Running with the Herd – Bison vs Guildford Flames 4/10/14

EPL/EIHA Challenge Cup

Basingstoke Bison 1-2 Guildford Flames after penalty shots

Karpov                        Towe

Penalties (Flames shoot first):

Rand miss                  Towe miss

Karpov saved               Duggan saved

Greener scores            Longstaff scores

Sheppard miss             Kvetan scores

Doug Sheppard races towards Gregg Rockman in Saturday's EPL clash. (c) 5 Hole Photography

Doug Sheppard races towards Gregg Rockman in Saturday’s EPL clash.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Better than none: The Bison welcomed Michael Wales into the line up for the first time this season since his broken ankle back in March but were without Ciaran Long due to injury. The Flames sat Curtis Huppe as the import out off the mix.

Then we all blinked and Guildford scored. The Flames had the better of the early exchanges, Matt Towe took the zone and with the Bison defenceman partially screening Skinns, fired past the Bison netminder into the far corner at 01:37.

The visitors were having more of the puck and more of the chances early on before the Bison got more into their stride and came back into the game; Tomas Karpov leading the way with a neat move around the defenceman but Rockman made the initial save then poked the puck away. The game was being played at a decent pace and there were few stoppages which served to give the encounter an almost breathless quality at times.

The Bison were given the first powerplay opportunity when Marcus Kristofferson slashed Aaron Connolly high on his stick and it became a 5on3 moments later when Danny Meyers was called for holding in front of Rockman’s net. The Bison responded by getting called offside twice in quick succession during the 5on3 to leave the home fans dumbfounded.

When the Bison extra man unit got going, it looked decent and Karpov was set up for the drive but Rockman was equal to the task. The Herd kept at it and kept getting within a breath of scoring. Miroslav Vantroba hammered a shot off of the post but the Flames saw off the two man advantage.

The Flames had their own powerplay opportunity when Tom Duggan and Michael Wales clashed off of a faceoff and Mr Pickett saw fit to only call Wales for interference but it was the hosts who had the first real chance. Meyers turned the puck over at the blueline to Doug Sheppard who sped away towards Rockman with Joe Greener in support. The Bison player/coach had his shot saved by Rockman and Greener crashed the net and the netminder into the net and the Flames’ net remained untarnished.

Dean Skinns was soon called back into action when a broken play saw the puck fall to Tom Duggan in the slot. The shot from the Flames’ forward brought a reaction save from Skinns that even a hardened Guildford fan would have appreciated.

Doug Sheppard engineered another breakaway but he was dispossessed by a swing of the stick from Rockman which earned him a slashing penalty from the official. The Bison couldn’t capitalise and saw Kurt Reynolds sent to the box for holding onto Ben Campbell too long after a hit just as the first period came to a close.

The Flames, on a shortened powerplay early in the second had the first good chance when Tom Duggan fed Kristofferson at the back door but Skinns went post to post to make the stop.

Doug Sheppard was called for hooking to give the Flames their own 5on3 opportunity but the Bison penalty killers held firm and they too saw off the double advantage and had a chance shortly afterwards when Tomas Karpov had a trademark dart around defenders; his no look shot to the shortside hitting the outside of the post.

The Bison were back on the powerplay when Kristofferson was called for tripping Sheppard in what looked like a simple case of the Bison coach falling over under pressure. The Herd were not going to say no to the man advantage but despite some decent moves on the puck, they couldn’t find a way past Rockman.

The Flames netminder was putting in a top drawer performance but Dean Skinns was also pulling out the stops, denying Duggan and Kristofferson with some very good saves before the Bison were sent back to the powerplay on the back of an innocuous hooking call for Andy McKinney. The sides were playing 4on4 moments later however; Branislav Kvetan’s late hit on Andy Melachrino went unpunished but the Bison man’s reaction was called for roughing.

The sides traded chances with the empty space, Greener and McKinney went close before both netminders again carried on their standout performance. Skinns was forced into 3 quick saves before Rockman was forced into denying Melachrino and then picking a drive from Declan Balmer out of the air.

Tom Duggan was briefly down injured as play was called back but as he was up and away under his own power, the second period ended with the visitors still 1-0 ahead.

The third period started with the Flames staring down another penalty when Sam Godfrey hit Joe Greener high, earning himself a checking to the head penalty and a 12 minute sit down.

The Bison fans thought they had equalised shortly after. Tomas Karpov dashed through the middle and fed Andy Melachrino whose shot rippled the net. Sadly it was the outside of the net.

Where the second period had been nothing short of a bitty mess, the third period was being played with a pace that the second had lacked. Dean Skinns made a big save from Ben Campbell before finally, the damn broke.

Tomas Karpov fed Joe Greener who had the smallest bit of space in the slot but it was enough for the Bison’s top scorer to fire a laser into the corner above Rockman’s glove for the equaliser at 47:13 to the delight of the majority in attendance.

Both teams pushed for the winner. Joe Greener kept making friends as he kept testing how strong Rockman would hold in his net which didn’t please the Flames too much. The pace picked up as both sides probed and pushed in an attempt to beat the opposition’s netminder to take home all the points. The intensity picked up as well and the hits started coming thick and fast, the best being when Rand bounced off of Kristofferson in the corner behind Rockman’s net.

The Flames had a late powerplay chance when Michael Wales was called for holding. Aaron Connolly had the first real chance when he broke out shorthanded but his shot was right into the bread basket of Rockman. There was minimal other action and regulation ended with the score still tied. Both teams would get a point from the encounter which was entirely fair on the balance of play.

Overtime had its chances; Campbell had a shot saved by Skinns and a set play saw Balmer hammer the puck off of the end boards for Karpov to pick up which he did but he couldn’t stuff it home. The buzzer sounded for the end of overtime and the shootout came.

Both first shooters missed the net, both second shooters had their shots saved by the netminders. David Longstaff skated in at a leisurely pace before picking the 5 hole before Joe Greener snapped his shot off of the post and past Rockman. Branislav Kvetan skated in tight to Dean Skinns before find a gap to squeeze the puck in and Doug Sheppard’s effort scuffed off of the backhand of his stick past Rockman’s net to see the Bison drop their first point of the season.

Michael Wales returned to the ice after his ankle injury in March (c) 5 Hole Photography

Michael Wales returned to the ice after his ankle injury in March
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Can’t win them all: The first dropped point of the season was always going to come and given how scrappy the game was at times, to lose in the shootout is no indignity in the grand scheme. A point is a point and there were positives to take from the game.

I spoke a few people who said it was an entertaining game and I’ll disagree on that front. I thought the game was scrappy, had passages of poor play from both sides and ultimately wasn’t that fun a game to watch, especially the second period which had more turnovers both ways than Greggs.

Kurt Reynolds got the man of the match beers which was fair enough on performance. Reynolds was his usual reliable self, making some of those defensive moves that only Kurt Reynolds can make. Many people felt Joe Greener should have got the beers and that would have also been acceptable given how he played last night. Greener appears to be in a rich vein of form at the moment and looks almost unstoppable at times. He’s in the form where you feel every shot could go in.

The other player who actually isn’t getting enough credit for their performance last night is Dean Skinns. I’ll talk more about his opposite number more in a moment but Skinns made some top quality saves and looked strong in net when the crowd gathered.

The Bison clearly missed Ciaran Long’s creativity last night and had to compensate accordingly. Stuart Mogg was moved to the second line which was a justified move given Mogg’s recent good performances but arguably gave that line too much of a defensive outlook. Sheppard’s a good two way player, Mogg’s a good two way player and arguably they needed someone with Greener and Sheppard whose game is almost less two way. That’s not Mogg’s fault of course and as mentioned, his recent performances saw him being more than worthy of extra ice time.

It wasn’t a game we’ll remember for very long and whilst it’s a shame that the unbeaten record has gone, it’s a point earned and we move on.

A word on our opponents: As we start, tip of the hat to the Flames on the win. A lot of what I said about the Bison applies to the Flames as well. I don’t think it was a good game of hockey and the Flames passing at times was woeful but Paul Dixon’s game plan was effective; clog the neutral zone and the passing lanes to take away the Bison’s ability to pass around you. They deserve credit for that.

With all due respect to Marcus Kristofferson, Gregg Rockman was outstanding last night and arguably the best player on the ice for both teams. Whilst his net lived a charmed life occasionally given the number of times that the Bison hit the iron, the Flames netminder made a number of high quality saves in all situations that kept the scores as they were. The game plan that the Flames were playing always meant that the score would be tight and it was key for Rockman to be on form as a result and on form he was.

Kristofferson was no donkey last night by any stretch and put himself about well and Tom Duggan was certainly a visible threat as was Ben Campbell who might be the most underrated player in the league.

Apart from that it wasn’t a vintage performance from the Flames but they obviously won’t sniff at the extra point from the affair. It was a good morale boosting result ahead of tonight’s home game against Manchester.

Lowlight of the night: The game itself was dull

Highlight of the night: Greener’s goal; massively needed and a cracking shot to beat a netminder standing on his head.

Awww...Rocky is sad (c) 5 Hole Photography

Awww…Rocky is sad
(c) 5 Hole Photography

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