Running with the Herd – Bison vs Telford Tigers 29/11/14

EPIHL

Basingstoke Bison 2-4 Telford Tigers

Rand                             Silverthorn x2 (1x ENG)

Sheppard                      Szabo

                                      Miller

Nicky Chinn leads the charge in the Bison's 4-2 loss to Telford (c) 5 Hole Photography

Nicky Chinn leads the charge in the Bison’s 4-2 loss to Telford
(c) 5 Hole Photography

One of those nights: The Bison headed into their important clash with the Tigers with a full complement of players for the first time in a while as a full strength Telford side started Tom Murdy in goal.

The Tigers had a couple of early chances including one off of the opening faceoff where everyone lost sight of the puck as it deflected up into the air with only Joe Miller spotting it to fire it goalwards but Dean Skinns shut the door.

It was Miller however who would grant the Bison the first real opportunity as he was called for for hooking his man behind the Bison net. The Herd’s powerplay seemed to work well, stretching the Tigers defence and blueline drives from Vantroba and Joe Baird causing issues around the Telford net as the visitors struggled to clear the puck but no Bison player could get clean contact on the puck to put it past Murdy.

The game was being played at a fantastic pace with both sides showing their quality in offence and defence.

Blahoslav Novak became the second Tigers player of the period to take an offensive zone penalty when he was called for roughing during a battle in the corner for the puck but again the Bison struggled to find the final touch against a competent Tigers penalty killing unit, the best chance falling to Ciaran Long as he latched onto Joe Greener’s pass out of the corner but Murdy in the Tigers net was equal to the task.

Back and forth the play went; Rand set up Rounding but no joy, Miller and Szabo had a chance 2 on 1 but Szabo redirected the puck past Skinns’ net and collided with the goal post.

The Tigers were granted their first chance on the powerplay when Ricky Skene was called for holding as he and Ricky Plant came together at the half boards challenging for the puck. Telford’s powerplay has been successful this season and stretched the Bison’s penalty killers but they too couldn’t find a way to score. Scott McKenzie was set up for the best chance but a good reaction save by Skinns stopped him.

The first period came to an end and the fans of both sides in attendance took a chance to catch their breath from what had been probably one of the best periods of overall hockey they’d seen in a while.

The second period started with a bit of a thud; Joe Rand lined up one of his customary bruising hits on Jonathan Weaver which saw the former Great Britain captain remain on the ice for a short while. He was up and off under his own power and the game continued.

Once again the teams returned to the high tempo, fast paced game that almost gave the crowd in attendance a neck ache looking from one end to the other. Rick Plant’s centring feed hit the outside of the post and a 3on2 for the Tigers fell down when Novak lost the puck in his skates. The Bison however turned up the pressure and spent a sustained few minutes in the Tigers zone firing shot after shot on net with a mass of bodies getting in the way. The Herd were having the better chances and not scoring; it would cost them dearly soon after.

Against the run of play, the Tigers got the puck into the Bison’s zone and the Herd’s failure to clear the zone would be their undoing. The Tigers worked the puck back to Weaver for the long shot that rebounded off of Skinns and Tigers’ captain Jason Silverthorn was on hand to bat the puck out of the air at waist height over the line to give the league leaders the advantage at 29:38.

Both teams ended up in the box shortly afterwards; Martin Ondrej’s poorly judged hit sent Rand face first into the boards was followed up by Nicky Chinn hitting Ondrej with a huge crosscheck which saw the game play 4on4 for a while, Ondrej picking up a misconduct for checking from behind. As the teams looked for what to do with the extra space, the faceoff was shuffled back to Vantroba who blasted goalwards and a tip from Joe Rand helped the puck past Tom Murdy at 32:12 to give the Bison the goal they deserved and tie the score at 1-1.

The contest kept everyone’s hearts in their mouths as soon, the Tigers were back in front. The Tigers, still somewhat under the kosh, broke out into the Bison zone. Silverthorn’s drop pass to Peter Szabo saw the free scoring Slovak fire on net and with Skinns hugging the post, the Bison netminder didn’t shut the pads in time as the puck found a gap in his 5 hole to hit the back of the net at 35:49 for 1-2.

The Bison found themselves having to come from behind again but were level less than a minute later. A turnover in the Tigers zone saw the puck go straight to Doug Sheppard in a dangerous position. The Bison player/coach held the puck, out weighted both the defence and Murdy and wristed the shot home at 36:40.

The period wound down and the Bison had a golden chance as a stretch pass set Ciaran Long away behind the Tigers defence, being hacked and whacked as he went. Murdy was equal to the shot but there was no call on the play despite the obvious infringement.

The second ended with the scores tied at 2-2 and at least another 20 minutes of hockey to satisfy the appetites of those in the rink.

Dean Skinns was the first netminder called into action in the final stanza. Rick Skene stepped into the onrushing man with a nice hit but it gave the Tigers a 2on1 which Skinns was equal to. Doug Sheppard had a chance to double his scoring tally when he reigned in the puck as it nearly rolled off of his stick but his shot couldn’t beat Murdy.

The Tigers got lucky when a trip on Tomas Karpov went unpunished which allowed them to set up Max Birbraer for the shot which Skinns stopped. He could do little about the next chance though as Joe Miller took a shot that hit the cross bar, bounced all over the place before eventually hitting a Bison player and falling over the line at 46:36 to make it 2-3.

The chances kept coming but it was the Tigers who would be on the powerplay as the game entered the last 10 minutes, a battle for the puck on the boards between a few players seeing Michael Wales called for roughing. The powerplay saw the Tigers draw an outstanding double save from Skinns who having lost his stick first denied Silverthorn then Miller from close range.

Both teams kept having chances but as the clock ticked into the final two minutes, there was no movement of Skinns to the bench. Last minute and no call for the Bison netminder to vacate his net. Eventually the Bison forced the faceoff with 35 seconds to play and called the timeout to plan strategy. Skinns remained on the bench, the Bison lost the puck off the faceoff and Silverthorn fired into the empty net at 59:41 to seal the 2-4 win.

This didn’t stop Joe Greener getting a match penalty for a check to the head of Max Birbraer; an odd incident where Greener put his hands out as the Tigers forward was about to skate into him, the stick caught Birbraer in the face, the Tigers man go down in a heap and the blood drawn saw Greener ejected from the game with 9 seconds to go.

Kurt Reynolds (right) and Max Birbraer (centre) battle for position in front of Dean Skinns (c) 5 Hole Photography

Kurt Reynolds (right) and Max Birbraer (centre) battle for position in front of Dean Skinns
(c) 5 Hole Photography

The frustration game: I will be accused of hyperbole and “homerism” for the following statement but in the true spirit of BOTW and being honest to my opinions it must be said; the better team lost the game. The Bison had the better chances, played the better hockey and lost out to a side with outstanding talent and firepower. This doesn’t detract from the fact the Bison played the better game. Life isn’t fair.

It was a good overall team performance, one that actually made it hard for me to choose a man of the match for the Bison as I thought the roster as a whole gave a good performance. Aaron Connolly’s was as good as any others. Ciaran Long was quite obviously playing hurt but still looked a major threat and the skill and speed of Tomas Karpov saw him create space and chances. Rick Skene in his first game back at this level since April was used well and performed well. He will be a real asset in the coming weeks.

Sadly in some ways the one person who didn’t have his best game was the player the Bison really needed to have a good game and that was Dean Skinns. Despite making some good saves and an outstanding double save on the penalty kill proving that he can always turn it on, all three goals and especially one and two were avoidable in a number of ways and if you’re going to beat any side this stacked, you need your netminder on his game for 60 minutes and it just didn’t happen. This isn’t an attempt to throw the Bison’s starter under the bus; Dean Skinns is justifiably one of the best netminders in the league and an all star by right but to say he had his best game on Saturday wouldn’t be honest.

The other baffling thing was the Bison’s choice of tactics in the dying moments and the delay in pulling Skinns despite being camped in the Tigers zone. Having been such an attacking threat for so much of the game, the Bison lost all shape and direction in the dying moments. To say there was a lack of effort would be unjust but it seemed at times that there was a lack of urgency.

At the end of the day, this is what hockey does to us. We’ve seen enough games in all sport to see it happen. These games suck for us all. As we saw from the Bison’s performance in Peterborough, it was put behind them quickly and normal service was resumed.

A word on our opponents: Let’s start with the obvious stuff on my first proper viewing of the Telford Tigers; they’re bloody good. Whilst Tom Murdy had a decent game, I feel his man of the match award should have gone to Tigers captain Jason Silverthorn who genuinely looks like he’s playing below his level in the EPL. The Tigers top line of Silverthorn with Peter Szabo and Joe Miller is just frightening to watch at full speed. Scott McKenzie is just a workhorse of the highest order, Sam Zajac spent an evening proving me right about everything I said about him when at the Bison and Nathan Salem really is developing into one of the best British talents in the league. With his newly found resources, Tom Watkins has done well.

That said, I stand by what I said above. The Tigers won but they weren’t the best team on the ice on Saturday night. The defence failed to clear the puck quickly, they struggled to stop the Bison’s free flowing play at times and at times just seemed to lack a lot of structure. Some of their team play wasn’t particularly sharp. A lot of people threw out the notion at the start of the season that Telford would be a good group of individuals but not a team and having seen them I have some sympathy for that argument having watched them on Saturday but the flip side is 2 full months into a 6 month season, they aren’t the finished product. If the Tigers press on and gel fully, we’re all screwed.

The Tigers look beatable. The weaknesses are there for the taking but the Bison didn’t take them on Saturday night and credit to the Tigers on taking the chances that presented themselves. That is what winning teams do.

Lowlight of the night: Should have won that one.

Highlight of the night: Rand’s goal; well taken and came at a time that was really needed.

"I got it!"

“I got it!”

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