Running with the Herd – Bison vs Peterborough Phantoms 02/01/16

EPL

Basingstoke Bison 3-0 Peterborough Phantoms

Rand x2

Watt

Start as you mean to go on: The Bison had a sizeable scratch list; Alex Symonds, Tomas Hiadlovsky, Tomas Karpov and Grant Rounding were still out through injury whilst Doug Sheppard returned to the bench to insert Joe Rand back into the line-up and Ryan Sutton was elsewhere. Jacob Ranson was added to the squad and Jon Baston returned to the net. After a finger injury, Edgers Bebris was back in the Phantoms line up as Janis Auzins started in net.

The Peterborough netminder has frustrated rosters across the league for a year and a half. When a funny bounce early in the game found the Latvian out of position and Rene Jarolin somehow missed an empty net, it seemed that the fates were conspiring against the Herd early.

The Bison had two early powerplays as Jason Buckman and Robert Ferrara sat for holding and interference respectively, the later being some first class penalty drawing work from Alan Lack, but the hosts couldn’t convert on either chance.

The Herd were having the larger share of possession as the Phantoms looked to repeat their road game from before Christmas. The teams traded chances as the puck pinballed around the ice and the players off of each other.

When the Phantoms hit on the counter, they were certainly proving dangerous. Craig Scott’s move around Stuart Mogg saw the Phantoms’ man get a shot away but Baston made the save. Milan Baranyk then had an even better chance as he was sent away behind the defence, made a move but Baston kicked out the left pad and made the save from the golden opportunity. The Bison broke up the other end and with the puck in the corner, Alan Lack managed to find Joe Rand at the top of the crease with no defender within 6 feet of him. The Canadian took a moment then shovelled the puck through the 5 hole of Auzins at 14:00 to give the hosts the lead.

The momentum had firmly shifted to the Herd and the doubled the lead just a couple of minutes later. Rene Jarlon gained the zone and fed the puck cross ice to Ryan Watt. The Scotsman took a step then riffled a wrist shot past the glove of Auzins and into the top corner of the net at 16:19.

The Bison had the better of the chances as the first period ran down but Auzins was equal to any further chances and the first period ended with the hosts 2-0 in front.

The visitors had the better start to the middle frame and an early powerplay when Declan Balmer was called for cross checking Martins Susters gave the Phantoms a chance to get on the board but the best chances were fended off by Jon Baston.

Both sides soon found themselves 4on4 as Greg Pick was called for tripping and then Mr Thompson threw in a charging penalty to Alan Lack for good measure. The call to Lack was probably justified as he levelled Marc Levers with a hit but Mr Thompson caused some confusion as he only raised his arm for Pick’s infraction then seemed to tack on Lack’s penalty. The Bison had the better chances in the 4on4 period as Miroslav Vantroba and Shaun Thompson went close but the former was stopped by Janis Auzins and the later was denied by some excellent stick work by Cam McGiffin.

From there, the Phantoms had the better of the chances as Jon Baston was called into a succession of quick saves in tight in front of the net. The Bison had a good chance when Jarolin fed Watt in the slot for the one timer but the Bison man’s shot went high over the crossbar.

The Herd got some relief from the Phantoms’ pressure as Buckman again took a seat, this time for delay of the game but the best chance fell to the visitors as Declan Balmer got turned over at the blueline by Milan Baranyk. He fed Darius Pliskauskas but the final shot from the Lithuanian international went wide.

The roles from the first period seemed almost reversed as the Phantoms were having more of the possession and chances as the Bison seemed content to let the visitors come to them as Baston seemed to seeing everything that came at him combined with throwing himself across his crease like a child on a bouncy castle. The Bison nearly caught the Phantoms napping as Ciaran Long toe dragged around the defenceman but his backhand shot missed the post.

Jason Buckman earned himself another sit in the penalty box when he was called for tripping. Ciaran Long had a couple of hard point shots that were batted away by Janis Auzins. Some work at the front of the net set up a superb chance but neither Shaun Thompson nor Alan Lack could bundle the puck over the line.

The second period wound down with the Bison still 2-0 ahead but after some golden chances on the counter attack, the fear of a Phantoms comeback in the third still lingered.

The Bison had the brighter start to the final frame; a Joe Rand chance that the Canadian carved from nothing was followed up by a powerplay as Greg Pick was called for holding early on but again the Bison got caught on the powerplay. Edgars Bebris was gifted the shorthanded breakaway and tried to fire through the wickets of Baston but the Bison netminder managed to shut the pads in time and despite falling backwards towards the goal was adjudged to have kept the puck from crossing the line.

The Phantoms returned to full strength but again, a big save from Baston at one end saw the Bison come back and land a counter punch to the visitors. More good work from the Bison in the corners and around the net saw Joe Greener get a shot off. The puck rebounded off of the pads of Auzins to an unmarked Joe Rand at the back door for the tap in at 45:00.

The goal understandably buoyed the Bison but the Phantoms, recognising the need to press for something upped their intensity as well with the sides trading chances at either end but neither Baston nor Auzins were in an obliging mood. The best chance fell the way of the Bison as Alan Lack channelled his inner Bobby Orr as he crashed the net to try and stab home the puck but some strong work down low by Auzins made the save.

The period rolled on and it became very much a case of Phantoms trying to press, Bison defending doggedly, Baston making the necessary saves, rinse and repeat. The issue for the Phantoms was that despite the attacking pressure they weren’t carving out many clear cut chances. Whilst the Bison defence was a bit chaotic at times, they started to squeeze the life out of the game.

Pliskauskas went round Reynolds and laid it off for Levers, save Baston. Craig Scott fed Ales Padelek, save Baston. Time ticked on and the Phantoms kept looking less and less likely to finding a way through. Eventually time ran out; Jon Baston raised his arms to the sky in celebration of his 4th shutout of the season and the Bison had finally managed to beat the Phantoms.

On and On and (Bast)on: This was a needed win against a side that’s been the Herd’s bogey team for the duration of the campaign. The game itself was something of a nice counterpoint to the December encounter; the Herd needed to find a way to counter the Phantoms’ disruptive road game and managed to do so. They forced the Phantoms to try and play a bit on the front foot because they couldn’t hit on the counter from 2 or 3-0 down. The Bison had some golden chances that could have put the game to bed that they didn’t convert meaning the third period was much more tense than it possibly needed to be but they got the goal early in the third and rode out the storm.

Jon Baston is getting all the plaudits and praise out of last night and that is understandable to a point; he only faced 25 shots in the shutout but a string of superb saves in tight as well as some desperation scrambles that gave the Bison confidence. As mentioned above, two saves swung the momentum that saw the Herd score shortly afterwards and that’s the sort of form that wins championships. There is some very tough decisions for Doug Sheppard when Tomas Hiadlovsky regains full fitness.

Lost somewhat in the Baston Appreciation Night was that this was a decent team performance from the Herd. It was shaky at times at the back but it wouldn’t be a Bison win without some heart attack hockey would it. On any other night, Alan Lack would have been man of the match for a 60 minutes back from injury where he threw everything into every shift he put in. Joe Rand took both of his goals superbly right in his office in front of the net, even Jacob Ranson was getting in on the act during his limited ice time as he went charging after Greg Pick to land hits.

I don’t think this was the best Bison performance of the season but it was certainly a focussed one and an important one. It was a needed win over a side that has had the Bison’s number, generally through late heroics so far this season so to be able to hold them at bay, take them away from their game plan and shut them out is a statement to make ahead of the game in Peterborough tonight.

A word on our opponents: I remarked during the December audio Running with the Herd special that I wasn’t a fan of the Phantoms’ road game. They obviously don’t owe me the price of admission, they have no obligation to entertain to me but that didn’t detract from the fact that I found their game plan uninteresting to watch. Dull, disrupting road hockey just isn’t fun to watch. It was therefore much more entertaining to see them have to react and adapt their game plan when they were forced away from holding back and waiting for the counter strike to try and create chances themselves. It didn’t obviously work but Slava Koulikov is a good coach that gets buy in from his players so what would he and his charges do?

It obviously didn’t work on the night but there was certainly a plan there. The Phantoms tried to create chances and some came but they weren’t of a massively high quality. They tried to capitalise on the mistakes the Bison made (and there were a few) but ended up facing a netminder standing on his head.

What the Phantoms really needed was a player to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and produce a bit of magic but it just didn’t happen. Janis Auzins played very well but Janis Auzins doesn’t score goals. Craig Scott was constantly trying to make things happen but he is the set up man rather than the scorer himself. Edgars Bebris was just back from injury and didn’t look to quite be there just yet. The effort was there but the execution just didn’t come off for them. They had the better of one and a bit periods but couldn’t find the back of the net and lost. That’s hockey. On their own ice with the crowd behind them, we’ll see how the Phantoms respond.

Lowlight of the night: Few too many breakaways for my heart’s liking

Highlight of the night: Jon Baston pulled saves out of all his back pockets, Alan Lack rampaged around but you’ll need to see the highlights for just how sweet Ryan Watt’s goal is.

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