Running with the Herd – Bison vs Slough Jets 12/1/13

Basingstoke Bison 4-1 Slough Jets

Redmond                    Wales

Sheppard x 2

Owen

 

Turning our way: The Bison headed into the game with yet another loss to injury; Andy Melachrino’s broken collar bone putting him on the shelf and the Jets were missing the now retired Terry Miles (all the best Terry, enjoy retirement) but had the additions of James Hutchinson and Ciaran Long.

The Jets flew out of the gate causing problems for the Bison straight away. The Jets were trying to get everything in the net. At once stage the puck was caught in Lyle’s skates by the goalpost and a Jets player dived to poke the puck home. Luckily the only person who ended up in the net was the player rather than the puck. The Bison appeared to be suffering from the problems that had dogged them the previous couple of weeks.

The Jets continued to press the attack and eventually got their reward. The Bison defence pinched across allowing Connolly to fire a pass to Michael Wales who had time in the slot to fire the puck up high over Lyle’s glove. His attempts to celebrate were short lived however; as Wales tried to showboat to the crowd he proceeded to fall over and land face first on the ice.

The first period saw penalties called both ways by Mr Hogarth and Mr Szucs seeing a couple of periods of 4 on 4 and the Bison started looking better during this periods but couldn’t find a way to break Rockman down. Jets had their chances as well, the best falling to Darius Pliskauskas who was alone with a virtually empty cage to shoot at but conspired to fire the puck wide of the net as Lyle scrambled back into position.

The Bison ended the period on the attack with some good pressure inside the Jets zone. Joe Greener fired a good shot on the turn just as time was about to expire but Rockman kicked out the pad low to his left to give the Jets the 1-0 edge at the break. The period saw only 12 shots total between the two sides but it was a relatively even period of hockey.

The second period started with the Bison 3rd line of Joe Rand, James Smith and Cameron Wynn moving the puck well. Both Rand and Wynn had chances but neither could get past Rockman. The start of the period was incredibly open and the Jets had a great chance when Thomas Valecko got behind the Bison defence in front of Lyle but the Jets man only managed to find the plexiglass behind Lyle’s goal.

The Bison seemed changed; gone was some of the sluggishness of the last few weeks and, though some of the play wasn’t the massively high standard some rightly demand of the team, it was hard working and spirited and the wind was back in the sails. The Bison 2nd line of Sheppard, Greener and Cesky started causing havoc in the Jets zone, dragging players all over the ice. A pass from Greener eventually found some open ice and Tony Redmond stepped on to it, took the time needed and slotted it past Rockman to finally get the Bison on the board. At the risk of throwing out an overused cliché, it really was a captain’s goal at the time we needed it.

The period continued in its see-saw battle like nature with the action changing rapidly from one end to the other. Penalties in either direction gave both sides powerplay chances. A crosschecking penalty to Joe Greener put the Jets on the powerplay but despite some really good puck movement the visitors couldn’t find the net. Then Adam Greener sent the Bison to the powerplay with a slash on his “good friend” Joe Rand but the Bison had a similar issue; some good chances but no end product.

The chances kept coming thick and fast, the best being to Mindy Kieras who had a chance of similar quality to Pliskauskas but again, failed to find the net despite being in a ton of space. That miss would come back to haunt the Jets.

The Bison second line set up the cycle in the Jets zone and managed to keep a hold of the puck through some very hard work. Cesky set himself up in front of the net to supply a screen, taken a beating from the Jets defenders who tried to move him but he stood his ground and it would prove vital. Greener found Symonds who found Sheppard. The Bison player/coach walked out of the corner and with Cesky’s screen in place managed to find a hole to fire the puck through past Rockman to give the Bison the lead.

Jets were still having their chances; a soft cross checking call on Alex Symonds gave them a powerplay opportunity, Bakrlik also had a chance when he got sprung behind the defence but a sprawling Joe Miller managed to cause enough pressure to make the shot an easy save for Lyle. The second period ended with a 2-1 lead for the Bison who looked much more like they were getting back to old ways.

It really looked like that at the start of the third period. Bison flew out of the gate and immediately set about getting a third goal. It didn’t take them long. The Bison top line fired some crisp passes then Greg Owen muscled his way to the net, fighting past defenders then whilst falling, poked the puck past Rockman to make it 3-1 just 1:38 into the period. There was something of a collective sigh of relief from the home fans amongst the delight with the positive start to the period.

The Bison however didn’t let up and continued to press the advantage and eventually reaped the rewards again. Sheppard benefiting from more good work from his line as he scored a near carbon copy of his first goal, walking out from down low to score but throwing in a Greg Owen style “muscle through the defence and fall whilst scoring” routine into the act. 4-1, Jets called a timeout and it felt like all was right again.

The Bison reverted to standard operations at this point and went to close the game down and stifle the Jets attack which they did rather effectively. The Jets continued to come at the Bison though looked a little short on ideas. Both teams had powerplay opportunities and Matt Towalski had a good chance with the aid of a screen but Lyle anticipated the shot and managed to save the incoming shot. Time wound down and the home fans felt like they had something to cheer about again. As the news filtered in from Manchester, the rise back to the top of the table added an extra sheen to the result.

 

That’s more like it: Though the first period was a little rocky, the Bison side that came out of the game showed signs that it was really putting the recent run of bad form behind it and was very much needed ahead of the game with Guildford tonight in the Spectrum. When the side weren’t playing like the 1997 Red Wings, they dug deep and worked hard and that produced results tonight. With a bit of confidence restored in their own abilities, they turned it on at the start of the third period and were too strong for Slough.

Doug Sheppard was a sensible choice for the man of the match; two goals and a workhorse like performance that is characteristic of his game. The entire second line of Sheppard, Joe Greener and Jaroslav Cesky were superb all night. They caused no end of problems for the Jets as they worked the cycle well and their passing (on really poor ice) was measured and controlled. Sheppard’s first goal summed up what that line did well all night. They played hard, they played smart and took the chances given to them.

Greg Owen had yet another good game showing an element of toughness to his game not normally associated with playmaking centres but worked hard, that we expect.

The third line of Rand, Smith and Wynn are fast becoming fan favourites. Wynn and Smith as a forechecking combination are really finding their feet together and Joe Rand, well he’s Joe Rand. He was out making friends with Adam Greener again though not to the extent they did the last time.

The Bison needed a big team performance from this game and they need another one again tonight against a Flames side that was wounded last night. Last night showed that they can rebound from the funk they have been in. Tonight will be the second part of the test of their metal. Can they press on?

 

A word on our opponents: Jets fans will be disappointed and I don’t blame them to some degree. There’s a very good argument that they edged the first period, Muzzy Wales had scored on a superb bit of team play with a superb individual finish and they looked more than in it. It then fell away to the point where a short benched(ish) side were outmuscling them at the start of the 3rd period which led to two goals and forcing Slava Koulikov to call a time out. They flew out of the traps but couldn’t keep up the pace that they were trying to set and that cost them.

By the same token I don’t think the Jets played that badly. Bakrlik was an odd choice in my own opinion for man of the match, a case of giving it to the best player rather than the best player on the night in my opinion. Ciaran Long made a very good start to his return to Jets colours, standing out from his team mates and not just because he was wearing black shorts as opposed to team issue red. His work rate was very good and looks like he has settled a bit on what his skill set it and how to use it to its best effect.

I also though Thomas Valecko had a good game as well. Valecko isn’t a player who I’d paid a lot of attention to in the past but he made me sit up and take notice a bit tonight. If he’d scored, I’d have thought it just reward for his efforts.

Muzzy Wales does deserve credit for his goal, it was very pretty, and for playing his game very well. I may not be a fan of the way he plays but he was effective and played for 60 minutes.

Sadly for the Jets the individual performances didn’t equate into a good team performance and there was the problem. They let the game slip out of their grasp and when they Bison laid down the challenge for them to come back Slough had their chances but couldn’t take them. I wouldn’t have blamed Jets fans for thinking this was a game where they could have picked up a sneaky away win but it couldn’t be done. If Slava Koulikov could bottle the first period and get the Jets to play like that for 60 minutes every week, they’d be higher up the table. Where they go from here remains to be seen.

 

Lowlight of the night: Too many turnovers from a Bison perspective. Against a better team those will kill us. Though it should be said the quality of the ice in places didn’t help matters.

 

Highlight of the night: Part of me wants to say Wales’ attempt at gloating to the crowd them falling flat on his face but the actual answer is the Bison’s second goal for the reasons mentioned above.

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