Running with the Herd – Bison vs Swindon Wildcats 08/02/2014

Basingstoke Bison 3-2 Swindon Wildcats

Connolly pp                  Bullas

Karpov                          Nell sh

Greener

 

Skinning the cat: The Wildcats came into the contest without Sam Godfrey on defence and chose to have Tomas Fojtik sitting out the game out of the 5 imports. The Bison were without the injured Andy Melachrino and Danny Ingoldsby (who was still listed on the team sheet despite not being there). The club also celebrated their second personal milestone in as many weeks as Joe Baird’s 500th EPL regular season game was celebrated. Baird reached the milestone in Sheffield on Sunday but it was marked last night against one of his former teams.

The Bison were sent to the powerplay early as former Herd defenceman Alex Symonds picked up a hooking call. The Herd’s special teams unit set to work, looking much more potent than the previous weekend and it paid off as the advantage was coming to an end. Miroslav Vantroba put the puck down low to Doug Sheppard who found an unmarked Aaron Connolly in the slot to fire past Lyle at 02:38 and the Bison had uncharacteristically scored first.

The game was a tightly poised affair for most of the first period; Ollie Betteridge undressed Carl Graham and drove towards Skinns but the Bison netminder made the save and the Wildcats had a slick passing move to work the puck to Lee Richardson at the back door that didn’t come off. The Bison had a chance for Joe Greener smothered by Stephen Whitfield and a well worked move to Michael Wales at the top of the crease saw the former Slough captain unable to direct the puck through the 5 hole of Stevie Lyle.

The Bison earned themselves another powerplay when Henri Sandvik was called for slashing Kurt Reynolds behind the Bison net. The Herd’s powerplay however was just misfire after misfire; Vantroba’s passing was uncharacteristically slack and kept playing the the Bison out of the zone. Then, disaster; a turnover at the blueline saw Jonas Höög send Aaron Nell away. The former Steelers forward was challenged by Vantroba but had the step and blasted the puck by Skinns for the shorthanded marker at 14:36 to tie the score.

The Wildcats were soon heading to their first powerplay thanks to a slashing call on Wales but couldn’t trouble the Bison net sufficiently. The first period ended with the score at 1-1 but the Bison edging the play.

The second period started as well for the Bison as the first had. The puck went towards the net on the dump in but Stevie Lyle went for a walk and misplayed the puck. Tomas Karpov was immediately on hand to pick up the puck, speed around the back of the net and put the puck over the line for the 2-1 Basingstoke lead at 21:40.

The Bison were in the ascendency but good chances for Nicky Chinn and a powerplay handed to them by a tripping call to Nell but there was no way past Lyle and a resolute Wildcats defence.

Swindon’s patience paid off when they drew a tripping penalty from Chinn and quickly set about making their hosts pay. The shot from Jan Kostal was saved by Skinns by Sam Bullas was right on hand at the top of the crease to slam the puck home and tie the score at 30:41.

It was almost disaster for the Bison moments later as Matt Selby turned the puck over just outside the Bison zone to Henri Sandvik. The Finn raced towards Skinns, used a fantastic bit of skill and the puck was in the back of the net bringing the travelling fans to their feet. Their shouts of excitement quickly turned to cries of frustration as Mr Cloutman washed the goal out for the net being off of its moorings. The Bison had gotten a break.

The Wildcats kept coming and forced a real desperation stop from the Bison with the puck sat the top of Skinns’ crease but a diving Joe Greener dived across to knock the puck away.

The complexion of the game was changed shortly afterwards. With the puck on the half boards in the Bison zone, Jonas Höög got his elbow up and drove Doug Sheppard high into the boards from behind. The Swede immediately stopped to check on Sheppard as players gathered around including Matt Selby who was looking for blood but chose to take the Swindon man’s number for a later time. Sheppard was helped up and to the room whilst the Wildcat’s talismanic forward was thrown out of the game and the Bison were handed a 5 minute powerplay.

Sadly the Bison couldn’t find a way through on the powerplay and ended up taking penalties that would see them on the penalty kill heading into the third period. The Herd gave up a 2 on 1 to Kostal and Bullas but the later couldn’t settle the puck from the pass to make the shot. Wales was called for tripping and Baird was called for slashing right at the buzzer; the 500 game man followed his dump in towards Lyle’s net and a play for the live puck made contact with the goalie’s glove. 2-2 at the end of second period and the Bison had had the better chances and the majority of the running but were still tied and getting burned by Swindon.

The third period saw the game really change; what had been a very free flowing game with lots of changes of tempo suddenly became very stilted and bitty. Neither side wanted to make the mistake that would lead to the other side getting a goal. There were chances both ways, the best falling to Swindon when the Bison were caught too high and Kostal and Sandvik were in 2 on 1. Kostal was rubbed out of the play but got the pass to Sandvik who fired but was stopped on the doorstep by Skinns in what would prove to be a massive save.

Then out of nowhere, the mistake was made and the Bison were on hand to take advantage; Nicky Chinn fired a shot than rebounded off of Lyle and sat at the top of the crease. From almost exactly the same point on the ice where he fired the Bison into their first ever playoff weekend, Joe Greener stepped up to lift the puck over the pads of Lyle who was down and out of position. The puck hit the back of the net to rapturous cheers from the home fans at 54:30.

The game suddenly picked up in intensity. The Bison decided that the best form of defence was attack and put pressure on Lyle’s net but the desperation was setting in for the Wildcats and they too were having their chances. Zach Sullivan took a highstick to the face that wasn’t called, Matt Selby had a shot tipped by Long that was saved by Lyle and the former Blaze man was robbed by Kostal only to chase him down and level the Czech forward to take the puck back.

Lyle was called to the bench and Swindon attacked with the extra man. The Wildcats managed to force a faceoff with 2.4 seconds left and called their timeout but it wasn’t enough. The Bison survived the scare and had ground out the win to keep pace with Manchester in the title hunt.

 

All go for Joe: On the occasion of his 500th appearance in the EPL, the Bison performed much better than the previous week. Baird himself had a usually solid game, including getting himself firmly into the mix and I felt he was unlucky to get called for slashing when he chased his own dump in towards Lyle. It should also be added that the penalty on Baird at 40:00 was the last penalty the Bison took all night as well as the last of the game.

It was a win that the Herd had to really grind out but on the balance of play they probably deserved. Kurt Reynolds got man of the match though the argument of many I spoke to after the game felt that Zach Sullivan was worthy of the beers as well. Both defencemen had a good night where both made smart decisions and were on top form in terms of shutting down the opposition’s more potent offensive threats.

There were periods where the Wildcats put the Bison on the back foot, even to the point where the Swindon fans will no doubt argue about the disallowed goal for a while but the Bison weathered the storm and got the bounce in the dying moments. Swindon fans must be getting sick of Joe Greener.

The injury to Cameron Wynn (believed to be a hip flexor) gave a chance for Stuart Mogg to appear on the top line for shifts and the youngster didn’t look lost out there. Karpov did try to do the majority of the work on that line on his own at times but he was ably supported by Mogg and Wales.

The other lines however looked very good; Doug Sheppard looked like he was back on fine form alongside Aaron Connolly and Joe Rand with a line that caused the Wildcats defence endless problems but I was really impressed with the line of Chinn, Long and Greener. Whilst Ciaran Long didn’t have his greatest night (and seemed to fall over a bit) the line was physical, did the little things well and went to the net constantly.

It was an uncharacteristic off night for Miroslav Vantroba but he regained composure after his mistakes in the first and didn’t seem overly bothered as the game went on. Combined with another good performance by Dean Skinns, the Bison will be more than happy ahead of their trip to Bracknell with two more points in the bag.

 

A word on our opponents: I wouldn’t have begrudged Swindon coming out of last night with a point. I don’t think Swindon outright deserved the win but make no mistake about it; they played well and caused the Bison problems.

I often bemoan whoever chooses the man of the match awards in Basingstoke but Ollie Betteridge was a more than adequate choice. His work rate was sky high, constantly challenged his opposition and made a fantastic move to turn Carl Graham inside out but lacked the final touch to that great bit of skill.

The other player that really was in competition for the beers in my opinion was Sam Bullas. He took his goal well but his penalty killing was also really excellent. After the Bison scored on the first powerplay of the night, Bullas and Kostal between them were both excellent when a man down.

Stevie Lyle will want the Bison’s second goal back but he didn’t have a bad game by any means. He made a string of really good saves and kept Swindon very much in the game and gave them a chance to win.

The disallowed goal was almost a shame in some ways because Sandvik’s bit of skill to first take the puck from Selby then his drive to the net and stickhandling to get the puck past Skinns were sublime. I’m sure there will be fans who claim the net wasn’t off but it’s not our place to decide that.

Swindon will be disappointed but should take heart from that performance into their game with Slough. Jonas Höög’s penalty being downgraded to a game will be welcome news as well. (It was an awful hit by the way).

 

Lowlight of the night: The powerplay that led to the shorthanded goal. Just not good

Highlight of the night: Swindon forgetting that it might be an idea to mark Joe Greener in front of the net.

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