Basingstoke Bison 5-0 Swindon Wildcats
1 step along: With both teams heading into a weekend of 3 games in three nights, the Bison were without their regular absentees of Grant Rounding and Alex Symonds as well as Ryan Watt who missed out through injured and Miroslav Vantroba who was suspended after picking up a match penalty in Sheffield. After his winning return against the Steeldogs, Tomas Hiadlovsky kept the Bison net with Jon Baston in the stands. The visitors were without the injured Matt Selby as well as Stevie Lyle and Tomasz Malasinski who were on international duty with GB and Poland respectively leaving Jordan Hedley in the Wildcats net with Aaron Nell shuffling the lines.
To say both teams raced out of the gate would be inaccurate. It was more of a feeling out process combined with a bit of energy conservation. With both teams meeting again on Sunday at The Link Centre there was no reason for either side to show their hand early. One team is in the title challenge with a couple of injuries, the other missing arguably their best forward and one of the best netminders of his generation meant that neither side was going to come tearing out at the opening faceoff in the hope of putting the game to bed straight away.
The teams traded shots as well as the occasional offside and icing but neither keeper was being overly tested in the early going. Joe Greener had the first real chance of note as the Bison managed to spring the 3on2. Greener had options but chose to shoot himself and Hedley made the save.
Chances came and went in both directions; Tomas Hiadlovsky made two decent saves from Adam Harding, Lack tested Hedley from a tight angle and the Wildcats netminder managed to save Rene Jarolin’s deflected shot.
As the period wound on the Bison appeared to have a bit more life in them than the Wildcats did and the chances started to fall more the Bison’s way with Long, Towalski and Lackey all going close but nothing made its way past Hedley. Neither would Hiadlovsky be beaten as he turned away Harding and Nell in the dying moments of the opening frame. 0-0 was a pretty fair score after 20 minutes. The period had not been high intensity but it had been fun and played in a decent spirit by both teams.
Jonas Höög had the first shot of the shot of the second period but it was the Herd who were having more serious chances. The pressure from the first period had seen them picking and probing holes in Jordan Hedley and the Wildcats’ defence and they continued in this vein at the start of the second. Jarolin and Lackey went close, the line of Thompson, Towalski and Long nearly manufactured a highlight reel goal but it was another line that finally broke the deadlock. The line of Lack, Lackey and Karpov caused some problems for the Wildcats defenders, the Czech forward came around the back of the net and fired towards Hedley’s left post and Alan Lack’s stick deflected the puck into the net at 24:59.
With that one goal the Bison were sparked a bit more in to life as the Wildcats tried to protect Hedley more than they had been. Joe Baird’s daisy cutter shot was kicked away, Stuart Mogg tried his trademark floated shot which was saved but the third defensive shot in from the point was the charm. Kur Reynolds’ shot on net was spilled by Hedley and in the scramble in front of the net Aaron Connolly took a whack at it but it was Rene Jarolin who got the important touch past the netminder for 2-0 at 27:42.
The Wildcats responded to the second Bison goal with a few chances of their own. Harding, Kostal and Carlo Finucci (who my brain confused with Neil Liddiard for a second, there’s a lot of people on the Wildcats with 4 in their number) all went close. If anything the Wildcats top line of Höög, Kostal and Nell put together a fantastic passing play that left the Bison defence totally static but the shot from Höög was deflected wide by a Bison stick.
The missed chance would cost the Wildcats shortly afterwards though there was an element of fortune combined with some skill. The puck was cycled back to Stuart Mogg at the point who shot but a stick got in the way. As the puck looped into the air, an eagled eyed Tomas Karpov was keeping tabs on in and with a superb bit of timing managed to swing at the puck and hit it just as it came back down to earth. It was a very sweet shot and Hedley had no chance with it as it slammed into the back of the net at 36:58. There were a couple of extra chances both ways but the second period wound to a close with the Bison 3-0 to the good.
Swindon started the third period a bit brighter having the majority of the early shots. Aaron Nell tested Hiadlovsky as did Adam Harding’s tip of Callum Buglass’ shot but the Wildcats seemed to be lacking any real offensive spark going forward. The Wildcats top line put together a chance for Jan Kostal but the final touch saw the puck fly over the crossbar.
The Bison seemed content with shutting the game down with Guildford to play on Saturday but with no real forecheck coming from the visitors the hosts, who though very much a passing team are not ones for turning down space to skate in to either. Tomas Karpov set Ciaran Long away who went to his favourite trick; approach from the goalie’s left, hit the hashmarks, hammer slapshot, beat goalie, 4-0 Bison at 47:31.
From this point both teams started rotating their fringe players onto the ice which saw the Bison start giving more ice time to the 4th line combination of Jacob Ranson who had been rotated in for shifts throughout the game but also Alex Sampford and Ryan Sutton who got a couple of shots on Hedley. Swindon started giving more ice time to some of their fringe players as well like Michael Stratford and Adam Finlinson.
The game had been played in a decent spirit with Mr Cloutman really letting the game flow. The first penalty finally came with just over 5 minutes to play as Aaron Connolly was rightly called for high sticking. The Wildcats powerplay unit (which included young Finlinson playing the full 2 minutes) got some chances but Hiadlovsky was on hand to stop them all, including a lovely shot from Finucci that was plucked out of the air. Their failure to score was immediately punished though as Connolly left the box and received the pass from Jarolin. The Bison captain took the zone, dropped the pass to Alan Lack who shot and managed to put his own rebound past Hedley at 57:02.
That killed the game off then and there. Both teams played out the final minute, again to conserve for what’s to come this weekend. Tomas Hiadlovsky’s return to the net at home couldn’t have gone better.
Zoning in: Professional; that’s probably the best word to describe the performance from the Bison last night. This weekend is a massive one for the Bison and they needed to go into this game, try and play their game and get out with minimal scrapes. They were helped by a really unusual game plan from their opponents but job done I think. They weren’t overly physical, they just went out, got things going, scored goals, held Swindon at bay, exploited the weakness and won. It’s relatively simple.
A few people felt I was unfair to Peterborough in last week’s piece, they’re entitled to their opinion but one thing Peterborough did and others have done when beating the Bison this season either home or away that Swindon didn’t was shut down the Bison’s space. The Bison naturally exploited that space and it really paid dividends.
Dan Lackey got man of the match which is a fair shout. At EPL level where he is still really finding his feet, Lackey is not a flash player. He’s playing on a line that many feel to be unusual alongside Alan Lack and Tomas Karpov but it seemed to find its feet last night. Lackey’s quite strong and he used that to good effect last night, holding men off to try and create space. He had a couple of chances himself but sadly didn’t find the back of the net.
Tomas Hiadlovsky’s return to the Bison net at home was uneventful for the most part but a shutout is a shutout however they come, this one with just 17 shots registered on him. There were a couple of awkward shots for him but once Hiadlovsky had his eye in he looked like he’d never been away. His tendency to come out and play the puck hasn’t gone away but his usefulness with the stick is a key function of his game and it works for him. Many wondered what Hiadlovsky we would see but actually, nothing much has changed. Whilst the public rightly love Jon Baston, Tomas Hiadlovskly has always been a good netminder and either of them will do the job in net for the Herd. Sheppard is understandably playing the hot hand and with Hiadlvosky having conceded 3 goals in the last 2 games, I have to think that the Slovak goes again tonight in Guildford.
The lines were shuffled constantly throughout the game but the basic line combinations of the last few weeks have held out. I’m starting to become accustomed to them now and the top line of Greener, Jarolin and Connolly is clicking more but everyone gave a good account of themselves last night. The defence as well, minus the suspended Vantroba looked really solid and Sheppard matching the pairing of Reynolds and Baird against the Wildcats top line worked really well.
The Herd did what had to be done but it’s very quickly on to the next one.
A word on our opponents: I asked Ben Callaghan of On The Prowl for 5 words on the game. His joking response was “two teams seriously saving energy” but that’s an entirely fair response and the Wildcats who were minus 3 big players could be forgiven for adjusting their style a bit this weekend. However that doesn’t stop this performance being something of a disappointment. Aaron Nell said he didn’t think the scoreline was fair and there were some positives from it but if I was a Wildcats fan I wouldn’t be overly pleased with what I saw.
I commented to some last night that the Wildcats missed Tomasz Malasinski’s creativity and any team will naturally miss Stevie Lyle’s talents in net but other people needed to step up and they either didn’t or tried and failed. Jan Kostal was moved onto the top line with Aaron Nell and Jonas Höög and they tried but nothing came. Kostal got man of the match for trying which was fair enough.
Going forward there was little panache from the Wildcats and at times, little pressure. There seemed at times to be little forecheck as well. As mentioned above, the Bison struggle when you take away the space, be it to skate into or pass into. So what did Swindon do? Spend 60 minutes sitting back and not really use their speed. They let the Bison come at them which was a bad idea then didn’t use one of their big tools which was also a bad idea.
Jordan Hedley will take a bit of flack for his performance and he didn’t have a good night but he got little to no help at times. He does give up a lot of rebounds but his rebound control with it was actually pretty decent across the 60 minutes. His problem was that he never seemed to look settled. This isn’t unusual in Basingstoke, think of Jody Lehman but even more reason for the defence to try and help the goalie out a bit. Whilst individuals gave good performances, Neil Liddiard especially I thought played well, as a collective they gave Hedley minimal assistance.
The one other person to briefly mention was someone Ben mentioned to me; Adam Finlinson. Ben told me to watch him if he got any ice. I can only agree with Ben’s pre-game assessment on him and that’s that this kid looks good. I recommend keeping an eye on him.
I don’t mind Swindon, I can happily watch Swindon and I see what the idea was meant to be last night but the execution was poor and they made it easy for the Bison.
Lowlight of the night: The penalty to Connolly; don’t get me wrong, it was the right call. Mr Cloutman was spot on but a penalty free game would have been funny.
Highlight of the night: Karpov’s goal; it’s a sweet shot.
Basingstoke Bison 2-3 Peterborough Phantoms
Connolly pp ……………..Weldon
Here we go again: The Bison headed into the game minus all the usual absentees as well as the newly injured Ryan Watt but bolstered by the addition of Daniel Lackey, added permanently from the Basingstoke Buffalo during the week. The Phantoms were as expected with Janis Auzins starting between the pipes.
It wasn’t a particularly auspicious start for the Latvian as the Bison came racing out of the gate off of the opening faceoff. With the hosts swarming, Aaron Connolly won the battle to get out of the corner and fed the puck to Stuart Mogg who had pinched in. Mogg scuffed the shot slightly but the defence parted too late for Auzins to be able to see the puck in time, the Phantoms netminder waving a leg at the puck as it was almost already past him and into the back of the net at 00:29.
The Bison had their tails up and started trying to put more pressure on Auzins’ net but there were no shots coming that someone wasn’t getting in the way of. Ciaran Long had some space but before he could blink, there was Darius Pliskauskas in the way. The pattern began emerging.
The Herd had a chance at getting some more space to work with when Milan Baranyk landed a nasty looking hit on Rene Jarolin which sent the Bison to the powerplay. Sadly for the home fans the powerplay stuttered and the Phantoms fed off of the good penalty kill as they came more into the game. The visitors had some sustained spells of pressure with chances for Baranyk, Cam McGiffin and Edgars Bebris but Jon Baston in the Bison net was equal to the task.
The first period was spotty from both sides but entertaining. The Phantoms had been caught flat footed in the first shift which had resulted in the goal but both sides were giving as good as they got in the first frame. There were clearly nerves on both sides and the ascendency seemed to swing back and forth but this top of the table clash that was likely to have title implications was certainly living up to expectations from an enjoyment standpoint if not from a quality one. The line of Lack, Lackey and Karpov caused some issues for the Phantoms and Darius Pliskauskas had a powerful wrist shot saved by Baston. The first period came to an end with the Bison 1-0 to the good but the hand of momentum pointing firmly into the middle.
Janis Auzins was called into action early in the second period and that save would prove important moments later as the Phantoms found the equaliser. Lloyd Gibson’s drive to the net forced an awkward save from Jon Baston but as the rebound came out the Bison netminder was out of position. For some reason the Herd’s defence remained static and the puck fell onto the stick of Darius Pliskauskas who fired into a virtually empty net at 21:29.
This seemed to spark the Bison and chances followed; Connolly, Lack and Long all went close before James Ferrara was called for an interference so textbook that nobody could really have any arguments to it. The Herd’s powerplay tried setting up Ciaran Long for the blast but it was a more unorthodox method that found the back of the net as the puck was worked behind the net, Rene Jarolin drove the puck to the crease and Aaron Connolly got enough of his stick on the puck to get the puck past Auzins at the near post to restore the lead to the Bison at 25:58.
The Phantoms soon had their own powerplay chance soon after as Shaun Thompson was somewhat harshly called for hooking after some good work on the forecheck to dispossess the dawdling Phantoms defenceman but the Phantoms could find no way past Baston in the Bison net.
Rene Jarolin skated around and around for about 20 seconds before finally having a shot saved, Pliskauskas had another hard shot saved by Baston, the second period ticked with the score still at 2-1 and the sides seemingly cancelling each other out for chunks of the frame.
Then disaster struck. Now Will Weldon scored at 35:11 to make it 2-2. I’m not 100% how the puck went in nor how the goal stood. I thought the puck had left the zone rendering everything offside to start with. Weldon also appeared to be in the crease and without his helmet when the puck found it’s way past Baston. Now that is me seeing things in the moment and I’m one guy with one set of eyes so this is one to wait for the highlights on Bison TV (cheque is in the post, Adrian) but the Bison players on the ice certainly weren’t happy with the goal and again the defence seemed to have been at see when it came to helping Baston letting the Phantoms back into the tie.
The rest of the second period seemed to fizzle out as not much happened though the Bison would be given a lifeline heading into the third as Robert Ferrara was called for holding and Craig Scott was given a misconduct penalty by Mr Cloutman for expressing his dissatisfaction at the call in the last minute of the second.
The Bison powerplay didn’t go well; the Phantoms didn’t score but the Herd appeared to have come out flat into the final period in a 2-2 game which wasn’t ideal and the Phantoms seemed to be happy to capitalise on the the Herd’s poor play. Bebris hit the outside of the post, a slick move with a drop pass saw Marc Levers fire wide and the Bison just seemed to not get anything going, lose the puck and Phantoms would go forwards.
The Bison were still having their chances; Jarolin, Greener and Balmer all had shots but nothing that was testing Janis Auzins to a large degree. The hosts seemed to be lacking the spark that was really needed and frustration seemed to be setting in.
When Declan Balmer was called for slashing, I had a horrible feeling and I was right too. On the powerplay Karpov and Long raced out as the high men to press the defencemen at the points but some neat passing saw Darius Pliskauskas pass to Tom Norton in space by the hashmarks whose shot beat the pad of Baston at 56:26 to give the Phantoms the lead and the Phantoms took their timeout to keep their heads on straight.
The Bison went into panic mode but nothing fell. The timeout was taken and Baston pulled to the bench but time ran out and the Bison had lost their second game at home to the Phantoms.
Head scratcher: In what was set up to be one of the biggest games of the season, the Bison conspired to beat themselves. They started with a bang then seemed to fizzle out across the game. It was one of those games where you know what the Bison are capable of and they just didn’t seem to show it.
Again the line combinations were shuffled, partly due to injury and partly because they Bison were playing a very heavy system focussed team. The line of Greener, Jarolin and Connolly was kept together but Joe Greener appeared to have an uncharacteristic off night. Tomas Karpov with Lack and Lackey caused some issues but Karpov needs more of a foil to go with him. Whilst Ciaran Long’s not been in the richest vein of form recently, sticking arguably the team’s most natural goal scorer on a grinding line with Towalski and Thompson feels like it’s upset the balance. Karpov needs someone who can keep up and play with him, Long works better with someone to feed off of. Splitting the offence across the lines is all well and good but the attack needed to be more pointed at times last night and that attempt to spread the offence instead felt like it diluted it.
The goals given up as well just all felt avoidable. Some may argue that Baston’s positioning needed to be better but team defence on all of the goals was less than ideal. The first saw nobody get back on the line to defend, nor the second and Tom Norton, arguably the best defenceman in the league had a good 15 feet of space to work in. Baston probably should have got his pad down quicker on the game winner but he isn’t solely to blame. Arguably the Phantoms should not have been in a position to be getting the game winner in such a fashion.
There were some decent individual performances; Stuart Mogg was a fantastic shout for man of the match. His goal will never win any goal of the season competitions but on a night where the defence as a team wasn’t ideal, Mogg’s showing once again that his transition not only to full time EPL player but full time defenceman was a master stroke by the young man and Coach Sheppard. He was confident, assured, well positioned and was rewarded for his efforts.
Kurt Reynolds had a very good game as well, at one point single handedly keeping the Phantoms at bay when it seemed the Bison might be over run. I thought Aaron Connolly had a good game as well, industrious and energetic as usual. Tomas Karpov was constantly trying to make things happen even if they didn’t come off.
This was a must win game that was lost and it feels like the Bison beat themselves. Three goals handed to the opposition by avoidable mistakes and just seeming to fail to step up to the big stage. It was a disappointment, there’s no other way to really frame it.
A word on our opponents: I have a few things to say about the Peterborough Phantoms but before I get into my existential crisis about them, I have to tip my hat to them on the win. It doesn’t matter how they happen, scoreboard says that they won and that’s that. I have to credit the fact that they stick to the system like their lives depend on it and their team ethic. The Peterborough Phantoms play for each other and Slava Koulikov deserves credit for that.
My big problem is that I do not “get” the Peterborough Phantoms. I feel very conflicted about that but that’s how I feel and I’ll try to explain my opinion.
I’ve said on here a lot of times that the opposition do not owe you, the home fan, the price of admission and that’s true but I just don’t understand this hockey club. The two times that the Bison have lost in Basingstoke to the Phantoms, I feel they’ve beaten themselves by over-thinking what they do rather than being outplayed. The Phantoms never feel like they create a great deal themselves and just capitalise on chances that any team worth their salt would capitalise on. Yes they do bits and pieces, Bebris had a good chance that hit the post but lots? If you asked me who the best hockey side we’ve seen in Basingstoke this season are, the Phantoms would not be it. They’re a good hockey side but not a great one at this level. I don’t understand why teams lose to them like they do. People will say the things I praised above and that’s fine but I loyalty to the system and each other can’t do everything. The Peterborough Phantoms leave me shrugging my shoulders because I watch them and I’m just not convinced. They have good individual players, man of the match Tom Norton, Janis Auzins, Edgars Bebris, Darius Pliskauskas and the like but as a team they leave me shrugging my shoulders. Last night didn’t really do an awful lot to change my overall opinion of them. I was told I have an analysts’ brain recently (please don’t be too shocked) and maybe this is blinding my to some intangibles that I can’t see but I don’t think they do. I also feel and will always maintain that the important thing on here is that level of honesty. If I like something, I say so. If I don’t, I say so.
I can only assume that they’re a very different team at home and that’s where the conflict comes into it. Look at the table, look at the final of the cup; how does this happen? I feel bad to in some ways be downplaying a side that is doing what it’s doing but at the same point what do I do? Do I ignore the evidence of my eyes solely because of the statistics? Does my opinion, however educated negate the table?
The answer of course is both have a degree of validity. I can be unconvinced by what I’ve seen of the Phantoms as much as their cup final tickets being on sale may argue otherwise. I can find them dull and uninspiring to watch as their season ticket holders will find them exciting and inspiring to do so. Ultimately Banners On The Wall is a vehicle for an opinion, one man’s opinion and you can like/dislike that as you wish. I don’t claim to be the oracle. I will happily shake Slava Koulikov’s hand for the job his men have done last night and across the season. Be impressed with it? I think that’s a different story.
Lowlight of the night: The overall performance, the Bison were capable of much better.
Highlight of the night: Mogg’s goal, the young man deserves every point he gets this season.
It’s a slightly shorter show this week as Anthony heads to journey but that doesn’t stop us having a really good bit of hockey chat to head into the weekend.
Anthony is joined by EIHL Twitter aficionado, Craig Summerton (@block15blaze, http://nothingbutgoodthings.wordpress.com, EIHL Question Time) in the week that the EIHL banned Periscope streaming to talk about the EIHL, how the league and the clubs market themselves, the conference system, Craig’s beloved Coventry Blaze and more.
The BOTW Podcast; the news, action and views from the EPIHL and all levels above, below and in between.
Basingstoke Bison 3-2 Milton Keynes Lightning
Jarolin x2 (1pp) Cownie pp
Restart, repeat: The Bison fielded the same roster as the one that faced Guildford on Wednesday night with Jacob Ranson and Alex Sampford bolstering a roster still without Alex Symonds, Joe Baird, Grant Rounding and Tomas Hiadlovsky. Milton Keynes came into the game 2 imports down after their cup semi final loss to Peterborough as both Martti Järventie and Markku Tähtinen both missed out.
Despite both teams playing their 4th game in 7 days there was a decent early pace with Tomas Karpov, Joe Greener, Jordan Cownie and Frantisek Bakrlik all went close at respective ends which if nothing else helped warm Jon Baston and Dean Skinns into the contest.
Some good work by Shaun Thompson drew a tripping call from Ross Green and sent the hosts to the early powerplay. The Bison got some decent puck movement and shots but when shooting from distance didn’t work they got the puck in tight and Rene Jarolin was on hand to sting his former employers as he bundled the puck past Skinns at 04:31 to give the Bison the early lead.
Going behind sparked a mini comeback from the visitors but a poor line change saw the Lightning called for too many men and the Bison special teams units got another outing but this time, the powerplay lacked the spark of the first attempt .
The teams went back and forth on their chances with Skinns and Baston both being tested, the best chance falling to the Bison as they sprung a 2 on 1 in which Shaun Thompson hit the post and Ryan Watt couldn’t follow up with the rebound. The Lightning got their chance on the powerplay thanks to a slashing call in Joe Greener but couldn’t get much going, the best chance falling to a shorthanded breakaway that neither Tomas Karpov nor Ciaran Long could convert.
The first period drew to a close with a couple of other chances in both directions but Long’s hipcheck of Frankie Barklik summed up the frame; the Lightning were hitting a roadblock.
The response from the visitors was to hit the ground running in the second period as they peppered Baston’s net in the early going, Blaz Emersic and Bobby Chamberlain coming closest. It was an incident with Chamberlain that would turn the tide shortly after as he caught the puck in his face. With play continuing, the Bison’s top line went into full flight and the Lightning’s defence couldn’t handle them. The passing was sublime as it went Greener to Connolly and back to Rene Jarolin with the shot through the 5 hole of Skinns at 24:18 for 2-0.
The Bison kept it up as the second line further compounded the misery. Alan Lack dug the puck out of the pile, Ciaran Long made some nice moves that were added to by Tomas Karpov who fired past Skinns at 25:27 for the 3-0 advantage for the Herd.
However the Lightning were not out of the contest and were on the board a few minutes later. After some confusion and a Lightning player down behind the play the visitors found themselves on a 5on3 powerplay advantage as Vantroba was called for high sticks and the Bison bench was penalised for abuse of official. After Adam Carr came close, some very pretty passing play led to the goal as Jordan Cownie took the feed and fired past the diving Baston at 28:54.
Bison rode out the remainder of the powerplay but that goal sparked the visitors who came much more into the tie as the second frame rolled on. The Bison were still having chances and Aaron Connolly fired a shot that beat Skinns and rang off of the crossbar but the momentum seemed to be evening up where it had been mostly in the Herd’s favour. Karpov rang a shot off the post and a 2on1 chance for the Lightning saw Frankie Bakrlik gain the zone, go round the net and try the stuff in attempt but found no way past Baston. The period came to an end shortly afterwards with the Bison 3-1 to the good but the visitors firmly in the game but a call to Bakrlik on the buzzer gave the Bison a powerplay to start the final period.
Jon Baston had an eventful start to the third period. He was called into action when his attempt to clear the puck from the zone fell to Lewis Hook who fed Chamberlain and only some trademark Finnish brand scrambling and diving about could save the day. It was such a battle that the two men tapped sticks when the whistle went.
Bakrlik returned but the Lightning were called shortly after for too many men, a call that saw Pete Russell leap down from the bench to remonstrate with Mr Cloutman but he need not have worried as the Bison powerplay failed to click.
The Lightning rode that momentum and made the Bison pay just after the powerplay ended. Michael Farn found Bakrlik who fired a hard centring feed goalwards. The first person to get their stick on the puck was Grant McPherson whose deflection took the puck under the right pad of Baston at 45:55 to bring Milton Keynes within one.
The Lightning were very much in the ascendency as the teams continued their entertaining back and forth. Bakrlik and Hook went close while Tomas Karpov went from behind his own net all the way to challenge Dean Skinns but was held neatly at bay by Leigh Jamieson.
Frankie Bakrlik was called for slashing again which gave the Bison a chance to relieve some of the pressure but it was another uneventful powerplay from the Bison as the tank seemed to be getting empty in terms of energy and ideas. The Lightning were looking dangerous but were lacking that final touch that they needed to equalise. Bakrlik’s return from the penalty box saw him continue to try to turn the game but his attempts to do it all himself saw him swamped by Bison defenders.
With the end of the game in sight, Milton Keynes were given a glimmer of hope when Alan Lack was called for elbows with just under 3 minutes to play. The puck movement from the visitors was brilliant but again just seemed to lack that last touch and that allowed a couple of chance from the Bison to clear the zone.
Dean Skinns was summoned to the bench as Lack returned but there wasn’t enough from the Lightning inside the last minute. After something of a torrid week, the hooter sounded to herald the Bison’s return to winning ways.
What we know: After a 0 point weekend then losing to the Flames in a weird game on Wednesday, this was more like the Bison we know. The passing was slicker, they got more pucks on net, they seemed to have more jump and it showed. The visitors started slowly and the Bison took advantage of that. They did visibly tire towards the end which is understandable given the recent exertions and that let the Lightning, playing only 2 imports, back into things but the Bison gritted their teeth, worked hard and made it through.
When the final buzzer went, I could hear Rene Jarolin cheering from the bench which was an apt reaction from the Herd’s man of the match. Jarolin took both goals very well but also seems to have really found something of a stride since joining the Herd, even doing what some who know him from his EIHL days call somewhat un-Jarolin like things like blocking shots. He’s not the fastest but he seems to be at his happiest and Sheppard is using him to his strengths which is paying dividends.
The recent re-jigging of the lines had frustrated me but now that the new combinations appear to have settled, things are starting to click a little better. Karpov and Long have worked together in the past and have found their stride again and whilst many wouldn’t have dreamed of splitting Long and Greener up at the start of the campaign, Greener works with Jarolin and Connolly has come onto that line as a space maker and a different offensive threat. Overall I’m a lot calmer about the situation than I was.
Jon Baston will want the Lightning’s second goal back but made some decent stops alongside a tired but well performing 4 man defensive unit until Joe Baird returns to the line-up at least.
It wasn’t a vintage Bison performance, they’re too knackered to give one of those at the moment but this was much more of a Bison like performance than we’ve seen in the last week and it was a welcome return.
A word on our opponents: The MK Lightning need to stop spotting teams leads. I haven’t had time to go back through the stats recently but when a fan mentioned to me after the game that they kept doing this I couldn’t help but wonder how the title picture would look if such a thing happened. Just like the Bison, the Lightning were in a spot of fixture congestion having played on Wednesday as well where they lost the second leg of their cup semi-final in an ill-tempered game with Peterborough. Combined with being 2 imports down, this was a very good performance from Pete Russell’s side.
Lewis Hook took man of the match which is entirely fair though either of his line mates, Jordan Cownie and Bobby Chamberlain could have been given the beers as well. These three together were a joy to watch at times on the night. When Cownie returned from Braehead, Coach Russell must have been over the moon to reunite the free-scoring combination that helped fire the GB u20s to a gold medal and you can see why. The 2 main reasons are that they trust each other and they have no fear. They just go out and do it. I really enjoyed it.
It was one of Frantisek Bakrlik’s nights of frustration as the talented yet temperamental forward seemed to want to do everything himself or nothing at all which as a Bison fan I won’t argue with but as a Lightning fan when you know what he’s capable of must be infuriating at times.
On the whole this was a really good Lightning performance. The team was below full strength but there was a lot of effort given. The issue was the slow start; the Bison were given too much space and time to do what they wanted. The powerplay goal, which at the time they scored it was undeserved, was a thing of beauty and that sparked the team which got them back into the contest as they hosts started to run out of steam. They problem was the Lightning eventually ran out of time.
Lowlight of the night: McPherson’s goal. Nobody will be beating themselves up about it more than Baston.
Highlight of the night: Jarolin’s second, pretty stuff.
EPIHL Cup Semi Final 1st Leg
Basingstoke Bison 0-1 Guildford Flames
A head scratcher: The Bison headed into the game with Joe Baird still scratched from the line-up alongside Grant Rounding and Tomas Hiadlovsky with Alex Sampford and Jacob Ranson back in the line up to add a 4th line alongside Ryan Sutton. The Flames scratched Jens Eriksson to make way for the Basingstoke debut of new netminder Richard Ullberg.
The Bison had the early powerplay chance when Danny Meyers tripped Ryan Watt on a charge to the net. The Bison tried to get some puck movement going but the puck was finding more of the players in the lanes, including Aaron Connolly’s ear than the back of the net. It was just after this that linesman Mr Ormond was struck by the puck. He took a moment but continued for the time being.
The teams didn’t seem to be quite up to full speed but both sides were having their chances. Karpov had a shot blocked by Lundin and another by Ullberg’s helmet, Quiney shot wide.
Then out of nowhere we suddenly had a fight. Janis Ozolins had a shot go wide but as play continued he tussled with Kurt Reynolds and shoved the Bison defenceman in the back whilst down on a knee. Play stopped, the two came together and off came the gloves whilst a scrum formed elsewhere. Somehow the Flames ended up with a powerplay out of the situation thanks to an extra instigation penalty for Reynolds and neither man who dropped the gloves getting a fighting 2+2 penalty. The visitors didn’t get much going on the powerplay and the Bison returned to full strength with no damage.
The teams went back to trading chances for the remainder of the period forcing the odd save from the respective netminder but the Bison were having the better of the chances but suddenly out of nowhere the period was over with the score still at 0-0 without that much having seemingly happened.
The second period saw Mr Ormond unable to continue with Mr Ions donning his set of extra armbands to work a 2 man system with Mr Pickett.
The Bison came racing out of the gate in the middle frame and came agonisingly close on occasions. Connolly and Greener both tried charging to the net but were held at bay but it was Tomas Karpov’s shot that deflected off of Rupert Quiney and rolled tantalisingly past the post with Ullberg out of position.
The Flames got a chance to get back into affairs when Declan Balmer was called for kneeing Lee Esders but the best chance of that man advantage fell to René Jarolin whose breakway chance was saved by Ullberg, as was the follow-up try.
A golden chance came shortly after the powerplay expired when Danny Meyers turned the puck over but Ciaran Long overskated the puck and Tomas Karpov couldn’t bundle the puck over the line, the puck again going wide of the net.
The Flames net was living the charmed of all charmed lives but they were still having their opportunities through Ben Campbell and Sam Godfrey but Baston kept them at bay. At the other end when Karpov’s shot went through Ullberg’s 5 hole, hit the post and went out, it should have been a sign of frustrations to come. Combined with the officials missing all 4 Flames imports on the ice on more than one occasion, it wasn’t a recipe for the greatest of nights.
The pace of the game and its intensity had upped massively as the period went on which made the game much more entertaining. Some would argue it was a little too intense when Meyers crashed the net, taking out Baston but after shaking the cobwebs loose the Bison netminder was back and continuing.
Andy McKinney drew a crosschecking call from Miroslav Vantroba who retaliated to a hit. The Flames powerplay seemed to wake up and was moving the puck very well but never seemed to get that final touch on the puck past Baston. The buzzer sounded for the end of the period with the teams still locked at a stalemate.
Where the second started with a Bison charge to the net, the third started with a Flames one as Baston stood firm to keep out Towe.
Shortly after was another unsavoury moment; with Mr Pickett’s arm in the air for a hooking call on Kurt Reynolds, Janis Ozolins took a swing of his stick through the air for some reason and smacked Jon Baston on the head with his stick. After dealing with the protestations of a furious Stuart Mogg, Ozolins tried to apologise but was given a 2 minute slashing minor to the chagrin of the home players and crowd. When Kevin Phillips was also called shortly afterwards for interference it sent the Bison to a 4on3 powerplay and the Bison stacked the 4 man powerplay unit but could find no way past Ullberg, Karpov’s hard shot not making it past the ankle of Danny Meyers. Both teams returned to full strength with still no ticking over of the scoreboard bar the clock getting closer to the end.
Then suddenly the scoreboard moved to 1 for the visitors. It came out of almost nothing but in the blink of an eye Matt Towe was in space with nobody around him off of a pass from former Bison, Andy Melachrino and snapped a shot through Baston’s 5 hole at 51:44.
Where the Flames had been second best across the tie for the majority of the game, the goal suddenly put their tales up and they were in the ascendency. Shots came in from all sides but Baston kept them at bay.
As time ticked towards the end, the Bison picked up with the hope of finding a way past Ullberg but fell into their usual trap of lost of effort but little execution. Time ran out on the night but with the tie poised at 1-0, the second leg is set up with all to play for, for both teams.
Cautious optimism: After a really disappointing weekend, this was a much better Bison performance. It was frustrating in the sense that it was still what many have come to expect from the Herd but it was a marked improvement overall despite not scoring after a plethora of chances. If this is a dip in the Bison’s then it isn’t the best time for it to happening obviously but the quality in this team is there to rebound.
The issues stem from various things. Playing its 3rd game in 5 days and a 4th in 7 to come, the Bison looked a bit tired especially at the end of the game after Guildford scored. The fact that Ranson and Sampford were brought in to be a 4th line and subsequently not used is therefore an even more bizarre decision. Yes the game was tight, yes a bad matching of lines could have proved costly but why bring in a 4th line like that to have them sit there? Ranson, Sampford and Sutton can do a job and they could have given valuable rest time to the top end guys but weren’t used.
The recent chopping and changing of line combinations as well has me confused. For ages no team was able to touch Long, Greener and Jarolin but this was the second home game in succession they’ve not regularly played together. Watt, Karpov and Lack had chemistry but have been broken up. Doug Sheppard will of course have his reasons for this and he’s in charge and all but I can’t help but wonder why this is.
Ultimately and despite being the better side across the 60 minutes, the Bison lost. They weren’t going to use the physical style they have in their locker after Saturday and Guildford blocked the passing lanes effectively. It made for a frustrating night.
Shaun Thompson got man of the match for being industrious though I thought Stuart Mogg had another productive evening. I was also impressed by Joe Greener’s effort even if everything he tried didn’t come off.
As I said though, there was promise. The Flames goal lived a charmed life and on another night one of those shots goes in. It is what it is and sometimes you take the loss when you don’t deserve it and move on.
Joe Greener could be heard on the bench saying “it’s a 6 period game” and he’s right. However if the Bison are going to be effective in periods 4, 5 and 6 then they need to find a way to regain that swagger they had at the turn of the year. They have it in them to do it.
A word on our opponents: I’ll tip my hat to Guildford on winning the game and all but I wasn’t overly impressed with them in doing so. The one really solid attack they had, they scored on and that seemed to be enough to celebrate probably a bit more than was warranted for the first leg of a cup semi-final.
The Flames scored late having been outplayed for 50 minutes then looked like they’d score more bar for some good saves from Jon Baston. It was a total turnaround from the first period where the Flames almost looked bored. If they’d iced the puck any more I’d have thought they’d needed the rule explained to them again.
I suppose in some ways this is what the Flames do; they are that team that everyone in team sports has faced who are stacked with quality individuals and you think you’re getting the better of them then boom! One bit of magic happens and they win. You take what you can get.
Marcus Kristoffersson got man of the match despite being not making much of an impression for the majority of the game in my opinion. I thought Matt Towe was outstanding and a constant ball of energy across the game who scored a sublime goal which wouldn’t have been stopped by many netminders. Richard Ullberg will be the focus for many due to his shutout but I must confess to not being overly impressed. He made a few good saves and looks alright but only alright. He looked shaky in parts and whilst I always say you have to be good to be lucky, many more chances were the Bison failing to put them away than Ullberg stopping them.
However how you win isn’t important but that you win. The Flames have the advantage at half time and will look to press that home next Wednesday.
Lowlight of the night: The Flames goal whilst looking good I thought it was undeserved but I’ll say the injury to Mr Ormond the linesman, hopefully he is OK. As much as I don’t agree with every call a reffere makes, Mr Pickett and Mr Ions deserve credit for how they adapted.
Highlight of the night: A small moment but Marcus Kristoffersson steaming down the wing only to be easily disposed of by Stuart Mogg knicking the puck off of the stick.
Basingstoke Bison 1-2 Sheffield Steeldogs