Running with the Herd – Bison vs Manchester Phoenix 19/10/13

Basingstoke Bison 4-2 Manchester Phoenix

Connolly                     Psurny

Vantroba                     Hand

Rand

Sullivan

Andy Melachrino in full flight on Saturday against the Manchester Phoenix

Andy Melachrino in full flight on Saturday against the Manchester Phoenix

This train stops here: The Phoenix visited Hampshire for the first time this season with no backup netminder; Jorge El-Hage not with the team and no replacement was named. The Bison were announced at full strength but Elliott Dewey was conspicuous in his absence.

The Bison were quickly shorthanded after Nicky Chinn was called for slashing Robin Kovar but managed to kill off the resulting powerplay. The Phoenix however kept the ascendency and were quickly ahead. Catching the Bison defence flat footed, a slick passing play was finished off in the slot by Michal Psurny at 03:59 to give the visitors the early lead.

The Bison came back into the game as the crowd were being treated to what was a great advert for EPL hockey. A point shot from Joe Baird rebounded off of Stephen Fone’s pads right to Aaron Connolly but the Bison forward couldn’t bring the puck under control to get it past the Phoenix backstop.

The Phoenix were sent back to the powerplay when Kurt Reynolds was called for interference but the better chances fell to the Bison as first Greener had a breakaway and then some excellent work by Nicky Chinn fed Doug Sheppard but the Bison coach could only find Fone’s leg pad. When the Bison were awarded a powerplay after Frankie Bakrlik was called for slashing they made their recent pressure count; Aaron Connolly finishing off a well worked move to bring the score back to parity at 13:38.

The Bison tried to push on, awarded another powerplay when James Neil was called for slashing but a massive scramble in Fone’s crease where pretty much every outskater descended upon the Phoenix net didn’t see the puck end up in the Phoenix net. The teams traded penalties with Joe Greener called for slashing Robin Kovar (difficult when the two were hugging each other by the Phoenix goal and Kovar had punched Greener) and Andy McKinney called for slashing a Bison defenceman but with 4 on 4 hockey being played, the Bison made a bit of a clanger. Kurt Reynolds stepped in to make a hit and Doug Sheppard was caught out of position having not tracked back to cover. The Phoenix had all the space in the world as Psurny fed Hand in the slot to add the visitor’s second goal at 17:47.

There was a scary moment for the Bison as Skinns took a slapshot to his mask and stayed down in pain. The crowd went very quiet and Connor Standing even started warming up but Skinns rose to his feet, shook loose the cobwebs and continued, the period ending with the Bison starting netminder still in the game but the home side down 2-1.

The one player who didn’t see out the first period was Robert Schnabel who left the game with an injury. I didn’t see the incident that injured him but reports of him being speared or butt ended in his gentleman’s area reached me after the game. Ouch, just ouch. I did see Schnabel limping heavily to the dressing room at the end of the first period but wasn’t aware what had caused it.

The Bison started the second period with an early powerplay as Richard Bentham was called for slashing. The Bison’s response was to blow a 4 on 2 overlap as they overplayed the puck and the play just ended up as another scramble that Fone eventually covered.

Penalty followed penalty for the Phoenix; Psurny was called for holding but the Bison could only manage to hit the upright, Nicky Chinn firing against the iron but the next Bison powerplay saw a deserved breakthrough for the Herd.

Luke Boothroyd tried to stop Joe Rand’s drive to the net but was adjudged to have tripped him in the process. The Bison powerplay unit set to work and was rewarded when Greener fed the puck back to Miroslav Vantroba whose shot from the blueline managed to find its way through the traffic in front and past Fone at 33:22 for 2-2.

The Bison were quickly back to the powerplay when James Archer was called for boarding but the Bison couldn’t convert on their 4th powerplay of the frame. The Phoenix had the better of the chances as the second wound down as Skinns made great saves from Kovar and Psurny but the period ended 2-2, the game perfectly poised for a massive final 20 minutes.

The Phoenix penalty trouble continued into the third period as Ben Wood was called for tripping at 42:00. It was to prove a bad omen for the Phoenix as the Bison scored their 3rd powerplay goal of the night, Joe Rand on home to fire past Stephen Fone to the netminder’s right finishing off another nice passing move from Joe Greener and Tomas Karpov at 42:22 for 3-2 Bison.

The Phoenix fans were greeted to some good news as they finally got a powerplay, the goalscorer Rand called for interference on Bakrlik but the powerplay never really got going. The Phoenix did create a good chance when Kovar forced a turnover from the usually reliable Vantroba but his feed to the onrushing Bakrlik went to waste as the later didn’t have his stick on the ice and the puck flashed under his stick blade and out of the zone.

Shortly afterwards, the Bison put the final nail in the coffin from the most unlikely of sources. With the Bison working the puck in the Phoenix zone the puck found its way back to the blueline. Zach Sullivan fired goalwards and there was nobody more surprised than the Bison defenceman when the puck hit the back of the net at 52:13, a more than adequate celebration for Sullivan’s recent call up to the GB under 20 side.

The Phoenix were still coming but just couldn’t find a way through, exemplified by a great passing move to the ever dangerous Psurny but the Phoenix forward couldn’t connect on the puck properly.

The game nearly ended on a nasty note, a frustrated Frankie Bakrlik hitting Joe Rand from behind and the Phoenix import was lucky to only get 2 for slashing and 2 for boarding, Joe Greener also getting 2 for roughing when he leapt in to challenge Bakrlik for his unnecessary hit.

There was no answer however and no extra goals as the Bison dealt the Phoenix their second defeat of the season after 60 minutes of hockey that showed the EPL in a fantastic light.

The Bison mob Zach Sullivan after the GB u20 international scores his 1st EPL, the Bison's 4th of the night as they defeated Manchester.

The Bison mob Zach Sullivan after the GB u20 international scores his 1st EPL, the Bison’s 4th of the night as they defeated Manchester.

Realising the potential: After a disappointing loss away at Peterborough last Sunday which prompted Nicky Chinn to say that some players “didn’t turn up” for the game in his programme notes, this was a performance that both delights and mildly frustrates. I say mildly frustrated because when you watch the team play like that you sit there and wonder “why can’t you do that every week?”

Never matter, this was a fantastic performance from the Bison tonight. The team that has been steamrollering the league for the most part were shut down, outworked and defeated by a gritty and focussed Bison side.

Miroslav Vantroba was a good choice for man of the match after another game where he just showed how much quality he possesses but again it was a game where any number of Bison could have won the accolade. Dean Skinns had another great outing, standing up from a nasty shot to his mask and looking beyond solid. Aaron Connolly and Joe Rand worked solidly all night, both being rewarded for their efforts with a goal. Kurt Reynolds was Kurt Reynolds, at one point taking on 3 Phoenix players behind the Bison net and still walking away with the puck. Zach Sullivan scored but also had another fantastic game, showing why his international call up is more than justified.

More shocking for some Bison fans will be the 3 powerplay goals scored. This was helped by Manchester shooting themselves in the foot and giving away penalties but even on the powerplays that they didn’t score on, the special teams unit looked slick and came close on many occasions.

At times the Bison did fall into their trap of trying to be too cute on the puck (blown 4 on 2 overlaps anyone?) and the mistakes for the two Phoenix goals were lapses in concentration but that shouldn’t take away from the fact that this was a top of the line performance from the boys. As someone said to me in the second break, “it’s performances like that, that make you want to come back next week.” Job done I think.

A word on our opponents: This good a game wouldn’t have been so without a team of Manchester’s quality. The Phoenix look legit, tonight just wasn’t their night. The loss of Schnabel was big for them and they tried to adjust as best they can. The bigger issue for the Phoenix was they didn’t adjust to what Messers Thompson and Cloutman were calling (though I confess, I struggled as well to see what was going to be called and what wasn’t). Allowing the opposition to score 3 powerplay goals will likely see some serious conversations with the penalty killing units ahead of tonight’s game against Telford.

The game could be split into three; the first period the Phoenix were their usual slick selves. The passing was crisp and they took both their goals well. The second they played well but were frustrated by spending too much of the period on the penalty kill and in the third period, they weren’t really at the races. I don’t think Stephen Fone, usually a key to the Phoenix’s success had his best night either, at times looking a bit vulnerable especially during some of the goalmouth scrambles but there was little he could have done about Vantroba or Sullivan’s goals as he was unsighted.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that this was a good team that got outworked on the night but there were some positives to take from the game. Michal Psurny got man of the match for another good performance though I was impressed with Robin Kovar who put himself about a lot and showed flashes of brilliance despite being held off the scoresheet.

It wasn’t a bad Phoenix performance on the whole, just not good enough. There’s no reason to change too much though how long, if at all, Schnabel is out for will be crucial because he is a large part of the defence. Hand will have to return to the drawing board as to how he approaches the Bison and Sheppard’s tactics for their next encounter because whilst their slick passing game works well against most teams, they might have to step up the physical intensity to take on the Bison next time. They still look a cracking outfit though and I have no doubt they’ll be around at the business end.

Lowlight of the night: Phoenix second goal and I’m kind of pleased Sheppard skated off and had a word with himself about that one.

Highlight of the night: Quite a few to choose from but I’ll say Sullivan’s goal. One of the most consistent players this season and to finally be rewarded with a goal seems fair to me.

"Hold still will you! I can't get it out of your hair if you don't stay still!"

“Hold still will you! I can’t get it out of your hair if you don’t stay still!”

All photos courtesy and copyright of Grant King of 5 Hole Photography. Visit the website, buy a print and remember; the sweetest way to score a goal is like the best in hockey photography, always go 5 Hole.

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