Running with the Herd – Bison vs Peterborough Phantoms 8/12/12Posted: 09/12/2012
Basingstoke Bison 5-3 Peterborough Phantoms
Sheppard x 2
Toughing one out: As is becoming normal for the last few weeks, the Bison went into the game with players missing as Kurt Reynolds sat out again and Kris Melachrino was scratched. Zach Sullivan and Andy Melachrino had already jetted out to the Ukraine with the Great Britain under 20 side but Joe Greener returned to the line up. The Phantoms were without their young international stars as well. Luke Ferrara, Will Weldon and Declan Balmer were not on the ice. Jordan Cownie’s jersey was on the ice, whether he was in it or whether it was guesting Whitley player Harry Harley was never established. The game ended up being played with a 2 man system (more on that in a bit).
The Bison raced straight from the face off towards the Phantoms net and were nearly ahead within a few seconds but Joe Greener couldn’t redirect the puck past King into the net.
The Bison were having a few early chances; Chambers and Smith linked up but the young Scotsman couldn’t direct the puck in. Sheppard also had a good chance but the Phantoms settled quickly into their game plan of trying to stifle the Bison’s slick passing play and wrestled control of the game away from their hosts. Eventually, the Phantoms found a way past Lyle as a Tom Norton shot from the blueline was tipped over Lyle’s shoulder with Maris Ziedins being given credit for the goal. The Bison looked a bit shellshocked but were quickly given a chance back into the tie.
Joe Rand charged towards the net in an attempt to spark the Bison into life but was slashed by Tom Norton on his way to the goal. With the Bison on a powerplay and a bit of space due to one less stick in a passing lane, the puck was worked to Jaroslav Cesky in the slot who picked his spot and fired past King to tie the contest and send teddy bears flying onto the ice from the stands.
Bison went back on the attack shortly after and the crowd thought they had scored. Greg Owen’s backhand shot looked to have gone in and out but Mr Pering waved the goal off. The puck had in fact hit the post and rebounded out (and thanks to Ray Skeats who was sitting in block A for confirming that for me). The first period then settled back into a very disjointed pattern as passes were continually interrupted by sticks in the lane with the occasional chance at either end but it was the Phantoms who had the better of the first period. They had lulled the Bison into playing their game and it was working.
The second period started and quickly the Bison found themselves on the powerplay as Norton was called for roughing. The Herd immediately took advantage of the opportunity presented to them. Some nice passing saw the puck go from Owen to Chambers who fired the puck from down low to Rand who managed to spin round with men closing in and backhand the puck along the ice past King into the net to give the Bison a 2-1 lead.
The Phantoms however were still creating chances and threatened Lyle’s net often. Ondrej Lauko found himself in front of Lyle all alone but if anything, the former Bison top scorer was too close to Lyle to have enough room to put the puck past the EPL’s top netminder. With the Phantoms pressuring, Greener came together with Sladok. A cross check one way, a poke with the other before Sladok took something akin to half a golf swing at Greener’s skate then proceeded to drop his gloves and punch Greener. The 2 officials jumped in before much else happened, both players taking 2 minute slashing penalties and Sladok earned an extra misconduct penalty for dropping his gloves.
The Bison couldn’t capitalise on the powerplay but shortly afterwards extended their advantage. Joe Rand performing his now familiar routine of just racing towards the net drew the play in close to King and found Doug Sheppard who managed to get the inch of space he needed to fire the puck past King for 3-1 and the home fans breathed a sigh of relief. The game seemed like it would follow the script of the Basingstoke faithful. However it wasn’t to be.
Shortly after the Phantoms reduced the deficit; another good passage of play for the visitors saw the Bison camped in their own zone and with almost everyone on the ice camped in front of Lyle’s net, Ziedins got a shot away that seemed hit the back of the net in slow motion. 3-2 and everyone moved back to the edge of their seats.
The Phantoms then found themselves on a 5on3 powerplay as first Chambers was called for slashing then Rand for delay of game as he fell over on a clearing attempt that sent the puck looping over the plexiglass and into the face of one of the off ice officials (get well soon Pete). The Bison however weathered the storm without too much trouble from the visitors. The Bison bided their time before striking again in what is now becoming customary Bison fashion.
Sheppard gained the zone with the puck down the centre and raced towards the back of the net. With the two defenceman looking at Cesky, the Bison player/coach fired the puck back towards the onrushing Joe Greener who fired short side to make it 4-2 and sparked the return of the Greener fist pump to home ice.
Bison looked a bit more relaxed as a result and had more chances as the period was coming to a close on the powerplay, the best coming from Carl Graham but he could only hit the top of the crossbar.
The third period nearly started horribly for the Bison after a horrible turnover in their own zone nearly gifted the Phantoms a goal but one mad scramble by all parties later the danger subsided.
With the action at 4on4 due to penalties on Joe Rand and Joe Graham respectively, Sheppard appeared once again to put an exclamation point on the scoreline. A turnover in the neutral zone allowed the coach to race in on King, wait for the young Phantoms netminder to go down before putting the puck into an open space and into the goal to make it 5-2.
The Bison nearly had a 6th when Jaroslav Cesky decided he’d try to do it all himself when he rushed from his own zone and with minimal passing options, went for the wrap around try but King dealt with the danger.
The Phantoms weren’t done yet as they kept pressing and eventually had a 3rd goal when Lauko skated over the blueline and let fly with a wrist shot that took a deflection either off James Ferrara or a Bison defenceman and into the top of the net. 5-3 and again everyone seemed a touch nervous.
The teams exchanged powerplay chances as the final 10 minutes wound down including Hutchinson getting called twice (one I thought was right, the other less so) but the Bison sat back, defended and closed out the game for another 2 points to stay top of the EPL.
You won’t hit a 6 every ball: This won’t go down as a vintage Bison performance by any stretch of the imagination but it goes to prove the old adage I like to quote; good teams can play badly but find ways to win games and that’s what we saw this night.
The Bison looked tired at points and fell victim somewhat to playing down to the less skillful Phantoms who were well drilled and play their style better than the Bison can. That’s not to say there weren’t some good performances on the night. Doug Sheppard got man of the match for an archetypical Doug Sheppard performance but again Joe Rand was superb as he continually tried to kickstart the Bison. James Smith had his best game to date, coming close to his debut goal for the Herd on a number of occasions but his work rate and touch were top quality all night.
It wasn’t a performance with a great deal of things to dwell on or shot from the rooftops, the players know that wasn’t their best night as a team but they eked out a win all the same. It’s a case of take Sunday off then return next week and try to play Bison hockey next week rather than Phantoms hockey. We’re just not very good at it.
A word on our opponents: Whilst there will be complaints that the Bison tried to play down to their opposition make no mistake, the Phantoms played brilliantly last night. They were focussed, dedicated, hard working but couldn’t match the Bison for ability or skill and that was their downfall in the end. The Phantoms dictated the pace for large swaths of the game and had a ton of chances, they had the Bison rattled at times and they deserve a ton of credit for it. The Bison didn’t play to their potential and the Phantoms did their best to exploit that.
Whilst we all like Jamie Line, Maris Ziedins or Tom Norton were robbed of man of the match for the Phantoms. Ziedins took both goals well and was continually the Phantoms best attacking threat on the night. Norton is far too good to be playing EPL for much longer; sadly the victim of the ludicrous increase in the EIHL import limit that saw Nottingham farm him out to the Phantoms, his performance was controlled and was arguably the best player on the ice for both teams last night (though sorry Tom, that puck did cross the blueline for the offside on the late powerplay). Damien King also had a good night in the net despite letting in 5 goals. He looked assured, well positioned and worthy of the confidence shown in him to take over the mantel of Stephen Wall.
I think coach Jon Kynaston can take a lot of positives from the game; they pushed the league leaders to the limit in all facets of the game. The issue for the somewhat cash strapped Phantoms is finding ways to press the advantage home when they get it against the top sides so as to assure themselves a playoff berth come the end of the season.
A word on the officials: I don’t do this very often but having been thrown in at the deep end when the referee didn’t appear, Messrs Cook and Pering did a very good job in managing the game. It never got too out of hand and whilst I think there’s an argument they should have called more penalties they performed admirably in the situation and gave a fantastic account of themselves. Whilst the allocations appear to be utterly screwed up still, these two give me a bit of hope that we do have some good officials in the pipeline. Keep it up lads.
Lowlight of the night: Sladok’s attempt to golf swing at Greener, not entirely sure what he was thinking about.
Highlight of the night: Greener’s goal; just a lovely moment watching the Phantoms defenders realised that they’d been duped as they all focused on Cesky only for Joe to fire past them.