Running with the Herd – Bison vs Swindon Wildcats 14/09/13

Basingstoke Bison 1-2 Swindon Wildcats

Vantroba                     Sandvik

                                  Symonds

How the ghost of you clings: It was finally time to get back to hockey and the Bison went into the game with a full roster plus one as 16 year old Haringey Racers forward, Danny Ingoldsby was added to the roster for the night in #57. The Wildcats’ new import Juha Silvander got off a plane in Britain on Saturday morning and wore a nameless #25 jersey though apparently will occupy #19 vacated by Aaron Nell.

The game started off at a frantic pace with chances flying about at both ends of the ice but the Bison’s intensity was causing issues for the visitors as huge hits were being thrown. Miroslav Vantroba and Aku Pekkarinen lined each other up for a massive hit that somehow saw both men remain on their feet. Dean Skinns was also tested early, his former employers causing a scramble in front of the net that was eventually covered after some brief nervous moments.

Joe Greener fired a shot through traffic that forced a stop from Lyle but there were no Bison players in the slot to fire home the rebound. Shortly after another Bison attack saw the Herd camped in the zone and a backhand shot from Vantroba trickled its way towards the net along the ice and somehow found its way into the back of the net and, on the most innocuous shot, the Bison had the lead with Tomas Karpov and and Andy Melachrino being credited with the assists.

The Wildcats were sent to the powerplay moments later after Joe Greener was called for slashing but couldn’t take advantage of the powerplay and when Loris Taylor tried to land a big hit on Danny Ingoldsby, the Wildcats forward was sternly rebuffed and found himself flat on the floor.

The Bison kept having chances; a Ryan Aldridge elbowing penalty sent the Bison to the powerplay but the man advantage yielded no goals. Joe Miller had a great chance when he found himself behind the defence but he took the puck too close to Lyle to allow room to manoeuvre and the stop was easy for Lyle. Then Burrows and Karpov were sent in two one one. Burrows elected to take the shot himself, the puck speeding towards the top corner but Lyle effortlessly threw his glove up to make the stop.

Swindon were making chances and eventually got a bounce with time winding down in the frame; Henri Sandvik charged the net and flicked the shot short side that somehow managed to find the gap between Skinns and the post to bring the Wildcats level at 19:03 with Sam Smith being credited with the assist. The period ended with the Bison having dominated the play but level on the scoreboard.

Both teams had early powerplay opportunities in the second period as Pekkarinen was first called for interference and Doug Sheppard was called for the crosscheck but neither team could find a way to add to the score. The period was much more disjointed than the first; the intensity from the opening stanza wasn’t there and the game had gotten very bitty with broken plays and missed passes blighting the action. There were some decent chances on both sides as Silvander fed Harding who forced a kicksave from Skinns and Vantroba tested Lyle the other end. The Wildcats thought they had scored when Skinns was forced to reach behind himself but Mr Pickett on the goal line quietened the Wildcats fans as he washed out a potential second marker.

At the 34 minute mark, Aaron Connolly was called for interference behind the Wildcats net which sent the Cats back to the powerplay and it was a Bison old boy that burned his former employers. Some good tight powerplay work from Swindon meant that the Bison didn’t pick up Alex Symonds streaking in and he took the feed from Sam Smith and roofed the puck into the net to give the visitors the lead at 35:12.

The Bison were a bit taken aback and looked short of ideas as the second period wound to a close. Nicky Chinn and Ryan Aldridge came together and the fans rose to their feet at the possibility of a fight but nothing came. If the home fans were disappointed at the lack of fisticuffs, they were positively irate when in the last minute of the period Joe Greener was tripped behind the play by Alex Symonds and Mr Pickett decided against making a call despite being 4 foot from the play. Symonds’ stick was very obviously in Greener’s skates and caused him to fall but Mr Pickett was not swayed and so the period ended without a Bison powerplay and Swindon ahead on the scoreboard.

The third period started oddly as 43 seconds in Sam Smith found himself getting a misconduct penalty. He appeared to have said something that wasn’t to Mr Cloutman’s liking and that gave him an extended sit down.

The first massive chance of the period however fell to the Wildcats as a horrible move by the Bison defence gave Swindon a 2 on 0 situation with Bullas and Sandvik steaming towards Skinns. Sandvik fed Bullas but the Bison netminder pulled off a stunning glove save to keep the score the same.

Tomas Karpov was drilled into the boards on a nasty hit which saw Ollie Betteridge sit for boarding. If Betteridge had been on the ice it would have been a fair call but the powerplay was negated when Höög sprinted away and Vantroba took the necessary hooking penalty to stop the Swede’s progress. After his return from the box, the big Slovak tried to take matters into his own hands as he showed some lovely stickhandling to go around the entire Wildcats team but the final shot was just over the crossbar. Had it gone it, it might have been goal of the season on opening night but Vantroba proved why his arrival in Basingstoke has been greeted with such fanfare.

The Bison kept pressing, the Wildcats kept sitting back, clogging the lanes and playing smart road hockey as they tried to protect their lead. Reynolds was called for a soft boarding penalty which the Bison saw off but it just never seemed to come off for the Bison and the final buzzer sounded with Skinns on the bench for the extra attacker but a 4th opening night loss in 5 seasons was the outcome of the day.

Baby steps: An opening night defeat is never nice and there are a lot of positives to be taken from tonight but we’ll look at a couple of negatives to start with.

People will complain about Skinns letting in a soft goal for the Wildcats equaliser (Lyle let in a soft goal too) but the game winning goal came off of a penalty taken in the offensive zone and then a lax moment on the penalty kill. It has to be one of the basics that you don’t take offensive zone penalties and I feel bad for Aaron Connolly as it wasn’t the most clear cut call I’ve ever seen. The Bison fell asleep for a moment on the penalty kill and Alex Symonds made them pay.

The other negative is just the sheer lack of urgency the team seemed to play with in the last period when trying to come back into the game. There was obviously pressing in the dying stages but if there was urgency felt on the ice it certainly didn’t translate to the stands. They seemed to play hard but not very smart.

That said there was a lot of positives to be taken from the game and I refuse to be too downcast about going down on opening night. Miroslav Vantroba looks to be the real deal both offensively and more importantly defensively. He was cool, calm and confident all night and watching him stickhandle his way through the Wildcats was just beautiful. With all respect to Joe Greener, Vantroba was my man of the match for the night.

I can see why Sheppard signed both Tim Burrows and Tomas Karpov as a package from Telford as the two have a natural understanding that played out well last night. They know what each other is going to do and one of them is always driving the net for the other even if it doesn’t come off every time. Hopefully when the team is a bit more into their stride, they will cause some problems.

The team overall looks good. There’s always that little pang of worry that the team won’t be as good as they look on paper but that dissipated quickly in the first period and you know what folks, we’re going to be alright. The Bison need to hit their stride quickly however to make sure they aren’t clawing back points deficits on the table.

Dean Skinns was solid in net and the defence overall looked solid and competent which is a good sign as they appear to have hit the ground running.

It’s worth mentioning Danny Ingoldsby quickly as the young man saw a lot of ice time. Wynn saw very few shifts, Mogg and Dewey saw none at all but Ingoldsby, although he didn’t ice at all in the third, must have logged about 4-5 minutes in the first 40 minutes which is a good amount of time for a 16 year old. He was out of position a couple of times but he looked to play the body and certainly didn’t look out of place.

A child learns; when it crawls it doesn’t just stand up and walk, it stumbles as it learns. This was a stumble for the Bison but the signs are good that this team will learn.

A word on our opponents: Congratulations to the Wildcats on the win and I’m sure Ben Callaghan of On The Prowl with have his own thoughts on the game but I’ll offer mine here.

Firstly, thanks Ryan Aldridge for playing himself on the top line if only to see the look of horror and dismay on the faces of my Swindon supporting friends and I’ll just let them make all the jokes because I don’t think I could do it justice.

The Wildcats look decent even if I don’t think they were the better side on the night but like the Bison there is a lot of promise there. Stevie Lyle was Stevie Lyle and made some of the saves look so simple a child could have done them when in reality they were top class stops. Juha Silvander stepped off the plane and didn’t put a foot wrong. He will be a real asset to the Wildcats in the faceoff circle as he continually stopped the Bison being able to press an advantage in the Cats’ zone because Silvander won all the faceoffs.

Sam Smith had a good night with two assists but Henri Sandvik was the right call for the man of the match. Höög was quiet, Silvander was half asleep and Pekkarinen was solid if unspectacular but Sandvik went full on every shift and made the equalising goal through his determination.

The team plays like a very Ryan Aldridge team and there’s obviously some who will say that’s a good thing or a bad thing and I’ll let you make your own minds up on that but the Wildcats rode the storm in the first period, got the lead and then played smart road hockey with a very good netminder and held the Bison at bay. If it works, it works.

Lowlight of the night: Poor penalty led to a powerplay and it gave the Wildcats a lead they just sat back and held on to.

Highlight of the night: The first period up until the goal where the Bison just looked down right scary.

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