Running with the Herd – Bison vs Swindon Wildcats 28/12/14Posted: 30/12/2014
Basingstoke Bison 1-2 Swindon Wildcats
Giving Christmas presents: The Bison were still without Matt Selby and Grant Rounding with Andy Melachrino added to the list of missing players and Dean Skinns returned to the net after the Herd’s journey to the Isle of Wight. The Wildcats lined up in their usual lines, Kenton Smith bench coaching and Stevie Lyle in net.
It started well for the Bison; they pressed the Wildcats back right off the hop and were rewarded quickly when Miroslav Vantroba got the puck at the blueline and hammered the puck past Stevie Lyle at 57 seconds to give the hosts the lead.
The big Slovakian almost had the Bison 2-0 up shortly afterwards but couldn’t connect on either of the 2 chances he had as Lyle denied Vantroba’s effort when he pinched in and when he drove another shot from the blueline.
The Wildcats struggled to get many chances in the early going and didn’t have many clear cut chances but were sent to the powerplay when Kurt Reynolds cleared out Henri Sandvik at the side of the net which was called as crosschecking. Aaron Nell had a big blast that was saved by Dean Skinns. Reynolds came out of the box and sprung Rand but the Canadian was denied by some good defensive work by former Bison, Alex Symonds.
The Bison were still having the better of the chances as the first continued but the visitors started getting some better opportunities but the Bison defencemen were on good form and protecting Skinns; Sadvik took the zone, Vantroba stole the puck. A fantastic stretch pass found Malasinski but he was taken out of the play by Reynolds.
The Bison were weathering the storm and looking like the better side and were sent to the powerplay on an innocuous hooking call on Aaron Nell when he came together with Cameron Wynn at dead on the 19 minute mark. The Bison couldn’t find a way past Lyle in the first minute and the opening frame came to an end with Vantroba’s goal still proving the difference maker.
The second started with a big scramble in front of Lyle’s net but there was no way to get the puck past the keeper. Ultimately the Cats had their own good chance as the powerplay wound down but Malasinski’s shot was saved by Skinns.
The Bison had some more good chances as the line of Greener, Long and Connolly caused panic in the Wildcats defence but the Bison just couldn’t seem to score and soon found themselves in trouble. Bullas lined up Vantroba with a big hit that angered Nicky Chinn which earned the Bison captain a boarding call as he steamed in for retribution. Then a moment of controversy; Doug Sheppard was cross checked to the ice and put his hand on the puck whilst on the ice. Only the Bison player/coach was sent to the box which gave the Wildcats the 5on3 and the space their powerplay needed. Höög to Nell to Malasinski, 1-1 at 28:22 and a home crowd venting their frustrations very loudly at the official.
The Bison were nearly back on top moments later but Aaron Connolly’s bad run of fortune in front of net continued; sprung behind the defence and one on one with Lyle, he shot 5 hole and had it saved followed up on the same shift as he redirected a slap pass that was again stopped by the Wildcats netminder.
The Herd kept the shot counters ticking over with Doug Sheppard coming closest but it was another controversial call that started a chain of events that tested the metal of many Bison fans. As Jonas Höög tried to take the blueline, he was stood up at the line by a near stationary Miroslav Vantroba which was called as charging by the official. Nicky Chinn, rightly confused argued the call and was given a 10 minute sit down by Ms Cuglietta as the Bison headed to the penalty kill. The Bison managed to head to the powerplay when Höög was called for slashing but literally handed a goal to Swindon when a mix up between Dean Skinns and Miroslav Vantroba when Skinns was playing the puck in the corner and Henri Sandvik tapped the puck into an empty net at 39:04 to give the visitors the 2-1 lead as the second ended.
The third period started with an early Bison powerplay as Sam Bullas was called for hooking Tomas Karpov but there wasn’t a way through for the Herd.
The game itself became very bitty; whilst the Wildcats were trying to play road hockey and deliberately sitting back, even they can’t have been happy with some of their passing going astray. The ice in Basingstoke isn’t that bad.
When Jonas Höög took Joe Rand down behind the play and Aaron Nell got sent to the box, the Bison had another chance but it was quickly cancelled out by Rand taking a crosschecking call behind the Wildcats net. The 4on4 provided no goals before the Wildcats had the powerplay chance when Michael Wales was called for crosschecking. Tomasz Malasinski had the best chance but his blast couldn’t find its way past Skinns in the Bison net.
Time was running out and desperation seemed to set in for the Bison as they looked for any way to try and beat Lyle for the equaliser as the defence was holding firm against the Wildcats counter attack. The scramble in front of Lyle’s net saw the puck trickle agonisingly wide of Lyle’s left post and you could only feel it was going to be one of those nights.
Into the final two minutes and the Bison still seemed to be lacking that edge they needed to score. Ms Cuglietta denied the Herd’s first attempt to call a timeout but they eventually took it and called Skinns to the bench. The plan was formulated but the Bison’s night of being snakebitten continued as the Wildcats picked up their 9th win in a row.
Denting the wall with my head: There were some really crazy things coming out of this loss like “the ref plays for Swindon ladies” (she did, doesn’t now to my knowledge and the Topcats, aside from being one of the better ladies teams aren’t part of the Wildcats organisation) and “she’s dating a Wildcats player” (because as big a gongshow as the EIHA is at times, not even they would let this happen if it was true which it isn’t). Did Ms Cuglietta have a good night? If I’m being honest, no. I don’t think she did. Her officiating was inconsistent but blaming the loss on her is futile. Also if we fired every ref for having an off night, we’d have no refs so how about instead of going to the outlandish we call on the EIHA to actually bloody well invest in the officials and their training rather than yelling out crazy stuff?
The Bison didn’t score enough goals, made 2 mistakes (1 massive one) and were punished for it. They played the better hockey, had more chances, outshot their opponent by 20 shots but couldn’t win. They took daft penalties and got frustrated by inconsistent officiating where the Wildcats didn’t. Ultimately they lost the game and nobody is more aware of it than they are.
Miroslav Vantroba was given the man of the match which was a good decision. Aside from a variety of really good defensive plays, at times he was the biggest attacking threat the Bison had (arguably part of the problem but I’m getting to that). When you consider the Herd didn’t give Brendan Baird a shift, the 4 defencemen who did ice had a very good game and looked really solid.
The forwards huffed and puffed but ultimately just couldn’t seem to get the team out of the funk. Everyone appears to be holding their sticks that bit tighter and they aren’t getting the bounces.
The problem is that somewhere, this damn needs to break. The Bison are playing well but aren’t getting the results. This starts knocking on in other areas like the shockingly low confidence in front of goal and things like the fanbase over reacting, suggesting getting rid of players with logical replacement available on the market.
The Bison didn’t win at home in the league in December. That is not a nice thing to read but it is sadly true. The people most aware of that? The Bison players themselves. They’re frustrated that it’s not falling for them as am I, hence the subtitle to this section. That’s not to say that there’s not some soul searching and really hard coaching to be done on Sheppard’s part, this home losing streak has gone on too long not to be addressed, but this notion that the Bison need to simply blow up the roster and start again is a bit of an extreme reaction to a loss of form, not a loss of vision, effort and quality.
A word on our opponents: Tip of the hat to Swindon as they extended their winning streak to 9 games. I don’t think they played that well, especially the first but taking lots of shots doesn’t win you hockey games, making the most of your shots does.
Henri Sandvik was, on reflection, the right choice for the Swindon man of the match; he was the most consistent threat of Swindon’s big 5 with constant effort and he just looked more with it that Höög and Malasinski. That said, Stevie Lyle’s 34 save effort also had him in serious contention given that this time, the Bison weren’t consistently shooting at the netminder’s chest.
It’s really hard to write tons about the Wildcats from this performance. What did we learn bar the old maxim that you need to be good to be lucky? They didn’t play attractive hockey, didn’t play good hockey either but were given 2 golden chances which they made the most of. I suppose in some ways you could argue that Swindon have answered the questions many, including myself, have about the perceived lack of depth in the past but I’m not sure you can on this performance. I’m sure that will get me moaned at as some sort of sore loser but even some of the Swindon fans I spoke to after the game felt they were second best on the play over the evening. The only issue is nobody keeps a tally of how well you play, just how many you score.
Ultimately if you play badly but win, you’re a good team. I don’t necessarily think the Wildcats are that good a team on this performance but I can’t fault them for not playing as well as they have done in other games and getting 2 points on the road.
Lowlight of the night: Sandvik’s goal; just a nightmare situation and the game winner shorthanded to boot.
Highlight of the night: Miroslav Vantroba dispossessing Sandvik then fighting off the Finn and another Wildcat to walk out of the zone with the puck like they were fraggles hanging onto his skates.