Running with the Herd – Bison vs Manchester Phoenix 20/10/12

Basingstoke Bison 3-1 Manchester Phoenix

Rand                           Long

Sheppard x2

Hard work is its own reward: Both teams went into this game with full rosters although we never did establish whether it was Shannon Long or Jorge El-Hage as the Phoenix backup netminder. The ice wasn’t looking in the healthiest of shapes but it was a 1st vs 2nd clash that promised much.

Both teams came flying out of the blocks and had good early pressure on the respective nets but it was the Bison who took the early lead just 150 seconds into the tie. With the puck in the Phoenix zone, a clearing attempt deflected off a stick into the air. All alone in front of Fone, Joe Rand leapt up, caught the puck, dropped it at his feet, made a little move and slotted it past Fone.

Phoenix had their chances on the powerplay shortly afterwards on the back of a tripping call against Greg Chambers followed by a contentious high sticking call against Tony Redmond. The Phoenix powerplay however didn’t quite manage to click into place on either occasion. The Phoenix third line came out after both powerplays and made some good chances but couldn’t find a way to level the scores. Then out of nowhere, when they were arguably having the better of the period, the Phoenix gifted the Bison a second goal.

Ondrej Pozivil took a pass at the hashmarks to the left of Fone but he slipped, his legs can-canning into the air as he hit the deck. Joe Rand was on hand to pass the puck to Sheppard whose shot went through Fone and into the back of the net just after the 12 minute mark.

After a big save by Lyle and a monster of a hit by Fojtek on Joachim Flaten, Bison fully took control of the the rest of the period as they closed all the passing lanes for the Phoenix and executed some really crisp passing of their own. As the teams entered the dressing rooms, I couldn’t help but think that Tony Hand would be putting a rocket up the backside of his team.

As the 2nd period began, the Phoenix looked more lively than they’d ended the 1st. Flaten had a shot in space that flashed over the bar but it was the 3rd line that ultimately found the breakthrough for Manchester. As both 3rd lines found themselves matched against each other, the Bison 3rd line didn’t shut down Richard Bentham who fed Ciaran Long. The former Bison forward proceeded to deke Lyle out of position then slot home as he fell to the ice, leaving the Phoenix forward celebrating as he lay on his back on the ice. Credit where it’s due, it was probably the prettiest goal of the night.

After that, the Phoenix failed to push on and Bison wrestled control of the game back from their guests. Playing high on the forecheck, Jacob Corson-Heron forced a turnover and the puck fell to Andy Melachrino in space. The Bison’s number 19 shot and the puck squirmed through Fone but Pozivil cleared the puck off the line before it could go in.

Shortly after, it looked like it was 3-1. With a scramble in front of Fone, the Bison’s 2nd line of Sheppard, Greener and Rand thought they had the puck over the line as Fone was hugging his post. The goal light never went on, Mr Thompson was unconvinced and he called no goal leaving the Bison forwards with a dismayed look on their faces.

Eventually however the wall cracked. With Ciaran Long sitting for hooking, the Bison worked the puck well on the powerplay. Owen played the puck from down low to Sheppard whose shot hit Fone in the shoulder and looped into the net. 28:39 on the clock and the Bison had their two goal lead back less than 20 seconds into the powerplay.

The Bison were maintaining their grip on the game but the Phoenix were still having their chances but seemed to lack any real penetration. Manchester were setting things up in the zone well but were not finding any real bite in attack as the Bison weathered the storm. The Phoenix’s night was somewhat summed up by one moment when Bison had forced another turnover and Greg Owen was about to pull the trigger on a shot before a sprawling Tony Hand slid across the ice on all fours to take out Owen and allowed Fone to secure the puck.

The 3rd period saw the Bison ultimately strangle the life out of the game and the Phoenix attack. It started a very open period with lots of end to end play and chances on both sides that tested both Lyle and Fone. The game was getting a little chippy as well but Mr Thompson, who had a good game it must be said, seemed happy to let the game flow in spite of high elbows on both sides.

Phoenix’s players were the next to challenge Mr Thompson after they thought the puck had gone into the net after Lyle had knocked the net from its moorings. Aside from the net being off, the puck was wide of the target so it seemed a very odd thing to get frustrated about but it was the likely frustration of the night boiling over.

Big hits were flying in as Scott McKenzie found out when he got checked by Carl Graham and there were chances and but as time wound down, the Phoenix didn’t look like scoring and killed off the game without much trouble. It was a big win where they’d made their opposition and fellow title challengers look ordinary as the Bison returned to the top of the EPL.

Whole team effort: Tomas Fojtek was a good choice for man of the match but it must be said, I don’t really think any of the Bison had a bad game. Lyle stopped nearly everything that came at him, being beaten only by a superb bit of individual skill. The defence shut down what came at them, the forward lines fired on all cylinders and it was a team win in the fullest sense of the word.

Greg Chambers covered nearly every inch of the ice and directed the game to his will at times. Greg Owen and Joe Miller were making chances and completing crisp tape to tape passes. It is unusual that the top line was held without a point in this game given how much space and time they created for themselves.

The Sheppard, Greener, Rand line did what they do best; got into the corners, did the hard graft and got their reward. Yes the Phoenix’s errors gifted them two goals but they still had to score them and soft hands and sharp eyes let them do that.

The third line nearly got their illusive first goal bar but forechecked brilliantly and cut off the chances for the Phoenix to attack effectively coupled with a blueline corps who snuffed out opportunity after opportunity.

Fojtek likely got man of the match for his stickhandling skills and his big hits but when you come out of a game where arguably we could have picked literally anyone and I wouldn’t have argued with you about it, I think they’re doing alright.

A word on our opponents: It’s quite easy to see the quality that the Manchester Phoenix have in their line up from this game. They are a good team, results prove that and you only needed to watch them to see that they’ll be up amongst things at the business end of the season. Last night however they were outworked, outplayed and didn’t have an answer.

Having been heavily checked by Fojtek in the first period, Flaten then spent the remainder of the game pulling out of hits with the Bison’s Czech defenceman. Psurny was practically anonymous. The top two lines for the Phoenix misfired all night; passes were awry and when they were shut down by the Bison, their next plan to get past them was shut down too and they couldn’t find a way through.

The Phoenix 3rd line was their best line all night long, Long was my man of the match choice because alongside his excellently scored goal he was the hardest worker on the ice. Tom Duggan worked hard, skated hard and tried his best but he wasn’t very effective and his selection for the beers did leave me puzzled.

Luke Boothroyd was his usual excellent self at the back but neither Pozivil nor Schnabel were overly impressive on the night when they needed to be.

In terms of quality of the side, the Phoenix are the best team we’ve seen in Basingstoke so far this season but Phoenix fans might be concerned by the lack of punch they showed in this early outing of title contenders. I don’t know how the Phoenix are playing at home bar what I hear on the official Phoenix podcast but some of their concerns might have transferred into this game a bit. The Phoenix need to get the killer attacking instinct back on last night’s showing. If they do, they’re a force to be reckoned with.

Lowlight of the night: Hard to say really as it all went so well, I’ll say Manchester scoring but if you’re going to concede a goal then concede a pretty one I suppose.

Highlight of the night: Flaten skating into the corner, looking up and seeing Fojtek then bottling out of the hit. When that happens you know you’re team is going to win the game.

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