Basingstoke Bison 3-2 Milton Keynes Lightning
Roehl pp Bakrlik
The last league strike:
The final regular season game of this season and for the foreseeable future against the Milton Keynes Lightning was an exciting if not particularly skilful game of hockey but it was a much needed win if the Bison wish to keep the momentum going as the playoffs begin to loom.
The game certainly was tense and had a bit of a playoff feel to it in some ways. It was not a massively free flowing game. It was bitty, scrappy and like most Bison vs Lightning games had that very niggly undercurrent that you felt could spark a powder keg. Both teams spent large portions of the game hacking and whacking at each other off the play but it was nothing that needed a lot of penalty calling in the immediacy. It did get worse as the game went on to the point many started to wonder whether things would start getting called but thankfully a lid was kept on most of the dafter things that could have happened.
The first 15 minutes were not kind to the Bison as the Lightning really had them on the back foot in terms of possession and chances, especially after Hiadlovsky let in an uncharacteristically soft goal inside the first two minutes whilst at the other end, Przemyslaw Odrobny was making light work of the shots that came his way. However the late goal, a shot from Antonov that deflected off of the stick of Dan Davies made its way over the line despite Odrobny getting a large piece of it.
The second and third were better periods from the Herd. Where they had seemed to have started a little flat footed, the Bison responded by coming out and playing with real energy and urgency which managed to give them more periods of dominance in the game. It did feel that the Lightning could score if they wanted to but after Bakrlik’s goal rather than panicking they kept with the plan and again found a way to equalise right at the end of a powerplay just after a huge Hiadlovsky save on Lewis Hook. Both teams looked for the third and the one really quality play of the third period resulted in the goal for Ciaran Long and the Bison managed to hold on.
Despite letting in the soft opening goal for the visitors, this was a very good game from Tomas Hiadlovsky. Whilst only officially saving 24 shots he withstood some sustained pressure and made some very good saves, especially the shorthanded save on Hook that was arguably the turning point of the game.
Whilst it would have been fair to give the beers to the Slovakian goalie, I actually agreed with those who picked the man of the match and would have given it to Dan Davies. Davies hasn’t gotten many plaudits this season at times but this was a game where he really shined. It was a real 60 minute shift from the centreman who, in a game which struggled to ever really get going as a slick passing encounter, stood out for his work rate and the all important first goal however fortunate the bounce might be. People may think it’s unfair to Ciaran Long who scored yet another important goal that he didn’t get man of the match but on the night for me, it was Davies and Hiadlovsky who stood out over the other players.
It was an overall team effort from the Bison that got the win in this game. There were times where I wondered what the gameplan was and there were times when players seemed more interested in sending a physical message than playing the puck. It certainly wasn’t the best that the Herd have played this season by a long stretch and there were moments that just made you shake your head (Roehl’s giveaway on the powerplay that gave Hook his chance even saw the American roll his eyes to the sky) but they outlasted the Lightning in the end.
The Bison now have something of a break to build on this win. They can rest up and keep their heads down for what’s to come. Which leads me on to the next bit.
The NIHL Select Game:
With the loss of the Phoenix, the club has announced a game against “an NIHL Select team, made up of players from both the NIHL 1&2.” which will take place next Saturday, 25/2/17. There’s no confirmation as to whether this will include players from NIHL North sides but it would seem unlikely. Next weekend sees only 3 of the current 9 NIHL1 sides without a game; Oxford, Cardiff and Bracknell so unless a fair few players from these sides are prepared to play then we can expect it to be a true mix of NIHL1 and 2 players rather than NIHL1 and a few extras. The game will be counted on the season ticket.
There’s been a bit of a mixed reaction to this; some are obviously unhappy with being charged a season ticket rate for a mid-season uncompetitive game. Others have been more understanding; what else can Planet Ice do when the budget was for a certain number of home games and two have no disappeared? It’s also a chance for the club to promote player development and even a chance for Doug Sheppard to get a look at some players from lower leagues who could be potential Bison players next season. It does save somewhat on scouting if the players come to you.
The obvious answer for many would have been to take the two games owed and transfer them to two of the three playoff games that the Herd will be playing. Planet Ice will immediately point to the budget issue above. For the Bison to be sustainable, they have to stick to that budget and that means finding ways to play games into that two slots and this is one of them. The club also say that they are trying to find a team to fill the other empty slot in March.
I would suggest a compromise between the two positions because that’s what I generally find myself doing. This game next Saturday needs to go ahead. Work has gone in not just from the club but also from the NIHL Management committee and it’s not fair to them to just scrap this. Rather than finding another team to fill that other gap, the second game should be a playoff game. The Bison are certain to have a midweek home game and this is a chance for Planet Ice to get a good bit of PR; after a mediocre season in a substandard facility with a myriad of issues, make the midweek game part of the season ticket. Charge the regular price for walk-up tickets by all means but for a fan’s appreciation night, the middle of playoffs on a night where the Bison traditionally get lower crowds, this is a way to get more people in the rink. Yes there’s a hit to take but you need to spend to make and this would be a way to get some good will.
A word on our opponents:
Back from that diversion, I will admit that I will miss games against the Lightning. Comedy moments aside (chanting “dirty dirty Bison” during a game when Frankie Bakrlik has checked another player in the head might be stretching things a tiny bit) you always know what you’re getting in Lightning games. They’ll be tough, they’ll be scrappy but there will generally be a bit of quality in it. There was more of the first two and less of the third in this game but it was certainly value for the money.
The Lightning started very well and whilst the Bison did come back into the game, the Lightning were never out of it. They constantly threatened the Bison net but I found myself slightly confused by their strategy at times. Despite having a bit of a speed advantage and the balance of play at times, they seemed to want to grind the game out when they really didn’t have to. If they found a way in the later part of the first period to do that then this could have been a very different game in some ways. It seems to be a hallmark of Pete Russell coached teams at times where the hard work comes out as grinding things out. That’s fine to a point but look at that roster; Cownie, Hook, Hölli, Bakrlik, Emersic, Carlon, Scott etc. are not a crew of third line energy guys so why are they not using them to their strengths. Combine that with leaving Odrobny stood on the ice at the hashmarks inside the last minute when the Lightning were in the Bison zone and chasing the game, I was left scratching my head a little.
Despite that oddness, Odrobny is a very good netminder. The Polish international clearly makes a difference to the Lightning defence as they can just let him see the puck and there’s a fair chance that he will stop it. He made numerous good saves and made some of them before the shot with his positioning. This is the 6th time that the Lightning have played the Bison so Odrobny will be aware that the Bison will shoot early and often and adjusted his game to suit that.
The line of Hook, Cownie and Hölli also look really dangerous. Hölli in particular didn’t just make good attacking but also a number of great defensive plays to break up Bison attacks. Whether he remains with the side in the EIHL remains to be seen but certainly a player in that vein should be alongside Cownie and Hook next season.
The big issue with this defeat for the Lightning is that it’s arguably put one Tiger paw on the title trophy. This was a big game in that sense and some unusual tactics arguably cost them the win. With 7 games left, it’s going to take a massive run from the Lightning and a massive collapse from the Tigers to see one of the most storied EPIHL tenures end with the league title.
Lowlight of the night: Bakrlik’s hit on Balmer was unnecessary and dangerous. Why such a talented player can’t learn to check properly is an utter mystery.
Highlight of the night: Long’s goal; timely and pretty.
50 Episodes of the BOTW Podcast. So how best to celebrate than by a bit of self examination and self deprecation!
Journalist Graham Bell takes the reigns of the show to interview Anthony about just why he does all of this and the answer to the greatest question of all; why does he not like Jan Melichar?
The BOTW Podcast; the news, action and views from the EPIHL and all levels above, below and in between.
Basingstoke Bison 2-4 Telford Tigers
Connolly pp Plant pp
Long Silverthorn x3 (2pp)
Not far enough:
The great thing about ice hockey is that you know just how long a game lasts. This isn’t football or rugby where there’s added time, hockey you get 60 minutes. The big problem with last night was that their opposition were in it for 60 minutes and the Bison were in this game for 40 minutes.
Whether it was the game against Milton Keynes arranged at short notice the night before, injuries or being without Antonov, Miller and Mogg, we don’t know. The Bison skated with the team at the top of the table for two periods but got to the final frame and seemed to run out of steam, then ideas and then time.
It was something of a shame because the first two periods saw the Bison hang with the Tigers and it was a really even contest that saw the momentum flow back and forth. The pace did start to slacken on the game after the first 12-15 minutes but both sides were having good chances and challenging the respective netminders. Passing and set up play from both sides was good despite the problematic Basingstoke ice and it was a game that was exciting hardcore fans and neutrals alike. Then in the final frame the Tigers got an equaliser then stole all of the momentum and didn’t give the Bison a chance. The Bison managed a grand total of 3 shots in the final period, a season low at home.
Whilst the stats on the night don’t make for pretty reading, this was one of Tomas Hiadlovsky’s better games in a Bison jersey this season. Three goals on 20 shots in the final period aren’t the greatest return but across the whole game, some of the stops that Hiadlovsky made stopped the game becoming a much more lopsided score in the final twenty minutes. I feel that Hiadlovsky doesn’t get the credit that he deserves at times. He is, for the EPIHL, an unusual keeper and is probably the most puck playing keeper in the league. This unnerves people and he also has his wobbles like most goalies but at this level, Hiadlovsky is a game breaker.
Sadly the outskaters just couldn’t get the job done on the night. The only two other people who came close to being in the man of the match discussion were Tomas Karpov who appears to have been fully switched on the last couple of weeks and Ciaran Long who took the man of the match beers. Long’s goal, another beauty of a shot which was similar to his goal the previous week against Hull, seemed to have the Bison on the front foot and on their way to victory and when things started turning against them it was Long and his Czech counterpart who looked most like having an impact.
Unfortunately for the Herd it was the little things that started to add up in the third. Dan Davies had a game where nothing seemed to go right for him. Dan Scott had the first game I’ve seen him have for the Bison where he was below excellent. I am convinced that Derek Roehl is playing hurt as his effectiveness seems to have been limited.
Despite the annoyance at the officiating from many, there’s no other way to paint this game for the Bison; they got outplayed across the balance of the game. It’s why Telford will ultimately end up winning the EPIHL league title this season and Tom Watkins alluded to it in his post match comments on the Tigers’ website. In fact, it’s how the Bison won the league last season and how good teams win trophies in general; they just find ways to win. With officiating that was less than ideal for both sides, they adapted and took the chances that they were given. The Bison did not and have 3 consecutive defeats against the three teams above them to show for it. The Herd will not retain the EPIHL title and lost last night to the team that seems most likely to do it in my opinion. They are certainly the best team that we have seen in Basingstoke this season. The focus for the Bison must now shift to obtaining the best finish they can achieve in the table and becoming a playoff team if they wish to come away from 2016/17 with a trophy. On this night they didn’t go far enough; playing 40 minutes out of 60 won’t win you hockey games. If they want to go all the way then the planning to achieve that starts now.
A word on our opponents:
The Telford Tigers deserve credit for the comeback, the win and just their general play overall. They play some very attractive hockey and if teams allow them to, they will simply just pass it around them and score at ease. It’s not hard to imagine why they have scored 20 goals in the last 3 games heading into this game.
Whilst Matty Davies took the man of the match beers and gave a very good performance this game, as evidenced by the scoreline above was the Jason Silverthorn show. It was a captain’s performance from the Canadian who popped up with goals of importance and quality. His drive to the net to flick the puck over Hiadlovsky’s shoulder was particularly nice.
A few of the Tigers’ big guns didn’t have much of an impact on the early going of the game; Korhon, Kolena, Weaver, Clarkson, all were quiet to a point. As the Bison tired and the Tigers stayed the course they all came into the game more. Clarkson’s size and physicality became an issue, Weaver was allowed to get shots on the net, Kolena seemed to pick up a step. Korhon did remain quiet for my money but there is a difference between the Korhon that needed to be the focal point of the Steeldogs offence and the Korhon that is a second line guy and additional offence bringer for the Tigers. He didn’t need to stand out in any real way.
Much was made of Jon Baston’s return to Basingstoke in Tigers colours and despite some good natured ribbing by all concerned including Bavy from the DJ box there isn’t a lot to say. The Finn/Brit will arguably want both goals back (especially Long’s where he was made to look a bit silly) but the further the game went on, the less he had to do.
There’s no two ways to slice this game, the better team won and it’s pretty much now a two horse race between Telford and Milton Keynes. Telford’s next game is against Peterborough where both teams have won 5 of their last 5. After this performance I hope Phantoms fans will forgive me for not betting the house on them getting something out of Shropshire this evening.
Lowlight of the night: I could say the bizarre non-call where Dan Davies had his stick taken out of his hands so badly it nearly hit the roof but the third period in hindsight was just so disappointing given how well the first two went.
Highlight of the night: Long’s goal; it’s an absolute beauty.
What a mess.
I seem to have said that over and over again in the last nearly two years. We have come a long way from the 2015 playoff weekend in Coventry when the first shots were fired in the farrago that would ultimately lead to this point and Banners On The Wall’s second farewell to a club this season where we had only done one in the previous five years of the blog’s existence.
The Basingstoke Bison and the Manchester Phoenix games were never derbies; that word always has a geographic connotation to it in my opinion. Manchester vs Sheffield was the derby but the Bison and the Phoenix had a rivalry, one I have long called the rivalry of respect.
In the Elite League, both clubs were mid-table sides but their games were always played with spirit and urgency. Saturday 9th December 2006 saw what remains one of the most memorable games I have as a hockey fan. Curtis Cruickshank and Jason Wolfe went to war and Greg Owen scored the only goal of the game at 39:17 in a 1-0 win. I’d been watching hockey for two years and it was the first time I really remember that sort of goalie dual.
Both clubs dropped to the EPIHL at the same time though for different reasons. The Phoenix went through choice, the Bison through necessity but the games continued in the same vein. The Phoenix found success first as the Bison were rebuilding but the games were always in that same spirit and then when both sides were the front runners, it made the games all the more intense and special. 2013/14 went down as a special moment for both clubs and the final game of the season as both met in the playoff final seemed like the fitting conclusion to a season where both teams had run each other so close.
The following season, Tony Hand’s last ride and the Phoenix knocked the Bison out of the playoffs. It’s always disappointing to not be at Coventry but there’s also a relief. You get all of the hockey and excitement but none of the stress of watching your team. Then came Saturday evening. Then we find ourselves here.
Rumour followed innuendo followed counter-rumour. Battle lines were drawn as the Manchester Storm came lurching back into existence and people felt nostalgic as their history was coming back to them or being brought back to be ripped away from them in a fit of peak. Altrincham became Deeside which became Fylde which became Widnes which became nothing but tears, sadness and goodbyes. I made many friends who were Phoenix fans. Despite what some have said about them being a cult or being brainwashed or playing the victim, they’re good people. It’s really easy to throw people under the bus when they’re making decisions you wouldn’t and you’re an outsider. Do I agree with every decision my friends made? No. I told them so. Should people sympathise and empathise? Yes, because (and I’ve said this a lot too) there but for the grace of God go us all.
Hopefully they will realise that my coming assessment comes from a good place and not from one of malice because just as with the Wightlink Raiders, this point was avoidable.
I disagree with James Gordon’s piece on BritishIceHockey.co.uk today that the Storm coming back into existence meant this day was inevitable. Firstly because he mentions a decline in the standard of hockey in the EPL when the general consensus of those who watch it remains that it’s improved over the Phoenix’s time in the league and mostly because James’ piece whilst well structured and makes his case eloquently but it doesn’t make much more of an argument in my opinion beyond “the Storm are back” and therefore the Phoenix were always doomed. The re-emergence of the Storm is a factor; Neil Russell has done superb work as the GM in terms of engaging two main groups; those nostalgic for the Storm and those disillusioned with how the Phoenix was run. That’s not Neil Russell’s fault, that’s his job. He is paid to get people to go to Manchester Storm games. This doesn’t mean that the Storm don’t need to be a bit more honest as to how they came into being rather than just “they replaced the Hull Stingrays when they went out of business” but that’s a story for another day.
What we’re left with in the story of the Manchester Phoenix is a lot of questions.
Why was a proper supporter’s trust not something anyone looked in to? For such a dedicated fanbase with a broad skill set, if they had found a place to play then a structure could have been set up to take over the operations. I am sure there is a reason why this wasn’t done but I am yet to hear one.
As harsh as it sounds, why did the EIHA and other EPIHL owners let Manchester start the season given the precarious situation they were in? Would it have not been better to allow Manchester to mothball for a season and have the EIHA assist them in finding a better solution than Fylde though accommodating was not a place that should have been hosting EPIHL hockey?
Why could the Phoenix and Silverblades not put aside what appears to have been issues of personal animosity for the greater good? There’s much we could ask that nobody will ever answer to a point where everyone is satisfied. Someone once said that there are three sides to every story; your side, the other side and the truth somewhere in the middle.
Then (and I realise that this is going to get a lot of backs up) there’s Neil Morris; the man who tried, the villain of the piece, the man who tried to keep hockey in Manchester alive for over a decade, a liar, a thief, a misunderstood man who cares and the 800 other things that he has been called over the time.
Popular opinion will not judge Neil Morris kindly because of the overall result of what happened with the Phoenix and sadly, it is a fall from grace. He put a fantastic amount of his own money into the club, he loves the Manchester Phoenix and I don’t think that was disputable. Was there ego involved? Of course there was, it’s British hockey but there was an element of care there, 100%.
However my personal credo has long been that the end doesn’t justify the means. Some ex-players spoke out in favour, some were vocally against like Jacob Corson-Heron who had said very little for a long time then let fire in a barrage where accusations of lying were made. There were clearly a bunch of decisions made since early 2015 that weren’t solely the fault of people smearing the Phoenix on social media but Neil Morris making bad decisions. Since the Phoenix won the 2013/14 title we had new investment brought in, a decision to leave their facility, a loss of that investment, the move away from Deeside and the failure to find a way forward that led to the final Manchester Phoenix game being in a Silverblades rink after many vowed they would never go back.
Then there was the Manchester Ice Arena, lurking in the background as this mythical lost city that would bring the Phoenix back to prominence. There were always plans long term, this wasn’t some thing that wasn’t being planned but poor execution of other actions in the short and medium term made the long term nothing more than a pipe dream. Again, there’s a measure of blame that the Phoenix organisation need to take for that.
Morris’ position was untenable, he needed to step aside and should have done long before this point but for some reason he was unable to find a replacement to take the club on. Was the brand too toxic? Did he want to retain involvement as a figurehead and that wasn’t palatable to potential investors? We’ll never know.
What are we left with? We are left staring at a sad decline and a lot of people whose effort and money and energy towards a club, their club, that is now confined to history. We’re left with a hole in the schedule and 9 teams now shuffling the books and the fixture list. Players have moved on. We’re left with a few people callously saying “I told you so” and many more people wishing it just hadn’t happened at all.
I hope my friends find their place within British hockey to carry on though I understand if this is their stopping point, especially at this point where the wounds are still very fresh. If Phoenix fans want to go to Storm games then that’s their decision as well.
It is like in vein but I do hope people will be honest about where they were in this. There are no winners in this situation. Saying “I told you so” to people who lost their club is insensitive clap trap that has no place here.
I will miss the laughs, I will miss the Phoenix Podcast, I will even miss the hideous jerseys. I will miss the Manchester Phoenix; the fans, the hockey they played, the rivalry. It’s what hockey is built upon. Wherever you all end up, may you be happy there.
Basingstoke Bison 6-1 Hull Pirates
Long x2 (1 dpg) Themar
Karpov x2 (1 dpg, 1pp)
We’re going to do this piece opposite of how we usually do it because we need to look at games.
A word on our opponents:
Something is amiss with the Hull Pirates and I don’t mean the injuries they’ve had, bad as they are. This The second period of this game was one of the most dominant periods from the Bison this season against a team that really isn’t that bad. That makes it worse in some ways.
Bracknell are a team short on quality but big on effort. Hull are not short of quality; Themar, Laine, Salem, Maynard, Bonner and Kirk are not slouches. Jamie Chilcott on the defence was playing Elite League last year. For some reason this team with obvious quality just don’t seem to be putting the pieces together. Yes it’s a terrible pun and analogy all in one but they look lost at sea with no direction.
Vlastimil Lakosil has been given a lot of stick recently since he was called in to replace Jordan Marr and on this night, bar one goal he didn’t do a lot wrong. 6 goals on 70 shots speaks of a man who had a really busy night. It could have been an utter cricket score had Lakosil not made some of the saves that he did. He got next to no support from his defence which is what caused the issue.
Lakosil is a symptom of a bigger issue with the Pirates at the moment; the team launched out of the gate like the clappers but when the form took a dip, where did the coaching lay the blame? Not on the team having a bit of a bad run but on personnel. Sarsok was changed for Ondrej to “sure things up”, performances decreased and a netminder with over 90% save percentage was swapped for an ageing import. I like Dominic Osman; he was very gracious with him time when I interviewed him at the end of last season but some of his recent coaching decisions have not improved the Pirates.
On this night, the Pirates run of poor form just continued. Lakosil was robbed of the beers despite being utterly shelled. Ryan Watt tried, Themar and Laine tried but this is one of those games where our northern friends should be grateful that the Bison don’t do webcasts. It wasn’t good.
I was out all of Sunday, I took my wife to London so I am writing this after Sunday’s loss to Peterborough. I would normally totally look at the game in isolation and break that down but with the signing deadline creeping every closer, the Bison needed a 4 point weekend and appear to have lurched from one extreme to the other.
It makes Sunday all the more frustrating for just how dominant the Bison were on Saturday night. Whilst it took nearly the full 20 minutes for the first goal to come, it never really looked in doubt that it would come and did after Ciaran Long’s shot couldn’t be held by Lakosil. That was pretty much the end of that.
Without Miller and Connolly through injury and Antonov and Mogg to GB Universities’ trip to Kazakhstan, the lines were one again juggled about slightly but everything the Bison seemed to try on Saturday night seemed to come off with only a really decent netminding performance preventing the Herd from clocking up a score worthy of the usual per game points average of Steph Curry.
Tomas Karpov took the man of the match for two superbly taken goals, the second of which was all the more impressive an effort when you consider how much of a hook he was suffering from Andrej Themar when trying to connect with Ciaran Long’s pass. Games like this make Karpov such a joy to watch because not only are his goals generally very pretty goals but the confidence that he gets from scoring makes him more confident to try and do almost anything. He looks for passes better, he twists and turns past players with ease, he tries shooting more.
Long and Rene Jarolin were the other scorers along with Karpov and both of them took their goals very well. Long’s second, the Bison’s 5th goal was such a lovely move that the Hull netminder remained face down on the ice for a good ten seconds before bothering to move and the Bison’s British forward had fired the puck into the roof of the net.
Tomas Hiadlovsky wasn’t overly troubled, the only goal he conceded being a scramble in front of him that managed to squeeze past him and the rest of the defence had a very good game. I’ve not mentioned Joe Baird a lot recently but when faced with one of the league’s best scorers, he shrugged off Themar with relative ease.
It should have been the extra bit of momentum that the Bison needed heading into a tough away game in Peterborough but again, the Bison seemed to slip up against the Phantoms. A four point weekend would have kept the Bison within touching distance of a miracle and it suddenly fell even further out of their hands. It has been the Bison’s curse the majority of this campaign that the lower end sides get dispatched with ease but that inconsistency against the sides in the top end of the table isn’t there where it was in 2015/16. The hope for the Herd has to be that they find those ways to win again. The league may well be out of reach of the defending champions. If they want the playoffs, Doug Sheppard needs to find a way to get the effort to once again translate into finding a way to win if he wants anything out of Coventry.
Lowlight of the night: The Hull goal, utterly avoidable.
Highlight of the night: Long to Karpov and goal for 2-0. That said, a lot of the goals were pretty.
Jen Conway is a hockey fan, academic and known on Twitter as The NHL History Girl where she curates the best and weirdest hockey facts imagineable. Jen and Anthony discuss Jen’s journey through the hockey world, how hockey remembers its sometimes chequered history, her new venture as co-host of The Soderstrom Bubble podcast and more.
The BOTW Podcast; the news, action and views from the EPIHL and all levels above, below and in between.
Anthony is joined by former Phantoms webcast commentator Dan Breen, Swindon fan Joe Scutts and Telford rink announcer Chris Lynch discuss all the big EPL talking points including a few predictions as the end of the season looms.
The BOTW Podcast; the news, action and views from the EPIHL and all levels above, below and in between.
EDIT: This was recorded before the announcement of Robin Kovar signing in Swindon (which is great for them) and the announcement that the punishment decided upon for Manchester and Telford had been withdrawn. It does alter bits of the conversation but not overall thoughts of the people in it.