Running with the Herd – Bison vs Swindon Wildcats 28/10/12

Basingstoke Bison 4-3 Swindon Wildcats

Miller x 2 Richardson

Owen x 2 Nell

Höög

 

Cardiac Bison rides again: It was a full strength Bison on Sunday coming off the back of the 4-2 win on Saturday in Wiltshire. Wildcats were without Shane Moore on the blueline and import forward Michal Kapicka who picked up a knock on Saturday night.

Mr Thompson gave the Bison an early powerplay chance when Joe Baird was sent to the box at 59 seconds but the Herd seemed to have caught Manchester’s ailment on the man advantage and the powerplay didn’t really come together. The early stages had very few clear cut chances as the teams raced from end to end without really getting the final product. The one man leading the charge most of the time was Tomas Fojtik who seemed to be on a Niklas Lidstrom like mission to score a coast to coast goal at some stage during this weekend only to fall short.

After Greg Owen had charged the net for the game’s first proper scoring opportunity, the game opened up a lot more. Fojtik went on another charge to the net but Skinns survived, then Chambers had a chance in the slot. Lyle saved a blistering wrist shot from Nell then the Swindon captain had another chance as he made a lovely move around Reynolds but his second attempt didn’t trouble the Bison netminder.

Swindon had a couple of powerplay chances, one late on off a very soft slashing call on Greg Owen where he appeared to simply lift the opposing man’s stick. Swindon’s powerplay worked hard and moved the puck well but it was goose eggs all round as the first period ended 0-0.

Wildcats started the second with 30 seconds left in the man advantage and immediately went back to their game plan. They set up the powerplay, worked the puck to Nell at the point and his shot was tipped past Lyle by Lee Richardson. It was textbook stuff from Swindon and ultimately left Lyle helpless with Richardson’s shot.

The Bison however came steaming back into the game. A scramble in front of Skinns saw the Wildcats netminder flap at the puck. For some reason, with the puck still in open play, Mr Thompson blew his whistle claiming it was covered just as the puck was poked through Skinns’ pads and into the net. The whistle was incredibly early on the play but the Bison went straight back to the attack. Off the ensuing faceoff, Owen and Chambers got the puck to Miller who rounded the back of the net and banked the puck off Skinns and over the line from a tight angle. 1-1 and the score line reflected the game a lot more.

Then the Bison seemed to fall asleep at the wheel. The end to end action suddenly just became end action, as in the Bison end as Wildcats wrestled the momentum to their favour. Nell took the pass from Höög and his initial attempt hit the post but Nell followed his own rebound and put the puck past Lyle to give Swindon the lead.

The Bison went back to laying siege to the Wildcats net but the next shift for the 3rd line saw the next Bison undoing. Melachrino was took a hit from Baird that was high and led from the elbow to the head of the Bison’s winger. Mr Thompson however saw nothing wrong with it and Swindon broke into the Bison zone at speed. With the third line at the end of a long shift they came unstuck. Some good passing saw the puck go from Jones to Nell to last season’s top scorer Höög in from of Lyle and out of nowhere Swindon were 3-1 up despite not having really outplayed the Bison. That said there’s no points for being pretty in ice hockey but you do earn them by being efficient and clinical.

After that though, the second period became rather disjointed for my money. Passes didn’t seem to come off for either side, Mr Thompson wasn’t really calling any penalties despite infractions both ways. The Bison seemed to be over-thinking what they were doing and trying to walk the puck into the net at times. At once stage the puck did hit the back of the net. Reynolds shot, the puck appeared to hit the post at the back of the net and rebound out. I saw it that was as did most of block C but nothing from the goal judge or Mr Thompson. One gentleman said to me in the break that it didn’t go in from his vantage point behind the net and normally I’d give him the benefit of the doubt if I didn’t have everyone else around saying it went in. Apologies to that gentleman if I was a bit curt with him at the time.

The third period ended with the Wildcats 3-1 up and me thoroughly confused as the why the Bison were in a two goal hole despite not playing that badly. Having spoken to some Wildcats fans in the break, they were a little shocked as well.

The third period started much like the second ended, chances at either end but a real lack of fluidity to anything. Swindon were closing off the passing lanes in the neutral zone and when the Bison did gain the zone they collapsed towards Skinns to protect the net at all costs. Bison were having more chances but just couldn’t seem to get through. Sheppard ended up taking a seat on a rather innocuous slash on Höög that sent the Swede falling to the ice like he’d been poleaxed. Luckily for the Bison, the Wildcats couldn’t take advantage on the powerplay opportunity.

Then finally, a bit of light appeared. Sheppard had shortened the bench in the third to rotate 8 forwards (Corson-Heron and Wynn didn’t ice at all in the 3rd from what I saw) and changed the lines up a bit with Greener joining Chambers and Owen. The umpteenth mad scramble in front of Skinns with all three of them driving the net resulted in Greg Owen bundling the puck over the line for his 3rd goal of the weekend in spite of some Swindon protestations that the puck had been kicked in.

The Bison pressed for the equaliser and eventually it came. Using their timeout with under two minutes to play and an upcoming faceoff in the Wildcats zone, Lyle remained on the bench. Bison won the faceoff and managed to get the puck towards the net where Owen appeared again in tight to Skinns to pot the game tying goal with 84 seconds left in regulation.

Swindon took their timeout with just under a minute to play but the two teams were locked at 3 a piece going into overtime.

The Bison had the better of the chances, Swindon fans and players conscious that they’d not won a game in OT or penalty shots since January 2011. Miller and Rand broke in two on one but Miller’s clever pass evaded Rand. Miller got the puck back, came around the back of the net and got a weakfish shot off that clipped off of Skinns and agonisingly looped out of the former Bison netminder’s reach and into the back of the net to send the home fans into raptures and the away fans to wonder about the one that got away.

 

Last hurrahs and clutch performances: I’ll obviously go into Tomas Fojtik’s release in more detail tomorrow but if you’d not heard all the rumours beforehand or not, last night’s performance from him was fun if nothing else. The stay at home defenceman seemed to vanish in favour of the reborn spirit of Mikko Purontakanen and Marcel Petran as he seemed to go on long rushes down the ice in a desperate attempt to get that illusive goal. Sadly it wasn’t to be but block C certainly enjoyed it.

Greg Owen was an obvious choice for man of the match at the end of what’s been a standout weekend for him. With 10 points from 11 games going into the weekend, he now has 17 from 13 after only failing to tally a point on 1 Bison goal of 8 scored over the weekend. Aside from those numbers, Owen was composed, came good in the clutch and his combination with Chambers appears to have worked its way up to full firing mode once again.

Chambers again just seems to be having a lot of fun out there as well as being our playmaker and quarterbacking virtually everything.

Miller didn’t have the greatest night in the history of hockey but kudos for never stopping driving the net. He knew he’d scored past Skinns in that way before, tried it again and got the two points for the team.

It wasn’t however a perfect performance as the second and large swathes of the third showed. If anything at times the Bison try to be too skilful and return to trying to almost Jedi mind trick their way past defenders. The goals scored proved that when this team goes to the net, good things happen so that needs to be a focus. Although given who the team are reportedly signing, that might change.

The shortening of the bench in the third made sense to some degree but top line players were playing a lot of minutes and why the third line wasn’t left out in it’s normal form for longer is a question to ask. Melachrino saw good ice time in the third alongside Redmond and one of Greener or Miller, whoever was voted to double shift at the time and again his workrate and willingness to do anything for the team is great to see.

Overall there are improvements to make on that performance and the coach has already made a change as it is. Suppose we have to see what the game plan is when Slough visit on Saturday.

 

A word on our opponents: Firstly, Wildcats fans give yourselves a pat on the back. They didn’t stop drumming and chanting whatever happened and are a credit to the organisation

Performance wise though, again I didn’t find myself overly impressed with Swindon but they looked decent enough last night. Höög and Nell worked well together (quelle surprise) but otherwise it’s hard to pick anyone out for their performance besides Dean Skinns. He put up a brick wall against his former team for so long that I certainly wondered if it was going to be another one of those nights for the Bison like “that Wednesday”.

The one thing that niggled slightly me was the Wildcats defence. In the neutral zone and on the forecheck they looked really good. They cut off passing lanes, stifled the Bison attack and I’ll give them credit for it. Whenever the Bison took the zone however rather than pressing high they all seemed to instantly collapse towards the net like they were defending the Alamo which contrasted greatly from their calm and collected work elsewhere. Now people will say Swindon defended well and they did, just not in their own zone which looked like they didn’t want to let their own goalie see or do anything. That’s even odder when you consider that most of what he saw he stopped and the pileups in front of the net contributed to the Bison scoring twice.

Swindon played ok and deserved something from the game but I’d disagree with anyone who says the Wildcats deserved the two points on full reflection.

 

Lowlight of the night: Höög collapsing to the ice like he’s been shot when Sheppard tapped him on the side with his stick. When at least 2 Wildcats players got legitimately hurt diving in the way of pucks, it just looked silly.

 

Highlight of the night: Got to be the OT winner with an honourable mention to Fojtik’s metamorphosis into Nik Lidstrom in his attempts to find a goal.

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