The wheels of EPL hockey keep turning with the announcement that the first player to officially depart has taken his leave for us in the form of defenceman, Carl Graham.
Graham gave a statement to Banners On The Wall that reads:
My time in Basingstoke over the last 2 seasons has been great. Every season has it’s ups and downs both as a team and personally and it was nothing different with my time with Bison. Coming so close to winning something the first year was disappointing but then to come to the second season and to win the double has been amazing and finishing off with winning Coventry was the icing on the cake.
I have truly made a lot of friends both on and off the ice and I can’t describe enough how much I appreciate the number of messages I received when it was mentioned I was leaving, very overwhelming.
I leave with no bad word to say right through the chain of people involved with Bison. I’ve been made to feel more than welcome and I really do hope people keep in touch.
A new hockey challenge awaits next season, which will be slightly different but I’m excited to be a big part of it.
Thanks again and enjoy the summer
What have we lost?
With the loss of Graham, the Bison lose some of that good defensive depth that served them so well over the course of the 13/14 season. Graham will never win an award for the most extravagant defenceman in the EPL but he is a solid option who will go out and play his position responsibly. Graham also has that element of toughness to his game that, when the situation arises, means he will gladly throw down and stand up for his teammates, lest we forget him punching Peter Vaisanen’s shoulder out of its socket back in 2010.
Where has he gone?
At the moment, the 30 year old Graham is not confirmed as having signed anywhere. Given his base in Basingstoke, rumours will abound as to which southern team he will be joining.
Who replaces him?
At the moment, the Bison roster for 2014/15 consists of a grand total of 2 people at the time of writing this. Therefore I will give a comedy answer and say Sergei Gonchar. You heard it here first.
Well, we always knew they wouldn’t all stay.
Carl is a popular guy with the fans, never the most standout guy but always ready to throw a big hit or a step in to defend a more skilled guy. Despite being part of a side that won two trophies, you have to believe that his lack of ice time at the end of the season when things were getting serious must have played into the decision to leave. No shifts in the EPL cup final 1st leg and none at playoff weekend for a 29 year old, experienced player must have stung. There were known issues with his wrist causing him problems but Manchester’s James Neil played the playoff final with a broken toe. Graham likely feels that he could have contributed.
Ultimately nobody can’t be replaced and it’s come to the point where Graham and the club have gone in different directions. Whilst other clubs and players around the country seem to have had some acrimonious or difficult splits, this appears to be done on amicable terms which is all anyone can ask for.
All the best Carl, I’m sure you’ll be a big hit.
#7 Kurt Reynolds
Born: Basingstoke, Hampshire
Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 17/4/14
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!
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;
Superted who went from being excited to pensive to sad to happy
Any Australian hockey jerseys
Scott McKenzie sober
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.
EPL Playoff Final
Manchester Phoenix 3-5 Basingstoke Bison
Kovar x 2 (1pp) Long
Archer Rand (ps)
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.
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.
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.
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…
EPL Playoff Semi Final
Basingstoke Bison 5-2 Guildford Flames
Karpov pp Kristofferson
Chinn Kvetan pp
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.
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.
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’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.
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?
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!