Running with the Herd – Bison vs Guildford Flames 16/10/15

EPL

Basingstoke Bison 5-3 Guildford Flames

Thompson                    Kralj x2 (1pp)

Watt pp                         Piatak

Greener

Lack

Connolly sh eng

The streak stands: The Bison welcomed Declan Balmer back into the line up after his injury and two-way forwards Jacob Ranson and Ryan Sutton bolstered the roster as Grant Rounding remains 5-6 weeks away from full fitness. Guildford were still missing Rupert Quiney through injury and Marcus Kristoffersson’s verbal protestations on Sunday meant he was suspended for the tie. Stephen Wall started between the pipes.

The first couple of minutes were eventful to say the least, especially for Matic Kralj; the Flames import took an interference penalty after a mere 8 seconds which the Bison couldn’t convert. Kralj then stepped out of the box, took the drop pass from Matt Towe and fired a gorgeous low shot past Hiadlovsky at 02:21. Then we blinked and it was 2-0; Kralj took the puck behind the net and nobody saw Erik Piatak pinching in. Puck to stick to back of net at 02:48 and the Bison were in a big hole early on.

It got even more interesting when Ciaran Long broke away towards Wall and was hooked then hauled down by Paul Dixon giving Mr Hogarth one of the easier penalty shot decisions he’ll make this season. Long went right up the middle and went to the backhand but couldn’t get the shot on net.

The Flames were having the better of the possession and the play and the Bison weren’t looking like themselves. Alan Lack levelled Sam Godfrey with a massive hit in the hope of rising the Bison team and the crowd as the Flames continued to have shots on Hiadlovsky.

Then, a breakthrough; on a rare attacking foray the puck found it’s way to Shaun Thompson down below the goal line. The Bison forward saw that gap that only he could see and he banked the puck off of a piece of Wall’s equipment and over the line at 09:02 to get the hosts on the board.

The goal sparked the Bison to a point but the game started becoming very ill tempered. Ciaran Long was called for interference as he clashed with Tom Duggan off the puck but the best chance on that powerplay fell to Aaron Connolly whose shot hit Wall and was cleared off the line. Then we had the first “earnest discussion of the evening” as Matt Towe and Joe Greener clashed which saw Danny Meyers dive in and grab onto Greener but somehow not take a penalty. Sam Godfrey and Ciaran Long also took penalties for their heated conversation. Unfortunately for the Bison it led to a Flames powerplay which they very handily converted. The Flames seemed to have the right idea as they worked the puck to Kralj who added his second of the night at 19:23 to give the Flames their two goal lead back.

Danny Meyers took a cross checking penalty soon after the goal so the Bison had some powerplay time to work with across the break in periods but they couldn’t find a way to get the puck past Wall on either side of the buzzer.

Doug Sheppard had clearly given the Bison a rocket up them in the break. A lack lustre first period gave way to a much more energetic and frantic start to the second. Both teams couldn’t seem to keep a hold of the puck for very long but the pace and intensity of the game stepped up a notch which made for an entertaining game if nothing else.

That step up in intensity worked in the Bison’s favour. Jez Lundin crosschecked Alan Lack in the back then bundled the diminutive Bison forward onto the outside of the net which earned the Flames captain a roughing minor. The hosts took just 20 seconds to make the most of the chance as Stephen Wall coughed up a juicy rebound from Ciaran Long’s point shot and Ryan Watt was on hand to fire home at 24:31.

The play continued to yo-yo and it seemed that the Bison had found the equaliser; Ciaran Long rifled a shot that seemed to go through Wall and slam off the back post in the net and back out but there was no light from the goal judge and no signal from Mr Hogarth. Long and Joe Greener were incensed at the next stop in play, both offering a few words to the goal judge but the score remained at 3-2.

The Herd continued to press for the equaliser but their intensity kept costing them as their trademark aggression boiled over as the period wound down. Joe Greener and Jens Eriksson, who had been having something of a running battle most of the evening, had a few whacks at each other which led to more discussions and Ryan Watt and Danny Meyers jawing at each other. Watt punched Meyers in the face which rightly earned him an extra penalty but the lack of call for Eriksson on the play confused this particular writer. The Flames ended up with a 4 minute powerplay as a result but failed to take any real advantage or any real shots of quality on the man advantage. Ryan Watt returned and had a really good chance as the period wound down but tried to go it alone rather than pass to a free Joe Greener which saw his shot saved. The second ended with the Bison in a much better position but still 3-2 behind.

Whatever Guildford side had come out of the blocks so fast in the first didn’t seem to be there in the early stages of the third. The Bison were flying as they needed the equaliser but the Flames seemed more content with their shorter bench to just sit back and take whatever opportunities came their way on the counter attack. The chances kept coming for the Bison and Watt displayed a lovely set of hands as he weaved through the Flames defence but his shot as he fell off balance wasn’t enough to trouble Stephen Wall.

When Joe Greener made a dart to the net, Mr Hogarth’s arm went up for a tripping call on Sam Godfrey which gave the Herd a crucial man advantage as the clock headed towards the end of regulation time. The powerplay yielded some good chances and some good pressure but it wasn’t until after Godfrey returned to the ice that the Bison got the reward. Eventually all the traffic in front of Wall saw the puck fall to Joe Greener who fired home at 53:58 to tie the game.

However that wasn’t enough for the Bison and off the faceoff they were right back to it. Tomas Karpov fed the puck for Kurt Reynolds to unleash a shot goalwards that Alan Lack got a touch on. Stephen Wall was in the right position but the tipped puck scuffed the bottom of his glove and trickled over the line at 54:18. The Herd, stung by 2 goals in just over 20 seconds at the start of the game, had delivered their own 20 second hammer blow as inside the last 6 minutes.

This woke the Flames up a bit and they had a golden 3 on 2 opportunity but Andy McKinney fluffed his lines on the shot and the puck wobbled harmlessly along the ice into Hiadlovsky’s grasp.

As the game approached the last two minutes, the visitors were given a massively lifeline as Tomas Karpov was called for holding despite also having his stick held by the Flames defenceman. The Flames set up camp in the Bison zone but the powerplay just didn’t seem to be clicking for the Herd. It took an age for Wall to be summoned to the bench which wasn’t until inside the last minute but the Herd finished off the game shortly afterwards. Aaron Connolly fought his way out up the ice and into the Flames zone before firing into the empty net at 59:43 to keep the Bison’s home winning run intact.

Burning bright at the last: This game was a mixed bag for the Bison across the sixty minutes. The first period started off terribly as the Herd were caught incredibly flat footed and just weren’t at the races for most of it even after Shaun Thompson’s goal (that move is now called “The Thommo special”). However from the second period onwards whilst the Flames trended downwards, the Bison trended upwards. It wasn’t a vintage Bison performance but to come from 2-0 and 3-1 down to win 5-3 with 5 different scorers is a statement of character from the Herd.

The other thing that held the Bison back at times last night was they kept getting suckered into taking daft penalties by the Flames. It was a smart game plan by Guildford to try and use the Bison’s high level of physicality against them and it kept working at points. The larger clashes between the sides saw the Bison come off with the larger shares of the penalties which, whilst bemoaned by some of the crowd, were correctly called by the official for the most part.

Ryan Watt got man of the match for his 1+1 effort which was fair enough; Watt’s performance had a lot of energy (sometimes too much) and took his goal very well. The march to 20 continues for Ryan. There were a couple of other people in contention for the award; Alan Lack’s game winner came after a focussed, 100% energy game even when the chips were down. Miroslav Vantroba had a superb outing where he took a variety of knocks but just kept going.

As I said above there were some things that can’t be a regular part of the Bison game against any side in this league. They can’t get taking into giving away penalties for being overly aggressive when the game is tight and they need to play for 60 minutes. They were fortunate that the Flames only really played for the one period to the Bison’s two.

We can’t ignore the simple fact though that the Bison dug themselves out of the hole that they put themselves in to. It wasn’t the prettiest of wins but it was certainly up there in terms of the guts and determination shown.

A word on our opponents: This is a performance that, if I was Paul Dixon, would leave me scratching my head for a large part. 3-1 up on the road after one period and scoring 2 goals very early and somehow all the energy vanished out of the roster and they got stung at the end.

Matic Kralj was the easiest choice for man of the match you’ll see, even more so than Jon Baston was for Hull because he had a very good night. I clapped both his goals they were that nice. He was a constant threat all night where others of his team mates didn’t look to be in the same building with him.

That I think was the issue for Guildford; Kralj had a superb individual performance but nobody went with him. When the Bison started to shut him down a bit more, there was no response from Guildford. That’s not to say there weren’t some other decent individual performances (Sam Godfrey is probably the best example there) but there just seemed to be no oomph, no desire to put an opponent to the sword who was in a position to be easily dispatched at 2-0 and 3-1.

The short bench and the loss of Kristoffersson for the evening certainly didn’t help either. They missed the Swede’s directness and creativity. Jens Eriksson is such a natural centre but there was nobody like Kristoffersson around him to set up. What started off as a perfect storm turned into a shower at the end thanks to something of a soft Bison 4th goal when the puck scuffed off of Stephen Wall’s glove.

You can sometimes chalk up losses to a bad night at the office but the manner in which the loss happened will concern Flames fans and should concern Flames management. As a one off slip, it’s a learning point. There’s clearly a lot of very good players on that Flames roster and they were short one of the better players in the league. If it happens again then it’s going to be a major issue.

Lowlight of the night: Just some of the daft penalties the Bison took, some were utterly needless.

Highlight of the night: 3rd and 4th goals in quick succession; game turned on its head and 2 vital points.

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