Running with the Herd – Bison vs Bracknell Bees 21/9/13

Basingstoke Bison 3-1 Bracknell Bees

Burrows                      Bronnimann

Wynn

Karpov

Start your engines: The Bison once again added Danny Ingoldsby to the line up (who must be a full time roster member now, if so yes, we’ll knock out a Building the Herd). The Bees were without the suspended Chris Wiggins and added two way contract forward Ryan Webb.

The game started off well and both sides got some early and important touches of the puck as they tried to set out their respective stalls. Joe Rand was called for high sticks but the extended delayed penalty and subsequent powerplay yielded no result for the Bees. The penalties appeared to be coming thick and fast after that; first Tony Redmond was called for grabbing a hold of Nicky Chinn, then Joe Miller was called for hugging the leg of Lewis Turner as the two tussled over the loose puck and Kamil Tvrdek was called for slashing when he appeared to have kneed Zach Sullivan as he headed across centre ice.

The chances were coming in amidst the penalties as Nicky Chinn’s floated pass was redirected just past Alex Mettam’s left post. Lukas Smital too had a really good chance, given too much space by the Bison defence but fired high.

With the Bison edging the play, the dam broke. With the Bison’s second line pressing in the Bees zone, the play broke down but the puck sat kindly in the slot straight in front of the Bees net. Tim Burrows was on hand and in step slapped the waiting puck past a stationary Mettam with no defence to aid him at 09:39. Then in the blink of an eye it was 2-0. With a makeshift 4th line on the ice, Joe Rand who was on double shift duty took the zone, laid off a drop pass for Cameron Wynn and the GB u20 international’s wrist shot managed to find a way through Mettam at 10:18. The Bison had knocked the Bees onto the back foot.

The chances and the penalties kept coming thick and fast; a Pavel Strycek shot forced a save out of Dean Skinns. Tomas Karpov and Scott Spearing took offsetting penalties for slashing and boarding respectively whilst Matt Foord was given a 10 minute sit down for mouthing off about the call given to Spearing.

The Bees were caught with too many men on the ice which sent the Bison back to the powerplay. The Bison special teams unit was having little success once it had set itself up in the zone but this didn’t seem to deter Tomas Karpov. The Czech forward picked the puck up in his zone skated down the ice and fired the puck goalwards, seemingly having found the same hole that Cameron Wynn found to make it 3-0 to the Bison at 14:36. The Bees took their timeout and after 3 goals on 9 Bison shots, the night was over for Alex Mettam.

Tom Annetts took up position in the Bees net and kept the clean sheet for the remainder of the period. The Bees did have a powerplay chance given to them after Joe Baird was called for boarding but the first period wound down with the hosts very much in control.

The second period nearly started off worse for the Bees as the Bison charged to the net and a backhand shot from Joe Rand trickled through the skates of a standing Annetts but stopped on the line and was cleared by Strycek.

From near joy to near disaster moments later as a shot was saved by Dean Skinns who went down in a head, the puck having seemingly caught the Bison backstop in the neck. After taking his time and some attention from Bison medic Glenn Wells, Skinns rose to his feet and carried on. Having gone down, Skinns was showing no signs of a lingering pain as shortly afterwards he gloved a tough Smital shot out of the air.

The Bison however were still having more of the play and more of the chances with Annetts forced into a succession of quick saves by the Bison’s top line of Sheppard, Karpov and Greener but the Bison were soon on the back foot on their own powerplay. The Bison got the set up right and had some good puck movement but mistakes on the blueline including one from the usually solid Vantroba saw first Smital and then Shaun Thompson get shorthanded chances. Smital pulled out some moves but was stopped by Skinns and Thompson was pickpocketed by a retreating Tim Burrows.

The Bison kept command of the five on five play in the second but the Bees were having more chances than in the first forcing Skinns into some top drawer saves from Smital and Bronnimann including a stop than Skinns didn’t even know he had made from Smital that somehow didn’t go over the goal line. The Bison top line however was still running the Bees ragged but just couldn’t find that killer edge to put a fourth goal into the net and really kill the game off. In amongst all this, Scott Spearing managed to get a 2+10 checking from behind penalty as players were tussling for the puck at a faceoff in the Bison zone.

The second stanza came to an end with the Bees more in the game but the Bison still very much in control.

The third period started and for those of us who sat through the end of the Elite League and things like the Bison 10, we had a bit of a shock as the Bison went to running 4 lines as all forwards saw ice time, however brief. This was quickly put to bed however when the Bison fell asleep and Oli Bronnimann was given all the space in the world to skate over the blueline and fire past Skinns at 46:53.

This saw the Bison shut up shop, confident in their ability to keep the Bees at bay when they concentrated. This frustrated the crowd somewhat, wanting the Bison to go forward more and put the Bees to the sword whereas the Bees used the opportunity to come more into the game. With the play at 4 on 4 the Bees hit the crossbar and the Bison responded with a shorthanded chance which Greener buried into the gut of Annetts.

The Bison however stuck to their format and closed out the game, the Bees frustration summed up when Tvrdek slashed Joe Rand’s stick in two as he went to shoot on the open net. The Bison’s account was open for the season.

Productive if without the fireworks: The Bison have their first win of the season and did so in relatively comfortable fashion for the most part. The general mood from some of the fans at the end of the game was that they were pleased but that the end had been nervier than necessary had the Bison pressed on and really put the Bees to the sword. There were plenty of chances but it seemed like the Bison of last season at times when the chances just didn’t go in and there is always that fear that the Herd need to be able to score more. The chopping and changing of the lines to start the third and then changing back also smacks of the more desperate times at the end of the season. This was a team that the Bison put on the back foot, they’d chased the starting netminder at 3-0 and the game finished 3-1 which on paper doesn’t look great.

However this was a Doug Sheppard coached performance. This team doesn’t go and run up the score, they get the lead and then go into holding teams at bay and strike on the counter attack. It doesn’t make for crowd pleasing games at times, the fans actively wanting to cheer goals and the like but what’s the important thing here? The Bison won and won comfortably.

There was an element of fortune about a couple of the Bison goals, Mettam will surely want two and three back but the Bison bossed the play, put the Bees down and bar one mistake that allowed the Bronnimann goal, never really looked like losing. Tim Burrows was a fair enough choice for man of the match with a well taken goal and working hard every shift and there certainly isn’t any argument from this corner of the world. Tomas Karpov as well had a good game, took his goal well and looked much more at ease tonight than last week against Swindon, perhaps having found more of his place in Sheppard’s systems.

Whilst the defence on the powerplay gave us too many shorthanded chances, at five on five they looked composed and comfortable. Kurt Reynolds looks like he was never injured at times as he made play after play and robbed Bees forwards of the puck. Beast Mode is officially reactivated. Also two games into the season, Carl Graham doesn’t have a penalty minute to his name. It seems the changes to his game he spoke to BOTW about in the summer might be taking some effect.

On the whole yes I wanted the Bison to send a message in this derby, I think we all did but you get the same amount of points for winning 3-1 as 33-1 and with overall goal difference being far down the tie breaking list let’s be happy with the win and hope to see the improvements as the team plays more together.

A word on our opponents: I’m interested to see what Bracknell fans thought of this game because from my perspective this wasn’t just a bad night at the office, it was a bit of a mess. That’s not to doubt the commitment of the players or their professionalism but at times the Bees at times didn’t play like a team. They were held at bay by the Bison for large swathes of the game and the scoreline ultimately flattered them. They did have chances, especially in the third when the Bison seemed to shut up shop but when last week it just felt like the Bison wouldn’t score against the Wildcats it didn’t feel like the Bees would score here. They didn’t look dangerous coming forward, the breakouts weren’t slick, the defence looked panicked and only a reassured performance from Annetts in relief kept the ship looking anything like steady.

There were some decent individual performances; Lukas Smital was the obvious choice for man of the match to the point that I called it in the second intermission. He was their best player on the ice last night by a distance, constantly trying to create chances and make things happen. Oli Bronnimann deserves credit for his goal, a well taken blast that Skinns didn’t react to in time. Grant Rounding’s reputation as one of the hardest workers in the league remains intact and the return of Tony Redmond was treated with the respect that it and he deserves. As mentioned Tom Annetts came into the game and kept the clean sheet that gave the Bees some hope of a comeback but as a team, the Bees weren’t up to par.

How they rebound in their game tonight against Milton Keynes will be crucial for the Bees; still winless and after a very disappointing performance against the Bison, Gareth Cox needs to find something to inspire this team quickly or it’s going to be a very long year at the Hive.

I might get complaints for being overly harsh but it was one of the poorer collective performances I’ve seen from a visiting team for a while.

Lowlight of the night: The Bison not pressing home their advantage and sitting back when they should have pressed on.

Highlight of the night: A first win, a netminder chased and looking comfortable doing it. I won’t argue with that. Also Carl Graham’s monster hit was pretty nice.

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