Running with the Herd – Bison vs Telford Tigers 12/10/13

Basingstoke Bison 5-2 Telford Tigers

Greener                      O’Flaherty

Miller x 2                     Preece

Reynolds

Connolly

Pushing on: The Tigers made their first visit of the season to Hampshire minus Scott McKenzie in the lineup due to his concussion last weekend. The Bison went into the game minus Elliott Dewey in the lineup.

The first real action of the game was the Tigers stunning the home crowd into silence. The Tigers launched a foray into the Bison zone and where Dean Skinns saved the initial shot, the rebound canoned out to the onrushing Gareth O’Flaherty whose shot went in to give the visitors the lead at 02:17 and the forward his first EPL goal.

The Bison were shell shocked but tried to recover as the teams traded penalty calls; Carl Graham, Callum Bowley and Miroslav Vantroba all taking seats in the penalty box that neither side were able to take advantage of either on the man advantage or the extra space on the ice during 4on4 hockey. Joe Miller had a good chance when he sprung behind the Tigers defence. The Welshman tried to feed the cross ice pass to the arriving Doug Sheppard but Declan Ryan in the Tigers net had the play eventually fizzled out.

The period wasn’t an exhibition of smooth, crisp hockey. The Bison seemed to be trying to outskill the Tigers and play finesse hockey whilst the Tigers seemed happy to clog the passing lanes and just disrupt the Bison’s flow as they had the lead.

Play had to stop when Miika Kiviranta was levelled against the boards by Joe Rand. The hit was clean (Mr Matthews in the armbands certainly didn’t signal anything neither did any Tigers players go for Rand) but after a nervous few moments, the Finn was helped up to his feet and off the ice.

The Bison kept coming forward. Tomas Karpov and Nicky Chinn started putting pressure on Telford and got the cycle going. Holding the defenders at bay, they waited patiently until the right moment when Karpov fed the puck into the slot and the arriving Joe Greener one timed the shot past Ryan to level the scores at 14:29.

It got worse for the Tigers as within 2 minutes they’d gone from leading to being behind, the Bison’s attempts at making the pretty play finally playing off. Sheppard took the zone in space but instead of heading to the net he drew the defenceman, made a spin pass to Joe Miller who fired home at 16:22 to give the Bison the lead in the contest.

The period ticked down as the teams traded chances but the first stanza ended with the Bison having wrestled the lead away from the Shropshire side in a game that could only really be described as scrappy.

It didn’t get better for the Tigers as the second period started. The Bison went straight back to the attack. The puck was worked back to Kurt Reynolds who drove the puck goalwards which took a tip on the way in. Ryan made the save but the puck fell to Joe Miller who made the most of the opportunity to fire home his second of the night at 21:48 to make it 3-1 to the home side.

It then got better for the Bison as this time Beast Mode went into full force. The Herd went back on the attack and Kurt Reynolds’ blueline drive through traffic in front of Ryan saw the defenceman notch his first goal of the season at 24:07 and the Tigers called timeout in an attempt to steady the ship.

The timeout appeared to help the Tigers who started playing a much more controlled game and seemed much more composed. The play however started becoming very end to end as the visitors searched for a way back into the contest whilst the Bison obviously smelled blood and appeared to want to go in for the kill.

The play itself was still maintaining some of its slapdash quality, both sides regularly turning the puck over and passes just not coming off. There was a chippy undercurrent forming and then out of nowhere it appeared to boil over, or so we thought at the time. Joe Miller finished his hit on Michal Pavlu and the Tigers’ defenceman responded to the hit with a two handed slash on the Welshman. Miller saw red, threw down his stick and gloves and proceeded to pummel Pavlu who decided to cover up and wait for it all to end. Miller was slapped with a 2+2+10 penalty (as is standard for fighting an unwilling combatant) but the Tigers could do nothing with an extended powerplay.

The second period drew to a close but a shot from a Tigers player after the buzzer brought some harsh words from Nicky Chinn. The teams came together and Owen Bennett raced into the fray yelling and shouting but he was quickly ushered off the ice by the linesmen.

Bennett however decided at the start of the third to try and get some action. With Joe Greener down on one knee stretching by the half way line as both teams were readying themselves for the final period, Bennett decided to bump into Greener. This brought all the teams together as the Tigers’ tough guy appeared to be getting his wish for a brew-ha-ha. Melachrino ended up clipping Bennett on the shoulder with his stick, Aaron Connolly seemed to be performing a “Slapshot” like manoeuvre where he was holding a Tigers player’s collar whilst jabbing him in the face but Mr Matthews started the period with no penalties for anybody.

He was however called into action shortly afterwards. Tom Watkins charged into a hit and Mr Matthews’ arm was quickly up but before much could happen, Greener raced in to challenge Watkins for the dirty hit. The linesmen seemed be trying to stop them fighting but both men were throwing punches (of which Greener got the better of the situation) and were eventually ushered off the ice, Greener getting a misconduct for his trouble.

If the antics from the Tigers had meant to try and fire them up into the game, they didn’t work as the Bison sunk another nail into the coffin with their 5th goal as Aaron Connolly managed to come from behind the net and sneak the puck in shortside past Declan Ryan to end the Tigers backstop’s night at 43:54 to see him replaced by Sam Gospel. Gospel gave a good account of himself as he was called into action making a string of really impressive saves.

The Bison were called for a number of penalties in quick succession; Cameron Wynn was called for kneeing on Tom Watkins (which wasn’t kneeing though from his angle I appreciate why Mr Matthews called it) then Vantroba was called for roughing and Sheppard for slashing so the Tigers were handed a 5 on 3 powerplay. It worked for the Tigers as a fortuitous bounce saw the puck canon off of James Preece’s shin and over Skinns’ shoulder at 52:51 to make it 5-2. Bison fans were on their feet screaming that it was kicked in but all protests were in vain.

The teams kept exchanging penalties, both sides taking too many men calls. The game ended on a slightly weird note. Michal Pavlu accidentally high sticked Carl Graham in the face for which the Tigers player quickly apologised but still earned a 5+game penalty. Graham then decided to get back on the ice as he felt alright and it was his shift, only to be sent back off the ice by Mr Matthews as the Bison defenceman was still bleeding from a cut that would later require 5 stitches. There was also a nasty knee to Vantroba from a Tigers player that wasn’t called but with a wince, the Bison defenceman was on his feet and off the ice quickly. The final buzzer sounded and the home team had ground out another two points on a weekend with the Flames and Phoenix playing home and home so any points picked up would be vital.

Clipping claws: This wasn’t a performance that made the Bison look like the most skilful side on Earth but it was a good, solid team performance where those of us who argue this team is a well rounded unit were vindicated.

The play at time was turnover after turnover as passes went wayward all over the shop but at times everything was crisp and neat and precise and that was the Bison at the level we know they can play at.

Joe Miller and Joe Greener took large penalties for their physical antics on the night and in the context with the game, it’s easy to see why they both decided to throw down. The issue of course is controlled aggression and in another situation the last thing Coach Sheppard needs is two of our best British forwards taking 14 minute seats in the box because they lost their temper. On the other hand I also understand why both players did what they did last night; Miller taking a nasty two handed slash decided to stand up for himself and Greener standing up for his team mate after a nasty hit and just off the back of Bennett taking the Micky (for want of a better phrase).

Kurt Reynolds got man of the match for a rare 3 point night including a nice goal that benefited from some great screening by Joe Rand. The defence as a whole had a good game, making few mistakes and along with Skinns they appear to have really settled into their routines around the net. If Skinns sees the shot, he’ll stop it and there’s always one defender on hand to clean up the rebound and clear the decks.

Along with their respective Bob Probert impressions, both Miller and Greener had productive games and both looked dangerous. Tomas Karpov could have easily had more than his one assist and once again let his hands and hard work do the talking. The fact that some Telford fans decided to sing “Tigers reject” at him as he came to give his shirt to the “shirt from the player’s back” winner was nothing short of comical.

A word as well for the line of Danny Ingoldsby, Cameron Wynn and Stuart Mogg; they didn’t get many shifts but to be able to send out a line with an average age of 18 into an EPL game was pleasing as the Bison show that they are happy to follow in the footsteps of other sides and giving ice time and opportunities to young, developing players. The powerplay shift this line got did make me smile.

All in all, two points on an important weekend where the Bison have opponents lower down the standings whilst Guildford and Manchester play each other.

A word on our opponents: I’ll start with the bad. I don’t understand what Owen Bennett was thinking at times last night. There’s a place for toughness in the game, a place for a guy who will stand up for his team mates and get the crowd going. I will never begrudge any team that and the logic behind signing a tough guy who will step up like that is obvious and well discussed. Nor do I deny that the Bison can niggle and chip and chop at the other team. They do, so do the Tigers and sometimes you need someone to step up and say “enough of that” when someone takes liberties. I have no issue with that premise. What Bennett did however wasn’t in that spirit, it was nonsensical and embarrassing.

Trying to start fights after the buzzer when the argument was dispersing, bumping Joe Greener before the start of the third to start another coming together, yelling at Greener off the bench during the fight with Watkins, chomping at the bit on the bench and ultimately not getting on the ice (and credit to Watkins and Creamer for not sending him out there), the Bison fans sarcastically chanting for him as time wound down. What did it achieve? Nothing. Did it help his team mates? Did it fire them up? Nope, not one iota. They were losing when he started to act the fool and they didn’t turn it around after he did what he did. Refusing to shake Joe Greener’s hand at the end was the icing on the cake. It seems silly to spend so much time dwelling on a player who got as much icetime last night as I did but I had to try and figure out why Tom Watkins has him on the roster if that’s what he adds. I can’t work it out.

The Tigers played their usual, hard working game last night. They played to disrupt the Bison and frustrated them for good chunks of the first period as they looked to build on their lead. I’ve always said that the Tigers play very much like Watkins himself in that respect, play to your strengths not the other teams and it worked for a large part of the first period until the Bison scored then pressed on.

Declan Ryan was an odd choice for man of the match given some of the goals he let in. My choice for the Tigers was James Preece who looked dangerous all night and arguably deserved his goal in spite of the suspicions of having kicked it in. Nathan Salem and Callum Bowley as well continue to impress me when I see them. The imports however didn’t seem to add an awful lot to proceedings though Jaroslav Kruzik remains a solid figure on the blueline.

It’s not a high skilled game that the Tigers play but they are interesting to watch. They don’t need a player like Bennett doing such things because it doesn’t help them. It might get a few cheers at home games but tonight it was a redundant tactic. The team tried hard but were outplayed by their hosts. There’s not much else to say on the whole.

I do however wish the Tigers organisation every success going forward with their new owners. Hopefully the platform that Tiger Tracks and supporters ownership that got the Tigers on a stable footing can be built upon by Red Hockey Ltd.

Lowlight of the night: I paid to watch hockey, not pantomime.

Highlight of the night: Reynolds getting a goal and the Youth Brigade’s shift on the powerplay.

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