Running with the Herd – Bison vs Milton Keynes Lightning 12/3/14

EPL Cup Final 2nd leg

Basingstoke Bison 3-4 Milton Keynes Lightning

Connolly                       Jamieson x 2 (1x pp)

Karpov pp                     Carr

Melachrino pp               Lascek pp

 

Basingstoke Bison win 7-5 on aggregate

 

Aaron Connolly celebrates the Bison's 1st goal on their way to winning the EPL Cup (c) 5 Hole Photography

Aaron Connolly celebrates the Bison’s 1st goal on their way to winning the EPL Cup
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Banner On The Wall: The Bison headed into the game without the suspended Matt Selby due to his match penalty against Swindon. The Lightning were without Josh Nicklin and started Stephen Wall between the pipes.

There was a palpable atmosphere in the Basingstoke Arena as the Bison looked to hold on to their 3 goal advantage from the first leg at the Skydome and the home fans were soon on their feet; Joe Rand sent Aaron Connolly away into space and the Bison’s #63 took a few strides and blasted a shot that went through Stephen Wall at 00:20 to give the Herd the early edge.

The Bison had stormed out of the gate and kept their foot firmly on the floor in terms of the tempo and intensity, earning a powerplay when Ben Russell hauled down Tomas Karpov.

Michael Farn gave the Bison a real chance when he fell over unopposed in the Lightning zone. Nicky Chinn pounced on the loose puck and made a move but he couldn’t find a way past Wall and the net came loose from its moorings.

The Lightning started getting frustrated and responded to the Bison’s physicality by upping their physical side which resulted in a few scuffles after the play. Leigh Jamieson had the Lightning’s best chance of the period when he got the wrong side of Joe Baird and made his way to the net but was denied by a superb glove save from Dean Skinns.

Jordan Cownie marked Ciaran Long a little too closely and was called for holding which sent the Herd back to the powerplay. The Bison’s powerplay went to work and seemed to be keeping MK on the back foot. Miroslav Vantroba fed the puck to Ciaran Long at the point who fired into traffic and a deflection from Tomas Karpov put the puck past Wall at 11:44 and the Bison appeared to have a firm grip on the tie.

The Lightning were sent to the powerplay shortly afterwards when Ciaran Long was adjudged to have tripped his man and MK started to apply pressure but couldn’t get through Skinns. The Lightning had some decent chances as the first period wound down; Lascek and Carr both coming close but the Bison backstop held them at bay. When the first buzzer sounded there was visible relief on the faces of many Bison fans and the hosts were good value for their 2 goal lead.

It started to go awry for the Herd at the start of the second period as the Bison took 3 back to back penalties. Baird was called for delay of game as he put the puck over the glass, then Long was called for tripping and then Wales for tripping. All three penalties took a toll on the Bison’s pk unit who started to flag. Milton Keynes upped their attack and started to really pressure the Bison and eventually it told. Ross Green hammered a shot goalwards that sprung off the pad of Dean Skinns and right onto the stick of the waiting Leigh Jamieson to make the score 2-1 on the night at 27:02.

The Bison had a powerplay shortly afterwards as Jamieson was called for slashing and the hosts had some good chances, mainly through Karpov but they seemed to be lacking momentum.

The Lightning were straight back on the gas and forced Skinns into a string of decent saves and the visitors were spending a lot of time in the Bison zone, forcing faceoff after faceoff. Adam Carr was given a chance thanks to some lovely passing but Skinns was aggressively straight to the top of his crease and denied the Milton Keynes captain with the glove.

However Carr wasn’t to be denied moments later as the long spell of Lightning pressure broke the Bison. Zatopek to Lascek and finally to Carr in space meant he had time to pick his spot and fire home for 2-2 on the night at 37:58. The buzzer was welcome relief to the Bison players and fans, especially Joe Greener having left the game in visible pain and the Bison assistant coach wouldn’t ice for the remainder of the contest. (Though he did stand on the bench in full gear)

Michael Wales drives to the net (c) 5 Hole Photography

Michael Wales drives to the net
(c) 5 Hole Photography

The Bison were unlucky to be back on the penalty kill a few minutes into the third period. Joe Baird came together with Janne Jokila behind the Bison net and Mr O’Halloran called Baird for holding but not the Lightning’s Finnish import who had a pretty good grip on the stick of Baird. The Lightning made the hosts pay as they stretched the Bison defence, Skinns made one save but as he was down the puck went to Stanislav Lascek who settled himself then fired home the powerplay marker at 43:56.

The Bison seemed to be happy to let the Lightning come at them. After all, it was the visitors that needed to score and the Herd seemed happy to play a defensive game and, in the process, give everyone in the arena a heart attack.

Miroslav Vantroba was also having an eventful period; the Slovak defenceman landed awkwardly when hit by a Lightning defenceman and skated to the bench in obvious pain clutching his wrist. The always able Bison bench staff taped his wrist and he was back out on the ice a few moments later but his night was over. After what looked like a really solid hit, Vantroba was called for tripping by Mr O’Halloran. Obviously frustrated with the call, Vantroba waved a hand at the official and said something to him that resulted in a 10 minute misconduct. With less than 12 minutes to play, the Bison had to see out the game without their import defender.

There were more penalties to come. Carr was called for holding giving the Bison a brief reprieve but then Reynolds was called for tripping giving the Lightning a brief 4 on 3 powerplay.

The Bison managed to last out to get back to even strength at 4 on 4 and then, disaster. Leigh Jamieson skated into space and floated a dump in on Skinns to try and get a rebound. He didn’t get a rebound. The shot came in, Skinns reached out to grab it and instead it scuffed off his glove and into the back of the net. The aggregate score was cut to 1 goal and 4-2 on the night to the Lightning at 52:12.

The atmosphere became tense very quickly after that. What had seemed impossible for the Lightning after 4 periods of the cup final was suddenly within their grasp and the Bison had to defend for their lives.

The Lightning pressed and pressed but the Bison were given a glimmer of hope. Grant McPherson followed Joe Baird into the corner after the puck and caught the Bison defender high in the head. Baird was momentarily stunned but alright and the Bison were given a powerplay, McPherson sent to the box for highsticks.

Given a rare chance to attack the Bison needed to do something and eventually the roof was raised from the arena; the puck went loose to Kurt Reynolds at the point and he drove the puck goalwards. The puck zoomed along the ice and deflected off the well placed stick of Andy Melachrino before passing under Wall’s arm and into the back of the net at 56:41.

The Lightning kept coming and the Bison kept defending and gritting their teeth and holding on, exemplified by Doug Sheppard who was diving to stop pucks left and right.

Time ticked down and down, the crowd rising to their feet as the end of a 14 year wait for silverware in Basingstoke came to an end. Sticks and helmets went flying as the team descended upon Dean Skinns’ net. It might have been done the “Bison way” rather than the easy way but it had been done. The final buzzer sounded and the Basingstoke Bison had won the 2013/14 EPL Cup.

 

The Bison celebrate on the bench as they win the EPL Cup (c) 5 Hole Photography

The Bison celebrate on the bench as they win the EPL Cup
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Winner, winner: Well, didn’t they put us all through the ringer! Having stormed out to a 2 goal lead at the end of the first period, the frantic start seemed to take its toll a bit on the Bison. There were many players playing visibly hurt and the spate of penalties in the second period tired the team out and put them on the back foot for a large part of the game. It’s interesting in some ways because a) this is what happened away at Guildford. The team had a decent lead from the first leg, defended well but got caught then made us all sweat for it and b) the games we did this against Manchester in the league generally worked out alright. As someone said to me on the way out, “it was always going to be fine.” Ultimately over the two legs, the right team won.

Andy Melachrino was a good choice for man of the match, his work rate was sky high and his goal ultimately sealed the deal (even if technically the cup winning goal belongs to Tomas Karpov) which was just reward for what has been the season of his life. The other player who I would have leaned towards giving the beers to was Aaron Connolly who seemed to be a perpetual motion machine for 60 minutes; always talking on the bench, always working on the ice and it showed.

There were obvious downsides to last night and Dean Skinns will want at least Milton Keynes’ fourth goal back (wait for the highlights, it’s horrible) but it seems silly to dwell on the negatives of the game given the outcome.

When it all comes down to brass tacks in the dying moments with MK attacking for the equaliser it was Doug Sheppard, a man at times criticised for his play and his tactics, that was diving in front of shooters to stop the puck. The coach has never been the most vocal of leaders in the public sphere but on the ice when it mattered he led from the front and proved that his coaching decisions were the right ones. We have a cup to show for it as a result.

 

A word on our opponents: Whilst it might sound like pithy flagellation of our gallant opponents because we won, full credit needs to go to the Lightning players, management and fans. Last night’s atmosphere would have been nothing without you and the game was a great spectacle and advert not just for EPL hockey but British hockey.

The Lightning could have been forgiven for lying down and trying to limit the damage when the Bison went 2-0 up but credit to MK; they regrouped, threw the kitchen sink at the Bison and nearly came away with the prize.

Stanislav Lascek was a fair choice for the beers on the visiting side. He looked much more dangerous than in the first leg and was a constant threat.

Leigh Jamieson and Adam Carr have been long term leaders on the team and their leadership was key for MK last night. They were constantly looking to make plays and make things happen and took their goals very well, though Jamieson probably wasn’t expecting his second goal to come from that.

As I said above, on the balance of play over 120 minutes I think the better team won but last night proved the age old adage about Nick Poole’s side. You cannot count them out. With the league potentially going to the last day, when the Lightning visit the Bison, the Skydome side could yet have more say in where the EPL silverware ends up.

 

Lowlight of the night: I have more grey hair than I did before

Highlight of the night: Need I say more?

Captain of the Bison, Nicky Chinn lifts the EPL Cup (c) 5 Hole Photography

Captain of the Bison, Nicky Chinn lifts the EPL Cup
(c) 5 Hole Photography

 

Your 2013/14 EPL Cup winners, the Basingstoke Bison (c) 5 Hole Photography

Your 2013/14 EPL Cup winners, the Basingstoke Bison
(c) 5 Hole Photography

All photographs copywrite of 5 Hole Photography. Remember, visit the site and buy a print.

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