Running with the Herd – Bison vs Manchester Phoenix 19/1/13Posted: 20/01/2013
Basingstoke Bison 3-1 Manchester Phoenix
Clawing our way back: Bison went into the game still without Kurt Reynolds and Andy Melachrino and also now without James Smith, demoted to the Wightlink Raiders. Nicky Watt made his debut for the Herd following his signing from Swindon. Manchester entered the game at full strength including former Bison forward Liam Chong, back playing after not playing till recently due to a wrist injury sustained whilst part of the Bison.
Nicky Watt was straight into the fray with a good chance, getting the step on the Phoenix defence but his shot was wide of Stephen Fone’s net. The game however was relatively even for the first 10-11 minutes as both sides had chances at both end. Phoenix ended up on an early powerplay but couldn’t capitalise. Bison had another gilt edged chance when Joe Miller was set free but his back handed shot could only find the crossbar.
Bison had a powerplay at the 11:53 mark and nearly found themselves ahead again; a long pass from Chambers on his own blueline split the defence and Rand was in on Fone. The Canadian deked and shot but Fone threw out his left leg to make the stop.
From that point however the Phoenix took control of the period and eventually made their pressure tell.
Michal Psurny gained the zone with the puck and worked his way behind the net. Alex Symonds couldn’t do enough to dispossess the Czech forward who bided his time then fired a superb pass into the path of the onrushing Luke Boothroyd. The Phoenix captain one timed the puck in stride through traffic into the back of the net. Lyle proceeded to have a few choice words for Symonds but the defenceman knew he had a chance to stop that attack.
Phoenix players then seemed to spend the next couple of minutes continually calling for a powerplay which eventually came their way when Symonds was called for delay of game at 18:18. The period ended without further score and despite the relatively even nature of the game, the momentum was firmly with the Phoenix as the first period came to an end.
The Symonds delay of game penalty carried over into the second period and the Phoenix were still looking to push their advantage. Psurny with the best chance in front of Lyle but he skied the shot into the netting.
Whilst the visitors were arguably edging the play, the Bison were still making a contest of it and at 1-0 it was still a very tight game with both sides looking to make that play or the hit that could change the game. Hand and Psurny were so keen in fact they managed to check each other inside the Bison zone. It was really ping pong hockey at times; Greg Owen stormed to the net but failed to poke the puck past Fone and the Phoenix rushed straight down the other end with Lyle saving another good chance from Psurny.
The Bison had a real chance when chaos ensued inside the Phoenix zone; a stretch pass missed Joe Rand but forced Fone out of his crease to clear. The Manchester backstop spaffed the clearance into Rand and pretty much every player from both sides raced towards the net to either score or prevent a goal. The Bison couldn’t get the puck in the net but did get themselves a powerplay when Ben Wood tripped Jaroslav Cesky in the scramble. Sadly the Bison couldn’t capitalise on the chance.
Phoenix went back to the powerplay shortly after when Carl Graham was called for elbows but despite some really decent puck movement the visitor’s powerplay still lacked that offensive bite. The Bison penalty kill was working hard as well, Joe Miller with a diving stop to prevent the incoming point shot and were called into action again when Owen was called for boarding behind the Bison net and again managed to kill off the man advantage.
Then out of nowhere the Bison suddenly found another gear. They were putting much more pressure on the Phoenix net and didn’t look so tentative going forward. It was the coach who did the damage.
In what’s becoming something of a running theme, Sheppard got the puck down low after the Bison had been buzzing around the Phoenix net. The player/coach walked out, turned and fired short side and managed to find a gap between Fone’s shoulder and the goal post. Fone backed up in an attempt to dislodge the net in time but to no avail as Mr Cloutman signalled the equaliser for the Bison at 35:02.
The Bison went straight back on the attack, the wind in their sales and the crowd very much back into the contest. Pozivil was then called for hooking much to his disgust which sent the Bison back to the powerplay just after a minute after the goal. The Bison powerplay went to work and was putting the pressure on but wasn’t getting the best of quality shots on goal. They were handed a lifeline however when Psurny highsticked Joe Rand in the face, the photo evidence of which is on twitter and shows a literal gash in Rand’s tongue. The infraction gave the Bison 24 seconds of 5 on 3 powerplay time.
The Bison’s crisp passing created the space, the puck was fired towards the net by Sheppard and Joe Greener popped up on the doorstep to bang home the loose puck with 1 second of the 5on3 to go at 38:09. Fone stayed down momentarily, appearing to have tweaked his groin but after a brief period on the deck, Fone was up and continued.
The second period ended with the Bison having swung the tie round into their favour in the space of about 6 minutes.
The third period started off with both sides upping the pace and intensity as the hits started flying in, Rand and Pozivil coming together.
The Bison nearly threw the lead away after a horrible turnover in their own zone gifted the puck to Tony Hand but the Phoenix player/coach was thwarted by Lyle in close.
Chances kept coming at both ends; Tom Duggan fed Robert Schnabel from behind the Bison net but the former NHL defender fired wide. After both teams had been reduced to 4 men when Graham was called for holding Duggan and Duggan for holding Graham’s stick at the same time (indeed, work that one out) Greener fed Watt from behind the Phoenix net but Watt’s shot could only find Fone’s chest.
The pace remained high; Zach Sullivan was called for the crosscheck but once again the Phoenix powerplay failed to capitalise. Frustration however hadn’t set in for either side as they sped around the ice looking to make that crucial play. Best example was a superb hit by James Archer on Greg Owen that sent the Bison forward sprawling to the ice. Shortly after that however, the moment came.
The Bison gained the zone and Miller was in the middle of the action. The puck was passed around briefly then Miller dangled round one man, walked along the red line, closed in on Fone then backhanded the puck into the back of the net to make it 3-1 at 53:17.
From that point on is where frustration set in for the Phoenix as they pressed but looked short on ideas. The Bison kept pressing as well in the search for a 4th goal. A Luke Boothroyd crosschecking call gave the Bison a powerplay but Fone stood strong. Boothroyd however made up for it with a fine defensive play. Joe Greener thought he’d been sprung behind the defence but Boothroyd recovered and took the puck away with a fantastic stick lift that I actually had to applaud.
The Phoenix continued to press and almost came a cropper when a bad change gave Greener another chance but Fone made the save.
Time wound down without much other incident and the Bison fans rose to their feet in celebration, a 5th win in 5 games over Manchester which sent the Bison back to the top of the EPL for that night at least which was something to warm the hearts of the coldest Basingstoke fan that night.
We might just have their number: A game that almost replicated the performance against Slough in the way it panned out for the Bison. The first period was a tetchy, nervous period full of errors then out of somewhere a switch got flicked inside their heads, they wrestled the game away from the visitors and never really looked back.
Joe Miller got man of the match, partially for the goal but he didn’t really stop for the whole 60 minutes. The line of Joe, Joe and Joe and a checking line with scoring power was broken up later in the game but as a third line to send out to stifle the attacking potential of other sides, we could do a lot worse. Miller’s goal was a very Joe Miller goal, skill mixed with grit as he made the move round one man then charged headlong to the net.
Rand had another Rand like performance, Joe Greener played a very smart game where he was physical but measured with it.
The début of Nicky Watt was an encouraging performance. No points but Watt played his game within the system he’s been given; he was physical, he created space for his line mates, he was continuously talking on the bench and geeing the team up. 1 game isn’t enough to gauge just how successful it will be but there are reasons for Bison fans to be encouraged from what Watt provided to us last night.
The defence managed with just the 4 men though people will are still concerned. One Manchester fan commented to me that the blueline corps “looked shakey” and there were moments last night but, to break out my buzzword of last season, team defence has been so much better than last season that it doesn’t appear to be an issue at the moment.
Lyle? Ignoring rumours and the wishful thinking of the fans of Cardiff, he had another solid game and made some crucial saves.
A word on our opponents: Manchester fans must be getting sick of playing Basingstoke this season. The form book generally runs as follows; Phoenix start well, wobble, Bison win. It was pretty much the same in this game as well. The Phoenix were the better side at the half hour mark then out of nowhere Bison found the extra step and took the game away from them.
It was however a good performance from the Phoenix. It was industrious and dedicated but after the 3rd goal went in, their heads dropped a little and were short of ideas and execution for finding a way back into the tie.
Tom Duggan was a good decision for man of the match for his effort alone. He tried to be creative all night, put himself about and never stopped skating. His idea to chirp away at Joe Rand was mildly comical to say the least but Duggan’s work rate and dedication to the cause makes him a popular player with the Phoenix faithful and he showed that last night.
Michal Psurny was the only player who was really close to Duggan in the race for the beers. He created the Phoenix goal almost single handedly, holding off Alex Symonds like he almost wasn’t there then firing a beauty of a pass for Boothroyd to smash in through the screen.
I’ve also said it a couple of times but was delighted to see Liam Chong has not lost any of the spark he played with in Basingstoke last season.
I think the problem for the Phoenix was players played good but not great. When they went 2-1 down there was nobody who really tried to step up, take the game by the scruff of the neck and pull it back for them. They’ll still be in the title race come the business end of the season but that game on Sunday 3rd March could be massive in the title race and there has to be an argument that the Bison are in the heads of the Phoenix. Tony Hand has a month and a half to figure out a way to solve the Bison.
Lowlight of the night: A Phoenix fan tweeting that the Bison had deliberately attempted to injure Fone on the second goal, just unnecessary. Nothing in the game really warranted being a lowlight, was a good game.
Highlight of the night: Tempted to say Psurny and Hand checking each other but it’s a toss up between Greener’s goal for its importance and Miller’s goal for its skill level.