Running with the Herd – Bison vs Telford Tigers 3/10/15

EPL League/Cup

Basingtoke Bison 6-4 Telford Tigers

Watt                             Hill

Connolly                      Szabo

Karpov x2 (1pp)          Davies

Thompson pp              Haywood

Reynolds

Keeping it roar: The Bison were still without Declan Balmer and Grant Rounding but welcomed back Aaron Connolly in full face guard as well as welcomed Alex Symonds into the lineup alongside Ryan Sutton who now has his own jersey. The Tigers started Tom Murdy in net and welcomed back Jason Silverthorn into the lineup which meant Vladimir Kutny sat out and Blahoslav Novak missed out thanks to his match penalty last weekend.

The teams traded chances inside the first 60 seconds that didn’t really test either keeper. At times last week against Hull the Bison had been guilty of trying to walk the puck into the net but didn’t take that approach; the Herd got the puck in tight in front of Murdy’s net and eventually Ryan Watt shovelled the puck over the line at 1:24 to give the Bison a 1-0 lead and Watt his 100th EPL goal.

The Bison kept having the better chances immediately after the goal as Greener and Karpov both went close but the Tigers started to come more and more into the game. Both Tom Murdy and Tomas Hiadlovsky were earning their keep as they made a string of good saves at their respective ends of the ice. Both attacks were looking smooth and slick in their passing but both netminders were proving equal to the task. Any shot that was coming their way some how they found a body part to get in the way; the flashiest was a shot from Phil Hill where Hiadlovsky ripped the puck from the air with his glove.

Shaun Thompson had a tap in front trickle agonisingly wide and a good chance for the Tigers denied by Hiadlovsky’s pokecheck. The period wound down with both teams trying to find the game’s second goal as the crowd were treated to some good passing, some big hits and a fantastic bit of skill from Kurt Reynolds to dispossess Joe Miller. The first period had been very eventful and had probably been one of the better periods of hockey in Basingstoke of this season so far; it had been tight and there had been chances but some good netminding at both ends had kept the score at 1-0.

Then it all went wrong for Tom Murdy.

The second period began and within a few seconds Aaron Connolly was freed into space, took the zone and smashed a shot through Murdy at 20:24. Then less than 20 seconds later it was virtually the same thing; Alan Lack set Tomas Karpov off on a run but rather than go for his customary skate in and around everyone, the Czech forward just went straight to the middle of the slot and fired. When the puck nestled into the bottom of the net at 20:40 it forced Telford coach Tom Watkins into calling the timeout. Murdy had conceded 2 goals on 2 shots in the period and his night was done as he was replaced by Sam Gospel.

15 seconds later, the Tigers had a powerplay chance when a big hit from Shaun Thompson on Martin Ondrej was called as holding. It took them just over a minute to get on the board as some very good powerplay work saw the puck cycled round to Max Birbraer at the point and his shot was tipped past Hiadlovsky by Phil Hill at 21:59. It had certainly been an eventful start to the second frame.

The goal lifted the Tigers who started to come back into the game; Hill had another chance after a period of sustained pressure when the Bison were pinned back in their own zone but Hiadlovsky was equal to the final effort.

Ryan Watt and Dale White decided to grab a hold of each other behind the play which led to both getting called for delay of the game but when Joe Miller was called for a hook in the offensive zone the Bison found themselves with a 4on3 powerplay chance and, much like Telford had on their powerplay, got some really good puck movement going though the set plays struggled to find the back of the net. It was a lucky bounce that ended up beating Gospel; Shaun Thompson fired the puck out to the front of the net and the puck rebounded off of former Bison defender Sam Zajac and over the line at 27:07 for the 4-1 Bison lead and it took less than 80 seconds for the Bison’s 5th to come. With Martin Ondrej in the box for interference Tomas Karpov took advantage of a turnover to fire past Gospel for the unassisted powerplay goal at 28:19 and a 5-1 lead to leave the Herd fans slightly in shock.

It was at this point the Bison started to find themselves in penalty trouble as they took 4 penalties in just over 2 minutes that saw the Herd face a few moments of 5on3 penalty kill time. Eventually all the pressure from the Tigers told and they managed to add their second goal as Peter Szabo got the final tap past Hiadlovsky in close at 33:22.

This goal and period on the back foot seemed to rile the Bison and captain Aaron Connolly in particular whose next shift was a proverbial house of fire. This step up in intensity paid off for the Bison as they managed to add their 6th when Kurt Reynolds’ floated shot to the net went through the traffic in front of Gospel and into the back of the net at 36:56. The second period came to an end with the Bison firmly in control of the game and the home crowd having done a total 180 degree turn from the previous week.

The Tigers needed something to give them a lift and they certainly got a good start to the third period. After the Bison had a good chance through Connolly, it was an individual effort of skill that made things a bit more interesting; Dan Davies picked up the pass, avoided the pokecheck from Hiadlovsky, dangled it around the sprawling goalie and tapped it home at 42:57 for 6-3.

The Bison again fell foul of Mr Brooks with Lack getting called for tripping and after Watt and Zajac getting called for offsetting roughing minors, Hiadlovsky got called for a rather harsh delay of the game call for taking the net off the moorings. This was followed by a boarding call on Joe Baird that incensed Hiadlovsky so much that he picked up a misconduct penalty for abuse of official. However the Bison’s penalty killing units were up to the task of keeping the Tigers are bay and keeping the score at 6-3.

Mr Brooks earned the Bronx cheer from the home fans when Phil Hill was called for holding the stick but the Bison seemed to use the powerplay more as a chance to not get scored on than making a pointed effort to score but it was time off of the clock.

The Tigers started to put more pressure on as they looked for a way back into the game and with just under 5 minutes to go got their 4th goal as Macauley Haywood made the most of some lacklustre Bison defence to walk through the zone and fire a shot past Hiadlovsky at 55:17.

The Tigers kept trying to press but they seemed to be lacking energy and urgency as the clock wound down. Gospel was taken off with 1:34 to go in the game and an interference call against Joe Greener inside the last minute gave the Tigers ample opportunity to go all out attack but it wasn’t to be and the Bison had the 6-4 and both cup victories over last season’s champions.

That’s more like it: After last week and a game that made all of us fear for our sanity, this game was equally bizarre but for a variety of different reasons. With a delayed faceoff due to issues with the Olympia then an extended first break as the ice was worked combined with 36 minutes of penalties called in the final two periods, it would have been easy for a team to lose its focus but the Bison were on point for the majority of the evening.

Whilst it’s interesting to see that Tomas Hiadlovsky knows enough English to be able to pick up an abuse of official call, the amount of penalties taken by the Herd will be concerning as are the powerplay goals given up but the overall performance on the night was superb from the Bison. The argument will always stand that they should have put more goals on the Tigers rather than reverting to DSSH (Doug Sheppard shutdown hockey) but you can’t argue about putting 6 goals from 5 different scorers past the league and cup champions at home.

Tomas Karpov got man of the match for 2 well taken goals but I have to feel it should have gone to Aaron Connolly. If anyone had any concerns about whether the Kent born forward would be OK as captain then they were thoroughly dispelled as he led from the front with a goal as well as covering every inch of the ice, timely hits and just generally an effort where he went above and beyond. Don’t get me wrong, it was a good game for Karpov and 2 goals in a game against a team that should be doing much better than it is was great but I had Connolly pegged for the beers this time out.

In net Hiadlovsky again looked very solid though he’ll want Telford’s 3rd and 4th back. The Slovak makes everything he does look really effortless and he’s becoming a very fun watch though last night we saw the first flashes of his temper that occasionally caused him issues in Edinburgh.

Stuart Mogg was moved to forward for the game which was unusual as Sheppard chose to run 4 defencemen and sparingly use JJ Pitchley and Ryan Sutton. I’m sure there was method to the madness here and it did work for the most part. Symonds looks like he hasn’t lost a step and instantly slipped back into the Bison and Sheppard’s way of doing things but why are two forwards getting minimal shifts and one of our defencemen playing forward leaving us with only 4 men on the blueline? It just seemed a strange decision.

As I said though, you can’t argue with the result; in a funk or not, this Telford team has a lot of skill and quality in it and the Bison made them comprehensively look second best for the second time in a month. The wobble of last week is hopefully out of the system and the Bison can press on towards cup semi final qualification.

A word on our opponents: A lot of people (myself included) made jokes last week about the sky falling in for the Tigers. Are things bad for them at the moment? Yes. Is there a chance for improvement? Also yes. Did it happen last night? Probably not.

The Tigers haven’t suddenly become bad over night and they clearly still have a lot of quality on that roster that still seems to be suffering without Jonathan Weaver. The passing is very good, they can break quickly, their powerplay looks really good but it just didn’t seem to click for them.

Dan Scott got man of the match but I probably would have given it to either Dan Davies or Phil Hill if we’re picking the better individual performances. If and when Telford start to improve, Hill in particular looks like he’ll be money at this level for the Tigers.

All the good points aside there is no hiding from the scoreline and what we saw. Telford looks like they were lacking direction, vigour and intensity at times. They got rocked by Murdy conceding 2 goals on 2 shots inside 40 seconds of the second period and then they didn’t really give Sam Gospel a great amount of help after that. There was the typical Tigers flurry as the game went on but it was far too little, too late for them. It sounds odd to say when you consider how dominant they were last season but they just didn’t look like they would come back and win this game.

Aside from the fact they have the resources to make the necessary changes, this Telford team will not just sit around and stagnate for long; something will eventually give. You have to wonder if they do not get a favourable result tonight against Bracknell whether the trigger will be pulled sooner rather than later.

Lowlight of the night: Mixture of penalty trouble (and at times some confusing officiating) mixed with Telford’s 4th goal.

Highlight of the night: I’m quite pleased that my sister in law’s first game of hockey was so entertaining but I’ll say Connolly’s performance and goal.

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