Running with the Herd – Bison vs Guildford Flames 5/9/15

Challenge Match

Basingstoke Bison 5-2 Guildford Flames

Lack                             Phillips (though pretty sure it was Eriksson)

Thompson                    Towe

Pitchley

Connolly

Karpov

Speeding up: The Bison headed into the game minus Grant Rounding and also Joe Greener who sat out. Added to the roster were 16 year old defenceman Louis Taylor alongside Jacob Ranson, Dan Lackey and Alex Sampford. As he skated out it was announced that Alan Lack had signed full time for the Bison. Tomas Hiadlovsky continued in net for the Herd with Gregg Rockman in net for the Flames.

The Flames had the best of the early chances and pressure with the Bison seeming a little off the pace to start with. It would prove costly as a turnover by Alex Sampford gifted the visitors the early lead; the goal was credited to Kevin Phillips but it was Jens Eriksson with the neat moves into the slot and poking the puck through the 5 hole of Hiadlovsky at 03:09 to put the Flames ahead in their first game of the pre-season.

However the lead was short lived as some excellent work by JJ Pitchley yielded a turnover in the Flames zone. The Bison forward walked around the defenders, held and fired goalwards and whilst Rockman made the initial save, the rebound sat up nicely and a diving Alan Lack latched onto the puck and celebrated his permanent signing at 04:56 with the game tying goal.

The Flames were still having the better chances and had the puck in the net twice but both attempts were correctly ruled out; McKinney’s for the net being off and Piatak’s for being offside. Callum Best also rang a shot off of the mask of Tomas Hiadlovsky. However the overall play from both sides was actually on the sloppy side with stray passes and somewhat directionless play. It was a lot of intention and bluster with little end product.

Joe Baird’s interference call sent the Flames to the powerplay and despite some really excellent passing play by Guildford there was no way through Hiadlovsky on the man advantage. Arguably the best chance fell to Ciaran Long, his short handed effort being saved by Rockman at the other end.

The first period wound down with the score at 1-1 which was just about fair and despite having played one game more, it looked like this newly formed Flames roster had an extra spring in its step.

Then the second period started and it all went a bit crazy. Almost off the faceoff, the Bison took the Flames zone, put the pressure on and Shaun Thompson threw a puck on net from a really tight angle that found a gap in Rockman and fell over the line at 20:15.

2 minutes later saw one of the better examples in ice hockey of a player copying baseball and calling the shot. With the faceoff just in the neutral zone, JJ Pitchley looked at Ciaran Long and motioned to him to flick the faceoff into the zone. Long obliged, Pitchley picked up the loose puck, took a step and hammered the puck past Rockman at 22:15 for the 3-1 Bison lead.

Just under 90 seconds later the visitors had themselves back in the game; the Bison’s fourth line got caught and stretched by some good work by the Flames second line. Matic Kralj fed the puck into Matt Towe who got the puck out of his skates and fired past Hiadlovsky with some neat work in front of the net at 23:43 to bring the visitors within one.

The put the Flames’ tails up a bit and they had some good chances through Kralj and Marcus Kristofferson but Hiadlovsky was determined not to be beaten again.

The Bison kept trying to put the pressure on and killed the game off just before the half way mark. After a period of sustained Bison pressure the puck was worked around to set up Ciaran Long for the blast but his stick snapped as he shot. As Long skated to the bench the loose puck fell for Aaron Connolly who turned and fired past Rockman at 28:43.

As the Flames tried to recover from that shock they were stung by a great bit of skill. Ryan Watt set Tomas Karpov away and the Czech forward went on one of his trademark wonders through the defence. The Bison import sped round the zone, round behind the net and back in front, his shot going short side over Rockman’s shoulder at 29:19.

This time the Flames reacted and immediately pressed towards the Bison net, stretching the Herd’s defence to the point a goal looked certain. The feed came to Kevin Phillips but Hiadlovsky charged out and got his leg pad to the shot.

The play ping ponged from one end to the other as both sides threw caution to the wind; the Flames needing the score and the Bison wanting to try and really put the game to bed but as with the first period, the end product just didn’t fall for either side. The Bison had a couple of powerplay opportunities thanks to penalties on Matt Towe and Callum Best but the Bison’s extra man unit couldn’t find a way through and Hiadlovsky was occasionally called in to stop the occasional short handed chance, the best coming on a Danny Meyers breakaway that he poked checked to safety.

The Bison thought they had a 6th just before the second buzzer as a backhand shot went goalwards but Mr Pickett signalled no goal, the puck hitting the crossbar and not crossing the line. The second ended with the Bison firmly in control of the contest.

The third period saw the first appearance of the season for the 5 magic words; Doug Sheppard shut down hockey as they looked to close the game out. The Herd’s 2nd line had a great tic, tac toe chance as it went from Circenis to Watt to Karpov but Rockman got a shoulder to the shot. Otherwise it was a string of Flames chances that got past a solid defensive game and those that did were stopped by Hiadlovsky; Lundin, Piatak, Eriksson and Quiney all had chances turned away.

The Flames also had 2 successive powerplays thanks to a holding penalty on Alan Lack following a hard hit and a hooking call to Joe Baird but the Bison penalty kill was on point and whilst the passing from the visitors was of a very high quality, they just couldn’t find a way to get that killer shot off to trouble the net.

Then a real blow up; Ciaran Long steamed through Andy McKinney and Mr Pickett’s arm went straight in the air. The Flames were furious about the hit and Danny Meyers stormed off of the bench to try and get at Long who was being held back by a linesman. Meyers threw a couple of punches and skated off trying to whip up the crowd like he’d scored in the playoff final but all he got was a match penalty for roughing to go with Long’s match penalty for checking to the head meaning both would miss Sunday’s festivites.

The game petered out a bit after that as the inevitability of the result sank in and with a game to play the next day against each other at The Spectrum, minds and plans it appeared were on the following night. Then the final buzzer sounded and for some reason there was another coming together of the teams which ended in Declan Balmer and Rupert Quiney being sent back to the dressing room before the handshakes despite not being given any penalties.

Slowly coming together: The fan in me is always happy when we beat Guildford, I won’t deny that but this was another solid pre-season outing and has laid something of a marker down ahead of the league encounter that awaits both on Saturday night. With that in mind, Doug Sheppard continued to roll 4 lines with equal time and with Joe Greener injured it saw a lot of extra time in the forward ranks for Dan Lackey as Louis Taylor came in on defence and gave an admirable performance even if he did look tiny next to Miroslav Vantroba. It wasn’t Alex Sampford’s best game; maybe guilty of trying to do to much and overthinking what he did do, it was just one of those nights. He’ll be ok. Jacob Ranson did what was asked of him and I look forward to him being used as and when this season when games allow.

Stuart Mogg was man of the match again and he did give another solid performance. If choosing myself I’d probably have given the beers to JJ Pitchley who along with his goal and assist gave a really industrious performance and look much more settled than he did on Wednesday against Milton Keynes.

Tomas Hiadlovsky had a really good night making a string of good saves that stopped certain goals. The line of Tomas Karpov, Ryan Watt and Ralfs Circenis is getting there; Circenis is still clearly adjusting to the speed of the EPL but he has linemates who have a good understanding of each other’s game and seem prepared to work with him.

Overall it was a pleasing performance from the Bison as the season looms large against a side that is still gelling and coming together but had obvious qualities and will be a threat. The line combinations are starting to become clearer and the addition of Alan Lack full time to the roster throws an interesting extra element of physicality into the roster than can be added where it is needed. I’m writing this after the away game at the Spectrum where the Bison added yet another win to the pre-season column and that was without both Greener and Long. It seems we can be confident ahead of the campaign starting. It’s up to them to put this into practice.

A word on our opponents: This was the Flames’ first game of the pre-season and there were positives and negatives and we’ll start with those.

After a really good first period, the wheels really started to come off a bit in the second and in the third it never felt like Guildford would get back into the game. They lost their composure at times as well, the last thing you need is a former GB international and senior player running off the bench to start a fight. It also wasn’t Gregg Rockman’s finest hour as he was beaten shortside a couple of times in the contest. For all the speed this new look Flames roster possessed, they seemed to lack direction. The transition up the ice was really quick but they’d hit the blueline and instantly run out of ideas. It seemed to be pass…then pass…then pass again. Sam Godfrey had a bit of a nightmare night, getting benched for a chunk of the second and reportedly Rupert Quiney has injured his shoulder in a needless clash with Declan Balmer after the final buzzer.

That said there are some real positives. The result wasn’t great but it was a decent outing for the first pre-season game. Jens Eriksson who was initially greeted with minimal fanfare was arguably the best player on the ice and I think was deserving of the beers over Tom Duggan. The line of Andy McKinney, Erik Piatak and Marcus Kristofferson seemed to be one that is balanced and dangerous. If they get flying, teams will surely suffer.

All in all, there’s definitely stuff for the Flames to work on but there’s a good solid base to work from I think.

Lowlight of the night: The whole Long/Meyers event was equal parts irksome and avoidable from all sides.

Highlight of the night: I’ll say Lack’s goal; not a bad way to announce yourself onto the roster full time.

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