

Karpov                         Korhon x2

Wales

Back in the habit: The Bison headed into the contest without the still injured Ciaran Long and Aaron Connolly who was suspended after his match penalty for spearing against Invicta and added Alex Sampford after his impressive outing against the Dynamos. The Steeldogs were minus Jeff Legue and started Dalibor Sedlar in net after his impressive 61 save performance on Thursday away in Manchester.

The teams started with the feeling out process, taking a few shots on each netminder to see how things would progress. The Bison had the first real chance when they were given a powerplay; Tomas Karpov’s twisting and turning forcing Steve Duncombe into a hooking penalty in an attempt to stop the Czech. The Bison pp unit got going quickly but the visitor’s backstop had his eye in early it seemed and made some good stops.

The Steeldogs soon had their own chance on the powerplay when Miroslav Vantroba was called for interference however they also found Dean Skinns in good, early form as he stopped an off pace shot from Duncombe through a crowd.

The teams kept probing and prodding looking for a way through when the Bison had another opportunity on the man advantage. Kurt Reynolds raced up the right wing and as he tried to take the zone was tripped by Ashley Calvert. The Herd set to work and were rewarded for their efforts; Doug Sheppard drove to the net and whilst Sedlar could make the initial stop, he was powerless to stop Joe Rand tapping in the rebound at 10:51 to give the hosts the lead.

Cameron Brownley had a good chance almost immediately off of the faceoff to get the Steeldogs on the scoreboard but Skinns kept firm and denied him. Andre Payette and Matt Selby clashed moments later with Mr Szucs’ arm already raised for the penalty against the Steeldogs’ player/coach. The two had a verbal sparing match but no punches were thrown. Nevertheless the Bison were back on the powerplay which was soon doubled to a 5on3 moments later when Craig Elliott grabbed at Stuart Mogg after the whistle.

With the two man advantage, the Bison set to work trying to stretch the defence and pass it in but it was a more direct approach that paid dividends as the puck was worked to Vantroba for the blast, Joe Rand got the tip and the puck found its way past Sedlar at 12:02 to give the Herd a 2-0 advantage.

Mr Szucs proceeded to hand out the penalties as the game’s physical edge came to the fore, giving penalties both ways within 40 seconds of each other which left both penalty boxes looking rather crowded.

Tom Squires had a good chance, holding off his man to get the backhand shot away on Skinns but it was the Bison who were on top in the contest. Sedlar was called into stops on Karpov and Melachrino in quick succession but he was unable to stop the Czech forward’s next effort. In all the pressure, Sedlar lost his stick and was using a defenceman’s stick to try and make saves. Karpov took the pass from Melachrino, made some space for himself and fired past Sedlar at 16:07 to make it 3-0.

The Bison kept the pressure on as the period wound down but were nearly caught flat footed by Lubomir Korhon. The Steeldogs’ forward waltzed his way through the Bison defence and made his way towards the net but was lacking the final touch to get the puck past Skinns.

Mogg and Sheppard broke out two on one but some really good work by Lloyd Gibson killed off the chance as the first period came to a close with the Bison deservedly on top.

The second period didn’t start well for the Steeldogs as they gave up a guilt edged chance to their hosts. Andy Melachrino was fed the puck in the slot alone in front of Sedlar but the blushes of his defencemen were spared when the Sheffield netminder got the butt of his stick to the puck and deflected it away.

The first stages of the middle stanza were very bitty as the Bison seemed happy to just disrupt the Steeldogs’ attempts to get some rhythm to their play that had been lacking in the first period. Tom Squires had their best chance again early in the period when some nice passing moved Skinns out of position but under pressure he scuffed the shot wide.

The Bison continued to press and at times the Steeldogs didn’t seem to be able to contain the Herd or get out of their zone. Vantroba rang a booming shot off of the inside of the post before some slick passing found Michael Wales in front of Sedlar who riffled the puck past the netminder for his first goal of the season and forcing Sheffield into taking the timeout. 4-0 at 27:33 was a reflection of how the Bison were dominating.

The Bison continued to press; Alex Sampford was set up for the shot but Sedlar was guarding his post well to deny him. Tomas Karpov tried to copy Korhon’s earlier move and danced through the defence but couldn’t get the puck past Sedlar. Andy Melachrino fed Karpov again for another chance and whilst Karpov didn’t get all of the puck, it trickled off the pad of Sedlar and across the crease, sitting at the far post before it was cleared and the danger was alleviated.

Whilst Andre Payette had pulled himself from the game and was on the bench, Tom Squires was not giving up the ghost. The Steeldogs forward had one shot saved point blank by Skinns before eventually he broke the duck. With the Bison’s line of youngsters still in the ice after an icing and unable to clear the zone, some smooth passing moved the puck back to Squires who fired over the glove of Skinns at 33:59 for 4-1 at 33:59.

The Steeldogs were back onto the powerplay a few minutes later when Nicky Chinn was called for hooking. Ben Morgan’s shot was tipped in front by Squires by Skinns made the save. Grant Rounding and Tomas Karpov had good short handed chances but neither could get the puck on target.

The period drew to the close with the Bison being given a late powerplay after Korhon was called for hooking 3 seconds before the buzzer and the Herd heading into the locker room with a 4-1 lead.

The Steeldogs had the first chance of the final period when Andy Hirst took the puck at speed and fired into the pads of Skinns. The first part of the period was then penalty calling time as Mr Szucs called 18 minutes of penalties in less than 3 minutes. Elliott high sticked Rand which earned him a trip to the box but the Bison couldn’t make the advantagr count. Then Ben Morgan and Rand were called for hooking and high sticks respectively. Less than a minute after that Elliott was bang to rights on the tripping call but this didn’t impress Tom Barry who shouted something from the Bison bench and was given a misconduct for his trouble.

Nicky Chinn was called for holding which gave the Steeldogs a shortened powerplay. The Steeldogs couldn’t make the man advantage tell but they kept the pressure on and got their second goal when Morgan’s shot rebounded off Skinns to Korhon who fired home at 50:29.

The teams traded chances; Selby had a shot gloved down by Sedlar, Hirst forced a big save out of Skinns, a Chinn drop pass to Greener was saved by Sedlar.

When the puck went into the corner and there was a commotion, all that came out of it was a roughing penalty for Michael Wales. It was the Bison however who would score on the powerplay, Joe Greener and Joe Rand broke out, Greener fed Rand who popped the puck through Sedlar’s 5 hole to complete his hattrick at 56:07.

The scoring wasn’t done as the Steeldogs responded almost immediately; the Steeldogs used their superior speed to stretch the Bison and pressure the net. Smith’s shot was saved by Skinns but sat kindly for Korhon to score his second of the contest and make the score 5-3 to the hosts.

The visitors pressed hard in the dying stages as the Bison held on. Sedlar was called to the bench but there was no way through for Sheffield. The Bison should have had an empty netter by Greener missed an empty net and Wales hit a post from distance. The lack of scoring on the empty cage didn’t matter as the Bison returned to winning ways at home.

Passed the test: After last weekend’s poor performance against Guildford, this was more like the Bison that we are used to. Missing the creativity of Long and the tenacity of Connolly, there were some initial worries that the Herd would be out of sorts again but a bit of a shuffle of the lines and the Bison were back to their best. At times they looked like they could pass around the visitors at will. The lack of being able to really put the game to bed in the final stages will be of some concern but they were denied by the typical Bison trap of trying to be too clever and a netminder playing decently. The Herd were visibly tired in the dying moments, almost taken apart by Sheffield’s speed but good teams hang on and hang on they did.

Joe Rand was a fair choice for man of the match, a well taken hattrick and a architypical industrious Rand performance with his mother in attendance was justly rewarded with the beers. The longer Rand plays with the Bison, the more that his almost robotic consistency and high quality of play sometimes doesn’t get recognised in such a way but it’s hard to deny the man of the match to a man who scores a hattrick including a short handed goal.

Stuart Mogg’s impressive two way game seems to get better as the youngster continues to find his feet with the extra ice time. Given additional powerplay time with the suspension to Connolly, last season’s most improved player has started 2014/15 off in fine fashion. Cam Wynn, whilst not given as much ice time was also impressive with the chances he was given.

Tomas Karpov, Andy Melachrino and Michael Wales appear to be back to their usual ways of terrifying defences. Karpov seemed to be on a mission to dance around the entire defence on his own at times and his goal was an example of the sort of hard work that makes the Czech so popular. Wales’ goal was a nice way to get him back into the swing of things now his ankle injury seems to be firmly behind him.

Dean Skinns and the defence, despite probably wanting all the goals back played very well and it was good to see Brendan Baird get some extended ice time when the situation allowed. Skinns made a range of good saves though the 3 goals on 16 shots won’t do his numbers any favours.

Overall, Doug Sheppard will be happy with the result against a side that whilst not at the top of their game last night, can easily do damage.

A word on our opponents: After an impressive win over Manchester on Thursday night, this is a game that Steeldogs players and fans will likely want to forget. Whilst they managed to score 3 goals and in the last 5 minutes had the Bison on the back foot, the scoreline flattered the visitors and they looked distinctly average at times.

Andre Payette benched himself during the second period, the Steeldogs were chasing the puck, leaving the centre of the ice open for easy passes and at times the Bison were passing around them at will. The attempts to up the physicality got them nowhere and it left them devoid of a plan until they upped the pace of the game and even then it was too late for them to come back.

Tom Squires was the only choice for man of the match for the visitors. Whilst Sedlar made some decent saves, he was only decent. In the absence of Jeff Legue, Squires stepped up and tried his best to lead from the front. The former Hull Stingrays forward was constantly working, constantly trying to create chances and was justly rewarded for his efforts and some really good play to pin an inexperienced line in their own end by getting the goal his work deserved.

Lubomir Korhon took both of his goals well but they’re goals an import of his quality should be scoring when presented with such opportunities. Bar them and his one dart through the team, he wasn’t overly noticeable.

Dalibor Sedlar did OK rather than great in net. He stopped another plethora of shots but at times didn’t inspire a lot of confidence. He wasn’t helped by a defence that was at times static and at others being stretched all over the shop. It wasn’t a very settled game from the back end and that cost them.

The quality in the Steeldogs is obviously there. It would have been interesting to see how Jeff Legue fits into this system and if Payette had played well enough not to bench himself in the process. I’ve said to many that you can’t sleep on the Steeldogs and many have learned that this season already but if they play like this against the Bison in their remaining 5 encounters this season, they won’t get a point against them.

Lowlight of the night: Reports of a headbutt are never nice.

Highlight of the night: For me, the Bison’s second goal; just a textbook move well finished.


Running with the Herd – Bison vs Guildford Flames 4/10/14

EPL/EIHA Challenge Cup

Basingstoke Bison 1-2 Guildford Flames after penalty shots

Karpov                        Towe

Penalties (Flames shoot first):

Rand miss                  Towe miss

Karpov saved               Duggan saved

Greener scores            Longstaff scores

Sheppard miss             Kvetan scores

Doug Sheppard races towards Gregg Rockman in Saturday's EPL clash. (c) 5 Hole Photography

Doug Sheppard races towards Gregg Rockman in Saturday’s EPL clash.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Better than none: The Bison welcomed Michael Wales into the line up for the first time this season since his broken ankle back in March but were without Ciaran Long due to injury. The Flames sat Curtis Huppe as the import out off the mix.

Then we all blinked and Guildford scored. The Flames had the better of the early exchanges, Matt Towe took the zone and with the Bison defenceman partially screening Skinns, fired past the Bison netminder into the far corner at 01:37.

The visitors were having more of the puck and more of the chances early on before the Bison got more into their stride and came back into the game; Tomas Karpov leading the way with a neat move around the defenceman but Rockman made the initial save then poked the puck away. The game was being played at a decent pace and there were few stoppages which served to give the encounter an almost breathless quality at times.

The Bison were given the first powerplay opportunity when Marcus Kristofferson slashed Aaron Connolly high on his stick and it became a 5on3 moments later when Danny Meyers was called for holding in front of Rockman’s net. The Bison responded by getting called offside twice in quick succession during the 5on3 to leave the home fans dumbfounded.

When the Bison extra man unit got going, it looked decent and Karpov was set up for the drive but Rockman was equal to the task. The Herd kept at it and kept getting within a breath of scoring. Miroslav Vantroba hammered a shot off of the post but the Flames saw off the two man advantage.

The Flames had their own powerplay opportunity when Tom Duggan and Michael Wales clashed off of a faceoff and Mr Pickett saw fit to only call Wales for interference but it was the hosts who had the first real chance. Meyers turned the puck over at the blueline to Doug Sheppard who sped away towards Rockman with Joe Greener in support. The Bison player/coach had his shot saved by Rockman and Greener crashed the net and the netminder into the net and the Flames’ net remained untarnished.

Dean Skinns was soon called back into action when a broken play saw the puck fall to Tom Duggan in the slot. The shot from the Flames’ forward brought a reaction save from Skinns that even a hardened Guildford fan would have appreciated.

Doug Sheppard engineered another breakaway but he was dispossessed by a swing of the stick from Rockman which earned him a slashing penalty from the official. The Bison couldn’t capitalise and saw Kurt Reynolds sent to the box for holding onto Ben Campbell too long after a hit just as the first period came to a close.

The Flames, on a shortened powerplay early in the second had the first good chance when Tom Duggan fed Kristofferson at the back door but Skinns went post to post to make the stop.

Doug Sheppard was called for hooking to give the Flames their own 5on3 opportunity but the Bison penalty killers held firm and they too saw off the double advantage and had a chance shortly afterwards when Tomas Karpov had a trademark dart around defenders; his no look shot to the shortside hitting the outside of the post.

The Bison were back on the powerplay when Kristofferson was called for tripping Sheppard in what looked like a simple case of the Bison coach falling over under pressure. The Herd were not going to say no to the man advantage but despite some decent moves on the puck, they couldn’t find a way past Rockman.

The Flames netminder was putting in a top drawer performance but Dean Skinns was also pulling out the stops, denying Duggan and Kristofferson with some very good saves before the Bison were sent back to the powerplay on the back of an innocuous hooking call for Andy McKinney. The sides were playing 4on4 moments later however; Branislav Kvetan’s late hit on Andy Melachrino went unpunished but the Bison man’s reaction was called for roughing.

The sides traded chances with the empty space, Greener and McKinney went close before both netminders again carried on their standout performance. Skinns was forced into 3 quick saves before Rockman was forced into denying Melachrino and then picking a drive from Declan Balmer out of the air.

Tom Duggan was briefly down injured as play was called back but as he was up and away under his own power, the second period ended with the visitors still 1-0 ahead.

The third period started with the Flames staring down another penalty when Sam Godfrey hit Joe Greener high, earning himself a checking to the head penalty and a 12 minute sit down.

The Bison fans thought they had equalised shortly after. Tomas Karpov dashed through the middle and fed Andy Melachrino whose shot rippled the net. Sadly it was the outside of the net.

Where the second period had been nothing short of a bitty mess, the third period was being played with a pace that the second had lacked. Dean Skinns made a big save from Ben Campbell before finally, the damn broke.

Tomas Karpov fed Joe Greener who had the smallest bit of space in the slot but it was enough for the Bison’s top scorer to fire a laser into the corner above Rockman’s glove for the equaliser at 47:13 to the delight of the majority in attendance.

Both teams pushed for the winner. Joe Greener kept making friends as he kept testing how strong Rockman would hold in his net which didn’t please the Flames too much. The pace picked up as both sides probed and pushed in an attempt to beat the opposition’s netminder to take home all the points. The intensity picked up as well and the hits started coming thick and fast, the best being when Rand bounced off of Kristofferson in the corner behind Rockman’s net.

The Flames had a late powerplay chance when Michael Wales was called for holding. Aaron Connolly had the first real chance when he broke out shorthanded but his shot was right into the bread basket of Rockman. There was minimal other action and regulation ended with the score still tied. Both teams would get a point from the encounter which was entirely fair on the balance of play.

Overtime had its chances; Campbell had a shot saved by Skinns and a set play saw Balmer hammer the puck off of the end boards for Karpov to pick up which he did but he couldn’t stuff it home. The buzzer sounded for the end of overtime and the shootout came.

Both first shooters missed the net, both second shooters had their shots saved by the netminders. David Longstaff skated in at a leisurely pace before picking the 5 hole before Joe Greener snapped his shot off of the post and past Rockman. Branislav Kvetan skated in tight to Dean Skinns before find a gap to squeeze the puck in and Doug Sheppard’s effort scuffed off of the backhand of his stick past Rockman’s net to see the Bison drop their first point of the season.

Michael Wales returned to the ice after his ankle injury in March (c) 5 Hole Photography

Michael Wales returned to the ice after his ankle injury in March
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Can’t win them all: The first dropped point of the season was always going to come and given how scrappy the game was at times, to lose in the shootout is no indignity in the grand scheme. A point is a point and there were positives to take from the game.

I spoke a few people who said it was an entertaining game and I’ll disagree on that front. I thought the game was scrappy, had passages of poor play from both sides and ultimately wasn’t that fun a game to watch, especially the second period which had more turnovers both ways than Greggs.

Kurt Reynolds got the man of the match beers which was fair enough on performance. Reynolds was his usual reliable self, making some of those defensive moves that only Kurt Reynolds can make. Many people felt Joe Greener should have got the beers and that would have also been acceptable given how he played last night. Greener appears to be in a rich vein of form at the moment and looks almost unstoppable at times. He’s in the form where you feel every shot could go in.

The other player who actually isn’t getting enough credit for their performance last night is Dean Skinns. I’ll talk more about his opposite number more in a moment but Skinns made some top quality saves and looked strong in net when the crowd gathered.

The Bison clearly missed Ciaran Long’s creativity last night and had to compensate accordingly. Stuart Mogg was moved to the second line which was a justified move given Mogg’s recent good performances but arguably gave that line too much of a defensive outlook. Sheppard’s a good two way player, Mogg’s a good two way player and arguably they needed someone with Greener and Sheppard whose game is almost less two way. That’s not Mogg’s fault of course and as mentioned, his recent performances saw him being more than worthy of extra ice time.

It wasn’t a game we’ll remember for very long and whilst it’s a shame that the unbeaten record has gone, it’s a point earned and we move on.

A word on our opponents: As we start, tip of the hat to the Flames on the win. A lot of what I said about the Bison applies to the Flames as well. I don’t think it was a good game of hockey and the Flames passing at times was woeful but Paul Dixon’s game plan was effective; clog the neutral zone and the passing lanes to take away the Bison’s ability to pass around you. They deserve credit for that.

With all due respect to Marcus Kristofferson, Gregg Rockman was outstanding last night and arguably the best player on the ice for both teams. Whilst his net lived a charmed life occasionally given the number of times that the Bison hit the iron, the Flames netminder made a number of high quality saves in all situations that kept the scores as they were. The game plan that the Flames were playing always meant that the score would be tight and it was key for Rockman to be on form as a result and on form he was.

Kristofferson was no donkey last night by any stretch and put himself about well and Tom Duggan was certainly a visible threat as was Ben Campbell who might be the most underrated player in the league.

Apart from that it wasn’t a vintage performance from the Flames but they obviously won’t sniff at the extra point from the affair. It was a good morale boosting result ahead of tonight’s home game against Manchester.

Lowlight of the night: The game itself was dull

Highlight of the night: Greener’s goal; massively needed and a cracking shot to beat a netminder standing on his head.

Awww...Rocky is sad (c) 5 Hole Photography

Awww…Rocky is sad
(c) 5 Hole Photography


The BOTW Podcast – episode 3

It’s been a fortnight and you’ve all been so good, it’s time for episode 3!

We’ve got a very special guest with us this week; originally from the Portsmouth area, Des Squire is a freelance journalist who now works with 7 time DEL champions Eisbären Berlin as stats guy, arena announcer, interviewer and anything else they get him to do. Des talks about how he ended up in Germany, his role with the club and how British hockey could learn from our German counterparts.

I also have a rant about some stuff Dave Simms said and we deal with the important task of recent results as well as where you can get your hockey fix this coming weekend.

Remember to subscribe to The BOTW Podcast on iTunes HERE (go on, leave us a rating) and make sure you let us know what you like on Twitter or the BOTW Facebook page once you’ve listened.

The BOTW Podcast; the news and views from the EPIHL, all levels above, below and inbetween.


Running with the Herd – Bison vs Manchester Phoenix 20/9/14

EPL

Basingstoke Bison 3-2 Manchester Phoenix

Long pp                      Kovar

Greener pp                  Psurny

Melachrino pp

(c) 5 Hole Photography

(c) 5 Hole Photography

Clip those wings: The Bison headed into the game still without Michael Wales whose recovery from his ankle injury continues. The Phoenix only scratched Declan Ryan with Steve Fone the only Phoenix netminder to travel.

Fans had gotten used to games between the two sides bringing excitement and this one started off with a bang as the visitors took an early lead. It seemed to come out of nowhere; Robin Kovar took the pass from Shaun Thompson across the blueline, made a move and just rocketed the puck past the glove of Dean Skinns. With only 21 seconds on the clock, there were some nervous looking faces in the home crowd.

The Bison went for an immediate response, Andy Melachrino’s shot being swallowed up by Stephen Fone and the Phoenix quickly found themselves on the powerplay after Declan Balmer was rightly called for hooking. The Phoenix powerplay unit at full strength got good puck movement but the Bison penalty kill units did an admirable job.

The Herd got to the end of the Balmer penalty without an addition to the score and soon were given their own opportunity to strike. With the puck on the boards at the blueline in front of the Bison bench, the players clamoured to try and take advantage but in the scuffle, Frankie Bakrlik was called for hooking sending the Bison to the powerplay.

The Herd’s man advantage didn’t start well as a poor turnover gave Michal Psurny a free shot at goal but Dean Skinns’ saved the host’s blushes with a flash of the glove.

The Bison’s powerplay just didn’t seem to be clicking in the early going but a fortuitous bounce brought the Herd back onto level terms. With the puck in the Phoenix zone, Bison won the puck back. Joe Greener fed Ciaran Long and with Fone being screened by his own defenceman the former Phoenix man found the back of the net at 06:05.

The Bison were soon back onto the powerplay when Shaun Thompson’s hit on Miroslav Vantroba was called as boarding but there was no joy to be had as Fone in the Manchester net was keeping a variety of shots at bay; the best coming when Greener fed Sheppard from behind the net but the Bison player/coach’s shot was stopped in spectacular style.

The game was beginning to take on the usual style of Bison vs Phoenix encounters with end to end action and chances through the middle section of the period. The Phoenix were the next ones to get the big opportunity when Vantroba was called for slashing but again the Bison penalty kill held firm. Robin Kovar was knocked to the ice by a massive hit by Kurt Reynolds, the Czech forward incensed with the lack of call from Mr Thompson feeling he was elbowed but the referee was unsympathetic to Kovar’s protestations.

The Bison had a powerplay chance soon afterwards, Luke Boothroyd sent to the box for slashing on Tomas Karpov when he’d been beaten for pace but this time the Phoenix’s penalty killing was of a high quality and with Fone standing on his head, the Bison could still not find a second way through the EPL all star netminder.

Joe Greener had the last good chance of the period when he got the step on James Neil and made a customary charge on net but the Phoenix backstop stood strong and the first period ended 1-1 which on the balance of play was a fair score.

The second period started at a pace even more blistering than the first. The Bison had the first real chance when Joe Graham slipped which gave Aaron Connolly a run at Fone but the Bison man fired high of the net.

The Bison were the team creating the better chances but just couldn’t seem to find that final touch. Doug Sheppard had a shot saved and a centring feed rebounded off of Joe Greener over the crossbar. The pressure around Fone mounted and as everyone battled for the puck, Luke Boothroyd was called for holding and the Bison had another powerplay chance.

The Bison were getting good puck movement but at times it seemed like Fone would be the unsolvable puzzle, he was seeing everything from all angles. The Bison moved the puck and teed up Vantroba for the blast but it was easily handled by Fone. It would need a little something special to crack the Phoenix netminder. With the puck behind the net Melachrino fed Joe Greener who found the smallest of gaps that only he could see from and the puck squeezed through and over the line at 24:10 to give the Bison a 2-1 lead.

The Phoenix had a chance to get back on level terms moments later. Ben Wood levelled Aaron Connolly with a big hit. The Bison man was fine and got straight back up but exuberance to get back into the fray saw him called for slashing.

In amongst all the excitement of the game and the back and forth, Robin Kovar was still an unhappy man. Still feeling aggrieved at Reynolds having not been called for elbows on the hit in the first period Kovar was still chatting with Mr Thompson who, in the middle of the Phoenix powerplay, stopped play to give Kovar a misconduct penalty. The Phoenix forward was only further incensed and made his feelings known to Mr Thompson who subsequently gave Kovar a game misconduct and the Phoenix goalscorer’s night was done after 25 minutes.

The Bison kept the pressure on; a two on one opportunity was broken up superbly by Luke Boothroyd. Nicky Chinn got an inch of space and his shot rebounded off of Chinn but Connolly couldn’t get his stick on the puck to tap home.

Shortly afterwards the Bison had the puck in the net and the home crowd rose to their feet in celebration. Some good work from Andy Melachrino found Tomas Karpov who slotted home but the joy was short lived as Mr Thompson emphatically waved the goal off, deciding the puck had been played with a high stick to the fury of the home crowd.

The speed at which the game was being played was leaving the crowd as out of breath as the players. Psurny got round his man but his effort was saved by Skinns, Bakrlik did some great forechecking and fed the man pinching in but that too couldn’t beat the Bison goaltender. Tomas Karpov went for one of his winding runs but Fone was again equal to his efforts.

Then out of nowhere, Johan Burlin was down on the ice. It appeared he was hurt and was helped off the ice before he visibly hobbled to the room but reports range from a recurrence of an ankle injury to a broken skate blade. Either way, the Swedish defenceman who had been a rock at the back during the game was off the ice and would not return. The Phoenix were now down to two imports.

The second raced to its end; Adam Walker had a big drive stopped by Skinns and the Bison engineered another 10 man scramble for the puck in front of Fone but when the hooter sounded it was the Bison still leading 2-1 on the scoreboard.

The final period didn’t start well for the Bison when Joe Baird took a tumble and was down on the ice quite obviously hurt. Baird was up and off under his own power as play continued favouring his arm. He did return to the game eventually but it was a worrying moment.

The Bison had a couple of good chances through Ciaran Long and Tomas Karpov before Kurt Reynolds was called for cross checking as he attempted to dispossess Jacob Corson-Heron. For all the frustrations the Bison were having with Fone, the Phoenix suffered likewise as well with Skinns who denied them on the ensuing powerplay.

The game had lost some of its pace, both sides having seemingly gone through the second at such a rate that the tanks were both close to being empty. This didn’t stop the chances coming however. James Neil’s stickcheck denied Tomas Karpov, James Archer and Ben Wood were denied by Skinns.

The game was very tightly poised and despite being 2 imports down, the Phoenix were still threatening against a Bison team that appeared to be running out of steam.

The Phoenix didn’t help their cause when Frankie Bakrlik was called for slashing and the Bison made the Phoenix pay. Some neat passing saw the puck go quickly from Greener to Karpov who fed Andy Melachrino in front of Fone. Melachrino took a touch then slotted the puck home at 52:25 for a 3-1 Bison lead.

Then in a minute the Phoenix had their second. Manchester pressed right off of the faceoff after Melachrino’s goal. The visitors cycled the puck and James Neil’s shot from the blueline popped off of the pad of Dean Skinns to an unmarked Michal Psurny who only had to tap home at 53:26 to bring the league champions within a goal.

A game that had little of the rough stuff of last week’s encounter saw a few pushes and shoves; with Rand having been called for charging, Balmer and Bakrlik took a shot at each other. The offsetting crosschecking penalties were pretty much the extent of the game’s extracurriculars.

The Phoenix were still causing the Bison a number of problems and took their timeout to consider their options. Despite being on the back foot, the Bison weren’t going quietly as evidenced when Tomas Karpov hammered Joe Graham into the boards to the surprise of the Phoenix defenceman and most of the crowd.

Then, a scary moment. Frankie Bakrlik had arguably been the Phoenix’s best player all night and wanted to try and find the equaliser for his team. He charged down the central channel but was greeted by Miroslav Vantroba. The Bison’s Slovak defenceman stuck out the hip and Bakrlik was sent cartwheeling over Vantroba’s back before landing in a heap on the floor, clipping Joe Rand as he went by. Bakrlik remained motionless for a few moments before being helped off the ice to a loud round of applause, the crowd happy that the injury wasn’t more serious.

Understandably the game went a bit flat after that. The Phoenix looked for an answer but when Joe Graham was called for kneeing as he tried to impede Andy Melachrino’s progress with 30 seconds to go, there was no chance to pull Fone. Time ticked down and the Bison’s unbeaten start to 2014/15 continued.

(c) 5 Hole Photography

(c) 5 Hole Photography

All the right reasons: After all the hullabaloo surrounding last week’s game, it was good for all concerned that this game was played as the majority of Bison/Phoenix encounters are; high tempo, high intensity, high quality hockey games. There’s always a physical undercurrent but it never boils over.

Joe Greener got the man of the match award which was acceptable to myself and many in attendance. The player/assistant coach was virtually unstoppable at moments against Peterborough and was on fire again tonight. He was a constant, focussed threat and there was a feeling that he would score at some stage during proceedings as the line of Joe, Doug Sheppard and Ciaran Long continues to cause havoc for the opposition. The rewarding of Joe with the beers is arguably just reward given he would almost certainly of gotten them the week before had they not been cancelled for obvious reasons. Greener now stands at 4 goals and 3 assists in 2 games. Whilst he is unlikely to maintain a 3.5 points per game average across the season, the Bison need to make the most of this rich vein of form.

Kurt Reynolds again was an utter rock at the back and again seemed to be able to turn his way out of everything and anything. The whole defence (bar Brendan Baird who I didn’t see ice) were an impressive unit. It was a much more composed performance from Matt Selby as the usual high pressing that the Bison employ was scaled back a bit given the pace of the Manchester attack. Declan Balmer is going to be a player that we only notice when he’s either scoring or making a mistake so his quiet game was a job well done. Miroslav Vantroba’s hip check on Bakrlik had an unfortunate outcome but was textbook. The status of Joe Baird’s arm is unknown.

Dean Skinns had a decent game in net though will be displeased with the first goal given it went it past his glove so early. He recovered well and looked very solid, especially at the end with his teammates running on fumes.

The Bison probably shaded the game on balance of performance, the second period being what some people called the most exciting they’d seen the Bison play at home for some time. The pace was off the chain (obviously helped by a very fluid Phoenix side) but the Bison dominated the middle period and at times looked frightening. If any team gives the Herd a chance to play like that, they will be in trouble. The quality of the special teams play has to be pleasing to Doug Sheppard as well; 3 powerplay goals against the league champions and the win is a mark of a side in full flow. To be doing so this early is an encouraging sign.

A word on our opponents: Phoenix fans will instantly worry about the injuries to Johan Burlin and Frankie Bakrlik after last night. If Burlin’s is just a broken skate blade that couldn’t be replaced then that’s less of an issue. The big Swede looked very good though it’s obviously hard to make a full judgement given he didn’t play for a massive chunk of the game but he looks decent. He’s certainly a different player from Robert Schnabel but if he settles fully will surely be an asset.

I’ve bemoaned Frankie Bakrlik on this blog on occasion but he was superb for the Phoenix last night up until his point of injury. Always looking to make something happen, Bakrlik never looked like he was going to be the man to score but rather set up the eventual play. His size and skill make him a handful but the way his game ended will obviously make people nervous about his status tonight against Sheffield.

Stephen Fone got the man of the match beers and that was understandable. 41 saves, 21 of them in the second period alone kept Manchester in the contest when arguably they could have been well out of it by the second buzzer. He seemed to be seeing the puck from all angles and was beaten when his defence was stretched and had minimal chance to do anything. It’s good for the Phoenix he did so, the absence of Declan Ryan meant that Fone had no choice but he certainly stood on his head.

Despite the loss Phoenix fans should take heart from this performance. Imports down, on the back foot for chunks of the game, the league champions were resolute in not going quietly into the night. When the Bison were looking tired in the last ten minutes was arguably the chance for the Phoenix to strike and level the scores but they just seemed to lack something. Whether it was the extra players or just that spark that maybe Kovar could have provided had he not decided arguing with the referee was a better idea than playing, we’ll never know.

Two weekends into the season and only 3 points from 6 might wobble some of the Phoenix faithful but it’s too soon for such things. This is a roster still bedding in. Their time will come, I’m disconcertingly sure of such things.

Lowlight of the night: The injury to Bakrlik; never nice to see.

Highlight of the night: The goals were all lovely but I’m going to say a tie between Kurt Reynolds in general and Karpov’s hit on Graham. Where’s he been hiding that?


The BOTW Podcast – episode 2

We’re back with episode two of the only podcast we’re aware of putting all of the EPL front and centre…mainly because we’re the only ones crazy enough to do it!

I go solo this week to go through last weekend’s results, discipline in the EPL and the EIHL, look at the first rumblings from the IHUK review and look to the weekend ahead.

Remember to subscribe to The BOTW Podcast on iTunes HERE (go on, leave us a rating) and make sure you let us know what you like on Twitter or the BOTW Facebook page once you’ve listened.

The BOTW Podcast; the news and views from the EPIHL, all levels above, below and inbetween.

P.S. Despite my best efforts, the volume is a little low in a couple of places.


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