Running with the Herd – Bison vs Bracknell Bees 31/1/15Posted: 01/02/2015
Basingstoke Bison 4-0 Bracknell Bees
Don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that sting: The Bison headed into the game still without Selby, Rounding and the Baird brothers so Michael Wales and Stuart Mogg continued on defence. The Bees added Josh Tetlow and Ilya Antonov, brother of Ivan and started Alex Mettam in goal.
Ryan Watt started the game off by lining Sam Waller up on the first shift and landing a decent sized hit. The Herd then quickly found themselves on the powerplay as Bees captain Matt Foord was called for hooking. The Bison went immediately to the attack and were creating chances, Vantroba going the closest with a trademark blast but there was no way past Alex Mettam in the early going.
The Herd were having the better of the play but the Bees’ gameplan was to stifle the forward movement of the puck and the pace quickly went out of the game as the visitors were using a tactic that had worked for them before against the Bison; take away the passing lanes. However the Herd found a way through as Ciaran Long found Joe Greener who managed to squeeze the puck shortside between Mettam and the post to give the Bison the lead at 06:13.
The hosts were then quickly back on the attack when Radek Hubacek got his stick up into the face of Joe Rand earning the Czech import a seat in the penalty box. Again the Bison ratcheted up the attack but couldn’t find a way to get the puck into the net with the extra man.
The Bees were having the occasional chance; Lukas Smital forced a really good kick save out of Dean Skinns. The Herd were still having the balance of the play but a tripping penalty to Karpov gave the Bees an opportunity to get themselves back into the tie but they were frustrated by some good penalty killing from the Bison and some inept passing on their own end. The Bison nearly conjured a chance as Karpov left the box as the Czech man found Greener who set up Sheppard but his shot went wide. The first ended with the Bison deservedly 1-0 ahead.
The Bees had the first real chance of the second when they worked themselves behind the Bison back line but some good defensive work to tie up Hubacek meant that the Bees man couldn’t get a shot away and the former team mates tumbled and took out the goal.
The Bees would rue that missed chance as the Bison doubled their advantage moments later when the puck was fired across the seam and Ciaran Long was on hand to redirect the puck past Mettam at 22:03 to make it 2-0.
Dean Skinns hadn’t been greatly challenged at the other end but was soon called into action, being forced into two massive saves in quick succession as he denied first Matt Towalski then Hubacek as the Bees swarmed around his net but no Bracknell player on hand to get the needed touch on the puck. He would also deny Smital, Strycek and Jan Bendik in the course of the period.
However it was the Bison still making most of the going in a period that was the very definition of the word, disjointed. Neither side could get any really flowing moves going but this didn’t stop the attempts; Long and Karpov both had chances straight up the middle where the Bees defender on them should arguably have been called for penalties. Andy Melachrino set up Ryan Watt but a stick got in the way of the shot and the puck looped away over the net. Aaron Connolly had the best chance as a stretch pass put him behind the defence but Mettam kicked out the his right leg and deflected the puck away.
Lewis Turner was called for tripping Joe Greener as the second period wound down and the hosts headed into the third period with a 2-0 lead and over a minute of powerplay to deal with.
The Bison couldn’t make the man advantage count and Dean Skinns had to be on guard as Smital broke away at the end of the powerplay but the Bison backstop kept the Bees player/coach at bay.
The next Bison powerplay, courtesy of a clipping call to Josh Tetlow would be wholly more productive as the special teams unit went to work and Greener fed Karpov who fed Rand and the Canadian would fire past Mettam at 45:30 for 3-0.
The final nail was in the Bees’ coffin moments later when Ciaran Long drove the puck along the ice and Andy Melachrino’s deflection tipped the puck over the shoulder of Mettam at 46:34 for 4-0.
That 4th goal knocked the stuffing out of the Bees and the game itself somewhat but both teams pressed on. There was a scramble in front of Skinns’ net shortly afterwards but the Bison cleared the danger. Hubacek and Wales clashed off the play and both got a seat for their troubles but the extra space of 4on4 play yielded no scoring.
Scott Spearing was challenged for the puck at the Bison blueline but came away with the puck and fired goalwards which Skinns got down to save but some indiscipline from James Galazzi saw him shove a couple of Bison players in front of the net after the whistle and the Bison were back on the powerplay.
Nothing came of the man advantage and the clock wound down on Dean Skinns’ second shutout of the season and another home win for the Bison.
Empty nest: There are times when the Bison as a team get accused of playing to their opponents; when they play Telford they prove they’re a match for the best in the league and when the play lower ranked opposition, they play down to their level and it generally goes wrong. This wasn’t the case last night for the Bison as they pressed their dominance on the game and, in truth, never needed to get out of second gear.
Some might argue that any shutout is a big achievement in this league and for Dean Skinns to be denied the man of the match beers for that performance isn’t particularly fair but in a 20 shot shutout (the Bison had 17 shots in the third alone) against a side that brought nothing to the table in the context of the game, Ciaran Long was the better choice.
Long’s work rate, energy and creativity got him man of the match; his assist on Melachrino’s goal was particularly nice and that line with Sheppard and Greener just seems to really work at the moment. They look and pose a serious threat to all EPL sides and long may it continue.
Stuart Mogg and Michael Wales’ duties deputising on defence were not massively tested but both deserve a deal of credit for playing so confidently and efficiently out of position. The support they’re getting on the ice from Reynolds, Vantroba and Balmer who do it every game and some good coaching and line matching means that whilst the arrangement having 2 forwards playing on the blueline isn’t ideal, the stop gap is more than adequate.
It’s hard in some ways to take a lot from that game looking back over the 60 minutes of hockey that we saw but it was a potential banana skin and Bracknell have proven they can knock teams off their perch in the league. The Bison’s approach was the correct one, they outclassed their opponent and march onwards to Manchester.
A word on our opponents: Let’s try and take some positives out of last night for the Bees; Ivan Antonov and Lukas Smital work very well together and you can see why they have been such a potent attacking force. Pavel Strycek, who should have got man of the match beers, was a permanent thorn in the side of the Bison attack and stopped the game becoming a cricket score with his defensive plays. Josh Tetlow looks like a decent prospect. He certainly has the size though needs fine tuning on his positioning but that will no doubt come in time.
Other than the above there’s not much a Bees fan can really take from that game bar a sense of disappointment; Bracknell were woeful.
It is not rare to see a team play a conservative trap against the Bison, maybe even go with a 1-3-1 neutral zone trap; the Bison are a passing team and the way to knock them off their game is to take away the passing lanes. The issue is that when that doesn’t work, you need to alter the game plan. The Bees played a really conservative 1-4 trap where the forechecker wasn’t even really going in that high then the Bison score and they keep doing the same thing and arguably parked the bus even more than they had been. They needed to score, they needed to press and it’s not like this Bison team with 2 stand in defencemen couldn’t have been pressured into mistakes but it didn’t seem to occur to Coach Smital to get them to do that and I can’t imagine why.
When the Bees did have the puck there was no real spark going forward. They had a couple of chances, a couple of frantic moments in front of Skinns but nothing fell for them. Antonov was a lot of huff and puff but no end product on the night and, whilst I hate using it as an indicator of much, 20 shots won’t get you anywhere.
I’ve said this before; the Bees have a lot of heart and hustle but lack depth and quality. There was no bigger indicator of that than this game.
Lowlight of the night: The game was dull.
Highlight of the night: The Bison put the foot on the throat and got the shutout without switching off.