Running with the Herd – Bison vs Guildford Flames 29/1/14

EPL Cup Semi Final 1st leg

Basingstoke Bison 8-3 Guildford Flames

Rand x 3 (2xpp)            Holland

Long x 2                       Kvetan (pp)

Sheppard                     Opatovsky

Karpov x 2 (1xpp)

Tomas Karpov celebrates his goal in the Bison's 8-3 win over Guildford Flames (c) 5 Hole Photography

Tomas Karpov celebrates his goal in the Bison’s 8-3 win over Guildford Flames
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Firmly on fire: After a disappointing loss away at Peterborough on Sunday, the Bison were bolstered by the addition to the roster of Matt Selby who spent the proceedings on defence. Danny Ingoldsby took the warm up but didn’t ice. The Flames started Mark Lee in net and added new Slovakian forward Martin Opatovsky but were without Curtis Huppe and Tom Duggan to injury. With 4 imports in the lineup with the new addition, Milos Melicherik didn’t ice.

The game didn’t start well as off the hop, the Flames were a goal up in somewhat controversial circumstances; Stuart Potts forced the turnover in the corner and fed Dean Holland who walked out of the corner and fired goalwards. One of the officials pointed for a goal but the crowd and Dean Skinns were perplexed as the puck appeared to strike the bar and rebound out but any protestations were not heard and the visitors were ahead at 01:02.

The Bison responded quickly and were aided by some Flames indiscipline as David Longstaff was called for tripping and Nicky Watt was called for cross checking which gave the Bison nearly 100 seconds of 5 on 3. The Herd took full advantage of the extra men as a shot from the blueline rebounded off of Mark Lee right onto the stick of Joe Rand who tapped home at 03:39 to tie the scores.

The game was a tight, even contest in the opening exchanges as both sides sought to gain the advantage. There were chances both ways, the best one arguably falling to the Flames as a well worked overlap allowed Kohut space to skate in on Skinns but the Bison netminder kept his right pad down and denied the Flames forward.

When Kurt Reynolds was called for slashing, the Flames powerplay unit set to work and their impressive play was rewarded with a regaining of the lead. Opatovsky fed Longstaff who put the puck into the wheelhouse of Branislav Kvetan who powered the puck past Skinns at 08:00 to give the Surrey side a 2-1 advantage. Sadly for the visiting fans, it was arguably the last thing they could be happy about that night.

Rick Skene found himself taking an extended seat in the box when he ploughed into Ciaran Long from behind on the half boards and was given 2+10 for checking from behind. The Bison couldn’t make the 2 minute personnel advantage and had to quickly switch to penalty killing mode when Nicky Chinn was called for highsticks shortly after the Bison powerplay expired.

The game was still going back and forth with neither side wanting to give the other much in the way of chances but the Flames gave the Bison a glint of an opening and took it. Ciaran Long took the pass from Joe Greener, took a step or two over the blueline and hammered a slapshot past Lee’s blocker into the side of the net to restore parity to the scoreline at 16:18.

The period played out with a few more chances both ways, the first stanza of action closing out with a heart in mouth moment for the home side as Matt Selby overskated the puck which handed a chance to David Longstaff but the shot was at Skinns. 2-2 after 20 minutes was a fair reflection of the action.

The second period began and it was the Bison that had their tails up as they got the better of the action and the better chances; a Miroslav Vantroba shot causing a scramble in front of Lee but the puck wouldn’t fall kindly for the Herd and Guildford cleared their lines.

Controversy reigned again moments later. Another blasting shot from Vantroba appeared to fly past Lee, hit the back pipe along the ice and rebound out. Mr Pickett on the spot said no goal but the crowd were livid especially after the somewhat controversial Flames 1st goal. I have to confess, I thought the puck was in from my vantage point.

The Flames were having their moments but the Bison kept piling the pressure on. With one of the officials having their hand in the air for a delayed penalty, a stoppage in play saw a scrum ensue and the Bison managed to come out of it with another 5 on 3 powerplay. Potts was given 2 minutes for the initial hooking call and Jez Lundin was given 2+2+10 for butt ending in the mêlée. Some would argue the call on Lundin was harsh as it looked more of an elbow than a butt end but the Bison weren’t complaining and the two extra men paid dividends once again. Rand was the beneficiary for his second goal of the night as he was in his office in front of Lee and on hand to shoot past the Flames’ backstop to give the Bison the lead at 32:02.

The Flames were gifted a short powerplay thanks to a slashing call against Joe Greener as Lundin’s second minor penalty ticked down but the Flames were still on the back foot and their lack of chances was starting to tell.

The Bison kept their foot on the gas and soon doubled their advantage. Joe Rand drove to the net looking for his third goal of the night but was stopped by Lee. Players rushed to the top of the crease and in the madness the puck squirted into the slot where a waiting Doug Sheppard wristed a shot past Lee at 36:57 to make it 4-2 Bison.

The Flames were still having chances; with the Bison having iced the puck, a really slick passing move off of a faceoff gave Andy Hemmings a good chance that was plucked out of the air by Skinns. The period ended with the Bison in a commanding position.

It got worse for the Flames as the third began. Stuart Potts was lost to injury off of a hit from Joe Greener, a check from the Bison man seeing Potts’ ribs driven into the boards by the bench. The Flames man was helped to his feet and off the ice but the Bison were not in a generous mood when it came to the scoreline.

Tomas Karpov collected the puck from the outlet pass and went on one of his traditional skates. The Czech forward rounded one man, then another and his wrist shot zipped past Lee for 5-2 at 41:29.

Michael Wales managed to trip his man then skate into Andy Melachrino which gave the Flames another powerplay chance. The visitors got some good puck movement but couldn’t find the final touch as the Bison’s defence held firm with Aaron Connolly making a diving block and Skinns making the requisite saves in net.

Rick Skene took a hooking call in the dying embers of the Flames’ powerplay so the Bison set about increasing the lead. The Herd fans thought it was about to be another 5 on 3 powerplay when Andy Melachrino was driven head first into the boards behind the net but no call came to the chagrin of the crowd. They were cheering moments later however when a Karpov feed from behind the net cannoned off of a Flames defenceman and past Lee at 47:20 to make it 6-2 to the home side.

Rather than ease off as has been seen at times from the Herd, they kept attacking and soon ended the night of Mark Lee. Kurt Reynolds fed Ciaran Long who scored an even prettier goal than his first effort as he hammered the puck past Lee’s glove from the hashmarks at 51:16. James Hadfield headed off of the bench to see if he could stem the tide.

The crowd, already almost saturated by goals were then given a little extra. A hit on the whistle from Michael Wales on Nicky Watt saw Watt not give Wales a choice and the gloves came off. Wales had his jersey pulled up and over his head as Watt fired shots at him but Wales was soon free and ended the fight with a stiff shot that put Watt to the ice. Both got the requisite 2+2 roughing at 53:52.

Rand was finally rewarded with his hattrick goal less than a minute later after taking Doug Sheppard’s pass and slotting past Hadfield at 54:32 for the Bison’s 8th. This prompted some shouting from the Flames bench and Jozef Kohut found himself sitting a ten minute misconduct as a result.

The Bison fans were on their feet singing “The Great Escape” when a last ditch attack from the Flames yielded their third goal; a juicy rebound off of Skinns gobbled up by Opatovsky at 59:47 but by that stage it was too late to dent the spirits of the home fans who will be confident ahead of next week’s second leg at The Spectrum.

Clash of the veterans - Neil Liddiard and Nick Chinn clash in front of Mark Lee's net (c) 5 Hole Photography

Clash of the veterans – Neil Liddiard and Nick Chinn come together in front of Mark Lee’s net
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Putting the boot in: If you’d spoken to me at the end of the second period with the score at 4-2 and said “this is how it’ll end”, I’d have taken it gladly and thanked you for it. To go into the second leg in Guildford with a 5 goal lead having scored 8 goals, 7 unanswered is something akin to me being asked to be a professor of Latin American film studies; it seems so unlikely as to be absurd.

This was a superb team performance from the Bison; rocked early by two goals and 2-1 down, the team put their nose to the grindstone, worked hard and when they got the lead they kept on going. No second period sleep, no off moment but a 60 minute performance when it was needed to firmly stamp their authority on the tie.

Joe Rand’s 3+1 evening saw him get the beers and they were well deserved. None of Rand’s goals were pretty but they were very Rand goals. The Canadian was set up in front of the Flames’ net all night and terrorised the Guildford defence who couldn’t seem to move him.

Ciaran Long scored two superb goals and had an industrious evening which was arguably his finest in a Bison jersey to date. Combined with Tomas Karpov’s continued run of excellent form and two goals (partially thanks to Neil Liddiard), the Bison offence clicked all night.

Also not to be forgotten is an important goal for Doug Sheppard. In the right place at the right time, the Bison coach has been snake bitten of late and hopefully that big goal will see a resurgence in his scoring form.

Matt Selby made a few minor errors but requires time to settle back into playing for the Herd. His added depth at defence is a welcome addition at this stage of the season and adding a defenceman of his quality is useful given how much ice time Vantroba and Reynolds could be seeing. Whether he also sees time as a forward remains to be seen.

It’s hard to find much wrong with the Herd’s performance but they have to keep this going. Big games this weekend and the return leg next Wednesday is a big ask for the players but if they find a way to reproduce this performance then all teams best beware.

A word on our opponents: I appreciate that many Flames fans won’t want to read anything to do with this game. Here’s the thing though; the Flames weren’t awful for all of it. The third period? Yes, that was an unmitigated disaster but there were flashes of the Flames of old, particularly in the first period.

I’m not sure how a defenceman gets man of the match in an 8-3 defeat. Branislav Kvetan is a good player, one I like watching but this was a bad night to be a Flames defenceman. Fine Kvetan was 1+2 on the night but if it had been my choice, the new boy Martin Opatovsky who looks a shrewd pick up for the Flames. Good hands, good speed and an eye for goal, the Slovak looked like he fitted right in. He was also rather pleased with his goal, more so than anybody else around him even his own team.

Apart from that, this was a bad night for Guildford. They started well but were soon pressed down and had no answer. As the game wore on they looked tired and resorted to dump and chase tactics which isn’t sensible when your forward lines are being routinely beaten for pace to the puck.

You can’t count Guildford out, you just can’t. Experience tells us that it’s a bad idea. That said if the Flames reproduce this performance next Wednesday on their own ice, their defence of the EPL Cup won’t end with a bang but with a whimper.

Last word, all the best to Stuart Potts. I maintain the hit from Joe Greener was legal but Potts was hit awkwardly and looked to be in some discomfort. I wish him (and Tom Duggan) a speedy recovery.

Lowlight of the night: I hate to say it but some confusing officiating decisions both ways. I am very appreciative of the officials who do what they do for the love of the sport but I was left baffled and confused by Messers Pickett and O’Halloran last night. Many of us were from both sides.

Highlight of the night: The whole Bison performance, magnificent.

"Coach, this enough?"

“Coach, this enough?”

All photographs are copywrite of and used with permission of 5 Hole Photography. Visit the site, buy a print.

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