Running with the Herd – Bison vs Manchester Phoenix 31/10/15

EPIHL

Basingstoke Bison 4-1 Manchester Phoenix

Connolly                       Archer

Mogg

Greener

Karpov

Hit the north: The Bison welcomed Alan Lack back to the line-up after his absence last weekend and Ryan Sutton remained in the line up. Grant Rounding’s time on the sidelines is not quite up yet but is expected back by the end of November. The Phoenix were at full strength, welcoming Mark Thomas back from injury and starting Stephen Fone in net.

It was the aforementioned Thomas who was involved in the early action as he and Joe Greener decided to go old school with the gloves and helmets coming off just 90 seconds into the tie. There was a lot of swinging but not much connecting, Greener edging the fight as he landed the only shot of consequence in the bout and scoring the take down. The honours were even penalty wise as Mr Brooks gave both men 2+2 for roughing. (Insert my usual rant for a fighting major penalty here)

The Herd were the ones having the better of the possession and the chances early on as Ciaran Long, Miroslav Vantroba and Joe Rand all had chances. Long in particular was causing the Phoenix a variety of problems with his shooting as the visitors’ defence was stretched.

The Phoenix, seemingly aware of what they were going to face seemed happy to sit back and use their speed to try and hit on the counter. Their early forays forward saw a familiar pattern; weather the storm of the Bison attack, the wingers break out at speed and get the puck on net. James Archer and Jacob Corson-Heron had the better chances but the puck kept finding its way into the gut or the glove of Tomas Hiadlovsky.

Whilst the Bison were getting the lion’s share of the chances and Hiadlovsky was making the necessary saves, he was very nearly caught out midway through the period. As the Slovak went behind the net to play the puck, he got caught by the Phoenix forecheck. As he scrambled to get back into the net it seemed that the Phoenix would tap into the empty net but Vantroba’s quick thinking and stick work spared his countryman’s blushes.

The hosts kept having chances and making the bigger plays. Joe Rand’s wrap around chance couldn’t find its way past Fone, Alex Symonds levelled Gareth O’Flaherty with a textbook hipcheck, Tomas Karpov went close after some good work by Ryan Watt to force the turnover.

However it was the Phoenix who struck first against the run of play. With the Herd’s defence being stretched, some neat passing saw Robin Kovar find James Archer. The Phoenix alternate captain used the defender as a screen and saw just enough of the top corner of the net to fire home at 16:38.

This goal buoyed the visitors and they had a few more substantive chances as Mark Thomas and Stanislav Gron both went close as the period wound down but there was no more scoring before the first buzzer. The Herd were playing well enough but found themselves behind as the Phoenix’s “hold and counter attack” game plan seemed to be doing the business.

If the Herd had been unlucky not to score in the first period, it was a move out of training that saw them on the scoreboard early in the second; the Herd sprung the 3on2 and with Joe Greener driving up the middle to cause havoc in the defence, Stuart Mogg held the puck then fed it into the wheelhouse of Aaron Connolly who hammered his shot past Fone at 21:03 to level the score.

That goal could have opened the game up a bit but instead it appeared to have almost the opposite effect. The play from both sides became patchy with turnovers in all directions but the teams were still getting shots on net. A smart Phoenix passing play set up Gron in front of the net before he was cleared out by Vantroba whilst at the other end the Herd had chances through Lack, Vantroba and Ryan Watt’s deflection of an Alex Symonds slap pass.

The game had been a physical affair but after the early fisticuffs there wasn’t a penalty called until just after the half hour mark when Mogg was called for slashing. It was an unusual call given much more obvious things in both directions had seen Mr Brooks not use the whistle. The Bison killed off that powerplay then were a man down shortly afterwards in equally confusing circumstances when a few players collided at the blueline which saw Aaron Connolly called for hooking. However the powerplay saw no way through for the Phoenix and it was Fone’s turn to get caught behind his net as Ciaran Long’s hard forecheck caused a panic at the back for the Phoenix but the pass to the front of the net missed Greener and went out of the zone.

A crosschecking call against Mark Thomas gave the Bison a late powerplay chance of their own late in the period. Tomas Karpov came closest to breaking the tie but Stephen Fone had his eye in and stood firm in the visitor’s net making sure the second period ended with the score still at 1-1.

The Phoenix started the final frame the better of the two sides. The Bison seemed to be copying the visitors’ more chaotic defensive style but Hiadlovsky made stop after stop including a couple that he wasn’t even sure that he’d made as he turned away Gron, Satek and Boothroyd.

The Bison needed something to settle them down and it came in a moment of skill from one of their senior players. Ciaran Long passed to Joe Greener in the Herd’s zone and Greener set off down the ice. Greener took the neutral zone and hit the blueline drawing Phoenix players to him in a classic bit of power forward play. At just the right moment in front of Fone,Greener passed to Stuart Mogg for the tap in at 46:07.

Both defences continued to scramble as the teams continued to attack and it was the Phoenix who were given a golden chance to get level, After another confusing slashing call against Mogg, Symonds was called for crosschecking which gave the visiting Phoenix 1:11 of 5on3 powerplay time. The Bison penalty killers knuckled down and some of the most chaotic defending gave way to really structured and solid penalty killing. This, along with some more top quality netminding from Hiadlovsky, saw the Herd kill both penalties with moderate ease.

Joe Baird and James Archer were given matching slashing minors after a disagreement to make it 4on4 hockey and the hosts took advantage. After making the second goal, it was Greener’s turn to get his name on the scoresheet as he took the feed from Alex Symonds, drew open the wickets of Fone and slotted through the open 5hole at 53:49 for the 3-1 Bison lead.

Rather than immediately go down the shutdown hockey route, the game continued with its free flowing way with the ever present physical game that the Herd usually employ.

Rather than grinding however, it was a moment of skill from Tomas Karpov that capped off :the scoring; the Czech forward with a laser of a shot shortside over the shoulder of Fone at 57:24.

The teams played out the remaining 2 and a bit minutes with relative calm, the Bison spending much of the time trying to set up Ryan Sutton but ultimately the game’s result was decided and the Herd’s home winning streak added another notch.

No fear of flight: There were moments during this game which had my heart in my mouth a bit but overall it was a comfortable win for the Herd over the course of the 60 minutes. The first period was something of a Bison archetype as they had chances and possession galore but got stung and found themselves a goal down. However the Bison had played well enough where it wasn’t really a concern. The goal that you felt was coming came and against a team high on effort but short on bodies, the deeper bench and quality told. There were periods where the Herd tried to play the Phoenix’s game and some of the copying of the rather frantic defensive style gave everyone a bit of a panic but ultimately I don’t think anyone being honest with themselves will disagree that the hosts were the better team in this contest.

Stuart Mogg got man of the match for a 1+1 performance that has been in line with his recent run of excellent form. Mogg was certainly in the discussion last night but for me I’d have gone in one of two ways.

One was Joe Greener; having scored the first Geordie Howe hattrick that we’ve seen in Basingstoke for some time, it was one of the best games I’ve seen Greener play. I’ve maintained that he’s one of the best power forwards in the league and he played that role to perfection on this night. His goal was taken very well but his length of the ice dash to set up Mogg’s goal was the crowning point of the night.

The other was Tomas Hiadlovsky; whilst I’m aware goalies are not massive fans of getting man of the match awards, this was a good night for the Bison’s backstop. The defence and the netminder now seem to be comfortable with how the other plays which helped but Hiadlovsky made a string of fine saves that he intended and had good enough positioning and awareness to be in the right place at the right time to allow himself to make a few stops he knew nothing about. Arguments about import netminders aside, I’ve been aware of some fans of other teams who’d said Hiadlovsky wasn’t worth the import slot. I’d kindly direct them to the highlights of this game and advise them to pipe down. It was a superb performance.

The roster played with direction and purpose against a side that will trip teams up this season. Whilst it’s not exactly the Phoenix of old (more on that in a bit), it’s a team with quality and the Bison put them to the sword handily. It was two points solidly earned.

A word on our opponents: It goes without saying that this season will be a tough one for the Phoenix. I missed the earlier game this season so this was my first chance to see the roster playing out of what I jokingly call “West Manchester”. Having spoken to friends, what I saw seems to be the story of the season; there’s a lot of heart and hustle but not enough bodies and not enough quality.

With all due respect to Ben Russell, I’m not sure how he got man of the match when the defence as a unit was relatively poor bar Luke Boothroyd who seemed to play close to 35-40 minutes of the tie. Apart from the every present Phoenix captain, the only other players who came close were Stanislav Gron who looks a class above EPL level whilst playing similar minutes to Boothroyd and who I would have chosen, Stephen Fone. I’m not Fone’s biggest advocate and it might sound strange to think the goalie was man of the match when his side lost 4-1 but without him it could have been a lot worse. Through 40 minutes he looked fantastic and then everyone got so tired around him including himself that the resistance broke.

That may sound like I’m being overly harsh to Manchester and maybe I am but maybe I’ve been spoiled by the quality of previous meetings. The game was entertaining and the Phoenix are entertaining to watch with some very good players but the struggles that are affecting the Phoenix saw this be one of the easier wins against one of my favourite teams to watch.

Lowlight of the night: Whilst the officiating was confusing at times, I’ll say the copying of the Phoenix’s madcap defending.

Highlight of the night: Bison’s 2nd goal, superb work by Greener.

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