Running with the Herd – Bison vs Chelmsford Chieftains 22/11/14

EIHA Challenge Cup

Basingstoke Bison 4-1 Chelmsford Chieftains

Connolly                      Brears

J. Baird pp

Long x2 (1 x 5on3pp)

Alex Sampford (front) battles with Chelmsford's Michael Ranby in Saturday's 4-1 Bison win. (c) 5 Hole Photography

Alex Sampford (front) battles with Chelmsford’s Michael Ranby in Saturday’s 4-1 Bison win.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

All change: The Bison headed into their first home against NIHL opposition with a variety of changes. Only being allowed to play two imports and with player/coaches not being allowed to play against NIHL sides under cup rules, Doug Sheppard was rested as was Miroslav Vantroba with the Bison icing Tomas Karpov and former NIHL all star Joe Rand. Matt Selby remained on the sidelines and Michael Wales and Kurt Reynolds were rested for the tie. The Bison added Ryan Sutton and Alex Sampford from the Buffalo and welcomed Rick Skene back to the lineup, confusingly wearing Doug Sheppard’s jersey. Chelmsford were without both Cam and Grant Bartlett, James Ayling and Darren Brown and added Bailey Chittock, Oliver Baldock and Brandon Ayliffe whilst starting Ben Clements in goal over Euan King.

The teams spent the early stages of the first feeling each other out, the Chieftains having the best early chance when they sprung a 2 on 1. Danny Hammond elected to shoot but it was easily stopped by Dean Skinns. The Bison had a couple of decent chances as well as Tomas Karpov went close and a slick passing move went from Cameron Wynn to Ryan Sutton to Stuart Mogg but the final touch sent the puck past the post.

Brandon Ayliffe was making himself known to those in attendance with a string of darting runs at high speed that challenged the 4 man Bison defensive unit but just didn’t have the final touch to get it past Skinns in the early going.

The game bounced from end to end, a scrappy affair as the teams poked and probed each others defences for signs and weakness and it was the visitors who found the first gap in the armour; Chieftains captain Julian Smith sent a beautiful stretch pass out of defence onto the tape of Ross Brears’ stick. Brears was alone in front of Skinns, made a move and slotted past the Bison backstop at 08:47 to give the visitors the lead.

The Bison looked for a response and nearly got one immediately. A misplaced pass was reeled in by Cameron Wynn who fired a shot goalwards but Clements was equal to it. The Herd maintained their increased intensity as they looked for the equaliser and Aaron Connolly came closest when he skated around a couple of Chieftains players but Clements tracked the shooter well and was square to the shot when it came.

Ayliffe was set up at the backdoor but couldn’t get the puck past Skinns and eventually some of the missed chances would cost Chelmsford. Nicky Chinn would take the puck behind the net and with a flick of the wrist and shoulders sent Ben Clements leaning the wrong way, fed the puck to Aaron Connolly for the tight angle tap in at 16:49 for 1-1.

The response from Brandon Ayliffe was to skate past 4 Bison defenders and but his backhand shot caused Skinns no issues. The first period ended with the score tied at 1-1 as both teams went back to the dressing room to plan for the second period.

The start of the second was much like the first period; rather scrappy and the fans seemed to be getting frustrated that the Bison weren’t further away on the scoreboard (more on that later). Their frustrations were relieved a bit when Bailey Chittock went round one man then another and then got smashed by a glorious open ice hit from Declan Balmer.

For all his darting runs, eventually Brandon Ayliffe would fall foul of Mr Thompson as he was called for tripping as Tomas Karpov was shooting at Ben Clements. The Bison headed to the powerplay and made quick work of the Chieftains. The puck was cycled back up to the point and Joe Baird would drive the puck through the crowd and past Clements for 2-1 at 30:06.

The Chieftains made an attempt at a response as Ryan Giles tested Dean Skinns but the Bison were now firmly in control of the tie and made it 3-1 a few moments later. With the Bison’s top line pressuring in the Chelmsford zone, Joe Greener held his man off to feed the puck into the slot for Ciaran Long to smash the puck pas the netminder at 33:34.

The pace went out of the game a bit at this point but both teams still attempted to make chances including the Chieftains causing a few scrambles in front of Skinns but the Bison’s last line of defence was standing firm in the face of his NIHL opposition.

The period petered out towards the second buzzer with the Bison leading 3-1 at the 40 minute mark.

The Bison went straight back on the attack; Tomas Karpov weaved his way through the zone and laid off the puck for Brendan Baird. Seeming somewhat shocked to receive the pass, the younger Baird hammered the puck towards the net but Brendan wouldn’t join Joe on the scoresheet. Grant Rounding also had a good chance when he was sprung behind the defence but again Ben Clements would deny him.

The Chieftains were still having chances of merit and Martin Piecha made a nuisance of himself when he twisted and turned in the Bison zone. The Czech forward held the puck, then held the puck some more till he had the space to fire but Skinns saved the shot.

However Piecha would soon find himself in the box for interference. With the Bison on the powerplay using a special teams unit of 5 forwards, Joe Greener walked into space and rang a shot off the post shortly before John Connolly would be called for cross checking which gave the Bison the two man advantage. That would prove to be the death knell for the Chieftains as the puck was cycled around to Ciaran Long who found the gap between Clements’ blocker and right leg pad to make it 4-1 at 46:57.

Aaron Connolly tried to add to her personal points tally on the night; his centring feed for Joe Rand saw the redirect saved and he then went on a Tomas Karpov-esque winding run that saw the former Chieftains forward rang his shot off of the post.

The game picked up a bit of a physical edge with some of the younger members of both rosters throwing their weight around. The running battle between Grant Rounding and Martin Piecha threatened to boil over as the two had a coming together at centre ice. Piecha started taking a few shots at Rounding whilst the later was on the ice, the Chelmsford import forward forced to retreat when Ricky Skene came over to have a word. Inexplicably both ended up in the box as Piecha was called for cross checking and Rounding for roughing.

The Bison seemed to have the game firmly in their grasp as they started to squeeze the life out of the contest. Aaron Connolly would pick the defeceman’s pocket but his shot would go wide and Oli Baldock would get a warm welcome to senior hockey as he was hammered behind the Bison net by Ricky Skene.

The Chieftains were given a late powerplay when Stuart Mogg held onto Martin Piecha for a moment too long and despite a beauty of a shot from Danny Hammond whistling past the post of Skinns, the Bison had more clear cut chances shorthanded than Chelmsford did on the powerplay.

Given the Bison had two goals disallowed last week against Swindon (including an empty netter that was clearly a goal), when the Chieftains got the puck past Skinns at the death many thought history was repeating but it was well after the buzzer had gone. The Bison’s first NIHL cup outing had resulted in an uneventful 4-1 victory.

Aaron Connolly, Joe Rand and Chieftains netminder Ben Clements look on. (c) 5 Hole Photography

Aaron Connolly, Joe Rand and Chieftains netminder Ben Clements look on.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Hail to the Chiefs: The Bison roster last night saw the mix of bits and pieces that cup games against lower league opposition demand but also saw some of the things the Bison needed to do and could use to their long term advantage. Kurt Reynolds and Miroslav Vantroba needed rest and so were rested, younger players got a chance at ice time, Brendan Baird played a good 20-25 minutes.

The reaction of the fans last night was interesting at times. Seemingly expecting the Bison to blow their opponents away with comparative ease because they’re from a lower league, we got a Bison side full of line-up changes and new lines that, whilst not needing to get out of second gear to win, up against the team that has been the standard bearer for NIHL 1 South hockey in the last couple of years. That’s not to say the Bison took their opponents lightly and didn’t try but some of the scores in the northern half of the cup were not going to be replicated last night against a team that whilst suffering injuries and having a lot of junior call ups, won 4 trophies last season and has kept its core together.

Aaron Connolly was man of the match against his former team which was fair assessment. His winding runs around the defence were a side of Aaron’s game that we don’t regularly see so he was entertaining as well as industrious on the night.

Rick Skene looked like very little has changed about him since he last played a competitive game about 8 months ago; very solid, very easy game and a beard you could lose a badger in. It was also good to see him step in to have a word with Piecha who seemed to have taken a disliking to Grant Rounding.

The Bison ran with only 4 defenceman last night and stuck with 2 set pairs; the Baird Brothers and the Beard Brothers (Skene and Balmer). It was actually an astute thing to do in many ways. Arguably the pairings had players who are too similar to each other in styles of play but given the forward lines each had seriously good two way players, the lack of a more Reynolds-esque defenceman to lead the break out themselves rather than make the pass wasn’t missed. It also allowed for a much more structured zonal game on defence as nobody was rushing forward in a rush of blood to the head because nobody was having to cover. It was a commendable performance by all 4 men.

The younger players playing up gave decent accounts of themselves. It wasn’t a spectacular game for anybody though I was pleased to finally get a good look at Ryan Sutton who has good skating and excellent vision on the ice.

It was an easy Bison win, let’s not sugar coat that. Top of NIHL vs top of EPL isn’t really a contest even two imports down. However there was a test, the Bison stuck to their game plan and came through.

A word on our opponents: I’m wasn’t sure how the Chieftains were approaching these games against EPL opposition now. The gulf of class between the EPL teams and NIHL teams is marked, probably greater than many expected and I wondered what the mindset is of those in charge and how they’d go out and play. Turns out the answer was “exactly the same as Chelmsford always do”; at speed with an edge.

Ben Clements was the more obvious choice for man of the match, the Chieftains being outshot 2:1 over the night and having made a lot of decent saves. He couldn’t have done much about the goals themselves, especially Long’s two which were past him before he had a chance to do anything.

The one player however that certainly captured the imagination of many of the fans in attendance was Brandon Ayliffe. The Mohawks under 18 player was drafted into the side and his speedy runs past defencemen led a friend of mine to say “let’s kidnap him and let Karpov and Melachrino raise him as their own”. As that isn’t really an option, we’ll leave him in the capable hands of the Chelmsford academy. Ayliffe obviously has some development to do, particularly in terms of bulking up a bit and improving his shot because for all the great runs he made, there wasn’t the end product there but in a game that was played at something of a slow pace, his quickness got people noticing him.

Julian Smith looked his usual assured self on defence and Ross Brears took his goal incredibly well from pass to finish but otherwise, sadly for those wanting the upset, the quadruple champions of 2013/14 never looked that close to the double champions but I venture many won’t be surprised.

Lowlight of the night: If I had to pick something, the game could have done with being played at a faster pace to make it a bit more entertaining.

Highlight of the night: Long’s goals were both Howtizers, great to watch.

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