Running with the Herd – Bison vs Swindon Wildcats 7/3/15Posted: 08/03/2015
Basingstoke Bison 3-5 Swindon Wildcats
Occasion marked, lacking spark: The Wildcats headed into the game with Kenton Smith the import sitting out and OHA youngster Toms Rutkis added to the roster. The Bison were without Selby as well as Balmer and Karpov with Dean Skinns heading into the game on the brink of a bit of personal history.
That milestone came just over 2 minutes into the game after some fast paced opening exchanges; when the play stopped the announcement was made that Skinns had hit the mark of 10,000 minutes between the pipes for the Bison. The moment was greeted by a standing ovation from both sets of fans, a wave to the crowd from Skinns and the game went on.
The opening minutes saw Skinns called into action a few times as he denied Nell and Kostal on the two on one. The Herd had some good chances as well with Greener and Long combining to cause Lyle some issues but the final shot from Long went over.
The Bison were playing very high up the ice and were caught out when Grant Rounding slipped at the blueline and Floyd Taylor raced in on Skinns but the Herd goalie got a piece of the shot. When it happened again a few minutes later, he wasn’t so lucky; Aaron Nell raced away behind the defence and fired under the arm of Skinns at 08:34.
The Bison did what they normally do when they give up the first goal and set about trying to batter the opposition net but they found a Lyle in typical good form, the soon to be Wildcats player/coach flashing out the glove to deny Miroslav Vantroba.
When Ryan Watt and Tomas Kana clashed in front of the benches, Mr Pickett gave both men a roughing minor but the extra space given by 4on4 hockey played right into the strengths of the Wildcats. The Bison defence was caught all at sea and it was easy for the visitors; Nell to Höög to Richardson on the hashmarks and the Wildcats man blasted the puck over the shoulder of Skinns at 13:32 for 2-0.
The Herd were rocked and looked somewhat off of their game but kept plugging away. Mogg had a shot saved by Lyle and a shot was tipped by Melachrino that sadly went wide rather than in. This didn’t stop the Cats having chances as the Bison’s defence was again lax with Nell getting the puck in the slot unopposed but Skinns threw out the pad to deny him.
The Bison wrestled control back of the game and had the visitors under pressure in the zone but couldn’t seem to get the killer touch that would take the puck past the seemingly impregnable Lyle. The Herd kept the cycle going and Joe Greener laid the puck off to Miroslav Vantroba. Rather than sending the puck back down below the redline, the Slovak noticed a bit of space, raced towards the net and managed to stuff the puck past Lyle at 16:57 to get the hosts on the board. The goal was followed by some pushing and shoving as the Wildcats weren’t happy with Joe Greener getting too close to Lyle in the build up to the goal.
The goal put the tails of the Bison up but they couldn’t find another way past Lyle. With the period winding down, Kostal and Rand came together as the Wildcats were heading towards the net. Despite a fair amount of holding and shoving both sides including Rand being sent into the goal, only the Canadian was called and the Wildcats went into the second period with 1:55 of powerplay to work with.
The Wildcats’ powerplay has something of a reputation, even amongst its own fans for being something of a “powerkill” and being its own worst enemy but it was outdone by some excellent penalty killing from Grant Rounding and Aaron Connolly.
This put momentum firmly with the Bison and the hosts went back to trying to break down Lyle. Melachrino, Connolly and Mogg came close and Rounding went even closer as he was fed on the doorstep with only some excellent work by Lyle keeping the score at 2-1.
Lyle’s net was living something of a charmed life but the Bison were still having issues at the back as Mogg twice had issues with Höög picking his pocket but the Swede couldn’t make either chance count.
The game was tightly poised and it felt that the next goal would have a big say in the outcome of the game and what came was a moment of extreme skill. Sam Bullas took the pass from Toms Rutkis, made a move the removed Kurt Reynolds out of his shorts and fired past Skinns at 37:36. It was one of the best goals we’ve seen in Basingstoke this season.
Then the crowd blinked and it was 4-1. The Wildcats attacked, Skinns raced out for the pokecheck, missed the puck and Höög had the entire net to tap in to at 38:08 and to cap it all off, Long got rightly called for hooking moments later to give the Wildcats another powerplay that would extend across the period break. At 4-1 after 40 minutes, it seemed the Bison had a range of mountains to climb.
The Wildcats had the better of chances at the start of the third thanks to Kostal and Bullas but neither found the target and when Adam Harding was called for slashing, it gave the Bison a chance to get back into the period. The puck was worked to Ciaran Long for a blast from the hashmarks but Lyle saw the shot through traffic. The pressure was kept on and just after the powerplay expired, the Bison found a breakthrough when Connolly fed the puck across the slot to Sheppard who fired past Lyle at 45:06 to make it 2-4.
The game slowly became similar to a lot of games that the Bison trail in; full run and gun attack but wondering where a goal would come from. Lyle appeared to be having one of those games where it would take a miracle to beat him. It wasn’t really a miracle shot that beat him but they all count; Rand put the puck on the net, Lyle seemed to either not see the puck or couldn’t react quickly enough as the puck trickled slowly across the crease and Nicky Chinn was on hand to tap in at 49:54. Suddenly it was 3-4 and the Wildcats who had been cruising were on the back foot.
The Bison kept coming; Sheppard, Greener and Long kept hammering away, Rand had a shot that went wide, all the while the Wildcats occasionally hitting on the counter as Malasinski had a shot saved at the 5hole by Skinns.
The Bison called their timeout with 76 seconds to play and left Skinns off the ice. The Herd eventually got set up with the extra man inside the zone, the feed went to Greener in the slot but a superb save by Lyle kept him at bay as the Herd missed the open space at the far post. The Wildcats broke out and Kana fired into the empty net to hand the Bison their first home loss of 2015.
All things come to an end: It was a shame that in a game where the club was celebrating the personal achievements of a player that the team performance really wasn’t what it could have been. It was a textbook frustrating Bison loss; shot after shot, chance after chance but the Herd weren’t clinical enough. The defence wasn’t tight enough and against a team that stretches the play well and has great speed, the Bison’s usual game plan of playing high and pressing was exposed and the Herd didn’t play well enough to respond with goals.
Ciaran Long put a lot of effort in but ultimately I’m unsure how he got man of the match over Grant Rounding who looks like he hasn’t missed 3 months of the season, Vantroba who was the steadiest of the Herd’s defencemen or even man of the hour Skinns himself who apart from the 4th goal couldn’t do much about any of the others and made a variety of good saves when all around him seemed to be crumbling.
Ultimately it was one of those games for the Bison; all teams have them though obviously we’d have preferred them not to be having it in March and off the back of a long home winning streak. The Herd will refocus and head to Bracknell tonight with final playoff seedings still very much in play.
A word on our opponents: Congratulations to the Wildcats on the win who, as I said above, took the chances presented to them well.
Aaron Nell was given man of the match but as with the Bison’s one I’m not sure why. Sam Bullas’ wonder goal aside (and believe me, it’s pretty special), when you spend a lot of the game getting the kitchen sink thrown at you, however ineffectively, there’s no way your keeper shouldn’t be getting man of the match. Stevie Lyle’s coaching credentials will be tested next season when he takes over the coaching reigns from Ryan Aldridge but his playing was like the Lyle we’re all used to last night. The former Bison netminder made a string of impressive stops including one in the dying moments that essentially won Swindon the game when the game was on Joe Greener’s stick.
It was a good road performance from Swindon. I’m never a massive fan of the Wildcats’ style either home or away. I don’t think they play particularly attractive hockey as a team but the style is certainly effective. They took the chances they were given and made them count. You can’t ask more from a team playing on the road.
Lowlight of the night: 2 goals in 22 seconds in the second period. However good Bullas’ goal was, it was just not what we needed.
Highlight of the game: Would be easy to say Vantroba’s goal but we need to give it to the man at the back don’t we. Congratulations Dean and thank you for what you’ve done in the shirt.