Running with the Herd – Bison vs Swindon Wildcats 12/2/16Posted: 13/02/2016
Basingstoke Bison 5-0 Swindon Wildcats
1 step along: With both teams heading into a weekend of 3 games in three nights, the Bison were without their regular absentees of Grant Rounding and Alex Symonds as well as Ryan Watt who missed out through injured and Miroslav Vantroba who was suspended after picking up a match penalty in Sheffield. After his winning return against the Steeldogs, Tomas Hiadlovsky kept the Bison net with Jon Baston in the stands. The visitors were without the injured Matt Selby as well as Stevie Lyle and Tomasz Malasinski who were on international duty with GB and Poland respectively leaving Jordan Hedley in the Wildcats net with Aaron Nell shuffling the lines.
To say both teams raced out of the gate would be inaccurate. It was more of a feeling out process combined with a bit of energy conservation. With both teams meeting again on Sunday at The Link Centre there was no reason for either side to show their hand early. One team is in the title challenge with a couple of injuries, the other missing arguably their best forward and one of the best netminders of his generation meant that neither side was going to come tearing out at the opening faceoff in the hope of putting the game to bed straight away.
The teams traded shots as well as the occasional offside and icing but neither keeper was being overly tested in the early going. Joe Greener had the first real chance of note as the Bison managed to spring the 3on2. Greener had options but chose to shoot himself and Hedley made the save.
Chances came and went in both directions; Tomas Hiadlovsky made two decent saves from Adam Harding, Lack tested Hedley from a tight angle and the Wildcats netminder managed to save Rene Jarolin’s deflected shot.
As the period wound on the Bison appeared to have a bit more life in them than the Wildcats did and the chances started to fall more the Bison’s way with Long, Towalski and Lackey all going close but nothing made its way past Hedley. Neither would Hiadlovsky be beaten as he turned away Harding and Nell in the dying moments of the opening frame. 0-0 was a pretty fair score after 20 minutes. The period had not been high intensity but it had been fun and played in a decent spirit by both teams.
Jonas Höög had the first shot of the shot of the second period but it was the Herd who were having more serious chances. The pressure from the first period had seen them picking and probing holes in Jordan Hedley and the Wildcats’ defence and they continued in this vein at the start of the second. Jarolin and Lackey went close, the line of Thompson, Towalski and Long nearly manufactured a highlight reel goal but it was another line that finally broke the deadlock. The line of Lack, Lackey and Karpov caused some problems for the Wildcats defenders, the Czech forward came around the back of the net and fired towards Hedley’s left post and Alan Lack’s stick deflected the puck into the net at 24:59.
With that one goal the Bison were sparked a bit more in to life as the Wildcats tried to protect Hedley more than they had been. Joe Baird’s daisy cutter shot was kicked away, Stuart Mogg tried his trademark floated shot which was saved but the third defensive shot in from the point was the charm. Kur Reynolds’ shot on net was spilled by Hedley and in the scramble in front of the net Aaron Connolly took a whack at it but it was Rene Jarolin who got the important touch past the netminder for 2-0 at 27:42.
The Wildcats responded to the second Bison goal with a few chances of their own. Harding, Kostal and Carlo Finucci (who my brain confused with Neil Liddiard for a second, there’s a lot of people on the Wildcats with 4 in their number) all went close. If anything the Wildcats top line of Höög, Kostal and Nell put together a fantastic passing play that left the Bison defence totally static but the shot from Höög was deflected wide by a Bison stick.
The missed chance would cost the Wildcats shortly afterwards though there was an element of fortune combined with some skill. The puck was cycled back to Stuart Mogg at the point who shot but a stick got in the way. As the puck looped into the air, an eagled eyed Tomas Karpov was keeping tabs on in and with a superb bit of timing managed to swing at the puck and hit it just as it came back down to earth. It was a very sweet shot and Hedley had no chance with it as it slammed into the back of the net at 36:58. There were a couple of extra chances both ways but the second period wound to a close with the Bison 3-0 to the good.
Swindon started the third period a bit brighter having the majority of the early shots. Aaron Nell tested Hiadlovsky as did Adam Harding’s tip of Callum Buglass’ shot but the Wildcats seemed to be lacking any real offensive spark going forward. The Wildcats top line put together a chance for Jan Kostal but the final touch saw the puck fly over the crossbar.
The Bison seemed content with shutting the game down with Guildford to play on Saturday but with no real forecheck coming from the visitors the hosts, who though very much a passing team are not ones for turning down space to skate in to either. Tomas Karpov set Ciaran Long away who went to his favourite trick; approach from the goalie’s left, hit the hashmarks, hammer slapshot, beat goalie, 4-0 Bison at 47:31.
From this point both teams started rotating their fringe players onto the ice which saw the Bison start giving more ice time to the 4th line combination of Jacob Ranson who had been rotated in for shifts throughout the game but also Alex Sampford and Ryan Sutton who got a couple of shots on Hedley. Swindon started giving more ice time to some of their fringe players as well like Michael Stratford and Adam Finlinson.
The game had been played in a decent spirit with Mr Cloutman really letting the game flow. The first penalty finally came with just over 5 minutes to play as Aaron Connolly was rightly called for high sticking. The Wildcats powerplay unit (which included young Finlinson playing the full 2 minutes) got some chances but Hiadlovsky was on hand to stop them all, including a lovely shot from Finucci that was plucked out of the air. Their failure to score was immediately punished though as Connolly left the box and received the pass from Jarolin. The Bison captain took the zone, dropped the pass to Alan Lack who shot and managed to put his own rebound past Hedley at 57:02.
That killed the game off then and there. Both teams played out the final minute, again to conserve for what’s to come this weekend. Tomas Hiadlovsky’s return to the net at home couldn’t have gone better.
Zoning in: Professional; that’s probably the best word to describe the performance from the Bison last night. This weekend is a massive one for the Bison and they needed to go into this game, try and play their game and get out with minimal scrapes. They were helped by a really unusual game plan from their opponents but job done I think. They weren’t overly physical, they just went out, got things going, scored goals, held Swindon at bay, exploited the weakness and won. It’s relatively simple.
A few people felt I was unfair to Peterborough in last week’s piece, they’re entitled to their opinion but one thing Peterborough did and others have done when beating the Bison this season either home or away that Swindon didn’t was shut down the Bison’s space. The Bison naturally exploited that space and it really paid dividends.
Dan Lackey got man of the match which is a fair shout. At EPL level where he is still really finding his feet, Lackey is not a flash player. He’s playing on a line that many feel to be unusual alongside Alan Lack and Tomas Karpov but it seemed to find its feet last night. Lackey’s quite strong and he used that to good effect last night, holding men off to try and create space. He had a couple of chances himself but sadly didn’t find the back of the net.
Tomas Hiadlovsky’s return to the Bison net at home was uneventful for the most part but a shutout is a shutout however they come, this one with just 17 shots registered on him. There were a couple of awkward shots for him but once Hiadlovsky had his eye in he looked like he’d never been away. His tendency to come out and play the puck hasn’t gone away but his usefulness with the stick is a key function of his game and it works for him. Many wondered what Hiadlovsky we would see but actually, nothing much has changed. Whilst the public rightly love Jon Baston, Tomas Hiadlovskly has always been a good netminder and either of them will do the job in net for the Herd. Sheppard is understandably playing the hot hand and with Hiadlvosky having conceded 3 goals in the last 2 games, I have to think that the Slovak goes again tonight in Guildford.
The lines were shuffled constantly throughout the game but the basic line combinations of the last few weeks have held out. I’m starting to become accustomed to them now and the top line of Greener, Jarolin and Connolly is clicking more but everyone gave a good account of themselves last night. The defence as well, minus the suspended Vantroba looked really solid and Sheppard matching the pairing of Reynolds and Baird against the Wildcats top line worked really well.
The Herd did what had to be done but it’s very quickly on to the next one.
A word on our opponents: I asked Ben Callaghan of On The Prowl for 5 words on the game. His joking response was “two teams seriously saving energy” but that’s an entirely fair response and the Wildcats who were minus 3 big players could be forgiven for adjusting their style a bit this weekend. However that doesn’t stop this performance being something of a disappointment. Aaron Nell said he didn’t think the scoreline was fair and there were some positives from it but if I was a Wildcats fan I wouldn’t be overly pleased with what I saw.
I commented to some last night that the Wildcats missed Tomasz Malasinski’s creativity and any team will naturally miss Stevie Lyle’s talents in net but other people needed to step up and they either didn’t or tried and failed. Jan Kostal was moved onto the top line with Aaron Nell and Jonas Höög and they tried but nothing came. Kostal got man of the match for trying which was fair enough.
Going forward there was little panache from the Wildcats and at times, little pressure. There seemed at times to be little forecheck as well. As mentioned above, the Bison struggle when you take away the space, be it to skate into or pass into. So what did Swindon do? Spend 60 minutes sitting back and not really use their speed. They let the Bison come at them which was a bad idea then didn’t use one of their big tools which was also a bad idea.
Jordan Hedley will take a bit of flack for his performance and he didn’t have a good night but he got little to no help at times. He does give up a lot of rebounds but his rebound control with it was actually pretty decent across the 60 minutes. His problem was that he never seemed to look settled. This isn’t unusual in Basingstoke, think of Jody Lehman but even more reason for the defence to try and help the goalie out a bit. Whilst individuals gave good performances, Neil Liddiard especially I thought played well, as a collective they gave Hedley minimal assistance.
The one other person to briefly mention was someone Ben mentioned to me; Adam Finlinson. Ben told me to watch him if he got any ice. I can only agree with Ben’s pre-game assessment on him and that’s that this kid looks good. I recommend keeping an eye on him.
I don’t mind Swindon, I can happily watch Swindon and I see what the idea was meant to be last night but the execution was poor and they made it easy for the Bison.
Lowlight of the night: The penalty to Connolly; don’t get me wrong, it was the right call. Mr Cloutman was spot on but a penalty free game would have been funny.
Highlight of the night: Karpov’s goal; it’s a sweet shot.