Running with the Herd – Bison vs Manchester Phoenix 22/2/14Posted: 23/02/2014
Basingstoke Bison 5-1 Manchester Phoenix
Melachrino x 2
Championship calibre: The Phoenix paid their final visit to Hampshire of the season minus former Bison, Liam Chong who was out with an injury. The Bison were still without Cameron Wynn and Danny Ingoldsby but welcomed Stuart Mogg back to the line up.
Frankie Bakrlik had the first real chance on net, a wrist shot kicked away by Dean Skinns and from there it was high paced, end to end but controlled hockey by both sides. The Bison were the nervier looking in the opening exchanges, punctuated by Dean Skinns being called into a diving pokecheck to deny Michal Psurny but an interference penalty to Robert Schnabel sent the Herd to the powerplay.
The Phoenix were straight into using their high pace game to try and burn the Bison. Tony Hand forcing a turnover from Miroslav Vantroba to spring the 2 on 1 with Michal Psurny but the wrap around attempt was scuppered by the net coming off. The Bison came close when a stretch pass set Michael Wales away but his shot was saved with the shoulder by Stephen Fone and a rare rush into the offensive zone by Vantroba granted the big defenceman a chance that was halted by the Phoenix backstop.
The Phoenix were sent to the powerplay when Joe Greener was called for hooking and Dean Skinns was called on again to keep the score as it was. A soft shot from the blueline found its way to James Archer at the top of the crease. His pass to Hand at the side of the goal looked certain to be shot in but Skinns reached across and plucked the puck out of the air.
The game was still very much a high paced affair, both teams having chances as they searched for an opening. The Bison were on the attack and Nicky Chinn fired a slapshot that was kicked away by Fone. The puck fell to Joe Greener who fired from a tight angle and suddenly the puck was in the back of the net. The Bison had found the crack in the Phoenix armour at 16:23.
Then before Bavy in the DJ box could properly get out the announcement for the goal, the Bison had doubled their advantage. Wales fed Andy Melachrino skating at speed and the Bison man got the step on his man, took a stride then fired past Fone at 16:49 for 2-0.
The Phoenix were stunned but immediately set about trying to redress some of the balance before the period ended, Bakrlik being fed for a guilt edged chance at the side of the net that the Manchester import could only put wide of the cage.
The period ended minus an official as Mr Kozacs had to take a sit down due to injury (he returned for the second period) but there was no change to the scoreline as the hosts lead 2-0 at the break.
The second period started with a similar speed to the first; James Archer was given a great chance but fired it straight at Skinns to lead off the opportunities.
The teams then quickly exchanged penalties as first Richard Bentham was called for delay of the game when he fired the puck right at the metal stanchion by where I sit and then Nicky Chinn was called for hooking which made it 4 on 4 hockey for a brief period. It was the Bison however who took advantage thanks to a superb bit of skill.
Tomas Karpov set off on one of his trademark runs at the Phoenix defence. Faced with a defenceman baring down on him Karpov moved the puck off of his stick, kicked it off of his skate round the defenceman, controlled it on his stick again and whilst falling managed to draw the other defender to him and fire a pass to Andy Melachrino who had time to control the puck and fire into the gaping cage for 3-0 at 24:11.
The Phoenix kept trying to attack, a good move on the cycle saw a shot hit the outside of the post but it was shortly even worse for them. Nicky Chinn made a hit in front of the benches that had a hint of a high elbow but it kick started the Bison attack into the Phoenix zone. Joe Greener got the shot away which forced Fone into the butterfly position but Chinn was following up and managed to fire the rebound into the net at 28:49.
The Phoenix responded by again flying away from the faceoff to try and get something, anything on the board but were instantly caught high as Melachrino’s pass put Karpov away in space. The Czech sprinted towards Fone, took a moment then fired under Fone’s right arm. 5-0 Bison at 29:17 and the home crowd was in raptures with the visitors taking their timeout in an attempt to steady the ship.
Steadying might be the wrong choice of words given what happened next; with Manchester on the attack, a scramble ensued in front of Skinns. Andy McKinney was about to be called for holding when he got a little too close to Dean Skinns for the liking of Joe Baird who took a whack at the Phoenix forward. McKinney responded by throwing his gloves off and punching Baird who wasn’t given a chance to respond. Whilst Baird should have been called for a slash, McKinney was rung up for holding and 2+2 roughing to give the Bison a 6 minute powerplay.
The Bison couldn’t take much advantage of the extended powerplay even to a point where Rand was called for slashing and when his penalty had finished, the Bison were still on the powerplay from McKinney’s infractions.
Shortly after however, the Phoenix found way to get on the board. With all sides back to 5 skaters and Manchester on the attack all the Phoenix imports combined to get them on the board. Kovar to Psurny to Bakrlik at the top of the crease who fired through Skinns’ 5 hole to make it 5-1 at 36:46.
The rest of the period played out pretty evenly, the best chance falling to Ciaran Long who tried to make the most of an uncharacteristic turnover by Robert Schnabel but his shot was saved low by Fone. The period ended with the home side firmly in control of the tie.
The Bison started the period with similar vigour that they ended the second stanza as Andy Melachrino raced towards Fone seeking his hattrick. Sadly his backhand shot was easily dealt with by Fone.
As Milton Keynes learned in the first leg of their cup semi final, you can’t count out the Phoenix. Manchester kept having good chances; Hand fed Psurny for a shot where the Czech couldn’t make good enough contact but the Bison defence was holding firm and keeping the Manchester shots to the outside.
The Bison suddenly managed to get themselves into penalty trouble. First Nicky Chinn was called for cross checking on Robin Kovar from a number of penalties that could have been called. Just as the Bison killed that penalty off, Zach Sullivan got his stick up on Kovar which gave the Phoenix another man advantage but again the Bison held their visitors at bay.
The Bison strangled the life from the game as they pressed their dominance and held the Phoenix at arms length, content to give their visitors the puck but the defence forcing them to the outside. Wood and Schnabel had huge blueline blasts saved by Skinns. Connolly and Rand combined for a good chance that saw the Bison’s import have his shot plucked from the air by Fone.
The Phoenix had a late powerplay chance when Sheppard was called for highsticking and there were more chances for the visitors but Skinns stood firm in net. Time ticked down in the arena and the home fans rose to their feet to applaud a win that could prove massive in the decision of where the EPL title will end up.
It’s on: In the context of the EPL title race, people will talk of games in hand and what run in the teams have but last night was a massive statement from the Bison. The two title challengers went head to head in Basingstoke and the Bison won and won comfortably against a near full strength Phoenix side. The Herd were clinical with their chances, solid on defence and outplayed Manchester in most facets of the game over the 60 minutes. The Phoenix flew out of the gate and rather than sit back, the Bison went out and matched them. They hung with the Phoenix in the first period and took their chances well, dominated the second period then held them at bay in the third and deservedly won.
Andy Melachrino was a good choice for man of the match, taking his two goals well and generally looking a genuine threat the entire time he was out there. Everybody talks about Tomas Karpov for obvious reasons, the assist on the third goal was simply beautiful but without Melachrino alongside him in arguably the form of his life there’s a sizeable chunk of scoring the Bison would miss. The MKM line are a joy to watch.
I wouldn’t have argued with Dean Skinns getting man of the match either. Whilst the defence (playing with 5 guys as Carl Graham spent most of the game on the bench) played fantastically, Skinns made some legitimately great saves.
The current line combinations seem to be working really well and seem happy to take on the roles required. Case in point; the line of Long, Chinn and Greener were having better chances offensively Sheppard sent them out as much more of a scoring focussed line. Sheppard’s line with Connolly and Rand weren’t having quite the same success so reverted to a more “checking” line, forechecking high and pressuring the Phoenix defenders.
If Manchester end up winning the title then fine. They are the best team I’ve seen in Basingstoke this season by a stretch but the Bison are making sure that it won’t be easy and if they want the EPL championship, they have to go through Basingstoke to get it.
A word on our opponents: It was a tough night at the office for the Phoenix last night. Up until the first Bison goal, the game was massively even and it was a real joy to watch the two best teams in the EPL going head to head at full speed. The issue was that the Phoenix went behind, conceded again quickly and worryingly for Manchester fans, never looked like getting back into the game. The second period saw the Phoenix score but only after the Bison had put another 3 goals on and the final period saw the Phoenix try to be industrious, try to make something happen but the attack was lacklustre and easily handled.
Robin Kovar was the Phoenix’s biggest threat all night and was a fair choice for man of the match. Where Michal Psurny showed flashes of his genius and Bakrlik floated in and out, Kovar was going hard for most of the game. His head did drop towards the end of the game but that is understandable, the game was well lost by that stage.
Jack Watkins looked useful all night, a hard skating 60 minute game from the brother of the Telford coach and he was arguably the best performing Brit on the Phoenix roster but otherwise it was a night where the Phoenix were outcoached and looked short on ideas. There seemed to be no plan B at times and when it looked like the game was out of reach and a look of games in a short space of time to come, they appeared to shut down and try to conserve a bit of energy. The game on Sunday night against Bracknell is one that many, including myself that think that Manchester will win but after a long game and a long ride home, a match up against an unpredictable Bees team could be problematic. They need to play better tonight than they did in Hampshire.
Lowlight of the night: Nope, nothing that I genuinely need to gripe about this week.
Highlight of the night: Karpov’s assist on Melachrino’s second goal was insane, just insane.