Running with the Herd – Bison vs Manchester Phoenix 09/01/16


Basingstoke Bison 5-0 Manchester Phoenix


Towalski dpg


Connolly pp

Jarolin pp

Wrestling with a shadow: The Bison welcomed Tomas Karpov back into the line up which meant Joe Rand returned to retirement. Alan Lack was in Mexico on his honeymoon with Alex Symonds, Grant Rounding and Tomas Hiadlovsky sitting out in addition to Joe Baird. Jacob Ranson and Ryan Sutton supplementing the roster. Manchester were still without James Neil and Phil Hamer is yet to debut with Steve Fone starting in net.

The game had a bit of a slow start as both sides struggled to master the offside rule. Satek and Long had chances at either end before the Bison man was called for tripping which sent the visitors to an early powerplay. Tomas Karpov did a good job of taking a fair chunk of time off of the man advantage as he danced around the Phoenix defence in their zone with the puck. Baston was tested with Robin Kovar, Ben Russell and Luke Boothroyd going close but the Bison weathered the early storm and Long returned.

The momentum would take its first turn in favour of the Bison shortly afterwards; with the Phoenix giving far too much space to their hosts, Stuart Mogg’s long feed to Tomas Karpov saw the Czech forward past Ben Russell at speed. Karpov took the zone, looked up and hammered a shot over the shoulder of Fone at 05:41.

The Phoenix were given another chance when Long was (somewhat unfairly) called for kneeing but the visitors’ powerplay stuttered and never really got going meaning the Bison were back to full strength with minimal worry. The Bison were being given almost infinite space by the Phoenix who seemed to be content to just try and not get scored on, even in the early going. Long and Greener combined for a good chance that was saved by Fone but the Manchester netminder would be beaten moments later. Martin Baranek took down Ciaran Long which saw Mr Pickett signal for a penalty and the Bison continued with the extra attacker on the delayed penalty call. Some really neat passing saw the a bit of Tomas Karpov magic draw Fone and the defenders across for the Czech forward to feed Matt Towalski sneaking in at the back door for the easy tap in at 12:49 for Towalski’s first goal for the Bison.

Stephen Fone must have felt like he was in a shooting gallery at times in the first period as the Bison pressed for more goals. Connolly, Long and Reynolds were all denied in quick succession as the Phoenix outskaters struggled to deal with the line of Karpov, Watt and Towalski for large stretches. The first period came to a close with the Herd well on top of proceedings.

The first action of the second period was yet another penalty to Ciaran Long as a rather innocuous shove was called as crosschecking. It was Tomas Karpov however who had the best chance of the early Phoenix powerplay time but his shot was over and the stoppage in play allowed Martin Baranek and Ryan Watt to take some hacks and whacks at each other and earned both men a sit down.

The Phoenix had a better chance once Long returned as Stanislav Gron showed good hands to get past the Bison defence but his shot was stopped by Baston. It was to prove a costly miss as the Bison extended their lead through Long; Rene Jarolin sidestepped the onrushing defender to take the zone and fed Long in the slot for a trademark one timer from the slot past Fone at 24:24.

It got worse for the visitors as the Bison were given another chance when Luke Boothroyd was called for delay of game (puck over glass) less than a minute after the goal and the Herd’s powerplay unit made quick work of the extra man in textbook fashion. The puck was played up the wall to Vantroba, across to the other point for Long for the one timer and Aaron Connolly was in front to tip the shot past Fone at 25:44 for 4-0.

The Herd were back on the powerplay minutes later when the Phoenix were called for too many men (make your own jokes) and had a couple of chances before the powerplay was negated by a slashing call to Stuart Mogg. The Phoenix used the powerplay to try and get into the face of Jon Baston and rattle the Bison netminder but he stood firm against the challenge. Baston was called upon to scramble and get onto loose pucks, one sitting right on the line at one stage.

Robin Kovar being called for hooking saw the Phoenix back on the penalty kill. Gron had a great shorthanded chance but couldn’t get his backhand shot high enough to get it past Baston. At the other end the familiar combination tried to work its magic as the puck went from Greener to Long to Jarolin but the final touch couldn’t make it through the 5 hole of Fone and the Phoenix survived that powerplay unscathed. Satek and Gron had a chance each to round out the period but Baston remained unbeaten and 4-0 was the score after 40 minutes.

Ben Wood was called for an early hook on Tomas Karpov but there was a moment of controversy that followed. It appeared to me that Michal Satek broke out shorthanded, was challenged by Ciaran Long and went down after he was behind the red line and Long came away with the puck. Mr Pickett saw something different, blew the whistle and raised his arms over his head for a penalty shot to the dismay of most in attendance. Satek took the shot himself coming in off of the right side back to the middle but the shot was straight at Baston’s shoulder and deflected away.

The powerplay continued and the momentum generated by Baston’s save was turned into another goal. Ciaran Long walked out of the slot, headed down low then a simple passing play so it go Long to Greener and across to Rene Jarolin to tap home at 43:07.

Michal Satek and Ben Wood had shots that were saved by Baston before a tripping call against Jacob Ranson sent the visitors back to the powerplay. Robin Kovar came around the back of the net to feed Boothroyd but the shot was at Baston’s chest. Rene Jarolin manufactured a shorthanded chance for himself with Ciaran Long in support but Jarolin passed a bit too late and the chance was stopped by Fone.

Ryan Watt was called for roughing when he went to the net, got shoved and fell into Stephen Fone which confused Watt and nearly everyone else but the Phoenix powerplay struggled again to get anything going as they seemed to be in damage limitation mode at this stage. When a real chance came with the overlap and with Satek the team’s top scorer in space for the shot, the import forward instead played a drop pass to nobody. It sort of summed up the night for the Phoenix.

Satek would take a seat shortly afterwards when he was called for clipping Jacob Ranson. However Martin Baranek sprung the shorthanded break away, racing past the defenders and hit shot beat Baston only to ring off of the crossbar and away.

As time ran down a few cross words were exchanged between Baranek and Declan Balmer but nothing came of it. The game ended with another convincing home win for the Bison as Baston extended his goal free streak to over 200 minutes.

No sign of stopping: This game was weird; yes there’s the element of nostalgia for Bison/Phoenix games past but even without that dynamic this game was unusual. The team at the lower end of the standings sat back and seemed content to give the top of the table side a ton of space and time to do virtually whatever they wanted. At times it felt like someone had put the difficulty level too low on NHL16. We’ll get onto the Phoenix more in a bit but on the night the Bison did what they needed to do. The Bison, a side that at times has a habit of playing down to lower ranked opponents instead found themselves unchallenged for large swathes of the game and responded by playing their game to perfection. Only some really good netminding stopped this game from being a cricket score.

Ciaran Long got man of the match which was a fair enough decision on a night where I actually struggled to think who I would give it to. That said Long scored a very nice goal and generally made a nuisance of himself. Rene Jarolin also had 1+2 on the night but I can see Long’s more spectacular scoring effort earned him the beers at the end of the game.

This was more a night for the team performance. With only 4 defenders and missing the team’s spark plug in Alan Lack, this was a night were the line combinations really shone together, especially the top two lines. Greener, Jarolin and Long have been causing teams headaches for a while now but the combination of Karpov, Watt and Towalski seemed to have some legs to it as well. Of course some will say that the opposition’s lack of resistance will have helped that but games like this that can help build confidence and understanding of where the other will be are vital. It was a useful exercise if nothing else.

Jon Baston wasn’t really tested in the Bison net and I personally think that 20 shots was a bit generous for what he faced however he keeps answering the questions sides have of him. Teams try to shoot past him but he’s seeing the shots or the defenders block them. So teams move to trying to crash the net to unnerve the young man but he keeps his cool. Talk of shutout streaks and club records are all well and good but even when Baston next gets scored on, you do get a feeling that it won’t cause him much discomfort. With the young man going full European goalie and leading the crowd in a wave at the end (something that is common on the continent but certainly not in Basingstoke), he seems very comfortable at the moment.

In some ways the Bison didn’t need to get out of first gear in this game but they did and won easily because of it. The Bison’s destiny is in their own hands. What the other teams do isn’t a factor, if this team keeps winning then that’s all that matters.

A word on our opponents: As I kick this bit off, this is not the place or time to debate the financial issues at the Phoenix in detail, I’ve done that quite a bit on the BOTW Podcast and elsewhere. This is a game write up about what I saw so if you’re wanting chat on that then head to the right hand side of the page and check out the last episode.

The subtitle at the start of the piece was me bemoaning what the Manchester Phoenix have sadly become; they are a shadow of their former selves. This is understandable given their current circumstances and with a threadbare roster but even with their backs against the wall, the Phoenix could always be counted upon to have a bit of fight and spirit. There was some gumption at times last night but for large chunks of the game the Phoenix looked like a punch-drunk boxer out on its feet. They were going on because that’s what they needed to do but it never seemed to go anywhere.

Stanislav Gron got man of the match despite looking anonymous at times. The beers should have gone to Stephen Fone who despite conceding 5 goals made a string of very good saves and stopped a massacre in terms of the scoreline.

The Phoenix at times seemed to lack structure or direction, seemingly just sitting back to try and not take a hammering which gave the Bison far too much space for a team whose first plan of attack is quick passing. That’s the catch 22 that the Phoenix have at the moment though; the players are tired which makes it hard to win hockey games but they need to play hard and expend a lot of energy against some sides to win hockey games. Perhaps they are reserving more in the tank for home encounters. You’d certainly hope so because if the Phoenix play like this at home, 8th place will slip away.

That said there were flashes of life. Michal Satek and Gron look handy and on another night Michael Baranek’s shot off the bar goes in and this is a different match report. However they didn’t and here we are. I think Manchester had moments where they looked better than Hull and Bracknell so holding onto 8th isn’t unrealistic but they need to get results any way that they can. Playing like that won’t make that happen.

Lowlight of the night: Whilst I have a great deal of respect for the officials, I would be delighted if Mr Pickett would explain how that was a penalty shot. Still confused even now.

Highlight of the night: Towalski’s goal, the build up on the delayed penalty was beautiful.


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