Running with the Herd – Bison vs Guildford Flames 27/10/13

Basingstoke Bison 5-1 Guildford Flames

Greener                       Kristoffersson pp

Miller x 2

Connolly x 2

Aaron Connolly celebrates his second goal in the Bison's 5-1 win over Guildford. (c) Grant King

Aaron Connolly celebrates his second goal in the Bison’s 5-1 win over Guildford. (c) Grant King

We didn’t start the fire: The Bison headed into the game minus Elliott Dewey again and the visitors came into the game with a bit on injury trouble, only icing three imports. Milos Melicherik was in the lineup due to injuries to Jozef Kohut and Curtis Huppe and the Flames were missing Jez Lundin from their defence.

The first period was a cagey affair with few guilt edged chances. The first real incident came at 6:27 when Melicherik landed a dangerous looking hit on Miroslav Vantroba that only got a 2 minute boarding call. Vantroba was shaken but was up quickly and carried on but there were many who felt it warranted a 2+10.

Nicky Chinn came close for the Bison after a fantastic bit of skill; the Bison captain stickhandling around the sprawling Flames defenceman before firing a shot that (as Chinn reliably informed me) hit the crossbar.

The teams traded penalties at the half way point of the period. First the Bison had the advantage as Rick Plant was called for interference but the Flames soon found themselves with a 5 on 3 advantage as first Aaron Connolly then Joe Baird were called for interference. The Flames powerplay passing was a joy to behold as they effortlessly moved the puck around but some resolute Bison penalty killing saw off the threat, punctuated with a diving stop by Joe Miller.

The first period wound down and it wasn’t shaping up to be a classic for the ages. Both sides looked tired and seemed reluctant to press forward too much, frightened of making that crucial first mistake that would open the scoring.

Luckily for the home fans, the Bison were more daring to open the second period. The Bison rushed to the net and with every player descending upon Mark Lee, Joe Greener was on hand to poke the puck between Lee’s skate and the goalpost before the net left its moorings at 21:01. The Flames players weren’t happy about it but Mr Thompson was right on the spot and was insistent so 1-0 Bison it was.

The Bison started growing in confidence; a neat passing play saw Rand feed Connolly streaking into the slot from the bench but Lee was equal too the shot and snatched the puck out of the air. It was a fine save. Sadly for Lee, it was about to get worse.

Joe Miller got towards the blueline, flicked the puck goalwards and all of a sudden it was in! Savage had waved his stick at the puck (he didn’t appear to make contact with it) but Lee appeared to be foxed by the movement of the puck in flight and his teammate’s stick waving so was horrendously out of position as the puck bounced off the ice surface into the back of the net for 2-0 to the home side at 23:23.

The game became very end to end for the next couple of minutes. The Bison were in the ascendency and were pressing for another goal and the Flames were trying to find a way back into the game which saw the play yo-yo from end to end. It was the Bison however who would get the next goal thanks to another fortunate bounce. The original shot was saved by Lee but the puck rebounded off of Kristoffersson who was standing at the top of the crease right into the path of Joe Miller who easily slotted home his second of the night at 27:15, forcing Paul Dixon to call the timeout in an attempt to steady the ship.

The Flames got a powerplay opportunity shortly after the timeout. Stuart Mogg was called for tripping after the Bison thought a call should have gone their way and the Flames powerplay set to work. There was a sense of inevitability in the air as the puck went from Dixon to Longstaff and back to Kristoffersson at the point who smashed the puck past Skinns at 29:42 to make it 3-1.

What was the Bison’s response? Penalty after penalty followed as the Bison took 4 straight minor penalties including Mogg’s. Sullivan fired the puck over the glass for delay of game followed by Reynolds getting called for slashing which gave the Flames a 10 second 5 on 3.

During Reynolds’ penalty we did see a nice moment from Mark Lee; clearly not having the best night, a Bison clearance on the penalty kill sailed down ice towards the corner. Lee stopped the puck on the line to sarcastic cheers from the Bison fans and the Flames’ backstop skated back into his net punching the air in mock celebration. Who says goalies don’t have a sense of humour?

Bison killed off that penalty only for Graham to then get called for interference which sent the Bison back to the penalty kill but again, the home side managed to weather the storm.

The second period looked set to end tightly poised at 3-1 (remember, a 2 goal lead is the worse lead in hockey) and then the Bison put what turned out to be the nail in the coffin of the game. The goal went to Connolly but was created by some great work from Tomas Karpov. The Czech forward received the pass from Nicky Chinn and then twisted and turned on a sixpence, drawing the defenders to him like a moth to a flame (no pun intended). Karpov held and had plenty of time to slot a pass into the slot for Connolly to one time it past Lee at 39:49.

That ended the period and Lee’s night, the former Newcastle man being replaced at the start of the third period by James Hadfield. The former Swindon man was called into action quickly as Tim Burrows broke down the wing and fired a pass across the front of goal but Hadfield was equal to Andy Melachrino’s redirect, the Flames netminder stopping the puck with his right pad.

The Bison took their 5th consecutive penalty when Chinn was called for interference at 46:19. The Flames powerplay however seemed lacklustre compared to previous efforts. Some slick passing did give Ben Campbell some space to walk into the slot but he had his pocket picked by Joe Miller which sort of summed up the entire man advantage for the Flames. The Bison held on and made the Flames’ lack of energy play. Chinn stepped out of the box to take the puck on his stick from Zach Sullivan. The Bison skipper made a nice move round one man and fed Aaron Connolly who took a step and fired past Hadfield for 5-1 at 48:33.

Connolly had a brief coming together with Melicherik shortly after behind the net with the former taking a crosschecking penalty, the Bison’s 8th minor of the game but the Bison had the better chance on the penalty kill when Karpov broke and fired a shot shortside on Hadfield that the Flames man saved with his shoulder.

With time running down, the game played itself out with the last chance falling to Kristoffersson who conspired to fire high over the net with 13 seconds to play. The final buzzer sounded amidst a chorus of singing from the home fans after what can only be described as an emphatic win over one of the title contenders.

 

Danny Ingoldsby and Cameron Wynn sandwich Milos Melicherik (c) Grant King

Danny Ingoldsby and Cameron Wynn sandwich Milos Melicherik (c) Grant King

Getting in the groove: I’ll start with my one gripe about last night; too many penalties. Bison took 8 minors, 4 in the second period alone and that’s too many to be taking especially against a side with Guildford’s quality. I appreciate there will be some frustration at some of Mr Thompson’s from last night and I don’t begrudge people or players feeling it was all a bit one sided on that front (Guildford took 3 penalties all night) but sometimes it’s about being in those positions to get caught and that kept happening.

That said, this is a minor gripe as for the second home game in a row the Bison have made a genuine title contender look ordinary on their own ice. It was another performance where the team stuck to their gameplan and it paid off in spades. Guildford weren’t at their best and were missing players but the Bison appeared to break the Flames’ will as the visitors pretty much just got through the third period and that can only buoy the Herd players.

Aaron Connolly got man of the match for a fantastic performance and I don’t think anyone will begrudge him getting the beers. Two well taken goals combined with some excellent hands, positioning and just generally putting himself about for 60 minutes non stop continued a run of excellent performances for the former Slough man. Much like Sullivan last week, it’s great to see individuals on the team ending up with the beers after weeks of good form across the board.

Sullivan again played very well as did Joe Miller. One of my favourite things to do at times during a hockey game is watch Joe Miller on the penalty kill. Everyone talks about Miller’s attacking abilities but he is an outstanding penalty killer as the one man high on the forecheck. Tomas Karpov took very few plaudits out of the night but his work for the Bison 4th goal was a fantastic piece of individual skill as was the stick handling of Captain Chinn. Joe Greener took his goal well, never giving up on the play and managed to find that gap that started Lee’s bad night. The defence as a unit were again strong alongside a confident performance from Skinns in net.

It was a very good all round team performance from the Herd. The hope is that the high quality of play carries over into next weekend against the Phantoms.

 

A word on our opponents: Last night was a frustrating night to be a Guildford Flames fan; a squad with a couple of injury issues, a team that didn’t play to its potential and a quality netminder who had an off night. I felt sorry for Mark Lee because whilst he didn’t play particularly well, he didn’t have a great deal of support from his teammates. Savage got in his way for the second goal which made it look like a massive howler, Kristoffersson was in the wrong place at the wrong time for the third goal and the team weren’t doing the business at the other end to help him out. It was a mercy pulling at the end of the second.

The Flames as a unit were lacklustre and outplayed in pretty much every facet of the game last night. That’s not hyperbole or exaggeration and that’s what was so weird about this. I will never be a cheerleader for the Flames organisation but when they come to town, you’re normally guaranteed a good game of hockey and this was…an ok game but the Flames just weren’t at the races and in the third period at times looked as if they were going through the motions to get out of there.

I’m not sure either why Kristoffersson was man of the match for them. It should have been Ben Campbell, for me it was Campbell by a very wide margin. There weren’t many positives from the game for Guildford but Campbell’s performance was consistent, hard working and I wouldn’t have begrudged him a goal for it. He deserves praise for going for 60 minutes where many of his teammates didn’t. Kristoffersson wasn’t bad but bar the goal wasn’t really much of a factor.

Having skimmed Flames Backburner and other places today, it was reassuring to see that many Flames fans were admitting outright that they got outplayed. Others were also saying that changes need to be made which seems a bit rash. After last night, Flames are third and 2 points off of first. Bar possibly getting a replacement for Huppe depending on the extent of his back injury, why would wholesale changes be needed? Players are injured, there’s a dip in form and they’re two points off of top spot. The quality is there in the Flames lineup to bounce back but if they continue to play like they did last night for a stretch then yes, questions should be asked.

 

Lowlight of the night: Too many penalties, the only downside to a commanding Bison performance.

Highlight of the night: I was tempted to say Mark Lee’s banter but I’ll go for Connolly’s second goal; lovely move from Chinn, lovely move from Aaron and goal. It rounded off a good night for the Herd.

"Uh oh!" (c) Grant King

“Uh oh!”
(c) Grant King

 

All photos courtesy of 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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