Running with the Herd – Bison vs Bracknell Bees 21/12/13

Basingstoke Bison 1-0 Bracknell Bees

Miller pp

Joe Miller celebrates after his deflection beats Bees netminder Alex Mettam. (c) 5 Hole Photography

Joe Miller celebrates after his deflection beats Bees netminder Alex Mettam.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

No sting for anyone: The Bison headed into the game minus the injured Carl Graham and Joe Rand but welcomed back Zach Sullivan and Stuart Mogg from their respective international duties as well as the game seeing the return to Bison colours of Ciaran Long. The Bees were minus the talents of Chris Wiggins and Tony Redmond and added Brendan Baird to the lineup.

The game started out scrappy and that never really left proceedings as teams looked for the early advantage. Ben Paynter was the recipient of a massive hit from Joe Greener which drew Scott Spearing into the discussion but nothing came of the words exchanged. The line of Long, Greener and Tomas Karpov were causing the Bracknell defence issues in the early stages of the game but found an Alex Mettam on good form. The Bees as well were having good chances but weren’t firing on all cylinders; Lukas Smital saucered a pass to Oli Bronnimann on the 2on1 but the former Bison forward could only chop at thin air.

The penalties came thick and fast as the period wound on. The Bees were called for too many men before Tomas Karpov then Scott Spearing were called for high sticks and roughing respectively. Doug Shepaprd was called for slashing James Galazzi which gave the Bees a powerplay but they couldn’t convert before the end of the period. The period had had some good pace to it but not many clear cut chances. The Bees were only credited with 4 shots in the first period (which I thought was too low) but it kind of summed up the period; 0-0 and not much to write home about.

The second period didn’t start well for the Bison as Coach Sheppard was let out of the box only to end up being sent straight back in for tripping. The Bees had some good chances on the ensuing powerplay, the best falling to Bronnimann off of a nice, simple move where Thompson held the play up and fed the British/Swiss dual national at speed for the shot but the puck was caught by Skinns.

The Bison appeared to have something akin to their normal second period wobble when they fell asleep and gave the Bees a 3 on 1. Bronnimann had his shot saved by Skinns before Thompson dived in and hacked and whacked at Skinns’s pads which drew a crowd but not a goal for the Bees.

The game needed something to spark it into life and eventually it came. Some good pressure from the Bison drew a slashing penalty from Lukas Smital. The Bison powerplay wasn’t exactly the model of efficiency but they say that you need to be good to be lucky. Joe Greener managed to poke a loose puck to Miroslav Vantroba. Vantroba’s cross point pass was fired goalwards by Zach Sullivan and the shot took a massive deflection off of Joe Miller. With Alex Mettam in the Bees net already committed, the Yorkshire born backstop could only watch as the puck casually slid over the line at 28:31 to give the Bison the lead.

The Bison were then given a massive chance to increase their advantage; Shaun Thompson was called for holding and at the ensuing faceoff Spearing did something to anger Mr Cloutman that resulted in the Bees also getting a bench delay of the game penalty. The hosts had a 2 minute 5 on 3 powerplay but despite some really slick passing, some bad shout choices meant that the Bison couldn’t convert the golden opportunity.

The period continued with both teams trying to make something happen but play was very disjointed as both sides, trying out new line combinations in the wake of recent changes struggled to make everything click.

The Bison had another good powerplay chance; James Galazzi took a run at Michael Wales but was repelled and sent sprawling to the ice but managed to take an interference penalty with it. The best chance fell to Doug Sheppard but he could only redirect Joe Miller’s slap pass over the crossbar. The second period ended with the Bison narrowly in front and set the game up for a tense final frame.

The third period initially started well for the Bison as they hit their stride, getting some good shots on Mettam. It turned sour quickly however as first Karpov then Reynolds were hit high with no call from Messrs Pickett and Cloutman. The home fans were incensed as was Joe Greener who was given a misconduct for his verbal outburst. The hit on Reynolds broke his visor to the point he needed to wear Carl Graham’s helmet for the remainder of game.

The scrappy play continued but so did the chances; Sheppard had a good shot stopped by Mettam. The Bees forecheck did some good work to give Galazzi a shortside chance which was held by Skinns.

The Bees were given a 5 on 3 powerplay when first Reynolds was called for slashing and then Nicky Chinn caught Strycek in the face. Chinn also earned a misconduct for his protestations. The Bison penalty kill unit however was equal to the task and kept the score at 1-0.

Time was running out for the Bees and they weren’t helped when they gave Tomas Karpov too much time and space to fire off a trademark wrist shot that was spectacularly pulled out of the air by Mettam. Ciaran Long also showed a flash of brilliance when he drove the net, held off his man and fired a quick shot goalwards but Mettam again was equal.

The Bees called their timeout with 61 seconds to go but the team talk couldn’t engineer an equaliser and Dean Skinns had his third shutout of the season.

Bison forward Michael Wales (right) battles with Bees defenceman Pavel Strycek in front of Alex Mettam. (c) 5 Hole Photography

Bison forward Michael Wales (right) battles with Bees defenceman Pavel Strycek in front of Alex Mettam.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Coming out on top of a tough slog: Every win is important; there is no law saying they have to be pretty and boy, was this game ever the antithesis of pretty. At times it felt like neither side could string two passes together and the game was a choppy mess for the majority of the time but you have to be good to be lucky. Miller’s goal was fortunate but they made that powerplay tell and some good defensive work from Skinns and the team as a unit paid off in the end.

The whole defensive unit played well as was evidenced by Kurt Reynolds getting the man of the match. With the Bison running 4 defencemen with the loss of Graham, all four guys saw a lot of ice time and despite the odd lapse, even from the usually reliable Vantroba, they held firm and gave Skinns the required support to keep the Bees at bay.

The forwards weren’t fully clicking but as mentioned, this is a team that was playing around with its line combinations. No Rand meant a shuffle of lines as did the addition of Long then losing Greener and Chinn to misconducts meant that there wasn’t a solid line combination for the entire game. It’s a work in progress at the moment but Long with Greener and Karpov did appear to have some chemistry which is promising on night one. Long himself did have a quiet night but game one back in Bison dress seems too soon to worry too much about his lack of scoring on the night.

Here I’ll just say “penalties” and leave it at that.

The Bison can’t play like that every night if they want to win consistently but a game with altered systems against a team that thrives on breaking down skilled sides also trying out new combinations was never going to make for an instant classic. The Bison banded together, got the lead, held it and made it out with the points. Sometimes that’s all you can ask for.

A word on our opponents: This was a frustrating night for the Bees fans who will probably feel that they deserved something out of the game but were undone by their own offensive failings on the night and their best opportunities being dealt with by Dean Skinns.

With all due respect to Rob Lamey, arguably one of the most consistent players in the EPL, Alex Mettam was robbed of the man of the match beers last night. Mettam has not had the best of seasons so far; some feeling that his play hasn’t been good enough, some feeling that he’s not had the requisite support but nobody could argue with Mettam’s performance. Calm, confident and only beaten by a shot that was massively deflected and had no chance on (even if you could argue he overcommitted himself to Sullivan’s point shot) the fact that the sponsors chose someone else as man of the match was close to astounding. I’ve even had Bees fans say the same thing.

Sadly though as mentioned, there just wasn’t the firepower there to really trouble the Bison. Lamey played well as did Smital and Bronnimann but nobody really stood out. That’s not that Bracknell didn’t play well; Mettam and the defence were decent and everyone was solid but they needed someone to stand out and sadly nobody really did.

The Bees will have a decent chance at home tonight to even the score as it were but they need someone to step up and be that spark.

Lowlight of the night: The game itself was a dirge and wasn’t that entertaining.

Highlight of the night: Michael Wales shrugging James Galazzi off like he wasn’t even there, lovely hit.

Joe Rand and Carl Graham regret their decision not to leave the press box sooner as the line for hot dogs gets ever longer.

Joe Rand and Carl Graham regret their decision not to leave the press box sooner as the line for hot dogs gets ever longer.

All photos copyright of and seen here by kind permission of Grant King/5 Hole Photography.  As the year ends, a massive thanks to Grant for allowing me to add his work to mine over the last little while and also for what he does in promoting the Bison with his photos. Make sure to visit the site and buy a print.

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