Running with the Herd – Bison vs Milton Keynes Lightning 21/11/15

EPL

Basingstoke Bison 3-2 Milton Keynes Lightning

Greener                       Cownie

Karpov                         Jamieson

Penalties (MK shoot first)

Rand scores                Luomala saved

Long scores                 Cownie saved

Ground out: The Bison were still missing Alex Symonds through injury as well as Jacob Ranson and Ryan Sutton to their NIHL commitments but finally welcomed Grant Rounding back into the lineup for the first time since March. The Lightning were without David Clements and Jack Watkins. They welcomed new import defenceman Martti Järventie into the lineup and started Dean Skinns.

Järventie was right into the thick of the action as he shoved Joe Rand after the whistle on the first shot of the game and it would set the table for a very chippy undercurrent that would last for the remainder of the game.

The physicality kept coming as Lewis Christie levelled Joe Greener with a big hit followed by a clash between Joe Baird and Jordan Cownie that led to the Bison defenceman taking a roughing call but the Lightning’s powerplay struggled to get going and the penalty was easily killed.

Cownie’s frustrations continued to boil over shortly afterwards. The Lightning forward clashed on the wall with Shaun Thompson and just didn’t seem able to let something go. A crowd formed, everyone started pushing and shoving, Grant McPherson punched Grant Rounding in the crowd and the penalties were distributed. McPherson and Thompson both got landed with 2 minute roughing minors but Cownie’s out of character antics earned him 2+2 and gave the Bison a 4 minute powerplay that saw the Bison suffer similar struggles to the visitors. Bobby Chamberlain had a good short handed chance that was denied by a sprawling Tomas Hiadlovsky whilst Ciaran Long and Aaron Connolly had decent chances that were stopped by Skinns.

The period itself wasn’t the most high tempo of affairs and neither side really seemed to get their offences going. Both were playing really tight, controlled games which was working really well defensively but was stifling both attacks and neither side seemed to want to try and take the risk that might be necessary to get the first goal. It was going to be a case of “who blinks first?”

Järventie headed back to the box for hooking and this time the Bison’s powerplay appeared to get more going. The puck movement was much better but there was still no way past Skinns. The Lightning’s new Finnish import nearly forced Hiadlovsky into another massive howler as he pressured the netminder who had come out to play the puck but the Bison defence bailed out their netminder.

The first period sort of petered out rather than dramatically come to a conclusion; Tomas Karpov was given a bit too much space to walk into but some really good defensive work from Markku Tahtinen forced Karpov into hooking his shot wide. The first came to an end with this writer wondering what could be done to spark the game into life.

MK obliged the crowd shortly into the second period. The Lightning attack took the zone and as Vantroba tried to step into his man and missed leaving the two on one against the out of position Balmer and Blaz Emersic fed the puck into Jordan Cownie to blast past Hiadlovsky at 21:37.

This work the Bison up and out of nowhere the Bison started to swarm and the chances started to come. Joe Greener and Joe Rand came close as the Lightning were pinned back. The Herd were trying to get in Skinns’ face but the former double winner was standing firm in net only for him to then be beaten from distance. Joe Greener took the zone at speed, hit the blueline and fired high. Skinns flapped the glove at the shot but it went past him into top of the net at 25:51.

Shaun Thompson headed back to the box off of the back of a soft tripping call from Mr Pickett and the Lightning powerplay had good chances and good traffic in front of Hiadlovsky but the Slovak was seeing the puck and denied the Lightning the lead.

Despite what seemed like enough offsides to fill the hull of a cruise liner, the period was still a decent, flowing game. MK would take the initiative, Bison would take it back and it felt like a goal would come before the end of the period and eventually did.

Tomas Karpov picked up the loose puck and advanced down the wing. The Czech forward tried to hold off his man, got held, kept going, cut to the net and backhanded the puck over the shoulder of Dean Skinns to make it 2-1 at 37:52. The home crowd went from celebration to surprise as Lightning coach Pete Russell chose that moment to replace Dean Skinns with Jordan Marr in net. More on that later.

The teams saw out the remainder of the period with a couple of shots either way but the second buzzer sounded with the Bison 2-1 to the good.

The Lightning started the third period the better of the two sides. Hiadlovsky was equal to the early shots but eventually the defence would crack as a very slick move allowed the visitors to tie the scores. The passes flew across the zone to Leigh Jamieson to hammer a superb one timer into the net at 43:18.

The Bison had a chance to respond shortly afterwards when Blaz Emersic was called for tripping Karpov but the Bison powerplay again failed to fire and the visitors escaped unscathed with minimal pressure put on Marr in the Lightning goal.

The game became very tight and tense. The Lightning were being the more direct with their play whilst the Bison seemed happy to just try and ride out the pressure but did also ride their luck. None more so on the Lightning’s powerplay for another soft penalty call on Shaun Thompson when a Leigh Jamieson shot across the crease had Hiadlovsky out of position but the Lightning man at the backdoor missed the net with the shot.

Ultimately neither side could find the extra goal in regulation so the game headed to 3 on 3 overtime which spent most of its time as 4on3 powerplay time. Martti Järventie was the first to the box when he was generously given a two minute boarding call for going through Joe Greener from behind but the Bison’s problematic powerplay on the night reared its ugly head again as the Herd failed to register a shot on goal in the two minutes.

Tomas Hiadlovsky nearly got caught again by Cownie but was saved by Shaun Thompson back tracking. In the ensuing play Joe Baird found himself called for hooking that would last right through the remainder of overtime. The Lightning’s powerplay did much better than the Herd’s did but Hiadlovsky made up for his heart attack antics to make a string of good saves and the game headed to the shootout.

The first round saw Luomala headed right up the centre but was denied by the pokecheck of Hiadlovsky. Joe Rand took a similar route but managed to snap his shot through the 5 hole of Marr.

Cownie started the second round as he came in slightly to Hiadlovsky’s left but the shot was easily saved. With the game on his stick, Ciaran Long went round to Marr’s right, cut to the net and as Marr came down got his shot to beat the pad coming across to keep the undefeated home streak intact.

They all count: This win nor the game as a whole will go down as a classic in this current home winning streak for the Herd by any means. The first and the third were flat, the second was decent, the powerplay was near non-existent at times but the Bison ground out a win in the shootout. 2 points are 2 points and with this being the only game this weekend, it was vital to get them against another title challenger even if MK came away with a point.

Games like these happen. Not many players had great games all in all. It was one of those nights where there was clearly a plan and it just didn’t come off 100%. They happen, the team are only human after all but yeah, insert obligatory references about not playing well and winning here.

Joe Greener had an OK evening but for me, the Bison’s night belonged to Tomas Hiadlovsky. This was a night made for the signing of a netminder of his calibre. Yes, he gave anyone two heart attacks last night but he made save after crucial save when they were needed. He made saves when he wasn’t even seeing the puck but his anticipation meant that he was in position at the right time and then he stepped up in the shootout to put the game on our own skaters’ sticks. It’s likely his two rushes of blood to the head made people look on his night differently but they don’t remember his tape to tap passes from his own crease to the opposition’s blueline.

Games like these happen. You chalk up the two points and move on. There’s things for this team to work on ahead of Hull next week but we saw the flashes of skill that we know this team has. It can’t come good all the time but it does come good in time.

A word on our opponents: I always sleep before writing a game write up and actually this was the best thing for how Milton Keynes played last night. I think that had I written this last night I might have done them a bit of a disservice on the whole. The chance to take a step back put some of what I saw in a better perspective.

I don’t think the MK Lightning played particularly well last night, neither did the Bison but I do have to concede they probably were the better side on the night. They certainly had the better chances over the 60 minutes but did come up against a very decent goalie which didn’t help. They played well defensively on the whole but there was something lacking slightly from both sides going forward at times. Some will argue that it was quality of defending, others will argue it was a lack of creative offence; take your pick.

The goalie swap was the real talking point and that too I can see in a slightly better night. Whilst Dean Skinns only let up 2 goals on 21 shots, he had been fighting the puck at chunks and hadn’t looked comfortable making some of the saves. Bison fans as well as anyone else know what happens when Dean has games like that when something is amiss on the night and he isn’t at his best so the decision was made by Pete Russell to make the change to Jordan Marr who played alright but wasn’t massively tested by the Herd till the shootout. In the moment during the ensuing break everyone said the same thing; Russell’s just ruined the confidence of one of his goalies. Ultimately the other perspective is that Russell did the hard thing but the right thing in the moment for the team at the time.

Marko Luomala took the beers for the Lightning which I had no issue with as he was one of the better offensive players on the ice for both sides all evening. I also thought Markuu Tahtinen was quiet at times but very decent along with Jordan Cownie who seemed to be playing with a chip on his shoulder.

The new guy Martti Järventie looks the business. He was confident on the puck, his positioning was solid, he has a decent shot on him and seemed to settle right in. The only downside to the night was his hit on Joe Greener which was awful. It wasn’t intentional but it was from behind and should have been a minimum of 2+10.

Lightning fans will feel hard done by that they didn’t get 2 points from the game and I wouldn’t begrudge them that feeling but both sides deserved something from the game and they got that.

Lowlight of the night: Along with some confusing officiating, the entire first period from both teams was a dirge.

Highlight of the night: Karpov’s goal, check the highlights as the finish is amazing.

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