Running with the Herd – Bison vs Bracknell Bees 1/11/14

EPL/EIHA Challenge Cup

Basingstoke Bison 4-2 Bracknell Bees

Wales                         Smital

Rand pp                      Galazzi pp

Long

Reynolds eng

Dean Skinns tries to see through the crowd in the Bison's 4-2 win over Bracknell (c) 5 Hole Photography

Dean Skinns tries to see through the crowd in the Bison’s 4-2 win over Bracknell
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Taking the sting out: Michael Wales and Andy Melachrino returned to the Bison lineup after missing last Sunday’s win at Swindon but Matt Selby remains on the injury list. Bracknell added Josh Smith to their lineup, starting Alex Mettam.

The opening couple of minutes saws chances at both ends as both keepers were tested early, the forwards looking for any gaps in the armour. It was the Bison who would have the first sustained period of pressure when Ryan Watt was adjudged to have fired the puck over the glass for the delay of game penalty. Miroslav Vantroba’s massive drive found its way through the crowd but it was kicked away by Mettam.

The Bison kept up the pressure; Ciaran Long picked the pocket of the defender but his drive to net was stopped by Mettam. Long then used his speed to get behind the net and tried to feed the puck to Aaron Connolly but a Bracknell stick in the lane saw a deflection that meant Connolly had to take an extra touch and Mettam had a chance to get into position.

The Bison had been having the better of the play and chances but couldn’t stop themselves falling behind just after the midway point of the period. Declan Balmer was rightly called for tripping which sent the Bees to the powerplay and the Berkshire side made short work of man advantage. The cycle was quickly set up, Hubacek to Antonov who fed it into the wheelhouse of Lukas Smital for the drive through the crowd and past Dean Skinns at 11:51.

The goal boosted the Bees’ confidence and the Bison’s play became very stop/start as they looked for a way to try and break the Bees down. The play became a lot more open when both sides were reduced to 4 skaters after a running battle between Joe Greener and Scott Spearing boiled over when the two clashed; Greener being called for hooking and Spearing for interference but neither side found a way to score.

Spearing was back in the box when he landed a nasty looking hit that was called as boarding but the Bison’s powerplay was cut short when Tomas Karpov was called for holding the stick. The first period played out with the Bees holding the lead 1-0 and having 30 seconds of powerplay to start the second.

The Bison got Karpov back without incident but as soon as he left the box Declan Balmer was sent back for a crosscheck but the Bees couldn’t add to their advantage.

The game’s quality level had not high and the game became very bitty as both teams failed to connect on their passes. Both teams were certainly making the effort but the Bison’s normally slick passing was going awry and was being snuffed out by the Bees clogging of the neutral zone and passing lanes whereas the Bees’ moves were being stopped by the Bison’s superior team speed and vision.

The Bees were the next to the man advantage when Radek Hubacek got the wrong side of Kurt Reynolds and Reynolds’ response was to flop on top of Hubacek and take him to the ground. It was called as tripping but the best chance of the powerplay fell to Joe Baird; his clearance of the zone going straight towards Mettam who was forced to shut his pads to avoid an embarrassing goal against him.

The Bison kept pressing for the equaliser but Alex Mettam was standing firm in the net. Long set up Connolly who couldn’t convert, Rand had two chances stopped, Vantroba’s drive through traffic was caught in the glove.

The Bees wrestled momentum back and soon had a huge chance to stamp their authority on the game. Balmer was caught on the puck in front of Skinns by Hubacek and was forced into a rash challenge to bring him down before he could get the shot off. Mr Matthews considered for a moment before raising his arms above his head to signal the penalty shot.

Hubacek set off, circling round to his left before cutting in on the net. He deked and tried to slide the puck under the pad of Skinns but the Bison netminder trapped the puck to deny the Czech forward.

Motivated by the massive save from their goalie, the Bison went forward again. Some good passing set up Doug Sheppard for the chance but a diving Smital forced Sheppard into raising the puck off of the ice and it went over the crossbar. It felt like it would be one of those nights for the Bison until a few moments later. Karpov laid off a pass for Michael Wales who took the zone at speed and before the marker could get a stick in the way, Wales fired the puck over Mettam’s shoulder to tie the score at 1-1 at 38:08.

The Bison kept pressing and when Ryan Watt was called for hooking, the Herd’s powerplay went into overdrive searching for the lead. Mettam was sent into full panic mode when he lost his stick but two huge stops with his pads denied the Bison before a pass out of the zone set Lukas Smital away. The league’s leader in short handed goals sprinted goalwards towards Dean Skinns but was denied by a back checking Ciaran Long who timed a swing of his stick perfectly to knock the puck into the corner which finished the action for the second period.

Whilst the Bison couldn’t find a way past Mettam before the buzzer, they eventually made the powerplay tell just after the start of the third period. The Bison set up the powerplay and created the space. Vantroba passed in to Rand in stride and as Mettam dashed out to try and poke the puck away, Rand poked it under Mettam and over the line at 40:22 for 2-1.

The Bison kept the pressure on, a Vantroba shot being tipped just wide by Connolly, and they got a powerplay chance thanks to some creativity from an unlikely source. Seeing Tomas Karpov still behind the Bees defence, Declan Balmer played a pass off of the plexiglass that Karpov took on the tape and sped towards Mettam. Whilst Karpov got the shot away, he was being slashed by Harvey Stead who was sent to the box. Sadly for the Herd, Rand was called for elbows and the chance of the man advantage evaporated quickly.

After Mr Matthews recovered from taking a stray stick to the face (and something that never gets mentioned enough is the amount of knocks in games that the officials take and carry on regardless), the Bison pressed on as the Bees appeared to be tiring. Grant Rounding took a hit to create some space for Ciaran Long. Long fed Joe Greener but his shot went off the pipe. Long then had his own chance off a feed from Kurt Reynolds but his shot went over the bar. The period of pressure told however when the Bison found a way past Mettam; the puck left for Greener at the blueline who took a moment, paused then fired goalwards and Ciaran Long’s tip sent the puck past the netminder at 48:40 for 3-1 Bison.

The teams traded penalties as Nicky Chinn was called for tripping and then Josh Smith was called for slashing Vantroba behind the play but neither side could find the scoring touch. In amongst all that, Andy Melachrino yelled something that Mr Matthews objected to and his night was ended at 54:00 by a misconduct penalty.

The Bees upped their intensity as they searched for the equaliser before what became a bizarre final two minutes. As the Bison tried to stab the puck home at the post, the net came off its moorings which drew the whistle. For reasons unknown to anyone in the crowd, Mettam threw the puck at Aaron Connolly then proceeded to get in the Bison forward’s face and yell at him, obviously feeling Connolly had been a bit too close for what he deemed appropriate.

Another crowd came together at the next whistle and when someone got a glove up into the face of Karpov, Michael Wales immediately started grabbing at people to protect his linemate. Luckily for the Bison no penalty was forthcoming on that play.

The Bees did find themselves on the powerplay moments later as Balmer lined up Scott Spearing and waffled him. The call on the play was roughing which confused many but after they took their timeout to talk strategy, the Bees got a goal back in slightly controversial fashion.

With Mettam on the bench for the extra attacker, the Bees crowded the net to create the screen. The Bison fans and players were screaming at Mr Matthews as crosscheck after crosscheck flu in from James Galazzi in front of the net as well as making contact with Skinns but it was Galazzi who would get the goal to give the Bees hope as he made himself some space and got the puck through the mass of bodies at 59:28 to make it 3-2.

Mettam was left on the bench for the faceoff, Rand won it back to Reynolds who snapped a shot from the outside of the faceoff circle and straight into the Bees net at 59:32 for 4-2 and that was that. After a disappointing loss at The Hive a few weeks previously, the Bison had some measure of revenge on the Berkshire side.

Tomas Karpov (centre) looks to the puck under pressure from Bracknell's Jan Bendik (right) (c) 5 Hole Photography

Tomas Karpov (centre) looks to the puck under pressure from Bracknell’s Jan Bendik (right)
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Down in the trenches: Last night’s game will no prizes for its quality or how pretty it was but it was a measured Bison performance that eventually broke down the opposition. There were moments of high frustration as the Bison appeared to have no plan B against what was an almost structureless but ultimately effective road game played by the Bees. What told for the Bison was their superior skill and their opponents ultimately ran out of steam and ideas themselves.

Ciaran Long took the man of the match beers for the Herd which I won’t disagree with on the whole. Long made a variety of top quality moves to steal the puck from the defence in key positions and made a fantastic swinging stop of Lukas Smital when the Bees player coach was baring down on Skinns.

Tomas Karpov didn’t have his best night in a Bison shirt yet somehow came out of the game with an assist and was constantly working even nothing came off for him. Stuart Mogg showed further flashes of brilliance as he grows into the extended ice time he’s getting. The sight of Miroslav Vantroba in a facecage is an odd one but it was a confident, competent performance from the big Slovak.

Industrious is probably the word I would use to describe the overall performance from the Bison. There weren’t a great number of outstanding individual performances but they stayed faithful to the game plan, almost to their detriment in the first two periods but it ended up working in the final period.

A word on our opponents: With all due respect to Harvey Stead, who is a talented young player, I was somewhat bemused by his choice for man of the match over Alex Mettam’s 40 save performance including 2 on the penalty kill with no stick. Mettam gave many of us the horrible feeling that it was going to be “one of those nights” for the Bison until he was beaten by Michael Wale’s superb wrist shot.

Lukas Smital and Ivan Antonov as a combination look very threatening and, given his recent performances I was paying close Antonov who looks to be a prospect of real potential. For someone who still has to wear a facecage and could do with bulking out a bit, the young man is fearless. He chased down every puck, took every whack in front of the net and was routinely sent sprawling to the ice by hits but kept getting up and going again. His speed as well was, in the first two periods, a major factor in causing offensive threats. Smital as well was on decent form and took his goal very well. His speed was a constant factor and a short handed goal was only denied by a last gasp piece of good defending.

The overall Bracknell game however was a bit messier. The effort was there, I don’t think I could fault the effort nor do I have an issue with a team playing “road hockey” but the lack of structure to what they did made everything look and feel ugly. It’s not a style that a team can play consistently if they want to win a lot of games.

The other problem for Bracknell was they worked so hard in the first two periods that they looked tired in the third. The goal in the final minute, one that I’m not sure should have stood, was only because of a ferocious effort but it was too little too late and the Bison by that stage had distanced themselves enough from the Bees on the scoreboard and across the 60 minutes to deserve the win. That’s not to say that with hindsight I don’t think Bracknell don’t have what it takes but them not being as skilled a side as some means they have to outwork teams for 60 minutes, not get tired and have a tight, focussed game plan whereas last night they ran out of steam, didn’t appear to have a very coherent game plan bar “get in the way” and got outworked for stretches. It just wasn’t their night.

Lowlight of the night: Toss up between the Bees’ 2nd goal or Melachrino’s misconduct which was just stupid to take.

Highlight of the night: I’ll say Wales’ goal. Muzzy’s been hiding that in his locker for a while.

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