Running with the Herd – Bison vs Milton Keynes Lightning 01/02/2014

Basingstoke Bison 2-3 Milton Keynes Lightning

Karpov                         Christie

Connolly                       Carr

                                     McPherson pp

Michael Wales acknowledges the crowd as he takes to the ice for his 500th EPL regular season appearance against the MK Lightning (c) 5 Hole Photography

Michael Wales acknowledges the crowd as he takes to the ice for his 500th EPL regular season appearance against the MK Lightning
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Back to Earth: After being planted face first into the boards on Wednesday night, the Bison were without Andy Melachrino. The Lightning entered without Paul Gore, Connor Goode and Ross Bowers starting former Bison Stephen Wall between the pipes.

The main focus of the pre-game however was the celebration of the 500th EPL regular season appearance for for current Bison and former MKL fan favourite Michael Wales; his current team mates forming a guard of honour as he came onto the ice. Wales had his family in attendance for the game and he was given a rapturous reception by all fans, officials and players in the arena. Planet Ice managing director John Neville was on hand to hand over a token of appreciation as well and generally, an appropriate fuss was made of the man of the hour. Congrats Muzzy and here’s to 500 more.

The first period started out in an incredibly disjointed manner as both teams sought to establish their game. It led to some very scrappy play but some good chances both ways. Leigh Jamieson’s stick exploding handed a good chance to Doug Sheppard which was kicked away by Stephen Wall and some good tape to tape passing set up Blaz Emersic in the slot but Dean Skinns snatched the puck of the air to deny the Lightning’s import forward.

There was a heart in mouth moment for the Bison a few minutes later; Tomas Karpov having slipped to the ice was skated into by a Lightning player, the leg connecting with the Czech forward’s neck. The unintentional act saw Karpov down on the ice for a while but eventually was helped to his feet and off the ice. He returned to the ice moments later, responding by lining up his man and hammering him into the boards.

The Bison were having some good opportunities and Joe Rand managed to get a shot away under pressure as he fell to the ice but Wall was equal to it. Then out of nowhere the Bison were behind.

It was the Lightning’s turn to have a bit of pressure. The puck was being played in tight to Skinns and Lewis Christie pinching in flicked the puck goalwards and it managed to sneak it’s way past Skinns at 10:45 to give the visitors a 1-0 lead.

The Bison set about trying to even the score but got caught playing too high up the ice and the Lightning sprung a two on one. Adam Carr and Leigh Jamieson sped up the ice against Zach Sullivan but Carr’s pass wasn’t a very good one and Jamieson could do nothing with it.

The hosts were having their shots but just weren’t getting the required bounce. A centring feed from behind the net found only the skate of a Lightning defender which allowed the puck to trickle harmlessly towards Wall. A really good shift by the line of Wales, Karpov and Wynn put the Lightning on the back foot but a clumsy turnover sent Jamieson away all alone on Skinns but the Lightning man’s shot high and wide of the net.

The first period ended at 1-0 and the game wasn’t shaping up to be the greatest game of all time but it was an even contest that felt like it had the potential to improve.

The second period continued in much the same vein as the first as the sides tried to spark the game more into life. Had Stanislav Lascek scored after a move where he waltzed through the entire Bison side, it would have sparked something and arguably been goal of the season.

The Lightning were given an even more guild edged chance shortly afterwards; Joe Baird made a mistake just in front of the Bison blueline and had his pocket picked by Jordan Cownie. The GB under 20 international sprinted towards Dean Skinns but the Bison backstop was equal to the task and kept the score at 1-0.

The Bison had a similar opportunity when a Lightning defenceman slipped and Joe Greener had time and space. He toedragged around one man and fired a blistering shot goalwards but Stephen Wall was equal to it.

The Bison were still playing very high up the ice and got caught out; some fantastic passing from the Lighting saw the puck go from Jamieson to Lascek to captain Adam Carr all alone in front of Skinns and he fired the puck high before the Bison’s netminder could get his glove to it. 2-0, 26:00 gone and the Bison found themselves in the hole.

Joe Rand exploded out of the gate and waffled Ross Green with a thunderous hit in an attempt to get the Herd going but nothing seemed to be coming. The Bison attempted to match the physicality of the Lightning, sometimes over-physicality when Adam Carr accidentally managed to elbow Michael Farn in the face.

The Lightning were bossing the period as they had themselves settled into their rhythm with the Bison chasing the game. The Bison needed something, anything to spark them to life.

Tomas Karpov, who hadn’t looked the same since his earlier collision was still trying to make things happen. Having picked up the puck at the half way line he lost the handle on the puck slightly at the Lightning blueline but managed to get it back. The Bison’s topscorer drove past one man and fired a shot at Stephen Wall. The Lightning’s netminder made the save but the rebound came flying back to Karpov who found a way to bat the puck past Wall at 36:43. It was a moment of magic but could the Bison press on?

The second period drew to a close with the Bison still having a glimmer of hope but something bizarre happened. Having had his whistle firmly in his pocket all evening, Mr Thompson called the game’s first penalty when Joe Greener was called for charging. The Lightning had been the better side in the second period and were going to start the third on the powerplay.

It was a costly first penalty of the game for the Bison. The MK powerplay set to work and eventually managed to get the puck past Skinns. A shot from Lukas Zatopek rebounded off of Skinns into the path of Grant McPherson who had an easy tap in at 41:19.

The Bison’s night almost seemed to be summed up by something a few moments later. With the faceoff to Skinns’ left, Joe Rand won the faceoff and all sprinted up ice. Sadly Rand won the faceoff so cleanly it went right down into the corner where a hunting Janne Jokila picked up the puck and went to try and stuff it past Skinns but was denied.

The Herd were given their first powerplay when the Lightning were caught for having too many men but the best chance fell to Lascek who forced a turnover and sped towards the Bison net where Skinns made a big save to keep the Bison in the contest. The Bison did have a good chance on the man advantage when Joe Greener’s blueline drive went through Wall’s pads but trickled wide.

The Bison kept getting caught and have up another 2 on 1 but Skinns was standing tall and the Bison were granted another powerplay chance when Michael Farn tripped Joe Rand. A tic tac toe play got the puck to Long at the front of the net, save Wall. Vantroba snuck in and fired goalwards but the puck rebounded off of the goal post.

Then after the powerplay ended, a glimmer of hope; Aaron Connolly picked the puck up in the neutral zone, deked and fired at Wall. The puck hit the Lightning netminder, flicked up into the air and dropped into the bottom of the net. 55:10, the Bison back within one goal and the game was still alive.

The Bison pressed and pressed, a sense of urgency appeared that had been lacking from the rest of their game but no real clear cut chances came. With 33 seconds to play, the Bison pulled Skinns and called their timeout to try and plan but nothing came. The Bison managed to fend off the Lightning adding an empty goal but couldn’t get a decent shot on Wall. The buzzer sounded and the Bison had to look to Sunday night’s game with Sheffield for a hope of points this weekend.

Tomas Karpov scores a memorable goal in the Bison's 3-2 loss to Milton Keynes (c) 5 Hole Photography

Tomas Karpov scores a memorable goal in the Bison’s 3-2 loss to Milton Keynes
(c) 5 Hole Photography

A shadow of what came before: I seriously didn’t expect the Bison to produce exactly the same performance they did on Wednesday night but it wasn’t close to what was needed.

The Bison got outworked, outplayed and out-coached to a degree. There was no satisfactory plan B to answer the Lightning’s well worked road game and when we tried to play in the Lightning’s more physical style, it didn’t really work. The Herd started flat, were brought back into the game by a moment of individual magic, kept in it by a moment of fortune but were second best all night.

The loss of Melachrino forced line changes that didn’t seem to click. Whilst Cameron Wynn has a lot of potential, he looked lost on the top line with Wales and Karpov. Whilst it’s nice to see Wynn given the chance up there, this wasn’t his best night at the office and I would be surprised if Connolly’s speed is moved to the top line if Melachrino doesn’t ice as expected in Sheffield.

The defence had an uncharacteristic off night, looking like they were chasing the puck and the play at times. They were helped out however by another very solid performance from Skinns. Whilst his save percentage on the night won’t look very good (3 goals on 21 shots), Skinns kept bailing the Bison out of the countless 2 on 1 rushes given up. Given the usual quality of our blueline corps, I’m inclined to chalk it up as a one off.

Tomas Karpov clearly played on hurt after his collision in the first period but at times did look a bit like he had part of his game missing with Melachrino not there. That said, his goal was a stroke of skill and perseverance all in one. It was a shame that the Bison couldn’t press on from that moment but oddly enough, arguably the goal of the season in the last campaign came in a home loss to the Lightning. This was arguably the best one of this campaign.

It’s a long way to Sheffield for the Bison’s next game and with Wednesday night’s second leg in Guildford. The Bison must put this game behind them, quickly.

A word on our opponents: The better team won last night over the course of the 60 minutes. There’s no question of that. The Lightning came out, played their game, dictated the tempo for stretches and got the points.

It wasn’t all plain sailing for the Lightning though. Stephen Wall made some good saves but really seemed to be fighting the puck at times. The Lightning as well could and probably should have put the game to bed, instead allowing the Bison to sit back and come at them which is a dangerous idea. Whilst the Bison didn’t play well, there’s enough individual talent in the roster to burn teams. Having won the game though, MK can be confident ahead of their game at Guildford on Sunday.

Jordan Cownie was a really good choice for man of the match and this season with the Lightning has seen the former Dundee junior really come along well as a player. He covered every inch of the ice and was a constant threat. I had assumed someone would have given the beers to Stanislav Lascek, who also constantly threatened but was pleased to see Cownie get them for his workrate alone.

The Lightning have now demolished Manchester at home, won away in Basingstoke and seem to be really hitting stride as the business end of the season approaches. It bodes ill for the rest of the league.

Lowlight of the night: No Michael Wales “Gordie Howe” hattrick on his 500th appearance. I’m trying to keep it light after a flat performance.

Highlight of the night: Karpov’s goal, beautiful stuff.

"Don't move, it's on your face. I'll swat it away"

“Don’t move, it’s on your face. I’ll swat it away”

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