Running with the Herd – Bison vs Sheffield Steeldogs 18/11/12

Basingstoke Bison 5-3 Sheffield Steeldogs

Owen x 2 Morgan

Chambers x 2 Gomeniuk

Rand Gibson

 

A win’s a win: A short benched Bison missing Joe Miller, Kris Melachrino, Joe Greener and the out for the season Jacob Corson-Heron took to the ice last night looking to maintain their position atop the EPL after the previous night’s win in Bracknell. Sheffield entered the game at full strength for their first visit to Basingstoke this season.

The Bison started out with a lot of short, sharp shifts with a variety of different line combinations both on forward and defence in an attempt to keep players fresh and looked the better side going forward for most of the early action. Andy Melachrino got the jump on Pavel Gomeniuk to speed in on James Flavell but the Steeldogs netminder held onto the shot.

Just after the 7 minute mark, Andre Payette steamed towards Jaroslav Cesky in front of the benches, levelling him with a hit which had the home crowd up in arms. A scrum ensued and Bison came out of the situation with the powerplay. Then already a man down, Derek Campbell took a few shots at a Bison player after play had stopped in front of Flavell’s net and the Bison took advantage of the 5 on 3 powerplay. Some pretty passing from the Herd worked the puck to Joe Rand whose shot was stopped by Flavell. Unfortunately for the former Billingham goalie, he was massively out of position which gave Greg Owen plenty of space to tap the puck in to give the hosts the lead.

The rest of the first period was pretty much a case of later, rinse, repeat as the visitors kept getting called for a variety of infractions, eventually giving away 26 minutes of penalties in the first period alone. This included a10 minute misconduct for Derek Campbell who mouthed off during play to the ref as he was clashing with Carl Graham. Kurt Reynolds and Steve Duncombe, who had a fantastic battle all night teased at a fight with the period winding down. After a few slashes from Duncombe that Mr Decaux seemed reluctant to call, there was a coming together with some pushing and shoving but Reynolds kept his head in the end, likely aware that an already short benched Herd would be better served with him on the ice. The Bison however didn’t make the most of their raft of powerplay chances and the period ended with the Herd only 1 goal to the good.

The second period followed a similar pattern to the first and eventually the Bison managed to get another goal. A turnover by the Steeldogs in their own zone gifted the puck to Chambers. #24 proceeded to walk into the slot unopposed, picked his spot and put the puck to it leaving Flavell with no chance.

The next 10 minutes or so was scrappy to say the least, the Bison trying to play their usual expansive passing game and the Steeldogs…well nobody was sure what was happening with Sheffield as they kept turning the puck over, misplaying their passes and generally confusing the crowd whilst playing with their usual physical edge. The Bison didn’t know how to break it down at times and with the teams playing 4on4, they suffered for it.

A lapse of concentration at the back allowed the Steeldogs to pull off a neat move and Bebris found Ben Morgan who fired past Lyle from close range and the crowd in a state of momentary stunned silence.

Bison continued to have the better of the chances, mainly thanks to Payette who took a hooking penalty then came out of the box only to take a 2+10 checking to the head penalty. Again though the Bison failed to capitalise on their chances. Chambers and Owen combined but Owen’s shot grazed the crossbar. Sheppard had a good one time chance off a well worked powerplay move but the puck was trapped by Flavell under his leg pad. The second period ended with the Steeldogs somehow still within touching distance when in reality the Bison should have been out of sight.

The third period started with a scare for Bison fans. Out of nowhere behind the play Jaroslav Cesky was down on the deck. Luckily the Czech forward got up and off the ice under his own power and the home fans breathed a sigh of relief. Then along came another breakthrough.

With the Steeldogs pressuring, Edgers Bebris turned the puck over at the blueline allowed Greg Owen to race away with Greg Chambers. It was just like old times as Owen fed his team mate who had all the time in the world to wrist his second goal past Flavell to give the Bison a 3-1 lead.

More penalties came against Sheffield and after a shaky moment where a turnover gave Derek Campbell a chance, the Bison pressed home their advantage again. With the powerplay set up Cesky found Chambers in the corner who fed the puck across the crease for Owen to redirect the puck goalwards. After an agonising wait the puck eventually crossed the line to give the Bison their 4th goal.

With about 8 minutes to go, things almost got tasty. With the ref’s arm in the air for, you guessed another Steeldogs penalty, and Lyle having rushed to the bench for the extra attacker, Cesky was taken out behind the play. The Bison forward, fed up with yet another shot charged at the first Steeldog he could see and a scrum ensued. Somehow the Bison again ended up on the powerplay and Hirst’s night was done as he was given an abuse of official misconduct penalty.

On the ensuing powerplay Alex Symonds shot goalwards with the puck falling to Chambers who found Joe Rand to put the puck home. I didn’t get the best of views on the goal but was certain that Symonds was due an assist that never came.

Then out of nowhere, Sheffield woke up. Lloyd Gibson walked through the entire team but his shot went high. Then Pavel Gomeniuk fired a superb wrist shot past Lyle into the net that was so good even Lyle congratulated him on it. There was a moment when it seemed the goal hadn’t counted but eventually it was and rightly so, was a beauty.

With time winding down and the Bison looking tired, Sheffield crashed the net and with Lyle floundering Gibson managed to get the puck into the net for 5-3. The buzzer finally sounded and the Bison fans left confused as to what they’d just seen but pleased their side remained top of the EPL.

 

Swimming through molasses: I’m going to try and be positive as I can because that game left me feeling like someone had pressed pause on existence.

It’s hard to play against a team playing the strategy the Steeldogs played last night and being shortbenched, the Bison deserve a lot of credit for not falling into the trap of losing their tempers and going head hunting. They stuck to their system as best they could and always had that extra gear in them to pull away which they did. They did look a bit tired at the end but that’s to be expected given the circumstances at the moment.

What didn’t work as well as it could have was the powerplay and how clinical the Bison were. Nobody expects a powerplay goal every time nor to shoot every second we’re a man up (and if you’re one of those people who yells “shoot” tons on the powerplay, they are going to shoot when it makes sense to, chill) but with the amount of opportunities gifted their way last night the Bison should have been out of sight. Instead we end up with a scoreline that flattered the visitors immensely. Hey, a win’s a win and you’re not going to be super mega amazing every night. That’s hockey but the Bison need to be aware of how they play against lower end sides.

Alex Symonds was an interesting choice for man of the match. Quite happy for him to get it, Symonds is a very solid player but Chambers did go 2+3 last night. Then again, as with Miller and Reynolds last season you can’t give the beers to the same guy all the time. Symonds works his socks off every night and maybe if there was an argument that he wasn’t the man of that match, the Welshman has certainly been a top quality signing and last night was recognition of that.

Chambers and Owen had good nights and Joe Rand just gets more fun to watch every week. Was also a good night from Cameron Wynn, thrust into playing more minutes due to injuries. That first goal is coming, I can feel it in my bones.

 

A word on our opponents: This was a game of 2 uneven halves for the Steeldogs. From about 52 minutes onwards they actually looked half decent. They moved the puck well, scored 2 decent goals (or in Pasha’s case a beautiful goal and you know it’s a good goal when the keeper who you’ve scored on gives you a well done tap) and looked pretty sharp. Before that though, words almost failed me.

Let’s get this straight before those from God’s country start sharpening their pitchforks, I understand there’s a set Steeldogs game plan. The intention is to play physical, gritty hockey; to grind their opponents down and strike on the counter attack. Last night on the other hand was a penalty strewn mess that lacked cohesion and at times, even sense. I appreciate that the Steeldogs players were upset at the amount of penalties they received but I actually thought the ref had an alright game. He called the really obvious stuff and let a lot go. Part of the game is adapting to what you get on the ice, that includes the officiating and Steeldogs didn’t do that. They got out-thought in that respect as well as outplayed and their keeper didn’t have the best of nights which generally spells disaster. The night was summed up for the Steeldogs when, on the powerplay, the puck came to Payette behind the net. The player/coach proceeded to fall over unopposed and lost the puck.

There were some good performances; Edgers Bebris and Lloyd Gibson were a toss up for man of the match for Sheffield as both covered tons of ice and looked really excellent all night. The final Steeldogs goal was just reward for both their efforts even if it added an unwarranted gloss to their end of the scoreline in my opinion.

I know the Steeldogs are currently in a period of self examination. If last night is anything to go by, there’s a long way to go on that front. They won’t make the playoffs playing like that

 

Lowlight of the night: The game itself, glad the Bison won obviously but if you brought a mate to their first game last night then you owe them an apology. That was painful at times.

 

Highlight of the night: Chambers’ 2nd goal. A reuniting of Owen and Chambers and just a sublime wrist shot that Flavell didn’t have a prayer with.

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