Running with the Herd – Bison vs Milton Keynes Lightning 22/1/16

EPL

Basingstoke Bison 3-2 Milton Keynes Lightning

Jarolin x2 (1pp)            Cownie pp

Karpov                          McPherson

Rene Jarolin celebrates scoring against his former team mates in the Bison's 3-2 win over the MK Lightning. (c) 5 Hole Photography

Rene Jarolin celebrates scoring against his former team mates in the Bison’s 3-2 win over the MK Lightning.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Restart, repeat: The Bison fielded the same roster as the one that faced Guildford on Wednesday night with Jacob Ranson and Alex Sampford bolstering a roster still without Alex Symonds, Joe Baird, Grant Rounding and Tomas Hiadlovsky. Milton Keynes came into the game 2 imports down after their cup semi final loss to Peterborough as both Martti Järventie and Markku Tähtinen both missed out.

Despite both teams playing their 4th game in 7 days there was a decent early pace with Tomas Karpov, Joe Greener, Jordan Cownie and Frantisek Bakrlik all went close at respective ends which if nothing else helped warm Jon Baston and Dean Skinns into the contest.

Some good work by Shaun Thompson drew a tripping call from Ross Green and sent the hosts to the early powerplay. The Bison got some decent puck movement and shots but when shooting from distance didn’t work they got the puck in tight and Rene Jarolin was on hand to sting his former employers as he bundled the puck past Skinns at 04:31 to give the Bison the early lead.

Going behind sparked a mini comeback from the visitors but a poor line change saw the Lightning called for too many men and the Bison special teams units got another outing but this time, the powerplay lacked the spark of the first attempt .

The teams went back and forth on their chances with Skinns and Baston both being tested, the best chance falling to the Bison as they sprung a 2 on 1 in which Shaun Thompson hit the post and Ryan Watt couldn’t follow up with the rebound. The Lightning got their chance on the powerplay thanks to a slashing call in Joe Greener but couldn’t get much going, the best chance falling to a shorthanded breakaway that neither Tomas Karpov nor Ciaran Long could convert.

The first period drew to a close with a couple of other chances in both directions but Long’s hipcheck of Frankie Barklik summed up the frame; the Lightning were hitting a roadblock.

The response from the visitors was to hit the ground running in the second period as they peppered Baston’s net in the early going, Blaz Emersic and Bobby Chamberlain coming closest. It was an incident with Chamberlain that would turn the tide shortly after as he caught the puck in his face. With play continuing, the Bison’s top line went into full flight and the Lightning’s defence couldn’t handle them. The passing was sublime as it went Greener to Connolly and back to Rene Jarolin with the shot through the 5 hole of Skinns at 24:18 for 2-0.

The Bison kept it up as the second line further compounded the misery. Alan Lack dug the puck out of the pile, Ciaran Long made some nice moves that were added to by Tomas Karpov who fired past Skinns at 25:27 for the 3-0 advantage for the Herd.

However the Lightning were not out of the contest and were on the board a few minutes later. After some confusion and a Lightning player down behind the play the visitors found themselves on a 5on3 powerplay advantage as Vantroba was called for high sticks and the Bison bench was penalised for abuse of official. After Adam Carr came close, some very pretty passing play led to the goal as Jordan Cownie took the feed and fired past the diving Baston at 28:54.

Bison rode out the remainder of the powerplay but that goal sparked the visitors who came much more into the tie as the second frame rolled on. The Bison were still having chances and Aaron Connolly fired a shot that beat Skinns and rang off of the crossbar but the momentum seemed to be evening up where it had been mostly in the Herd’s favour. Karpov rang a shot off the post and a 2on1 chance for the Lightning saw Frankie Bakrlik gain the zone, go round the net and try the stuff in attempt but found no way past Baston. The period came to an end shortly afterwards with the Bison 3-1 to the good but the visitors firmly in the game but a call to Bakrlik on the buzzer gave the Bison a powerplay to start the final period.

Jon Baston had an eventful start to the third period. He was called into action when his attempt to clear the puck from the zone fell to Lewis Hook who fed Chamberlain and only some trademark Finnish brand scrambling and diving about could save the day. It was such a battle that the two men tapped sticks when the whistle went.

Bakrlik returned but the Lightning were called shortly after for too many men, a call that saw Pete Russell leap down from the bench to remonstrate with Mr Cloutman but he need not have worried as the Bison powerplay failed to click.

The Lightning rode that momentum and made the Bison pay just after the powerplay ended. Michael Farn found Bakrlik who fired a hard centring feed goalwards. The first person to get their stick on the puck was Grant McPherson whose deflection took the puck under the right pad of Baston at 45:55 to bring Milton Keynes within one.

The Lightning were very much in the ascendency as the teams continued their entertaining back and forth. Bakrlik and Hook went close while Tomas Karpov went from behind his own net all the way to challenge Dean Skinns but was held neatly at bay by Leigh Jamieson.

Frankie Bakrlik was called for slashing again which gave the Bison a chance to relieve some of the pressure but it was another uneventful powerplay from the Bison as the tank seemed to be getting empty in terms of energy and ideas. The Lightning were looking dangerous but were lacking that final touch that they needed to equalise. Bakrlik’s return from the penalty box saw him continue to try to turn the game but his attempts to do it all himself saw him swamped by Bison defenders.

With the end of the game in sight, Milton Keynes were given a glimmer of hope when Alan Lack was called for elbows with just under 3 minutes to play. The puck movement from the visitors was brilliant but again just seemed to lack that last touch and that allowed a couple of chance from the Bison to clear the zone.

Dean Skinns was summoned to the bench as Lack returned but there wasn’t enough from the Lightning inside the last minute. After something of a torrid week, the hooter sounded to herald the Bison’s return to winning ways.

Former team mates collide as Tomas Karpov battles in front of Dean Skinns in the Lightning net. (c) 5 Hole Photography

Former team mates collide as Tomas Karpov battles in front of Dean Skinns in the Lightning net.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

What we know: After a 0 point weekend then losing to the Flames in a weird game on Wednesday, this was more like the Bison we know. The passing was slicker, they got more pucks on net, they seemed to have more jump and it showed. The visitors started slowly and the Bison took advantage of that. They did visibly tire towards the end which is understandable given the recent exertions and that let the Lightning, playing only 2 imports, back into things but the Bison gritted their teeth, worked hard and made it through.

When the final buzzer went, I could hear Rene Jarolin cheering from the bench which was an apt reaction from the Herd’s man of the match. Jarolin took both goals very well but also seems to have really found something of a stride since joining the Herd, even doing what some who know him from his EIHL days call somewhat un-Jarolin like things like blocking shots. He’s not the fastest but he seems to be at his happiest and Sheppard is using him to his strengths which is paying dividends.

The recent re-jigging of the lines had frustrated me but now that the new combinations appear to have settled, things are starting to click a little better. Karpov and Long have worked together in the past and have found their stride again and whilst many wouldn’t have dreamed of splitting Long and Greener up at the start of the campaign, Greener works with Jarolin and Connolly has come onto that line as a space maker and a different offensive threat. Overall I’m a lot calmer about the situation than I was.

Jon Baston will want the Lightning’s second goal back but made some decent stops alongside a tired but well performing 4 man defensive unit until Joe Baird returns to the line-up at least.

It wasn’t a vintage Bison performance, they’re too knackered to give one of those at the moment but this was much more of a Bison like performance than we’ve seen in the last week and it was a welcome return.

A word on our opponents: The MK Lightning need to stop spotting teams leads. I haven’t had time to go back through the stats recently but when a fan mentioned to me after the game that they kept doing this I couldn’t help but wonder how the title picture would look if such a thing happened. Just like the Bison, the Lightning were in a spot of fixture congestion having played on Wednesday as well where they lost the second leg of their cup semi-final in an ill-tempered game with Peterborough. Combined with being 2 imports down, this was a very good performance from Pete Russell’s side.

Lewis Hook took man of the match which is entirely fair though either of his line mates, Jordan Cownie and Bobby Chamberlain could have been given the beers as well. These three together were a joy to watch at times on the night. When Cownie returned from Braehead, Coach Russell must have been over the moon to reunite the free-scoring combination that helped fire the GB u20s to a gold medal and you can see why. The 2 main reasons are that they trust each other and they have no fear. They just go out and do it. I really enjoyed it.

It was one of Frantisek Bakrlik’s nights of frustration as the talented yet temperamental forward seemed to want to do everything himself or nothing at all which as a Bison fan I won’t argue with but as a Lightning fan when you know what he’s capable of must be infuriating at times.

On the whole this was a really good Lightning performance. The team was below full strength but there was a lot of effort given. The issue was the slow start; the Bison were given too much space and time to do what they wanted. The powerplay goal, which at the time they scored it was undeserved, was a thing of beauty and that sparked the team which got them back into the contest as they hosts started to run out of steam. They problem was the Lightning eventually ran out of time.

Lowlight of the night: McPherson’s goal. Nobody will be beating themselves up about it more than Baston.

Highlight of the night: Jarolin’s second, pretty stuff.

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