Running with the Herd – Bison vs Guildford Flames 6/9/14

Challenge match

Basingstoke Bison 2-3 Guildford Flames

Chinn                          Fussey x2 (1 sh)

Rand (5on3 pp)            Duggan

It’s only a test: The long summer finally gave way to hockey as the sides came together for this pre-season encounter. The Bison scratched Michael Wales with Grant Rounding taking his place alongside Tomas Karpov and Andy Melachrino. The Flames rested Josef Kohut.

If anyone thought that this would be a tame warm-up for the 2014/15 campaign, they were mistaken as both sides, though testing out new line combinations, new plays and new ideas, came flying out of the gate. The Bison were sent to the powerplay early when Paul Dixon was called for interference and then Marcus Kristofferson was called for tripping sending the Bison to an early 5 on 3 powerplay. The Bison powerplay looked to be in full working order despite the summer break but Gregg Rockman was holding firm in the Flames net early in the contest and Guildford held firm.

As the powerplay was winding down, Branislav Kvetan and Andy Melachrino had a bit of a disagreement behind the play. The Flames defenceman took a whack at Melachrino off of the puck, Melachrino responded and sent the big Slovakian sprawling to the floor and was called for crosschecking. Both teams had been on the powerplay inside 4 minutes.

The Flames special teams unit, like their Bison counterparts looked to be fully on point with some crisp passing and forcing saves from Dean Skinns in the Basingstoke goal; the best coming from Sam Godfrey who was set up for a drive from the blueline.

The Bison were soon back on a shortened powerplay when Jez Lundin tangled with Joe Rand as the Herd were clearing the zone. As Rand tried to make the break out past the Flames defenceman, Mr Hogarth adjudged that he’d held the Bison’s Canadian defenceman. The Bison couldn’t find a way past Rockman on this man advantage either. Aaron Connolly was given the best chance when he took a stretch pass from Joe Baird but couldn’t put the puck past the Guildford backstop.

The Bison’s skill players decided it was time to get in on the act; Tomas Karpov went off on a trademark long skate as he wasn’t challenged heading up through the centre lane and fired a blistering shot that was saved. Ciaran Long made some nifty moves as he rounded first one Flames player than another but he too was stopped by Rockman.

Then out of nowhere, the Flames were ahead. Owen Fussey was found in space in the high slot and wristed a gorgeous shot high into the top corner of the net past Skinns’ glove at 13:41.

The Bison were back on the powerplay as Branislav Kvetan was called for tripping. The Bison powerplay was again looking dangerous but just seemed to be lacking the final touch to get the puck into the back of the net. The Flames as well were playing with a decided edge and were not going to give up the lead without a fight. Kristofferson and Connolly almost did come to blows during the Bison powerplay but the officials stepped in.

The powerplay ended and the Flames pressed to add a second goal before the break forcing two good saves in quick succession out of Dean Skinns but the first period ended with just the 1 goal and the visitors in the lead.

The Bison went back to trying to level the scores as the second period started, a mistake from the Flames gave Aaron Connolly a chance but Tom Duggan was on hand to dive into his path and put on enough pressure to impede the shot and make the save easier for Rockman.

The teams traded chances; Joe Greener did some excellent work below the Flames redline, muscled his way past his man and passed to Ciaran Long but his one time shot was over the bar. The Flames had a great chance with the two on one, Ben Campbell feeding Andy McKinney but Skinns was across to cover the angle and the puck deflected off of his pads and away.

Tom Duggan came even closer than that. Some excellent forechecking provided the chance and with the Bison defence scrambling to get back and Skinns on the other post, Duggan tried for the wrap around but the net was removed from its moorings before the puck could cross the line, at least in the opinion of the officials.

The period was being conducted at a frantic pace and eventually all of the Bison’s pressure told. They forced the icing out of the Flames and pressed off of the faceoff. Joe Rand fed the puck back to Miroslav Vantroba and his blast was tipped past Rockman by Nicky Chinn at 28:14.

Buoyed by their first goal, the Bison pressed for the second. Tomas Karpov went off for a trademark jaunt around the Flames defence and looked to have been pulled down but no penalty was incoming. Vantroba had another hard blast goalwards that rebounded off of Rockman’s shoulder and away. Joe Greener found himself in the mix as well when he crashed the net chasing the loose puck but all that came of the situation was a scrum.

The Flames started to press back and had a good opportunity that couldn’t be converted by Oli Bronnimann but soon appeared to be on the back foot when Lundin was called for his second holding penalty of the contest.

The Bison pressed and pressed high but were soon caught out. David Savage pushed the puck into the path of Owen Fussey and the Canadian raced away from the chasing defencemen, made a move and poked the puck through the pads of Skinns at 33:55 for the short handed goal. The Flames had gotten the lead back.

The Bison continued on the powerplay but again just couldn’t seem top get the puck into the net. The game was becoming more and more feisty as demonstrated by the offsetting penalties received by Kvetan and Connolly as they clashed in front of the Flames net.

The Bison found themselves back to the task of trying to equalise but the period levelled out into chances both ways; Ciaran Long had the puck, lost it and gained it back before firing a testing shot at Rockman. Marcus Kristofferson had a booming shot kicked away by Dean Skinns and the Bison netminder was called into a foot race shortly afterwards. With Bronnimann chasing down the loose puck, he was beaten to it by Skinns racing out with the poke check. Skinns got to the puck and Bronnimann was upended; the former Bison forward ending up sailing through the air and ending up in the corner.

The second period came to an end with the Flames still ahead on the scoreboard.

The third period didn’t start well for the Bison. A defensive wobble between Reynolds and Selby lead to the turnover which saw the Flames briefly pass it amongst themselves; Savage to Longstaff to Duggan for the tap in at the back post at 41:13 for 3-1 to the visitors.

Rather than shut up shop and just try to get to the end, the Bison went back to work. Some really neat passing in front of Rockman set up Doug Sheppard who shot shortside but Rockman stuck out a glove and caught the puck. Kristofferson countered with two good chances, one at Skinns’ pads and the other at his helmet, both stopped by the Bison netminder.

The Flames gave away the second 5 on 3 powerplay of the match when first Savage then Kvetan were sent to the box by Mr Hogarth. This time, the Bison’s powerplay finally found the mark. All the slick passing finally came off as Karpov found Long who put the puck to the front of the net for Joe Rand to get the final touch past Gregg Rockman at 48:07 to make it 3-2.

The Flames soon had their own 5 on 3 opportunity when Stuart Mogg and Joe Baird were sent to the box in quick succession. The Flames however were almost caught short when Doug Sheppard stepped in to break up the play and Aaron Connolly was sent racing towards the Flames goal. The Herd’s alternate captain deked and shot but Rockman came up with a huge to save the shot and face.

The Bison managed to see off both penalties and went back to trying to find the equaliser; Chinn had a shot trickle wide and Joe Greener in full flight beat Rockman with his shot but hit the post.

The pressing continued but the Flames held firm and the first pre-season encounter for both sides ended with the Flames running out 3-2 winners.

That will do: Whilst it’s not nice to lose, many will read far too much into losing this game. It’s pre-season and this is the time for making those final touches. Lines were tried and shuffled as were special teams units (the pk unit of Sheppard and Mogg was a surprise but was rather effective). The short answer though is the Bison look good. Mumblings that the Bison hadn’t strengthened and would be left behind in the new order of things in the EPL would appear to be something of an overreaction.

Dean Skinns in net looked on point and there was little he could have done about the first or last goals. He may wanted to have done better with the second but with a player of Fussey’s quality speeding towards you unhindered, he did what he could.

The defence looked decent as well. Bar the wobbles that led to goals (especially Guildford’s third) it was like the defence of last season. Declan Balmer looks to have slotted well into the unit. He kept his head down and wasn’t noticeable which is what you want from a stay at home guy. Reynolds and Selby conspired a bit for the Flames’ game winner but both looked solid as ever. Reynolds looked and played like the all star he is. Selby looks larger after a summer spent mostly in the gym but appears to have lost none of his speed.

There was also the nice sight of the Baird brothers on the ice together. Whilst Brendan’s ice time may not be the highest across the season, such a thing is great story if nothing else.

With no Michael Wales due to his ankle, the sight of Grant Rounding on the top line was an education for Bison fans only used to his brief glimpses when the Bees visited last term. Rounding’s speed caused a variety of issues for the Flames defence, almost as if they’d forgotten that they’d played against him last season when he’s suddenly appear next to them. Whilst I believe that Wales’ return to fitness will see him return to his usual place in the roster, Rounding is a great option to put on that line given the respective speeds of Melachrino and Karpov.

Speaking of the Czech, he was on fine form himself and along with Fussey was a step above everyone else. Joe Rand and Ciaran Long too had decent games. Rand, the usual pillar of consistency and Long, whose beard is so large it has a gravitational pull, was constantly trying to make things happen all night.

The game was what it needed to be, a good practice for the season ahead. The scoreline is in some ways insignificant. They didn’t look off the pace or out of place. Yes there’s things to fine tune but bring on the Phantoms. The defence off the double is on.

A word on our opponents: The Flames deserve credit for winning the game on the night and let’s be honest here; they look good.

Owen Fussey was an easy choice for man of the match for the Flames. The Bison kept him quiet for large stretches last night but all he needed was the one inch of space to prove that he will be deadly at EPL level. The Bison gifted him his second goal but the shot for the first goal was outstanding. I applauded it.

Otherwise it was a really solid team performance from the Flames. The person I had actually given my man of the match to was Gregg Rockman who looked very solid and made a string of really good saves across the 60 minutes.

The top line of Fussey with Kristofferson and Matt Towe looks like it will cause a variety of issues as will the really impressive Tom Duggan and Andy McKinney, the former Phoenix pair reunited at the Surrey side. I won’t lie though, it was weird seeing McKinney in #58. (His usual #91 is being worn by Oli Bronnimann). Bronnimann himself and Ben Campbell acquitted themselves well over the course of the evening.

On defence, Sam Godfrey looks to have slotted in well to the Flames blueline corps and it was a really solid and simple game from big name addition Danny Meyers. Branislav Kvetan and Jez Lundin put themselves about in their traditional style.

The Flames look like they will cause all sorts of problems for sides this season and if they play with the edge they used last night could be a really fun side to watch. They’re not the biggest side and teams with size could and should use that to their advantage. Outmuscling this side might be one way to take them down and their first game with Sheffield should see how they will respond to such tactics.

Lowlight of the night: Flames 3rd goal, just uggh.

Highlight of the night: Hockey’s back! Oh, and the Bison’s 1st goal which was just textbook stuff.

P.S. Remember to check out the brand new BOTW Podcast focussing on the EPL. Details at the top of the page.


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