Running from the Herd – Bison vs Milton Keynes Lightning 8/11/14Posted: 10/11/2014
EPL/EIHA Challenge Cuo
Basingstoke Bison 3-2 Milton Keynes Lightning
Greener pp Emersic 2 x pp
A spot of good weather: The Bison headed into the game without Matt Selby and also Andy Melachrino whose shoulder kept him out of action. The Lightning came into the game without Jordan Cownie, Ross Bowers and the suspended Chris Wiggins whilst starting up and coming netminder Jordan Hedley over former Bison goalie Stephen Wall.
The game started well for the Herd, a Joe Baird hit on Nidal Phillips setting an early tone that continued as the Lightning were pinned back by the Bison. Stanislav Lascek was called for high sticking dead on the 4 minute mark which saw the Bison up the intensity on Hedley’s goal. Joe Greener’s shot through the screen didn’t find a tip and a lovely flowing move set up Aaron Connolly but his shot was kicked away.
The Bison kept the pressure on and kept having chances but Hedley was denying the Bison as his defence was being breached around him. The young backstop denied Rand and Rounding before a rare MK chance saw Lascek draw the ire of Michael Wales as the Lightning’s import forward took one too many pokes at the puck under Dean Skinns.
The Herd kept coming; Long rang a shot off of the post, Karpov fed Mogg for a shot that was saved by Hedley and a mazing run by Karpov set up Vantroba pinching in that was stopped by Milan Kosturek but the Lightning had a couple of chances themselves as Lascek had a shot stopped by Skinns and a slick passing move set up Petr Horava but his shot was forced over the bar as he raised the puck to get it over the sprawling defeceman.
When Blaz Emersic was called for a hook however, the damn finally broke. The Bison powerplay set itself up and created some space. Joe Greener walked into the centre from the halfboards and fired a shot that hit the post, came back and eventually found its way over the line. The goal was originally credited to Joe Rand but was changed to Greener later but no matter; the Bison had a deserved lead at 18:53 and that was the last major action of the first period.
The Bison started the second period as they had ended the first and goalscoring chances for the Herd came thick and fast in the opening minutes of the middle frame. Connolly went close right off the face off, some 1-2 passing between Long and Greener set the later up for a shot that whizzed past the ear of Hedley and Karpov held off his man to centre the puck but Rounding was unable to connect on the pass.
The Lightning were given a chance when Doug Sheppard was called for a very soft tripping call, the best chance falling to Lewis Hook who had his shot saved by Skinns. The Bison however responded immediately after the powerplay as the line of Wales, Karpov and Rounding did the damage. Wales took the puck in the corner on the red line, fed it to the Czech who made a lovely move and his fast feed into the middle was backhanded past Hedley by Rounding at 26:13 to double the Herd’s advantage.
The Lightning tried to respond, Milan Kosturek holding the defence at bay as he got a shot in on Skinns but the Bison netminder made the stop and it appeared they’d get more when Aaron Connolly was called for goaltender interference but instead the Lightning conspired to waste their powerplay, punctuated by a moment that gave the Bison a shorthanded chance when Horava fell over, his legs can-canning into the air with nobody within 10 feet of him.
It got worse for the Lightning as Baird once again hammered Nidal Phillips but the Lightning player landed awkwardly and was down on the ice for a moment. He was eventually up and off the ice but looked uncomfortable and took no further part in the contest. It was almost the same story for Ciaran Long as he took a swinging stick to the face whilst on the puck that opened a cut above his mouth but Mr Szucs was not looking at the play and made no call.
There were chances for both sides and the Lightning came close to scoring when Lascek’s collected his own rebound but fired wide. Moments later, Grant Rounding gained the zone, lost the puck momentarily, got it back and tapped it to Karpov who saw the angle and fired hard past the glove of Hedley into the top of the net, sending the water bottle flying at 36:21.
The period played out without much further incident but as the buzzer sounded to signal the 40 minute mark, both sides shared some cross words as they left the ice and the intensity that had been lacking from the Lightning’s performance came started to show.
After the non call on a high stick to Ciaran Long, Mr Szucs quickly raised the ire of the Bison early in the third when he called Joe Baird for the high stick. The MK powerplay took a while to settle but eventually paid dividends when the Bison got caught all on one side of the ice and a pass from Connor Goode found Blaz Emersic in space. The Slovenian made a move, drew Skinns down and fired over the keeper at 42:02.
The Lightning upped their physicality and looked much more like the Milton Keynes that people were used to, the best opportunity falling to Leigh Jamieson as a broken play saw the puck land at his feet in the slot and the shot forced a reaction save from Skinns. The Lightning then sprung the 3on2 and Lascek forced Skinns into a full stretch glove stop that will look very good on the highlights.
Then another moment of controversy; the Lightning were pressing inside the Bison zone and Mr Szucs raised his arm for the penalty, Ciaran Long being called for holding the stick. A furious home squad and players raged at the official as, at the same time, Grant McPherson was openly holding onto the stick of Rand in full view of the official that was not called. A frustrated Bison allowed themselves to be stretched on the powerplay and the puck was worked into the wheelhouse of Michael Farn whose blueline drive was tipped past Skinns by Emersic for his second of the night and a second powerplay goal at 53:57 for 3-2 as the crowd rained down boos on the official.
The reaction from the Bison however was much more impressive as they played a tight game and shut the Lightning down, best emphasised by Kurt Reynolds’ monstrous hit on Kosturek.
Jordan Hedley was called to the bench but the Lightning could find no way through as the Bison pinned them the visitors in their own zone as the buzzer sounded.
A measure of revenge: Given how wretched the Bison played for 50 of the 60 minutes in Milton Keynes a few weeks ago, this was a pleasant turn of events. The Bison played a much better game, their game and for the majority of events the visitors couldn’t compete with them until penalty trouble caused issues in the final third of the game.
Tomas Karpov got the beers for man of the match which was fair enough given his offensive output and having a hand in all three goals. His goal itself was a strange one; Karpov almost hit the shot off pace but it was one where the Czech saw the gap between keeper’s shoulder and post and put the puck there.
The one player who really should have been in contention for the beers as well was Kurt Reynolds who was again, superb. The defence is having a rough time of things at the moment; a man down with the loss of Selby and with Sheppard not rotating Brendan Baird into the game, the Bison are playing with 4 defencemen which is visibly tiring the guys in the game but Reynolds just kept going and was his characteristic self including his trademark twisting and turning skates away from defencemen to allow for the outlet pass.
It was another good performance against the Lightning once again from Grant Rounding. A player who slowly seems to be really growing on the Bison fans, Rounding seems to have found an understanding playing with Karpov. It’s maybe not as fluid and pretty as the Czech forward’s partnership with Andy Melachrino but it is an effective one that is paying off for the team and both players’ points totals if Melachrino is injured.
The issue of team discipline crept into proceedings again as the team took 2 penalties in the final period that resulted in goals. Yes; the frustration from some inconsistent officiating was clear for all to see but the Bison cannot afford to let that frustration get the better of them (as I’m writing this on Monday, double that given the result in Manchester).
The win over Milton Keynes was well earned, well fought for and despite a wobble the right team won.
A word on our opponents: This wasn’t one of the MK Lightning’s better performances and coach Nick Poole will no doubt chalk it up to a bad night at the office. Whilst they scored twice, the scoreline arguably flattered them given the balance of play across the whole 60 minutes and I think, in the cold light of day, had MK equalised and made it to OT it would have been robbery on their part.
Blaz Emersic got the man of the match for the Lightning and this was a fair choice. Whilst he scored both goals, Emersic was a workhorse for most of the game whilst the other imports were at times a bit anonymous. That might be being a bit harsh to Petr Horava who having watched MK twice is their best player in my opinion, but when they arguably needing him to step up a bit more in defence when the Bison were all over the visitors, he wasn’t really leading the line. Emersic was trying to make plays happen and trying to be defensively responsible and his selection as their player of the game was justified for me.
Nidal Phillips played no further part after the second huge hit he took from Joe Baird and hopefully whatever is wrong is not serious.
Ultimately, MK paid the price for not really performing in the first two periods. They weren’t at the races for stretches and were pinned back by a Bison side that used its speed and physicality to pin them back with relative ease. Whilst Jordan Hedley didn’t have a standout night in the Lightning net, his efforts stopped the scoreline being a lot higher and at 3-0 going into the final period was a better task to face than what it could have been.
I said, after their win in MK, that the Lightning weren’t the most skilled side but had the quality and put the effort in. Neither of those massively came to the fore on Saturday night; they found no way to hold the Bison back and it showed.
Lowlight of the night: The non call on the high stick to Long. I know, I’m moaning about the officiating and I try not to as a rule because it’s the lamest thing to do. Yes, nobody’s perfect and nobody can see anything but when the man on the puck is high sticked and the official isn’t watching the play, I believe I’m allowed a modicum of frustration. The final period saw missed stuff in all directions and made the game hard to follow.
Highlight of the night: I’ll say Rounding’s goal; good team goal.