Running with the Herd – Bison vs Guildford Flames 5/4/14Posted: 08/04/2014
EPL Playoff Semi Final
Basingstoke Bison 5-2 Guildford Flames
Karpov pp Kristofferson
Chinn Kvetan pp
Fire eaters: The Bison headed into the game with Michael Wales out of the lineup but on the bench in tracksuit and foot cast. The Flames scratched Mark Lee, Milos Melicherik (who was bench coaching), Chris Cooke, Curtis Huppe and Andrew Sharp with Gregg Rockman between the pipes.
The Bison had an almost immediate chance to get themselves on the board when Andy Hemmings was a bit overzealous on the first hit of the game and was adjudged to have boarded Tomas Karpov. The Herd got their powerplay unit to work but couldn’t find a way past Rockman.
The early exchanges were very even as both sides tested the defences of their opponents in the opening few minutes. The Flames were next to the man advantage when Aaron Connolly was called for interference but the best chance of the powerplay came shorthanded from Joe Greener; his shot being deflected wide by Rockman’s pads.
The game continued to go back and forth with neither side giving much quarter to the other. The players and fans were noticeably on edge and the teams looked like they were terrified to do much for fear of making a mistake.
When Martin Opatovsky was sent to the box for crosschecking, the Bison struck. Gregg Rockman went behind the net but was caught by Andy Melachrino and Tomas Karpov, the Czech racing out from behind the cage to tap the puck home at 11:50.
The Flames upped the pace of things shortly afterwards and had the Herd on the backfoot. It took the Surrey side just over 2 minutes but they found themselves level when a Jez Lundin shot was saved by Skinns but the rebound found its way to Marcus Kristofferson in tight who tapped home at 14:07.
The Flames pushed on looking to take the lead but the Bison managed to hold firm despite looking a little shaky. There was some relief for the Herd when Aaron Connolly was taken down by Rick Skene which drew a tripping penalty but the Bison couldn’t get settled on the powerplay and nothing came of it. Both teams held out until the first break with the score tied at 1-1 which was a fair reflection of the first 20 minutes of action.
The second started very evenly but it felt like the Bison needed a bit of a spark to up their game. With everything so tightly poised, one goal either way would have a massive impact.
Earlier, in the first quarter final, Michael Psurny of Manchester had scored a sublime goal where he’d gone through two defencemen before sliding the puck past Stevie Lyle in the Swindon net. Nicky Chinn had clearly seen this goal and felt he could do better. Having taken the feed from Tomas Karpov, the Bison captain went round one man, past another and out waited Gregg Rockman before sliding the puck into the net at 23:57 to give the Herd the lead. It was a huge goal at a time the Bison really needed one. It was a captain’s goal.
The Bison smelt blood and kept coming forward and were unlucky not to be back on the powerplay when a clearance appeared to go straight over the plexiglass but after a chat was deemed not to be a penalty.
It wasn’t to be an issue shortly afterwards when another spell of Bison pressure told. The Flames struggled to clear the zone and a loose puck was jumped on by Miroslav Vantroba. The Slovak took the puck, made a move then switched to the backhand and found the gap between Rockman’s pads to make it 3-1 Bison at 28:17.
It looked to be getting better for Basingstoke when Kvetan was sent to the box for tripping Karpov but the Bison were nearly stung by Marcus Kristofferson. Dean Skinns had gone behind the Bison net to collect the dump in but was caught by the Swede. A certain shorthanded goal was denied when Zach Sullivan appeared out of nowhere and got in the way just enough to stop the Flames cutting the deficit.
That stop by Sullivan would prove huge moments later. With pressure still being put on by the Bison, a mixed up line sent out after the powerplay came to an end paid dividends when Cameron Wynn picked up the loose puck and sent Joe Rand on a charge to the Guildford net where he found a way to squeeze the puck past Rockman at 31:43 to make it 4-1 and forced the Flames into taking the timeout.
The Flames were given a few opportunities to make amends before the break as the Bison were stung for too many men when Tomas Karpov was a little too quick off the bench to a puck and then 1:11 of 5 on 3 when Joe Baird was called for boarding and then Vantroba for holding but the Bison’s penalty killers managed to hold the Flames to the outside and saw out the second period with the score at 4-1 to the Herd.
The third period started and to have a chance of getting back into the tie, the Flames needed to try and up the physicality against the Bison but instead found themselves on the end of a slashing penalty to Josef Kohut but the Bison weren’t able to use the advantage.
It was a typical Bison leading the game performance; the onus was put on Guildford to find a way past the Herd and the Bison took their chances as they came. The Bison were playing their brand of shut down hockey and it was working.
Jez Lundin was sent to the box for slashing Tomas Karpov but again the Herd were unable to extend their lead on the man advantage but the Herd were stung minutes later.
Kurt Reynolds was apoplectic to be called for high sticks by Mr Thompson but it sent the Flames to the powerplay and it was as simple as 1, 2, 3. Faceoff to winger to Branislav Kvetan stepping in and it was a lovely shot over the glove of Dean Skinns at 53:37 for 4-2.
Understandably this put everyone on a bit of an edge, the players included but eventually the game was well and truly put to bed. Cameron Wynn took the feed from Ciaran Long and having scored a lovely goal on Dailbor Sedlar in the quarter finals, fancied his chances and shot. Rockman made the save but with the puck lose, Rockman couldn’t stop Joe Greener’s drive to the net and the puck was bundled over the line with the Bison assistant coach being credited with the goal at 57:57.
The final couple of minutes wound down as the Bison held the Flames at bay as the 350 odd fans from Basingstoke rose to their feet to salute the players and the collective realisation that there was one more dance and it was with the Manchester Phoenix to be playoff champions.
Half way up the hill: Cup final against Milton Keynes; Bison score first, concede shortly afterwards and wobble to the end of the first period before breaking out in the second period with 3 goals and force the timeout at around the halfway mark before shutting down the opposition in the third to close out the game. That…it was all that.
Ultimately the Bison wobbled but eventually established their game and couldn’t be beaten by Guildford who didn’t have an answer for the Herd’s physicality and direct approach.
Nicky Chinn was outstanding all night. The skipper put his body on the line and truly led from the front but the most important bit was that goal. Jokes about copying Michael Psurny aside, the Bison were on the back foot at the start of the second period and when we needed someone to step up and make something happen, the captain stepped up and made it happen.
The other person who really needs mentioning at this point; Joe Baird. A couple of months back I made a point of praising Baird because his game isn’t one that normally gains a lot of plaudits but where Chinn led from the front, Baird led from the rear. He was beyond solid; held back when needed, jumped into the play when needed, made all the right decisions, made good outlet passes. It was the best game I’ve seen Joe Baird play, the performance of a veteran really rising to the occasion.
The goals were all very well taken, special mention to Miroslav Vantroba’s dangle into the backhand and the team defence was outstanding against a dangerous Flames side.
The Bison put their destiny in their own hands. Sunday promised the world.
A word on our opponents: It wasn’t the finest hour in the history of the Guildford Flames. The first twenty minutes were pretty good, very good even. The second twenty however were a disaster and the third saw them run out of steam.
Hindsight is 20/20 of course but had the Flames gone 2-1 up rather than 2-1 down, then it could have been a very different story. The Flames had the Bison on the backfoot and the Surrey side were playing some really slick and impressive hockey. Sadly for Flames fans, Nicky Chinn pulled a bit of magic out of the air and the Bison rode that wave of confidence. I haven’t seen a Flames fan argue differently, they were beaten by the better side on the night.
Jez Lundin was an odd choice for man of the match given he appeared to be on the ice for so many of the goals. I was impressed once again by Martin Opatovsky who must be very high on the list of people to re-sign in Guildford. Branislav Kvetan as well looked decent and scored a really nice goal, showing his offensive talents aren’t just limited to a booming slapshot.
Gregg Rockman had an interesting game; there are some saves he didn’t know that much about but made some very good stops. However he got minimal help at times from his defence and that showed.
Where the Guildford Flames go from this season is an interesting question, one we’ll probably deal with in greater detail at the start of next season when we know the shape of the roster but there will be some real soul searching at the Spectrum this summer. One person we know already who won’t be back is Rick Skene who has announced his retirement and we wish Rick all the best.
Lowlight of the night: Highsticks call on Reynolds, pretty much all I have.
Highlight of the night: Nicky Chinn’s goal was just sublime.