Running with the Herd – Bison vs MK Lightning 2/9/15

Challenge Match

Basingstoke Bison 5-4 Milton Keynes Lightning

Mogg                            Jamieson

Long                             Hook x 3

Rand x2 (1pp)

Watt

Back to work: The Bison headed into the game with their newly announced two way additions Alan Lack, Daniel Lackey, Jacob Ranson and Alex Sampford with Grant Rounding still on the sidelines. The Herd started Tomas Hiadlovsky in net who came out last which threw the crowd as Dan Weller-Evans came out first and the crowd is so conditioned we all thought the young Welshman was starting. The Lightning were without James Griffin and Ross Green and started former Bison netminder Dean Skinns between the pipes.

The game was a bit ill tempered right off the bat as both sides came charging out of the gate and comings together after shots; Hiadlovsky saved, Jamieson and Baird yapped at each other. Skinns saved, Bison and Lightning players yapped at each other again. It would be something of a theme.

One person who was really getting stuck in was Alan Lack; clearly out to make an impression, the London Raiders forward was hitting anything that moved which got under the skin of a couple of Lightning players early and when Markku Tahtinen raced to make the hit, he boarded Lack to give the Bison the first powerplay chance of the night. It wasn’t the smoothest of powerplays though Ryan Watt forced a good save from Skinns as the man advantage expired.

The teams swung back and forth with the chances though the Bison were probably edging the attacking play. Watt had another shot gloved down by Skinns after a mesmeric run from Karpov and Joe Greener went close.

The somewhat aggressive undercurrent nearly boiled over shortly afterwards. When young MK forward Glen Billing snow showered Hiadlovsky, this didn’t set well and the teams came together quickly. Greener and Grant McPherson had a hold of each other and the gloves were off but the linesmen weren’t having any of it and both were quickly escorted off to sit matching roughing minors.

After a bit more back and forth with the chances, Ciaran Long finally got his hands on Grant McPherson and we had our first fighting penalties but it wasn’t much of a fight. The players tangled behind the play, grabbed a hold of each other and fell over.

The Lightning had their first powerplay when Aaron Connolly was called for delay of the game and a well worked move nearly saw Lewis Hook open the scoring but his tip was caught by Hiadlovsky under his arm. The Bison had the better chances on the penalty kill as first Joe Greener then Joe Rand had breakout chances but both missed the net, Rand’s chance signalling the end of a tight first period with the score tied at 0-0.

After waiting a bit for the ice to dry, the second period started out very bitty with the teams gaining the zone but not really having many high quality chances. The better ones that did materialise went MK’s with Hiadlovsky having to make a couple of crucial saves.

The Bison’s best chance came as almost by accident; Ryan Watt tried to feed the man pinching in but his pass deflected off a stick and into the air. Watt batted the puck out of the air but Skinns was equal to the task. He could do little about what came next as off the ensuing faceoff, Karpov won the puck back to Stuart Mogg who wristed a shot through traffic that Skinns couldn’t see and the Bison had the lead at 26:04.

The Lightning came more into the game and started really stretching the Bison defence and were putting a lot of shots onto Hiadlovsky’s net. However the Bison’s new Slovakian netminder seemed unfazed and was continuing to make a string of fine saves.

The teams traded powerplay opportunities that neither could capitalise on and Joe Rand had a shot ring off of the outside of the post before a bizarre 20 seconds of play. With the MK top line pressuring the Bison’s 4th line of Lack, Ranson and Sampford inside the zone, the Bison were stretched and Rene Jarolin fed the puck into the wheelhouse of Leigh Jamieson. With Hiadlovsky’s near constant movement, the Bison netminder was an inch too central in his net and Jamieson’s shot went just past the outstretched leg pad at 37:03 to tie the score. The Bison responded just 20 seconds later as some neat work saw an entire line get in on the act; Greener fed Pitchley who fed Long for the tap past Skinns. 37:23 and the Herd had their advantage back. The second period wound down with the Bison sitting on their one goal cushion.

The third started with yet another clash of players, this time Aaron Connolly and Lewis Christie both taking matching roughing minors to lead to 4 on4. It was the visitors who would take advantage, Lewis Hook credited with the tying goal as his shot appeared to deflect off of a Bison player and past Hiadlovsky who was going the other way at 42:08.

The Lightning pressed on and when Dan Lackey was called for holding (read throwing over) Josh Cook it put MK back onto the powerplay but they couldn’t capitalise.

It would be the Bison who would edge back ahead; Tomas Karpov’s darting run round the back of the net saw the puck squirt off of the pads of Dean Skinns and right into the path of Ryan Watt who fired home at 46:26. After not scoring a goal in the 2014/15 season, the Scotsman appeared delighted to get one in pre-season action, his confidence only bolstered by the quality finish.

The undercurrent of aggression kept on as teams threw big hits as well as clashed off the play with lots of stray slashes and the like, David Clements and Tomas Karpov both seeing 2 minutes for delay of the game for their clash behind the play.

The teams were still having their chances either way with good saves by both netminders but it was the usual Bison high press that got them caught out. Chamberlain and Hook were set away 2 on 1 against Stuart Mogg. Chamberlain took the shot which Hiadlovsky got a piece of but the puck trickled through the Bison netminder and was on a plate for Hook to tap home his second of the night at 50:52.

The tie would be broken just under 90 seconds later; Ralfs Circenis sprinted into the zone and was tripped by Lewis Christie. The Bison took just 4 seconds to make the powerplay count; faceoff back to Mogg, Mogg to Baird, Baird to Joe Rand and past Skinns at 52:20 to give the Bison the lead back.

The Lightning refused to go quietly into the night as they capitalised on some sloppy Bison play in their defensive zone; JJ Pitchley was caught out by Marko Luomala who fed the puck to Hook who fired past Hiadlovsky for his hattrick at 54:49 to tie the score at 4-4.

When Ryan Watt was called for holding, it looked like the visitors would swing the game their way and when Hiadlovsky was caught out of position it seemed they would get their wish before the puck was cleared off of the line by Kurt Reynolds. The Herd had a good chance of their own to level the score on a shorthanded 2 on 1 rush but Aaron Connolly’s shot was saved by Dean Skinns.

The Bison got a let off when Blaz Emersic was called for holding the stick behind the Bison net which ended up giving the Bison a shortened powerplay. The Herd put the pressure on and were keeping the Lightning pinned in their zone. After the powerplay expired a faceoff saw MK stung once again by a familiar combination; faceoff to Mogg, to Baird and his drive along the ice was tipped past Skinns by Joe Rand at 59:13 for a 5-4 Bison lead.

The Lightning would call the timeout and pull Skinns but to no avail as the Herd kicked off the pre-season with a win.

A promising start: As pre-season games go, this was exactly what the Bison needed it to be; it was a serious test whilst allowing them to try things out ahead of what is going to be a very competitive EPIHL season.

Stuart Mogg was deservedly man of the match. A few people worried about whether he would adapt to full time on defence but if he plays like he did in this game then he will have very few troubles. He did get caught out once by Bobby Chamberlain but otherwise he did all the right things in all the right places and linked up very well with Joe Baird on 2 very well taken goals. Going 1+2 on the night and with the rest of his performance I’d say is beer worthy.

Of the regulars, it was a case of getting up to speed. Once it settles, the line of Joe Greener, Ciaran Long and JJ Pitchley could do some serious damage and after a chunk of last season and the partnership between Ryan Watt and Tomas Karpov looks like it will have a chance to blossom again in 2015/16. They were partnered with Ralfs Circenis who was skating in his first game at this level. It will take the young Latvian time to settle into things and realise he doesn’t have as much time on the puck as he did at NIHL 1 South but the potential is certainly there.

The line that of new captain Aaron Connolly, new alternate Joe Rand and old/newcomer Shaun Thompson is one I wasn’t expecting to see straight away but looks like a really solid combination. Both Thompson and Rand have really solid two way games but can break quickly which should allow Connolly to revert to a more offensive minded role rather than just grinding away. They showed it last night with some of their breakouts and rushes and when it comes together, this line could cause a lot of problems at both ends of the ice.

Despite shipping 4 goals, Tomas Hiadlovsky looks like a very solid netminder. People will talk about the change from EIHL to EPL and there’s a few bits that will take getting used to. Tomas likes to play the puck and luckily he seems very confident and capable in this area but it’ll take some getting used to for his team mates as evidenced by him nearly being checked by Kurt Reynolds. Where Hiadlovsky differs from Skinns is more to do with how he moves. It’s a stylistic change rather than a better or worse deal; Skinns’ movements are very staccato at times but it works for him. His movement is very pointed as has a purpose. Hiadlovsky is a bit taller, has quite long legs and his movements look very fluid so what he does seems effortless. It makes him look very relaxed as a goalie which is a change to watching Skinns’ slightly more kinetic style.

Overall I think Doug Sheppard can be pleased with it as a first outing and I think the Bison were worth the win. There were some trademark Bison defensive lapses but this is what games like this are for. There’s 3 more games to work on such things and we await what Guildford throw up on Saturday.

A word on our opponents: Milton Keynes play like a Pete Russell team; they’re focussed, they’re physical and direct. It was the Lightning’s first game too so whilst I wasn’t left with the highest of impressions, you can see the quality there. As I said above, on the balance of play the Bison were worth the win. It just felt like there wasn’t quite something clicking for MK across the lines but you have to imagine they’ll find it in time. After 1 pre-season game, it’s too early to make much in the way of substantive judgements.

Lewis Hook was an easy choice for man of the match with the hattrick and his linkup play with Bobby Chamberlain, his line mate in the gold medal winning GB u20s last season, was understandably superb.

I was also quite impressed with Leigh Jamieson who looked like the Leigh Jamieson of old with some of his shooting and passing as well as new defenceman David Clements. Clements’ shooting wasn’t great last night but his defensive positioning and work taking the body was really good. He’ll do very well in this league.

I thought the imports for MK were a bit quiet across the evening on the whole. The one who stood out the most was Markku Tahtinen whose faceoff percentage last night must have been in the high 80s, low 90s because he appeared to win every single faceoff he took.

I mentioned in the MK preview piece that it will be fun to see how this team gets on and I stand by that. Being as objective as I can, this should be an entertaining team. There’s goals in the roster and despite the overhaul there’s the maintenance of that MK charm; that sort of honest, gritty hockey that’s always been something of a Lightning hallmark. That’s good to see.

Lowlight of the night: Not a great deal to complain about bar Glen Billing snow showering Hiadlovsky, unnecessary really.

Highlight of the night: Ralfs Circenis offering out the MK bench was funny but I’ll go for Ryan Watt’s goal. It’s been a long time coming, roll on the regular season and the drive for 20.

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