EPL Cup Final 1st Leg
Milton Keynes Lightning 1-4 Basingstoke Bison
Carlon Melachrino x 2 (1pp)
Momentum: The Bison travelled at full strength to the Skydome with the addition of over 100 Bison fans on the two Booster Club coaches as well as others who travelled up alone and the addition of a couple of Coventry Blaze fans who came along. The Lightning were without Josh Nicklin and Connor Goode, starting Stephen Wall in net.
The first few exchanges were even as both teams sought to establish themselves, the Bison getting an early chance from an Aaron Connolly shot that was swallowed up by the pads of Wall.
The forays continued; the Bison line of Karpov, Melachrino and Wales took to the ice. Some good work forced a break up ice between Wales and Melachrino. With Melachrino on the puck, one of the Lightning defencemen took Wales out of the play off the puck but the arm of neither official was raised but Melachrino kept the puck. The Bison forward advanced on the Lightning goal, took the puck onto his backhand and shovelled the puck past Wall at 04:02 to get the Bison on the board.
The Lightning however responded by storming off of the faceoff and immediately put the Bison on the back foot, peppering Skinns’ net with shots. Blaz Emersic was putting in a workhorse like performance, feeding Tom Carlon who set off around the back of the Bison net. The former Coventry Blaze man, more than at home on the Skydome ice came around the back of the Bison net and between himself and Emersic managed to stuff the puck past Skinns at 05:32 and the Lightning were back in the tie.
The Lightning kept their foot firmly on the gas pedal. Emersic again was at the centre of things, taking a feed from behind the net but Skinns was equal to the task. The Bison defence seemed shaken, the hosts’ forecheck them endless problems. The Herd were still having opportunities when they managed to break out, Joe Greener coming close and eventually some of the pressure was relieved when Ross Bowers was called for interference.
The Bison couldn’t take advantage of the man advantage and Milton Keynes were straight back on the attack. Leigh Jamieson had a shot off of the left wing that was saved by Skinns and a bad bounce of the puck gave Jordan Cownie a huge opportunity. The Lightning forward fired goal wards and Skinns could only juggle the puck which dropped close to the post but a Bison defenceman was on hand to clear the danger.
When Janne Jokila broke past the Bison defence only some handy stick work from Miroslav Vantroba could save the Herd, the Slovak taking the hooking penalty which carried over into the second period, the buzzer giving the Bison a much needed bit of respite from a period where their hosts had had the better of the balance of play.
The Bison managed to kill off the Vantroba penalty and were soon sent to the powerplay themselves when Grant McPherson got his stick up on Michael Wales. The powerplay unit set to work and it didn’t take long for the Herd to set up a good screen in front of Wall. The puck was worked up to the point for Vantroba who fired through the traffic in front of net to put the Bison back on top of the tie, the powerplay marker coming at 22:12.
The Bison started to wrestle a bit of momentum from the Lightning. The line of Rand, Sheppard and Connolly produced a fantastic shift where they pinned the Lightning in their own zone, Connolly getting the shooting chance but Wall was equal to it.
Jokila was called for hooking and shortly afterwards Lewis Christie went high on Andy Melachrino. Christie got 2+10 for checking to the head and the Bison had a 5on3 powerplay but despite some really good powerplay work, the Lightning penalty kill unit did a good job and the Herd failed to add to the score.
Joe Rand made one of his trademark dashes to the net but the net became dislodged and a crowd formed with Connolly and Grant McPherson looking like they were about to have more than just cross words but they were led away by the linesman. Lukas Zatopek was also adjudged to have pushed the net off of its moorings and was called for delay of the game so the Bison went back to the powerplay.
The Bison’s top powerplay unit went back to work and it felt like a breakthrough was coming and eventually it did. Ciaran Long had the shot in the slot that was well saved by Wall but the Lightning netminder gave up a juicy rebound. With no MK defencemen quick enough to react, Andy Melachrino pounced on the loose puck to pot his second of the night at 32:45.
The Lightning raced from the faceoff to try and get back into the game but were shortly back on the back foot as the Bison seemed to not want to give their hosts a sniff of the momentum of the game back.
Moments later the GCL line of Greener, Chinn and Long made matters worse for the Lightning. Joe Greener got himself into the similar spot that Long had been for the Bison’s third goal and fired goalwards. Wall must have had a horrifying sense of deja vu as the rebound popped out straight to Long who found the gap to make it 4-1 to the Bison at 35:08; the Bison’s 2nd goal in 3 minutes forcing Nick Poole to call the timeout.
The timeout stemmed some of the tide but the Bison were right back to it and seeking their 5th goal with their hosts starting to show some frustrations. Michael Wales crashed the net and fell into Wall who greeted him with a shot to the face.
The Bison were sent back to the powerplay when Grant McPherson was called for crosschecking on Connolly. The travelling Stampede though they had a 5th when a shot from Doug Sheppard was tipped in front by Joe Rand but the puck went millimetres wide and scrapped the back of the goal. The powerplay was negated shortly afterwards when Connolly was sent to the box for highsticking but the second period ended much better for the Bison than the first had. The nerves had settled and they had a commanding 4-1 lead.
After Joe Rand somehow managed to check two Lightning players at the same time to start the third, the Bison were soon on the penalty kill after Matt Selby landed a hard hit on Cownie that was called as boarding. Joe Baird was also swiftly called for hooking handing MK a 5on3 powerplay chance. The Bison penalty killing unit managed to keep on top of the Lightning’s plan and killed off both penalties unscathed.
The teams traded chances and penalties as the period ticked on. Connolly was called for tripping before Leigh Jamieson then Kurt Reynolds got 2+10 checking from behind penalties but none of the calls provided powerplay goals.
The Bison were still having the control of the tempo, holding the Lightning at bay as time wound down with the Herd content to allow a few shots on Skinns from distance that weren’t forcing much exertion from Skinns. Ross Bowers and Lukas Zatopek had the better of the chances but as the away fans rose to the strains of The Great Escape, “half time” of the tie sounded with the Herd on top in the contest and Matt Selby and Stanislav Lascek exchanging “pleasantries”.
A big step on a job half done: What could have been a massive banana skin ended up seeing the Bison at their best in the biggest game of the season. The first period was nervy and shaky, they recovered in the second and made the best of the Lightning taking too many penalties and making too many mistakes and in the third they held their hosts at bay. In the first period the Herd looked nervous and MK came flying at them but they weathered the storm, scored that powerplay goal early in the second and never looked back. The Bison fought their way back into the game and rightly took the decision.
Miroslav Vantroba took the man of the match beers and he, along with all the defence played a decent game but again Andy Melachrino was my nod in such matters. Riding the form and confidence wave of his senior career, Melachrino is taking full advantage of all the ice time he’s getting and any extra space from the fact teams are now closely marking Karpov.
The other excellent performance on the night for me came from Ciaran Long. I’ve said for a while that Long is a huge performer in big games and last night, whatever switch that there is in his head was once again flicked. Long just seems to get better as the season goes on and in the biggest game of the season he was outstanding again. He looked a constant threat and was given able support to do what he did by Joe Greener and Nicky Chinn.
It was another consummate team performance from the Bison who managed to snuff out the threat that the Lightning posed on the night. There’s 60 minutes of hockey to be played but if the Bison find a way to play like that again, the wait might finally be over.
A word on our opponents: If Milton Keynes had found a way to play in the last 40 minutes as they did in the first 20 minutes, then this would be a very different report. They were on top at the end of the first period despite the even score but the Lightning allowed the Vantroba goal, started taking silly penalties, got frustrated and paid the price for it.
Jordan Cownie was a decent choice for man of the match on the balance of the 60 minutes with a really solid performance though Blaz Emersic also gave his all on the night, being the only one of the Lightning’s imports that really seemed to stamp much of his ability on the game.
Stephen Wall looked more and more frustrated as the game went on and I don’t blame him on the whole. Whilst he might have wanted to do better with the first Bison goal, he was screened for the second and rebound control aside didn’t get any support from his defenders on goals 3 and 4. The telling point came when after the timeout Lascek went to tap Wall’s pads and the Lightning netminder appeared to wave his teammate away. The goalie was an angry goalie.
Is the mountain too tall for the Lightning to climb? No, it’s not. This is hockey and anything can happen in the space of 60 minutes. The issue for Milton Keynes is how they respond to this. They have a tough task ahead of them, there’s no denying that but a well disciplined, hard hitting MK performance like we all know they’re capable of will give them a chance. Nick Poole has a week to devise a plan to bring the cup back to their temporary home at the Skydome.
Lowlight of the night: Jamieson’s hit on Vantroba was just nasty; through the numbers and Miro almost did a cartoon-esque slither down the boards.
Highlight of the night: The whole night, the entire fanbase seems pretty happy after it.
Basingstoke Bison 6-2 Slough Jets
Melachrino pp Lack x 2
Flying high: The Bison went into the game with the entirety of the fourth line back from injury as Cameron Wynn and Danny Ingoldsby returned to the line up. After releasing Brad Watchorn during the week, the Jets started Andrej Vasiljevic in net and had Ales Padelek in the lineup meaning Andrius Kaminskas was scratched from the lineup along with JJ Pitchley.
Having not faced off against each other more than a month ago, the Bison attempted to regain the dominance of the team’s previous meeting. Joe Rand had the Herd’s best chances early on, his delayed feed giving Doug Sheppard a chance for the redirect that called Vasiljevic into action and Rand himself took a feed from Connolly that forced another parry from the Jets’ Croation netminder.
The Jets had the occasional chance; Danny Rose battled his way past a couple of Bison defenders to get a shot away and some good work by Ales Padelek set up a chance for Ryan Webb that was wide of the target but it was the Bison having the better of the chances and possession. Tomas Karpov was set up by Michael Wales, the Czech forward having the puck close to Vasiljevic but the Croatian was again holding firm.
The Bison were sent to the powerplay shortly afterwards when Aaron Connolly was felled in the Jets zone by Mindy Kieras and the Herd’s special teams unit set to work. It took a while for the powerplay to set itself up but once it did, the passing was slick and smooth seeing the Jets penalty kill stretched. Joe Greener put the puck into the wheelhouse of Miroslav Vantroba but rather than hammering the puck as hard as he could, the Slovak hit the shot off speed and Andy Melachrino was adjudged to have gotten a touch in front to give the Bison a deserved lead at 11:26.
The Bison were soon back to the powerplay when Kamil Tvrdek tripped Doug Sheppard in the middle of a good shift from the coach, Rand and Connolly but the powerplay unit was less potent this time around and eventually the Jets were given a shortened powerplay when Nicky Chinn was called for elbows.
Chances went both ways as the first period wound down as Lack and Padelek went close for the Jets but were unable to beat Dean Skinns and Vasiljevic was able to hold shots from Andy Melachrino and Aaron Connolly at bay. The first period ended with the Bison deservedly on top but Slough’s dogged resistance was far superior to their most recent visit.
That effort was rewarded just over a minute into the second period. Having seen off an early chance from Karpov, the Jets caught the Bison napping and out of position allowing Jamie Line to find Alan Lack in front of the Bison net and his backhand shot was over the shoulder of Skinns for the equaliser at 21:32.
Doug Sheppard raced from the faceoff towards the Jets net but Aaron Connolly couldn’t connect with the pass and thus began some end to end if somewhat slow paced hockey where Tvrdek, Sullivan, and Ciaran Long with having the best of the chances. A slick Jets pass set Tvrdek again behind the defence. He toedragged the puck around the diving Matt Selby but Skinns dashed past the top of his crease aggressively and the Jets import’s shot was plucked from the air by the netminder, leaving Tvrdek to only stare at the ceiling before giving Skinns a congratulatory tap on his pads for what was a superb stop.
Nicky Chinn was himself soon put behind the Jets defence but his shot was wide and shortly after that the Bison were on the penalty kill as Joe Rand was called for slashing. Vasiljevic was replaced by Joe Myers in net to allow the Jets 3 import outskaters on the powerplay.
It sadly didn’t bode well for the former Cardiff Devils man. Joe Greener was sent off down the ice on a shorthanded play and raced towards the net. Greener tried to stuff the puck in and in the effort, Myers’ stick flew out of his hands but was adjudged to have thrown it by Mr Cloutman who called for a penalty shot. The Jets swapped Myers back for Vasiljevic (which I couldn’t see anything about in the rulebook but as Mr Cloutman and Mr Thompson have reffed more games than I’ve had hot dinners, I’ll bow to their judgement on this one) and Ciaran Long lined up for the shot.
The former Jets man took his time, going on a long and winding route before cutting to Vasiljevic’s right, dragging the netminder this way and that before poking the puck past the left pad to put the Bison back on top at 31:51.
The Bison nearly made it 3 shortly afterwards when Zach Sullivan stopped a clearing attempt and his drive was tipped by Andy Melachrino onto the post. The chances kept coming during a period of 4 on 4 play as Vantroba and Lack took offsetting penalties for holding and roughing respectively.
The Bison were given a late powerplay when Tom Avery was called for tripping which carried over into the third period but the Bison didn’t add another goal on the man advantage.
It wasn’t however long before the Bison had added to their advantage in the third period. Though the penalty to Avery had expired, the Bison were very much on the attack. Joe Rand took the pass from Aaron Connolly and out-waited Vasiljevic before firing high into the net to make it 3-1 at 41:16.
The Jets responded, feeling that they weren’t out of the game and had a guilt edged chance. Ales Padelek took the feed right in front of Skinns all on his own but with the Bison netminder scrambling for the stop, the Jets forward conspired to fire the puck over the crossbar from in close when it looked easier to score. It would prove costly moments later; Joe Greener took the pass from Vantroba and fed the puck into the slot for Nicky Chinn to drive the puck into the back of the net at 46:16 to allow the skipper to celebrate St. David’s Day in style.
The Jets response to that? They went straight back on the attack. A high energy shift provided a few chances and whilst Dean Skinns was equal to a shot from Matt Towinski, the rebound popped out to Alan Lack who was on hand to add his second of the night at 48:53.
The Bison however remained firm and didn’t allow the Jets much in the way of the extra chances, instead forcing them to take penalties when Webb boarded Melachrino and Wynn drew a trip from Kieras. Both times the Bison powerplay looked capable but couldn’t find a way through.
Slough called their timeout at 58:46 to try and formulate a plan but it was to no avail. The Jets pressed, Vasiljevic headed to the bench but a broken play saw Michael Wales poke the puck out of the zone to Tomas Karpov who battled his way through a few Jets players before shooting the puck from half way into the empty cage at 59:20.
The Bison sent out the Youth Brigade of Ingoldsby, Mogg and Wynn to cover the last 40 seconds of time and for the most part action was in the Jets zone. With time running down, Ingoldsby played the puck down low for Wynn who looked up and fed the puck to the top of the crease where Mogg held off his man and one timed the shot through Vasiljevic’s 5 hole just before the final buzzer sounded. Mr Thompson on the spot called it a good goal and Mogg’s first home goal for the Bison topped off a job well done for the hosts.
All around effort: After what was a convincing win against Slough a few weeks ago and last week against Manchester, the fear for some was that the Bison wouldn’t be up for this game against a Slough side that beat Guildford last week and shouldn’t be discounted. Luckily, despite it not being the most exciting game, the Bison were professional and ultimately their quality told.
Aaron Connolly got man of the match for an industrious performance. He only picked up the one assist but is a game that felt very stilted he seemed to be constantly moving and energetic, constantly looking for an opening or to make a hit to spark the play.
That said it wasn’t a game where anybody really stood out but where the Bison performed well as a unit. It’s been easy in recent games to pick out individual performances but today wasn’t so much about tons of moments of individual skill but the Bison not allowing themselves to being dragged into the dogfight by Slough, playing their game and winning as a result. 6 goals from 6 different goal scorers speaks to that somewhat and even in the second when there was a wobble it wasn’t to a level that ultimately cost the Bison.
The defence again looks solid though the decrease in ice time at even strength for Carl Graham is interesting. It is entirely possible that Graham is carrying an injury but at the business end of the season, shortening the defensive unit from 6 to 5 seems an odd choice when Graham could be giving players in the top 4 a rest if nothing else.
Also we have to briefly mention Mogg’s goal which was incredibly well worked and well taken. I feel we’ll hear variations on Mogg from Wynn from Ingoldsby for a while to come; the future, ladies and gentlemen.
With another game in Slough tonight, last night’s performance was one that did the business. You can’t be 5 stars and fireworks all the time, but work rate and quality will see you through more than moments of sublime skill.
A word on our opponents: This was a much better performance from Slough than their last outing in Basingstoke. With Ales Padelek and Alan Lack back in the lineup, it was easy to see the quality that they add to a Jets lineup that, whilst on the ropes isn’t out of the playoff race yet.
Lack was unlucky not to get man of the match in my opinion. He took both of his goals well, took a ton of knocks, hacks and whacks all night, took a ton of flack from the crowd and even got Dean Skinns’ blocker in his face but never stopped for 60 minutes.
That said you can appreciate why Andrej Vasiljevic got his second case of beers in Basingstoke in the space of a couple of weeks. Another 60 shot plus performance combined with a variety of decent saves was enough for those who chose the man of the match award. Some of the Bison shots in the first two periods were very much in the easy to save range but the Croatian wasn’t unnerved by the volume and held his positioning well.
Other than that the Jets lineup tried, they tried very hard but lacked the quality to really rock the Bison. Padelek was full of spark, Tvrdek had a few good chances and Jamie Line showed the same skill set that I felt should have got him the man of the match a few weeks ago but the Jets never massively worried me sitting in the stands. I did feel for Joe Myers as well as I didn’t think he threw his stick but that’s Mr Cloutman’s call not mine.
The Jets at home however will be a different prospect than last night and the Bison need to be on their guard. Whilst I don’t think they have the quality of individuals, the team spirit at Slough appears to be high. There’s nothing more dangerous than a wounded animal.
Lowlight of the night: Jets’ first goal as it was avoidable.
Highlight of the night: Long’s penalty shot goal was rather pretty, very well taken.
With February ending today and the end of the current campaign drawing nigh, Banners On The Wall is back with it’s Player of the Year award for the 2013/14 EPIHL season.
After great success with the 2012/13 award where Joe Rand was awarded the inaugural “Edijs Brahmanis Trophy”, it is time to get down to business with this year’s award.
The format will follow the same as last season’s competition. There will be a week for fans to nominate a player of their choosing to be player of the year for whatever reason you so choose. Once a player gets at least 3 nominations they qualify for the final.
The nominations are open as of right now and will last until 11:59pm on Friday 7th March 2014. Everybody gets one choice, no voting for multiple players.
You can vote in a variety of ways:
- As a comment on this post
- Tweeting your selection to @84arussell on Twitter
- In person if you see me
- Email (along with your stories of course) to email@example.com with the subject “player of the year”
Once nominations end next Friday, a winner will be chosen from those who have qualified from your votes. I am privileged to be joined by all of our returning panel from last year. Including me, choosing the winner will be;
Grant King of 5 Hole Photography, the official Bison Photographer (visit the site, buy a print)
Jamie Walker, writer for the Bison website and former Basingstoke junior player
Hannah Driver, Bison off ice official, schools coordinator and utility player for the Bracknell Firebees of Women’s Div 1 South
Nigel “Moose” Simmonds, Bison super fan, last year’s winner of the Outstanding Achievement Award at the club’s end of season awards night and finalist for Ice Hockey UK’s “Fan of the Century”
Once we’ve had our requisite discussions, the winner will be announced here on the blog and the winner will be presented with their prize at the next available opportunity. When it’s announced depends on how long it takes us to decide but expect an announcement between the 2nd leg of the cup final and the home game vs Sheffield on the 15th March.
Will Joe Rand retain his title? Will a Brit or an import take the title? The nominations are open and up to you. Happy voting!
Basingstoke Bison 5-1 Manchester Phoenix
Melachrino x 2
Championship calibre: The Phoenix paid their final visit to Hampshire of the season minus former Bison, Liam Chong who was out with an injury. The Bison were still without Cameron Wynn and Danny Ingoldsby but welcomed Stuart Mogg back to the line up.
Frankie Bakrlik had the first real chance on net, a wrist shot kicked away by Dean Skinns and from there it was high paced, end to end but controlled hockey by both sides. The Bison were the nervier looking in the opening exchanges, punctuated by Dean Skinns being called into a diving pokecheck to deny Michal Psurny but an interference penalty to Robert Schnabel sent the Herd to the powerplay.
The Phoenix were straight into using their high pace game to try and burn the Bison. Tony Hand forcing a turnover from Miroslav Vantroba to spring the 2 on 1 with Michal Psurny but the wrap around attempt was scuppered by the net coming off. The Bison came close when a stretch pass set Michael Wales away but his shot was saved with the shoulder by Stephen Fone and a rare rush into the offensive zone by Vantroba granted the big defenceman a chance that was halted by the Phoenix backstop.
The Phoenix were sent to the powerplay when Joe Greener was called for hooking and Dean Skinns was called on again to keep the score as it was. A soft shot from the blueline found its way to James Archer at the top of the crease. His pass to Hand at the side of the goal looked certain to be shot in but Skinns reached across and plucked the puck out of the air.
The game was still very much a high paced affair, both teams having chances as they searched for an opening. The Bison were on the attack and Nicky Chinn fired a slapshot that was kicked away by Fone. The puck fell to Joe Greener who fired from a tight angle and suddenly the puck was in the back of the net. The Bison had found the crack in the Phoenix armour at 16:23.
Then before Bavy in the DJ box could properly get out the announcement for the goal, the Bison had doubled their advantage. Wales fed Andy Melachrino skating at speed and the Bison man got the step on his man, took a stride then fired past Fone at 16:49 for 2-0.
The Phoenix were stunned but immediately set about trying to redress some of the balance before the period ended, Bakrlik being fed for a guilt edged chance at the side of the net that the Manchester import could only put wide of the cage.
The period ended minus an official as Mr Kozacs had to take a sit down due to injury (he returned for the second period) but there was no change to the scoreline as the hosts lead 2-0 at the break.
The second period started with a similar speed to the first; James Archer was given a great chance but fired it straight at Skinns to lead off the opportunities.
The teams then quickly exchanged penalties as first Richard Bentham was called for delay of the game when he fired the puck right at the metal stanchion by where I sit and then Nicky Chinn was called for hooking which made it 4 on 4 hockey for a brief period. It was the Bison however who took advantage thanks to a superb bit of skill.
Tomas Karpov set off on one of his trademark runs at the Phoenix defence. Faced with a defenceman baring down on him Karpov moved the puck off of his stick, kicked it off of his skate round the defenceman, controlled it on his stick again and whilst falling managed to draw the other defender to him and fire a pass to Andy Melachrino who had time to control the puck and fire into the gaping cage for 3-0 at 24:11.
The Phoenix kept trying to attack, a good move on the cycle saw a shot hit the outside of the post but it was shortly even worse for them. Nicky Chinn made a hit in front of the benches that had a hint of a high elbow but it kick started the Bison attack into the Phoenix zone. Joe Greener got the shot away which forced Fone into the butterfly position but Chinn was following up and managed to fire the rebound into the net at 28:49.
The Phoenix responded by again flying away from the faceoff to try and get something, anything on the board but were instantly caught high as Melachrino’s pass put Karpov away in space. The Czech sprinted towards Fone, took a moment then fired under Fone’s right arm. 5-0 Bison at 29:17 and the home crowd was in raptures with the visitors taking their timeout in an attempt to steady the ship.
Steadying might be the wrong choice of words given what happened next; with Manchester on the attack, a scramble ensued in front of Skinns. Andy McKinney was about to be called for holding when he got a little too close to Dean Skinns for the liking of Joe Baird who took a whack at the Phoenix forward. McKinney responded by throwing his gloves off and punching Baird who wasn’t given a chance to respond. Whilst Baird should have been called for a slash, McKinney was rung up for holding and 2+2 roughing to give the Bison a 6 minute powerplay.
The Bison couldn’t take much advantage of the extended powerplay even to a point where Rand was called for slashing and when his penalty had finished, the Bison were still on the powerplay from McKinney’s infractions.
Shortly after however, the Phoenix found way to get on the board. With all sides back to 5 skaters and Manchester on the attack all the Phoenix imports combined to get them on the board. Kovar to Psurny to Bakrlik at the top of the crease who fired through Skinns’ 5 hole to make it 5-1 at 36:46.
The rest of the period played out pretty evenly, the best chance falling to Ciaran Long who tried to make the most of an uncharacteristic turnover by Robert Schnabel but his shot was saved low by Fone. The period ended with the home side firmly in control of the tie.
The Bison started the period with similar vigour that they ended the second stanza as Andy Melachrino raced towards Fone seeking his hattrick. Sadly his backhand shot was easily dealt with by Fone.
As Milton Keynes learned in the first leg of their cup semi final, you can’t count out the Phoenix. Manchester kept having good chances; Hand fed Psurny for a shot where the Czech couldn’t make good enough contact but the Bison defence was holding firm and keeping the Manchester shots to the outside.
The Bison suddenly managed to get themselves into penalty trouble. First Nicky Chinn was called for cross checking on Robin Kovar from a number of penalties that could have been called. Just as the Bison killed that penalty off, Zach Sullivan got his stick up on Kovar which gave the Phoenix another man advantage but again the Bison held their visitors at bay.
The Bison strangled the life from the game as they pressed their dominance and held the Phoenix at arms length, content to give their visitors the puck but the defence forcing them to the outside. Wood and Schnabel had huge blueline blasts saved by Skinns. Connolly and Rand combined for a good chance that saw the Bison’s import have his shot plucked from the air by Fone.
The Phoenix had a late powerplay chance when Sheppard was called for highsticking and there were more chances for the visitors but Skinns stood firm in net. Time ticked down in the arena and the home fans rose to their feet to applaud a win that could prove massive in the decision of where the EPL title will end up.
It’s on: In the context of the EPL title race, people will talk of games in hand and what run in the teams have but last night was a massive statement from the Bison. The two title challengers went head to head in Basingstoke and the Bison won and won comfortably against a near full strength Phoenix side. The Herd were clinical with their chances, solid on defence and outplayed Manchester in most facets of the game over the 60 minutes. The Phoenix flew out of the gate and rather than sit back, the Bison went out and matched them. They hung with the Phoenix in the first period and took their chances well, dominated the second period then held them at bay in the third and deservedly won.
Andy Melachrino was a good choice for man of the match, taking his two goals well and generally looking a genuine threat the entire time he was out there. Everybody talks about Tomas Karpov for obvious reasons, the assist on the third goal was simply beautiful but without Melachrino alongside him in arguably the form of his life there’s a sizeable chunk of scoring the Bison would miss. The MKM line are a joy to watch.
I wouldn’t have argued with Dean Skinns getting man of the match either. Whilst the defence (playing with 5 guys as Carl Graham spent most of the game on the bench) played fantastically, Skinns made some legitimately great saves.
The current line combinations seem to be working really well and seem happy to take on the roles required. Case in point; the line of Long, Chinn and Greener were having better chances offensively Sheppard sent them out as much more of a scoring focussed line. Sheppard’s line with Connolly and Rand weren’t having quite the same success so reverted to a more “checking” line, forechecking high and pressuring the Phoenix defenders.
If Manchester end up winning the title then fine. They are the best team I’ve seen in Basingstoke this season by a stretch but the Bison are making sure that it won’t be easy and if they want the EPL championship, they have to go through Basingstoke to get it.
A word on our opponents: It was a tough night at the office for the Phoenix last night. Up until the first Bison goal, the game was massively even and it was a real joy to watch the two best teams in the EPL going head to head at full speed. The issue was that the Phoenix went behind, conceded again quickly and worryingly for Manchester fans, never looked like getting back into the game. The second period saw the Phoenix score but only after the Bison had put another 3 goals on and the final period saw the Phoenix try to be industrious, try to make something happen but the attack was lacklustre and easily handled.
Robin Kovar was the Phoenix’s biggest threat all night and was a fair choice for man of the match. Where Michal Psurny showed flashes of his genius and Bakrlik floated in and out, Kovar was going hard for most of the game. His head did drop towards the end of the game but that is understandable, the game was well lost by that stage.
Jack Watkins looked useful all night, a hard skating 60 minute game from the brother of the Telford coach and he was arguably the best performing Brit on the Phoenix roster but otherwise it was a night where the Phoenix were outcoached and looked short on ideas. There seemed to be no plan B at times and when it looked like the game was out of reach and a look of games in a short space of time to come, they appeared to shut down and try to conserve a bit of energy. The game on Sunday night against Bracknell is one that many, including myself that think that Manchester will win but after a long game and a long ride home, a match up against an unpredictable Bees team could be problematic. They need to play better tonight than they did in Hampshire.
Lowlight of the night: Nope, nothing that I genuinely need to gripe about this week.
Highlight of the night: Karpov’s assist on Melachrino’s second goal was insane, just insane.
Basingstoke Bison 7-2 Slough Jets
Connolly x 2 (1x dpg) Temple
Karpov x 2
A very long flight: The Bison headed into the game minus all their young British forwards; Cam Wynn was still recovering from his hip flexor injury, Stuart Mogg was sidelined with an illness and Danny Ingoldsby was playing for the Basingstoke Buffalo on the road back from his shoulder injury. The Jets were minus Ales Padalek, Alan Lack, JJ Pitchley and Brad Watchorn with James Buckingham added for the contest.
The first piece of action for the Jets was Matt Towalski getting outmuscled and dumped to the ice by Matt Selby. It was something of an omen of what was to come.
The Bison soon set about stamping their authority on the contest as Tomas Karpov set off on one of his trademark dazzling skates around the entire Jets side only to be denied by Andej Vasiljevic in the Jets goal. It was then a who’s who of shooting chances for the Bison; Melachrino, Greener, Karpov and Sullivan had chances. The Jets were trying to hit on the counter as Kamil Tvrdek created a chance for Eddie Temple to walk out of the corner for the shot but Dean Skinns was caught the puck and held on.
After what seemed like a wave of unending pressure, the damn broke. Joe Greener’s pass sprung Ciaran Long behind the visitor’s defence and the former Jets man sniped it past the Croatian netminder at 09:13.
Moments later, the Bison doubled their advantage. Aaron Connolly went on a resolute charge through the Jets defence off of Sheppard’s pass. The Herd’s alternate captain was being hacked and whacked from all angles but wouldn’t be denied as he powered past the opposition to poke the puck past Vasiljevic for 2-0 at 10:10.
The Bison were relentless and kept attacking at a pace that the Jets struggled to manage. Despite some good link up play at times between Tvrdek and Line, the hosts were very much all over their opposition. Another Karpov dash up ice was thwarted by Vasiljevic, Greener and Chinn combined for some slick passing but had no final touch.
It felt like goals were coming and it wasn’t long before they did. After yet another good shift from the top line, Andy Melachrino backhanded a shot into the net at 17:50 and before the Jets could regroup, Connolly had his second of the night. Again the Bison forward powered to the net and slotted home past Vasilijevic at 18:11. 4-0 and many were questioning as to whether Joe Myers would come off the bench.
When Mindy Kieras collided with Joe Greener, the Bison assistant coach took massive exception to it and ran after the Jets captain. No fisticuffs ensued but it appeared the Jets would have something of a reprieve with the powerplay. Instead a poorly timed pass was picked off by Joe Rand and the Canadian had all the time in the world to walk in on the netminder and slide the puck through the 5 hole. 19:16 gone, 5-0 Bison and the buzzer couldn’t come quick enough for Slough.
The penalty to Greener carried over into the second period but again, Rand had the best scoring chance but Vasiljevic made the save the second time around.
Shortly after, a slight bit of controversy; the Bison fans were shouting and shouting that the net was off its moorings but none of the officials saw the net wasn’t in position. Tomas Karpov slammed a slapshot into the back of the net, only for Mr Thompson to look down, see the net out of position and wave the goal out much to the chagrin of the home crowd.
The Jets were buoyed by their escape and started to come into the game a little more with Matt Towalski forcing a save out of Dean Skinns.
Andrius Kaminskas was sent to the box for slashing Kurt Reynolds but the Bison did nothing with the powerplay, almost looking lackadaisical and it cost them moments later.
The Jets put together a smooth passing play that sprung Towalski and Line two on one against Carl Graham. Line found Towalski who fired goalwards and Skinns got a piece of it but not enough and the visitors were on the board at 28:25.
The Bison responded by trying to up the intensity again and were rewarded with another powerplay when Mr Cloutman adjudged Vasiljevic had knocked the net off and was called for delay of the game. Again the crowd roared their disapproval as it appeared the Jets had too many imports on the ice during the penalty kill but more importantly, the Bison didn’t take advantage of the powerplay.
Both teams had their chances as the period wound down, the best falling to Karpov as he dispossessed McGiffin and fired goalwads but again the Czech born Bison forward was denied.
The third period started much the same as the second period ended but the pace felt like it was falling out of the game as both sides seemed to be aware as to the result of the game. The Jets had a good chance when Sam Waller engineered a chance for Ryan Webb but Skinns made the save.
The Bison extended their lead shortly afterwards as Karpov finally got on the board. With the Bison in the midst of a change, Chinn fed the Bison’s top scorer who needed a couple of whacks at the puck but eventually found a way past Vasiljevic to make it 6-1 at 43:01, slightly tinged with irony that after all of the ice length rushes and skills he ended up scoring from about a foot.
The game got slower and slower but the Bison maintained their composure and didn’t give Slough much in the way of openings. Selby had a blueline drive go through Sheppard’s legs but straight into the gut of Vasiljevic and the Bison had another goal washed out for (you guessed it) the net being off the moorings.
Kaminskas took another penalty which gave the Bison a powerplay, Miroslav Vantroba only able to ring the puck off of the bottom of the post but the Jets got a glimmer of light a few minutes later.
A well worked attack, led again by Matt Towalski saw a shot head towards Skinns. The Bison netminder made the save but down on the ice the rebound hopped into the air and was batted into the net by Eddie Temple for his first EPL goal at 55:31.
The Bison’s response was to head right back to work and it wasn’t long before the 5 goal lead was restored when Karpov again worked his magic in tight before sneaking the puck over the line at 58:21.
The clock wound down and the Bison headed back to the dressing room satisfied with a professional job done, the side still keeping pace with Manchester in the race for the title.
Job done, move on: It was a pretty straight forward win for the Bison but it was a sensible performance to ensure a much needed 4 point weekend.
Aaron Connolly’s selection as man of the match was one of a few good picks the sponsors could have made but I must say, I was impressed with Connolly last night. He took both his goals well, especially the first where he was almost carrying some of the Jets players on his back whilst he scored. This was the sort of game where Connolly thrives; a game that allows him to get stuck in physically and use his physicality to his advantage.
Tomas Karpov was unlucky not to have 7 goals of his own given some of his end to end rushes where he danced through the entire Jets side and his disallowed goal. Karpov should be in the player of the year discussion. He won’t be because that’s too much like common sense.
Long, Melichrino and Rand took their goals very well, especially Rand whose shorthanded marker was really beautiful to watch.
The whole team didn’t really need to get much out of second gear but were sensible, played well and had the game killed off inside the first period.
It’s good momentum to take into some very big games with Sheffield on Wednesday and the massive game with Manchester on Saturday.
A word on our opponents: It sounds silly but I wouldn’t have given Andrej Vasiljevic man of the match for Slough. “Anthony, he faced nearly 60 shots” you cry but yeah I’d have given it to Jamie Line. Line played 60 minutes, made some good offensive charges, even got sticked in the face twice and still kept going.
That said Vasiljevic did what he could with minimal defensive support and made some decent saves and looked like a netminder who on his day will frustrate attackers to the point of tears.
I appreciate that Slough are a club in a difficult place at the moment; players lost all over the place (two to the Bison as well) and a virtually new squad out there. This is also a Jets side that under Craig Moran have still managed to get wins and points but on this showing it will be tough for them. They came up against a good side at a canter and were blown away.
That said I’m also pleased that Moran is giving the chances to younger fringe EPL players to make a statement at this level. Tom Avery, Ryan Webb, goalscorer Eddie Temple as well as Cam McGiffin who was meant to be splitting time with MK Thunder but now seems to be a full time Jet are all getting a chance to play big minutes at this level and have the chance to earn spots for next season. That deserves praise.
Whether the Jets make the playoffs or not remains to be seen and on this performance seems unlikely. Coach Moran has some time to adjust before the double header weekend at the end of the month.
Lowlight of the night: That far ahead, shutout not on and we couldn’t find a reason to give Connor Standing any icetime? Really?
Highlight of the night: Connolly’s first goal; powers through the defence and muscles it in.
Basingstoke Bison 3-2 Swindon Wildcats
Connolly pp Bullas
Karpov Nell sh
Skinning the cat: The Wildcats came into the contest without Sam Godfrey on defence and chose to have Tomas Fojtik sitting out the game out of the 5 imports. The Bison were without the injured Andy Melachrino and Danny Ingoldsby (who was still listed on the team sheet despite not being there). The club also celebrated their second personal milestone in as many weeks as Joe Baird’s 500th EPL regular season game was celebrated. Baird reached the milestone in Sheffield on Sunday but it was marked last night against one of his former teams.
The Bison were sent to the powerplay early as former Herd defenceman Alex Symonds picked up a hooking call. The Herd’s special teams unit set to work, looking much more potent than the previous weekend and it paid off as the advantage was coming to an end. Miroslav Vantroba put the puck down low to Doug Sheppard who found an unmarked Aaron Connolly in the slot to fire past Lyle at 02:38 and the Bison had uncharacteristically scored first.
The game was a tightly poised affair for most of the first period; Ollie Betteridge undressed Carl Graham and drove towards Skinns but the Bison netminder made the save and the Wildcats had a slick passing move to work the puck to Lee Richardson at the back door that didn’t come off. The Bison had a chance for Joe Greener smothered by Stephen Whitfield and a well worked move to Michael Wales at the top of the crease saw the former Slough captain unable to direct the puck through the 5 hole of Stevie Lyle.
The Bison earned themselves another powerplay when Henri Sandvik was called for slashing Kurt Reynolds behind the Bison net. The Herd’s powerplay however was just misfire after misfire; Vantroba’s passing was uncharacteristically slack and kept playing the the Bison out of the zone. Then, disaster; a turnover at the blueline saw Jonas Höög send Aaron Nell away. The former Steelers forward was challenged by Vantroba but had the step and blasted the puck by Skinns for the shorthanded marker at 14:36 to tie the score.
The Wildcats were soon heading to their first powerplay thanks to a slashing call on Wales but couldn’t trouble the Bison net sufficiently. The first period ended with the score at 1-1 but the Bison edging the play.
The second period started as well for the Bison as the first had. The puck went towards the net on the dump in but Stevie Lyle went for a walk and misplayed the puck. Tomas Karpov was immediately on hand to pick up the puck, speed around the back of the net and put the puck over the line for the 2-1 Basingstoke lead at 21:40.
The Bison were in the ascendency but good chances for Nicky Chinn and a powerplay handed to them by a tripping call to Nell but there was no way past Lyle and a resolute Wildcats defence.
Swindon’s patience paid off when they drew a tripping penalty from Chinn and quickly set about making their hosts pay. The shot from Jan Kostal was saved by Skinns by Sam Bullas was right on hand at the top of the crease to slam the puck home and tie the score at 30:41.
It was almost disaster for the Bison moments later as Matt Selby turned the puck over just outside the Bison zone to Henri Sandvik. The Finn raced towards Skinns, used a fantastic bit of skill and the puck was in the back of the net bringing the travelling fans to their feet. Their shouts of excitement quickly turned to cries of frustration as Mr Cloutman washed the goal out for the net being off of its moorings. The Bison had gotten a break.
The Wildcats kept coming and forced a real desperation stop from the Bison with the puck sat the top of Skinns’ crease but a diving Joe Greener dived across to knock the puck away.
The complexion of the game was changed shortly afterwards. With the puck on the half boards in the Bison zone, Jonas Höög got his elbow up and drove Doug Sheppard high into the boards from behind. The Swede immediately stopped to check on Sheppard as players gathered around including Matt Selby who was looking for blood but chose to take the Swindon man’s number for a later time. Sheppard was helped up and to the room whilst the Wildcat’s talismanic forward was thrown out of the game and the Bison were handed a 5 minute powerplay.
Sadly the Bison couldn’t find a way through on the powerplay and ended up taking penalties that would see them on the penalty kill heading into the third period. The Herd gave up a 2 on 1 to Kostal and Bullas but the later couldn’t settle the puck from the pass to make the shot. Wales was called for tripping and Baird was called for slashing right at the buzzer; the 500 game man followed his dump in towards Lyle’s net and a play for the live puck made contact with the goalie’s glove. 2-2 at the end of second period and the Bison had had the better chances and the majority of the running but were still tied and getting burned by Swindon.
The third period saw the game really change; what had been a very free flowing game with lots of changes of tempo suddenly became very stilted and bitty. Neither side wanted to make the mistake that would lead to the other side getting a goal. There were chances both ways, the best falling to Swindon when the Bison were caught too high and Kostal and Sandvik were in 2 on 1. Kostal was rubbed out of the play but got the pass to Sandvik who fired but was stopped on the doorstep by Skinns in what would prove to be a massive save.
Then out of nowhere, the mistake was made and the Bison were on hand to take advantage; Nicky Chinn fired a shot than rebounded off of Lyle and sat at the top of the crease. From almost exactly the same point on the ice where he fired the Bison into their first ever playoff weekend, Joe Greener stepped up to lift the puck over the pads of Lyle who was down and out of position. The puck hit the back of the net to rapturous cheers from the home fans at 54:30.
The game suddenly picked up in intensity. The Bison decided that the best form of defence was attack and put pressure on Lyle’s net but the desperation was setting in for the Wildcats and they too were having their chances. Zach Sullivan took a highstick to the face that wasn’t called, Matt Selby had a shot tipped by Long that was saved by Lyle and the former Blaze man was robbed by Kostal only to chase him down and level the Czech forward to take the puck back.
Lyle was called to the bench and Swindon attacked with the extra man. The Wildcats managed to force a faceoff with 2.4 seconds left and called their timeout but it wasn’t enough. The Bison survived the scare and had ground out the win to keep pace with Manchester in the title hunt.
All go for Joe: On the occasion of his 500th appearance in the EPL, the Bison performed much better than the previous week. Baird himself had a usually solid game, including getting himself firmly into the mix and I felt he was unlucky to get called for slashing when he chased his own dump in towards Lyle. It should also be added that the penalty on Baird at 40:00 was the last penalty the Bison took all night as well as the last of the game.
It was a win that the Herd had to really grind out but on the balance of play they probably deserved. Kurt Reynolds got man of the match though the argument of many I spoke to after the game felt that Zach Sullivan was worthy of the beers as well. Both defencemen had a good night where both made smart decisions and were on top form in terms of shutting down the opposition’s more potent offensive threats.
There were periods where the Wildcats put the Bison on the back foot, even to the point where the Swindon fans will no doubt argue about the disallowed goal for a while but the Bison weathered the storm and got the bounce in the dying moments. Swindon fans must be getting sick of Joe Greener.
The injury to Cameron Wynn (believed to be a hip flexor) gave a chance for Stuart Mogg to appear on the top line for shifts and the youngster didn’t look lost out there. Karpov did try to do the majority of the work on that line on his own at times but he was ably supported by Mogg and Wales.
The other lines however looked very good; Doug Sheppard looked like he was back on fine form alongside Aaron Connolly and Joe Rand with a line that caused the Wildcats defence endless problems but I was really impressed with the line of Chinn, Long and Greener. Whilst Ciaran Long didn’t have his greatest night (and seemed to fall over a bit) the line was physical, did the little things well and went to the net constantly.
It was an uncharacteristic off night for Miroslav Vantroba but he regained composure after his mistakes in the first and didn’t seem overly bothered as the game went on. Combined with another good performance by Dean Skinns, the Bison will be more than happy ahead of their trip to Bracknell with two more points in the bag.
A word on our opponents: I wouldn’t have begrudged Swindon coming out of last night with a point. I don’t think Swindon outright deserved the win but make no mistake about it; they played well and caused the Bison problems.
I often bemoan whoever chooses the man of the match awards in Basingstoke but Ollie Betteridge was a more than adequate choice. His work rate was sky high, constantly challenged his opposition and made a fantastic move to turn Carl Graham inside out but lacked the final touch to that great bit of skill.
The other player that really was in competition for the beers in my opinion was Sam Bullas. He took his goal well but his penalty killing was also really excellent. After the Bison scored on the first powerplay of the night, Bullas and Kostal between them were both excellent when a man down.
Stevie Lyle will want the Bison’s second goal back but he didn’t have a bad game by any means. He made a string of really good saves and kept Swindon very much in the game and gave them a chance to win.
The disallowed goal was almost a shame in some ways because Sandvik’s bit of skill to first take the puck from Selby then his drive to the net and stickhandling to get the puck past Skinns were sublime. I’m sure there will be fans who claim the net wasn’t off but it’s not our place to decide that.
Swindon will be disappointed but should take heart from that performance into their game with Slough. Jonas Höög’s penalty being downgraded to a game will be welcome news as well. (It was an awful hit by the way).
Lowlight of the night: The powerplay that led to the shorthanded goal. Just not good
Highlight of the night: Swindon forgetting that it might be an idea to mark Joe Greener in front of the net.
The history of ice hockey in Basingstoke runs back to 1988. It was around my 4th birthday when the Beavers took on the Bournemouth Sharks in the club’s debut game. The story of how I came to ice hockey is a well trodden path but how I came to Basingstoke is a story I find myself not telling as often. My personal history with the Bison started in 2005. I was about a month into my final year at university. Before I went to Germany I’d been a season ticket holder at AFC Bournemouth. During 1st and 2nd years it was less of an issue but final year the prospect of losing whole Saturdays to football wasn’t really an option with a dissertation and all the other trappings being a final year student comes with. The season ticket at Dean Court was out.
Having been firmly bitten by the ice hockey bug however, I hunted around for local teams. I knew there was a team in Basingstoke and a team on the Isle of Wight (I wasn’t aware of Gosport at the time). The Isle of Wight was ruled out as a regular option for practicality’s sake; Southampton ferries go to Cowes and buses on the island are expensive whereas Basingstoke was 30 minutes away on a train and a direct bus to Leisure Park. The Bison were also in the Elite League at the time and I thought I might as well start at the highest level and work my way down.
Shockingly, I can’t remember who the Bison played that night. It was a Saturday in November 2005; the Bison had black and white fold out programmes and I sat in Block F. The Bison lost but I knew that hockey had kind of caught me at that point; I’d enjoyed myself despite the loss and I knew that I needed an escape of some kind from lectures and essays and Southampton in general. Also from a university work standpoint it was ideal; rather than lose most of a Saturday, I could work till 4pm then head to Basingstoke for games.
The moment I really knew I was sunk? Back then the playoffs were 2 groups of 4 so everyone played each other home and away. I’d had no experience of playoffs before and by that stage I was back at my mum’s in Epsom, south west of London for the Easter break. “Stuff it” I thought “I want to see my team in the playoffs.” Mark Bernard at the time was GM, coach, rink manager, netminder and everything else under the sun. His wife had also just given birth in the early hours of the morning on the day the Nottingham Panthers were visiting. Many wondered if Bernie would play at all. I got a 30 min train from my mum’s house to Waterloo then the 50 minute train to Basingstoke to get there in time for the game and there was Bernie on the ice, the initials of his new daughter written on the backplate of his mask in pen. The Bison lost 10-0; Bernard looking clearly exhausted as the Bison fans were being heckled by two men in full body wrestling suits (for those of you who remember Soccer AM circa 2006). EASY, EASY, EASY, YOU SHADAAAAAAAP!
The next day, I printed off a season ticket form.
Remember you can have your story as part of MyClub25; email them to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet them here with #MyClub25