Running with the Herd – Bison vs Milton Keynes Lightning 2/4/16Posted: 05/04/2016
EPL Playoff semi-final
Basingstoke Bison 1-2 Milton Keynes Lightning (after penalty shots)
Shootout (MK shoot first)
Jarolin miss ……………..Emersic miss
Long saved ……………..Carr save
Greener saved …………Chamberlain score
And done: The Bison headed into the game minus most of their regular absentees with Doug Sheppard keeping with Tomas Hiadlovsky in net over first team all star Jon Baston. The Lightning were only missing Edward Knaggs and Jack Watkins with former playoff winning Bison netminder Dean Skinns between the pipes.
The teams traded a couple of early chances before Michael Farn tried to step in to Stuart Mogg and was called for kneeing. The Bison had a few chances on the powerplay through Jarolin and Karpov but nearly got stung; a shorthanded chance from Lewis Hook zipping wide of Hiadlovsky’s net.
Neither team appeared to be overly settled in the opening couple of minutes but it was the Lightning who took the initiative in the game as they had the better of the pressure. Frantisek Bakrlik came close twice in a short spell, the second coming particularly close but Declan Balmer cleared the puck off of the line to spare his netminder’s blushes. The shots kept coming from MK but Hiadlovsky kept finding a way to get to them as Emersic and Christie were also turned away. This was not to say that the Bison weren’t having chances themselves; Rene Jarolin and Alan Lack both had chances that were turned away by Dean Skinns.
The first moment of real discussion saw a rather nasty looking hit from Leigh Jamieson slam Tomas Karpov into the boards which drew a bit of a crowd. Jamieson was given two minutes for boarding but the Bison fans were swimming in the realms of incredulity when Ciaran Long was also called for roughing in the aftermath to leave the sides playing 4 on4. Karpov was OK and managed to continue with the game but neither side could take advantage of the extra ice allowed to take the lead.
The first period wound to a close minutes later with the Lightning arguably edging the period but the scoreline firmly rooted at 0-0.
The start of the second mirrored the start of the first as the teams traded chances before one team took a penalty. This time it was the Bison who would be shorthanded as Joe Greener was called for tripping on a rather innocuous nudge on Bakrlik. However MK could do nothing with the powerplay and Bison were back to full strength with minimal damage.
The Bison then had a period of pressure where they had real chances to go ahead. A Joe Greener shot wasn’t held by Dean Skinns but Grant Rounding’s shot hit the side netting. Shaun Thompson crafted a chance with a sticklift of the defender in the slot but couldn’t find a way past Skinns.
The Bison got another powerplay when Tähtinen was called for crosschecking but the best chance went the other way as a shorthanded breakout saw Hook shoot, Hiadlovsky save and a certain goal for Blaz Emersic was only denied by a great stick lift on the MK forward by Ciaran Long.
The teams then returned to trading chances before the second period ended with an odd game of hockey still sat at 0-0.
A game that is 0-0 through 40 minutes these days is certainly unusual though not unheard of. That said, given how on edge both teams had been, it wasn’t a big surprise. The teams opened up the final period again poking and probing the defence of the other. Bakrlik, Farn, Greener; all went close but nothing was doing.
It was a game waiting for one side to blink and eventually someone did blink. With the Lightning on the attack, a stick into the play saw the puck loose in the slot. Falling to his knees, Leigh Jamieson had the puck on his stick and fired up as Hiadlovsky was collapsing into the butterfly, the shot seeing the puck slam into the top of the net at 46:56 to give MK the lead.
In the weeks leading up to the playoffs, the Bison had made a habit of quickly answering when conceding. It seemed a powerplay was coming when Frankie Bakrlik landed a horrible hit on Alan Lack but no penalty came. However a crosschecking call to the goalscorer, Jamieson gave the Bison another chance. A Ciaran Long shot was held by Skinns as Joe Greener came rushing in but a repeat shot from Long saw Dean Skinns scuff the catch and the puck fell onto Greener’s stick at the top of the crease to bring the Bison level at 49:30.
Both teams needed to exert their dominance on the game but this wasn’t best served by Bakrlik whose night ended when he landed another horrible looking hit, this time to Kurt Reynolds that saw legendary EPL enforcer (possible exaggeration) Grant Rounding step in. Bakrlik earned 14 minutes of penalties whilst Rounding got a roughing call for his trouble. The Bison had the powerplay and got close through Shaun Thompson but couldn’t take the lead.
The Bison got another penalty when Lewis Hook was called for holding on to Tomas Karpov but again there just seemed to be no way past Dean Skinns in net. Both teams just pressing away as time ran down but there was no way through for anyone. 60 minutes came and went. Overtime called.
The watching crowd of fans had their hearts in their mouths as the Bison and the Lightning went into the first ever 3 on 3 playoff overtime. 2 on 1 breaks, both Skinns and Hiadlovsky were constantly called into action as chance after chance rained down upon the netminders. Nets came off but goals were not scored and the shootout was going to be needed.
Emersic hit the bar as Jarolin fired wide. Carr missed the net as Long’s signature move was seen and stopped by Skinns. Bobby Chamberlain raced in and beat Hiadlovsky under the arm and up stepped Joe Greener. The Bison forward skated in and tried to beat Skinns’ right pad but he couldn’t. The playing career of Joe Greener had ended and so had the Bison’s season.
A step too far: Late on Saturday, Tomas Karpov tweeted out the following
Now whilst nobody who has watched the Bison this season will doubt that sentiment, it wasn’t a game where the Bison looked at their best. The Herd looked uncharacteristically nervous at times and seemed to be playing not to make a mistake rather than take chances. It was a very un-Bison like performance in some ways despite the tenacity and heart shining through. Part of that was due to how MK set themselves up for the game but part of it just seemed to be that the team looked really tired. I wondered whether having to get themselves up for a series of highs from winning the league to getting the trophy to the Manchester series to this ultimately burned the Bison out a bit coming into the game but that wasn’t the only factor that affected the result. Sometimes you can put a ton of effort in and it just doesn’t come off. The Bison were quite solid at the back, Hiadlovsky made some good stops (though I don’t think he was overly tested) but you can’t win all the games you play.
Joe Greener got man of the match which was probably fair on balance of play. I don’t think many of the forwards had the game of their lives but Greener was playing with the fact that there was possibly no tomorrow and seemed to want to drag the team with him. The fact that he scored the goal and that goal was scored by the fact he was there on the door step to shovel in a loose puck is certainly a Joe Greener way to do things.
Focussing on this game as an individual event (we’ll get into its place in the season later this week), it wasn’t a good game to watch as a fan or a neutral, the result didn’t go the way I would have wanted it to, I roll my eyes at the whole “skills contest” argument about shootouts and we move on. The season was ended a day too soon and a couple of kilograms of silver down. Hockey is as cruel as it is kind on occasions. On this day it was arguably cruel but the effort was here. There’s no shame to be had in the way it ended.
A word on our opponents: I can’t really argue the result. The first semi-final of the 2016 EPL playoff weekend was not a classic for the ages in any aspect but Milton Keynes won it and well done to them for it. It came down to penalty shots, Bobby Chamberlain’s best beat Tomas Hiadlovsky’s best in the moment and the Lightning won. That said, I think Blaz Emersic is still skating in for his shot.
I thought the Lightning had more jump than the Bison. That’s not to say that I thought they played better or deserved it more but they certainly seemed more up for the occasion.
This is written in context of the Lightning’s loss in the final to the Guildford Flames the day after this but the signs for that loss were there. Despite Leigh Jamieson’s superbly taken goal, the Lightning lots of shots on Hiadlovsky but not many of real quality. They clogged the passing lanes and loaded the neutral zone to take away the Bison’s main game plan but lacked much of a killer touch in the final third. They tried to step up a gear the next day and couldn’t.
Whilst I praised his goal above and with all due respect to Leigh Jamieson, how Dean Skinns didn’t get man of the match was a mystery to me. Skinns was the best player on the ice across both teams on the day and yeah, scoring a goal from your knees is pretty but compared to what Skinns did at the other end, I think the incorrect decision was made. The only other player who came close to Skinns in the game was the EPL’s newest pantomime villain Martti Järventie. The Finn was booed at every touch of the puck by Bison fans across the weekend but his performance in the semi-final shows why he’s been so good for MK this season.
It wasn’t the Lightning’s weekend once the end of Sunday rolled around but as I walked out of the rink on Saturday afternoon, I couldn’t begrudge them the win. I wish you all the best for the summer, MK fans.
Lowlight of the night: As ever, I hate having to mention it but I must; this game was not well officiated in any direction. Thankfully it didn’t impact the result in any way.
Highlight of the night: Apart from the look on the face of a well lubricated Stuart Mogg trying to fathom how he’d made the all-star team in the bar afterwards, it has to be Joe Greener’s goal doesn’t it; doing what he was best at for us, one last time.