Running with the Herd – Bison vs Guildford Flames 20/1/16

EPIHL Cup Semi Final 1st Leg

Basingstoke Bison 0-1 Guildford Flames

………………………………..Towe

A head scratcher: The Bison headed into the game with Joe Baird still scratched from the line-up alongside Grant Rounding and Tomas Hiadlovsky with Alex Sampford and Jacob Ranson back in the line up to add a 4th line alongside Ryan Sutton. The Flames scratched Jens Eriksson to make way for the Basingstoke debut of new netminder Richard Ullberg.

The Bison had the early powerplay chance when Danny Meyers tripped Ryan Watt on a charge to the net. The Bison tried to get some puck movement going but the puck was finding more of the players in the lanes, including Aaron Connolly’s ear than the back of the net. It was just after this that linesman Mr Ormond was struck by the puck. He took a moment but continued for the time being.

The teams didn’t seem to be quite up to full speed but both sides were having their chances. Karpov had a shot blocked by Lundin and another by Ullberg’s helmet, Quiney shot wide.

Then out of nowhere we suddenly had a fight. Janis Ozolins had a shot go wide but as play continued he tussled with Kurt Reynolds and shoved the Bison defenceman in the back whilst down on a knee. Play stopped, the two came together and off came the gloves whilst a scrum formed elsewhere. Somehow the Flames ended up with a powerplay out of the situation thanks to an extra instigation penalty for Reynolds and neither man who dropped the gloves getting a fighting 2+2 penalty. The visitors didn’t get much going on the powerplay and the Bison returned to full strength with no damage.

The teams went back to trading chances for the remainder of the period forcing the odd save from the respective netminder but the Bison were having the better of the chances but suddenly out of nowhere the period was over with the score still at 0-0 without that much having seemingly happened.

The second period saw Mr Ormond unable to continue with Mr Ions donning his set of extra armbands to work a 2 man system with Mr Pickett.

The Bison came racing out of the gate in the middle frame and came agonisingly close on occasions. Connolly and Greener both tried charging to the net but were held at bay but it was Tomas Karpov’s shot that deflected off of Rupert Quiney and rolled tantalisingly past the post with Ullberg out of position.

The Flames got a chance to get back into affairs when Declan Balmer was called for kneeing Lee Esders but the best chance of that man advantage fell to René Jarolin whose breakway chance was saved by Ullberg, as was the follow-up try.

A golden chance came shortly after the powerplay expired when Danny Meyers turned the puck over but Ciaran Long overskated the puck and Tomas Karpov couldn’t bundle the puck over the line, the puck again going wide of the net.

The Flames net was living the charmed of all charmed lives but they were still having their opportunities through Ben Campbell and Sam Godfrey but Baston kept them at bay. At the other end when Karpov’s shot went through Ullberg’s 5 hole, hit the post and went out, it should have been a sign of frustrations to come. Combined with the officials missing all 4 Flames imports on the ice on more than one occasion, it wasn’t a recipe for the greatest of nights.

The pace of the game and its intensity had upped massively as the period went on which made the game much more entertaining. Some would argue it was a little too intense when Meyers crashed the net, taking out Baston but after shaking the cobwebs loose the Bison netminder was back and continuing.

Andy McKinney drew a crosschecking call from Miroslav Vantroba who retaliated to a hit. The Flames powerplay seemed to wake up and was moving the puck very well but never seemed to get that final touch on the puck past Baston. The buzzer sounded for the end of the period with the teams still locked at a stalemate.

Where the second started with a Bison charge to the net, the third started with a Flames one as Baston stood firm to keep out Towe.

Shortly after was another unsavoury moment; with Mr Pickett’s arm in the air for a hooking call on Kurt Reynolds, Janis Ozolins took a swing of his stick through the air for some reason and smacked Jon Baston on the head with his stick. After dealing with the protestations of a furious Stuart Mogg, Ozolins tried to apologise but was given a 2 minute slashing minor to the chagrin of the home players and crowd. When Kevin Phillips was also called shortly afterwards for interference it sent the Bison to a 4on3 powerplay and the Bison stacked the 4 man powerplay unit but could find no way past Ullberg, Karpov’s hard shot not making it past the ankle of Danny Meyers. Both teams returned to full strength with still no ticking over of the scoreboard bar the clock getting closer to the end.

Then suddenly the scoreboard moved to 1 for the visitors. It came out of almost nothing but in the blink of an eye Matt Towe was in space with nobody around him off of a pass from former Bison, Andy Melachrino and snapped a shot through Baston’s 5 hole at 51:44.

Where the Flames had been second best across the tie for the majority of the game, the goal suddenly put their tales up and they were in the ascendency. Shots came in from all sides but Baston kept them at bay.

As time ticked towards the end, the Bison picked up with the hope of finding a way past Ullberg but fell into their usual trap of lost of effort but little execution. Time ran out on the night but with the tie poised at 1-0, the second leg is set up with all to play for, for both teams.

Cautious optimism: After a really disappointing weekend, this was a much better Bison performance. It was frustrating in the sense that it was still what many have come to expect from the Herd but it was a marked improvement overall despite not scoring after a plethora of chances. If this is a dip in the Bison’s then it isn’t the best time for it to happening obviously but the quality in this team is there to rebound.

The issues stem from various things. Playing its 3rd game in 5 days and a 4th in 7 to come, the Bison looked a bit tired especially at the end of the game after Guildford scored. The fact that Ranson and Sampford were brought in to be a 4th line and subsequently not used is therefore an even more bizarre decision. Yes the game was tight, yes a bad matching of lines could have proved costly but why bring in a 4th line like that to have them sit there? Ranson, Sampford and Sutton can do a job and they could have given valuable rest time to the top end guys but weren’t used.

The recent chopping and changing of line combinations as well has me confused. For ages no team was able to touch Long, Greener and Jarolin but this was the second home game in succession they’ve not regularly played together. Watt, Karpov and Lack had chemistry but have been broken up. Doug Sheppard will of course have his reasons for this and he’s in charge and all but I can’t help but wonder why this is.

Ultimately and despite being the better side across the 60 minutes, the Bison lost. They weren’t going to use the physical style they have in their locker after Saturday and Guildford blocked the passing lanes effectively. It made for a frustrating night.

Shaun Thompson got man of the match for being industrious though I thought Stuart Mogg had another productive evening. I was also impressed by Joe Greener’s effort even if everything he tried didn’t come off.

As I said though, there was promise. The Flames goal lived a charmed life and on another night one of those shots goes in. It is what it is and sometimes you take the loss when you don’t deserve it and move on.

Joe Greener could be heard on the bench saying “it’s a 6 period game” and he’s right. However if the Bison are going to be effective in periods 4, 5 and 6 then they need to find a way to regain that swagger they had at the turn of the year. They have it in them to do it.

A word on our opponents: I’ll tip my hat to Guildford on winning the game and all but I wasn’t overly impressed with them in doing so. The one really solid attack they had, they scored on and that seemed to be enough to celebrate probably a bit more than was warranted for the first leg of a cup semi-final.

The Flames scored late having been outplayed for 50 minutes then looked like they’d score more bar for some good saves from Jon Baston. It was a total turnaround from the first period where the Flames almost looked bored. If they’d iced the puck any more I’d have thought they’d needed the rule explained to them again.

I suppose in some ways this is what the Flames do; they are that team that everyone in team sports has faced who are stacked with quality individuals and you think you’re getting the better of them then boom! One bit of magic happens and they win. You take what you can get.

Marcus Kristoffersson got man of the match despite being not making much of an impression for the majority of the game in my opinion. I thought Matt Towe was outstanding and a constant ball of energy across the game who scored a sublime goal which wouldn’t have been stopped by many netminders. Richard Ullberg will be the focus for many due to his shutout but I must confess to not being overly impressed. He made a few good saves and looks alright but only alright. He looked shaky in parts and whilst I always say you have to be good to be lucky, many more chances were the Bison failing to put them away than Ullberg stopping them.

However how you win isn’t important but that you win. The Flames have the advantage at half time and will look to press that home next Wednesday.

Lowlight of the night: The Flames goal whilst looking good I thought it was undeserved but I’ll say the injury to Mr Ormond the linesman, hopefully he is OK. As much as I don’t agree with every call a reffere makes, Mr Pickett and Mr Ions deserve credit for how they adapted.

Highlight of the night: A small moment but Marcus Kristoffersson steaming down the wing only to be easily disposed of by Stuart Mogg knicking the puck off of the stick.

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