Running with the Herd – Bison vs Peterborough Phantoms 18/1/14

Basingstoke Bison 5-4 Peterborough Phantoms

Karpov x 3 (2x pp)        Piatak

Long                            Pliskauskas

Rand                            Petran (pp)

                                     Levers (pp)

 

Success from the jaws of despair: After last weekend’s failure to score any points, the Bison headed into the game without Kurt Reynolds and Danny Ingoldsby who were both suffering injuries. The Phantoms entered with no scratches and started Kamil Jarina in net.

It couldn’t have started worse for the Bison; the Bison were quickly pinned in their own zone and having to resort to some really desperate defensive work. Luke Ferrara passed the puck out of the corner to an unmarked Erik Piatak who fired past Dean Skinns at 00:38. Then everyone blinked and it was 2-0 to the visitors; Darius Pliskauskas sped past his man and riffled a trademark shot into the back of the net at 00:51. The Bison started to compound the home fans misery when Joe Baird was called for a high sticks penalty and the Phantoms powerplay went to work. Whilst the Peterborough powerplay wasn’t looking particularly slick, it took one moment of lucidity to punish the hosts again; Piatak to Balmer who put the puck into the wheelhouse of former Bison defender Marcel Petran who smashed home the puck from the blueline at 03:19. 199 seconds and the Bison were 3-0 down and looking lost at sea.

Many thought that Sheppard would call the timeout but he resisted and the Bison continued. Aaron Connolly was the first to try and spark the Herd into life as he drove straight to the net looking for the start of an answer. The Bison alternate captain made some contact with Jarina in the Phantoms net which drew a crowd. One of the Ferrara brothers seemed to want to engage with Connolly then stopped and the crowd was dispersed. Then someone yelled someone from the Phantoms bench and suddenly Connolly offered out the entire Phantoms bench, even skating to centre ice where he tapped the centre dot and motioned with his arms daring one of the opposition players to come and try their luck but nobody answered the offer. Whether that moment fired the Bison up a bit remained to be seen but things slowly started turning the Herd’s way shortly afterwards.

First Will Weldon was called for tripping Andy Melachrino and earned himself a misconduct for his troubles and was shortly followed into the box by Marcel Petran whose efforts to clear the front of Jarina’s net were deemed to be crosschecking. With the 5 on 3 powerplay, the Bison went to work and eventually found the opening; Joe Greener feeding Tomas Karpov who fired past Jarina at 08:07 to get the home team on the board.

The Bison were shortly gifted another powerplay when Slava Koulikov was called for hooking but the best chance fell to the Phantoms as Pliskauskas was sprung behind the defence. The Lithuanian shot for the 5 hole but Skinns managed to shut the pads in time to deny an extension to the Phantoms’ lead.

The Bison were coming more into the game but there was an even amount of chances going both ways; Ciaran Long had a chance on an odd man rush which was saved by Jarina and Pliskauskas could only redirect Declan Balmer’s slap pass wide of the Bison net. It felt that if either of the teams could score again before the end of the period that it would have a real impact on the outcome of the game and it came just as the period was coming to a close.

After a slashing penalty against Greg Pick had expired and with literally seconds to go in the period, the Bison maintained pressure in the Phantoms’ zone and a whack at the puck from Ciaran Long managed to make it trickle past a set Jarina and over the line at 19:51 and suddenly at 2-3, it was game on.

If the first period had started in bizarre fashion, the second period could only follow suit. Once again after 38 seconds of a period the puck was in the back of the net but this time it was the equaliser. Michael Wales fed Melachrino who set Karpov away down the left wing and the Czech forward fired the puck past Jarina’s glove for 3-3. Then because this game was utterly mad, there was another goal after 51 seconds of the period when Nicky Chinn fed Joe Rand who scored a mirror image of Karpov’s goal from the other side of the rink. 20:51 gone and the Bison had gone from 3-0 down to 4-3 in front.

The Bison had the initiative and sought to press the advantage home, Karpov forcing a top drawer save from Jarina off of a feed from Melachrino and a really well worked powerplay resulting from a charging penalty to Pick. The Bison special teams unit showed some great patience and puck movement but couldn’t find a way past the visitor’s Czech netminder.

The game had developed a bit of a chippy undercurrent since Connolly’s challenge to the entire Phantoms team earlier in the game but bar the occasional crowd forming in front of the netminders nothing came of it. The Phantoms however were still very much in the game and levelled it up just over the half way mark. With Zach Sullivan in the box for interference, the Phantoms extra man unit managed to find a way to pull back level. With Skinns down and out of position thanks to a broken play, Petran fed Marc Levers who had all of an open net to tap into at 32:38 to make it 4-4.

The remainder of the period was like the scoreline, relatively even as both sides engineered chances. Jarina managed to incur the wrath of the home fans at one stage. With Melachrino and Karpov attacking, the Phantoms netminder pushed off to make a save and knocked the net from its moorings. Many in the home crowd felt it was deliberate but no penalty was forthcoming from any of the officials.

The second period ended with the scores level, which considering how the first period had started wasn’t the worst result for the home side.

The even-handedness carried over into the third period as it was quickly 4 on 4 hockey when James Hutchinson was called for interference and Ciaran Long called for tripping when his hip check on Marcel Petran fell foul of the officials.

The Bison were starting to really test Jarina but he was standing tall and the Phantoms were finding ways to test Skinns, the best coming from Pliskauskas who set off on one of his trademark runs but his shot was plucked from the air by Skinns.

When a crowd once again gathered in front of Jarina, Greg Pick once again found himself on the wrong side of the officials’ wrath and was sat down for crosschecking. The Bison powerplay unit hit the ice and initially didn’t have much in the way of the success but then that man Karpov took a pass from Joe Greener and snapped a shot past Jarina’s blocker at 50:41 to give the hosts the lead back and the Czech forward his hat trick.

Karpov’s good mood was cut shot by a high sticks call shortly afterwards but the Phantoms couldn’t find a way through on the man advantage. The Phantoms upped their game in search for an equaliser and were given a real chance as time was winding down. When Joe Baird got his fist up into Lewis Hook’s face, the roughing call was inevitable at 56:57. The Phantoms powerplay hunted and prodded and poked looking for a way through. When James Ferrara was fed the puck in the slot it was the golden chance but Skinns kicked out a pad and deflected the puck away.

With time running down and the timeout taken, the Phantoms swapped Jarina out for Damien King to allow the extra import outskater with just under two minutes to go but there was still no way through for the visitors.

Then out of nowhere, the visitors were handed a golden chance. With King on the bench for the extra attacker, Piatak and Rand were tussling for position near the net, Piatak checked Rand who put his hands out to steady himself and the net came off its moorings with the Phantoms poised to strike. The referees called Rand for delay of game, told him to take a seat then decided to change their decision, sent Rand back to the bench and gave the Phantoms a penalty shot at 59:34.

Darius Pliskauskas skated in on Skinns pretty much straight up the central channel. The Phantoms forward deked right then left and appeared to be aiming to get in tight to fire through any available gap. Pliskauskas shot but Skinns kicked out his right back and the puck deflected away into the corner to the rapturous cheers of the crowd.

The Phantoms redoubled their efforts and Skinns was called into action again as Luke Ferrara had the puck at the top of the crease but the Bison netminder found a way to get any part of his body to the shot. The puck trickled away from the net and was held along the boards as the buzzer sounded to signal another character win for the Bison.

 

Back from the brink: I go away for a week and this is how I get welcomed back? I’m not sure my heart can take it sometimes. The less said about the first 4 minutes the better really as it was almost beyond catastrophic. That said (and it’s becoming something of a theme with this year’s Bison side) when they put themselves in the hole, they do have a habit of digging themselves out of it as well.

Tomas Karpov had one of those games where he just decided that he was going to take the game kicking and screaming by the scruff of the neck and make something of it. The Czech forward put the game and the side on his back and carried them through when it looked bleakest. He took all three of his goals very well and arguably could have had an assist on Long’s goal as well but he was a dead cert lock for the beers given his performance.

That said we can’t overlook the efforts of Dean Skinns last night as well. He got better as the game went on and in the last minute stopped a penalty shot from one of the most natural goalscorers in the league then made an even better save moments later with the game literally on a knife edge. There wasn’t much Skinns could have done about the Phantoms goals, particularly the Petran blast but at the death he stood tall and was rightly praise for it.

The line of Karpov, Andy Melachrino and Michael Wales (which was interestingly pre-empted by our Mo-Master judge Hannah Farmer on BOTW a few weeks ago) looked very dangerous and is something that hopefully Sheppard keeps together for the foreseeable future because it really seems to be working.

Sheppard himself however, sadly still without a point since December’s win in Bracknell but didn’t have a bad game alongside Long and Greener. Greener seems to look more like his old self in some ways, putting himself about and creating plays where Sheppard is the one being defensively responsible but the coach really seems snake bitten at the moment.

The win was another good character win and the team bonded together and dragged themselves out of the mire to take the two points which is a great confidence boost. Good teams find that way to win when they don’t necessarily play well but this game will probably (and possibly rightly) be remembered as “The Tomas Karpov Show”.

 

A word on our opponents: The Peterborough Phantoms are a different side than the last time I saw them at Basingstoke and it must be said that the revamp under Slava Koulikov sees them a better side than the one I saw before. They seem to have a bit of a swagger and grit to them that wasn’t there before and the import changes appear to have made an impact even if Erik Piatak still didn’t stand out as much as he seems to when he plays elsewhere.

Whilst I appreciate Marcel Petran is a popular man in Basingstoke, Kamil Jarina was outright robbed of the man of the match beers in this one. Petran was decent, took his goal well and wasn’t as comically out of position as he has been at times I’ve seen him but Jarina was the reason that the Phantoms stayed in the game. When the Bison pulled back from 3-0 down and took the lead, they looked like they could have blown the game wide open but he made quality save after quality save in a number of situations and looked comfortable and confident doing it.

The other player I was actually impressed with was Declan Balmer. He made good, sensible decisions on and off the puck, put himself about, got stuck in to the physical side of the game and, whilst they say a good defenceman isn’t one you notice, Balmer was noticeable and had a very solid game that hopefully was noticed by the Phantoms fans. If he plays like that on a regular basis, that bodes well for Peterborough.

The big issue from this game for the Phantoms was just not being able to put the game away. 3-0 up that early on and they lost. Was this an issue of a side with arguably more quality just pulling away or did the Phantoms not have the ability to kill the game off? If Phantoms score a 4th goal at the end of the first rather than the Bison scoring to make it 3-2, how does that change the game? I personally think it was a little of both those earlier factors and on another night against those other sides in the playoff race, I have to believe that if the Phantoms play like they did last night they’d win. For whatever reason, last night wasn’t to be that night.

The addition of Danny Wood, which was strangely announced 5 minutes after the end of the game, will add another dimension to the Phantoms forward lines as well. It’ll be on for us all to keep an eye on. I have to say, I enjoyed watching them last night.

 

Lowlight of the night: Do you really have to ask?

Highlight of the night: Karpov and Skinns, the goals and the saves. Both were equally important last night.

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