Running with the Herd – Bison vs Telford Tigers 10/09/16

EPIHL

Basingstoke Bison 1-4 Telford Tigers

Long pp                        Davies

                                     Satek

                                     Plant pp

                                     Heywood

False start: After a successful pre-season, the Bison actually started the opening game of the 2016/17 campaign at full strength. After his scary looking injury on Wednesday against Swindon, Rene Jarolin did ice in a full face cage. Telford were without Joe Miller and it was a battle of the import goalies as Tomas Hiadlovsky faced off with Ondrej Raszka.

The Tigers had the first chance almost immediately off of the faceoff as Corey McEwan fired on net but it was right into Hiadlovsky’s glove.

The teams poked and prodded each other in the earlier forays but it would be the visitors that would be the first to strike. The Bison were struggling with the Tigers’ speed and when Weaver’s outlet pass found Michal Satek, the former Phoenix forward managed to get the puck on net and Matty Davies managed to get enough on the puck for it to squeeze through Hiadlovsky at 04:34.

After a very suspect hit from Phil Hill on Jakub Barton, the first period rolled on with a pattern of Bison trying to skate round the Tigers and creating chances from the rebounds that Raszka was giving up but not being able to follow up whereas the Tigers countering at speed and stretching the Bison but couldn’t really get the shots on net.

Eventually numbers would cause the Tigers some problems as Mr Matthews called the visitors for too many men on the ice and this would give the Bison an opening. It took just over 30 seconds to make the man advantage count; Vanya Antonov managed to get the puck to Declan Balmer who walked off of the point and fed the puck into Ciaran Long who would smack the puck past Raszka at 11:57 to tie the score.

This got the Bison’s tail up and they tested Raszka more and more with Tomas Karpov going the closest. When Macauley Heywood was called for tripping it seemed that the home side would have the perfect chance to go ahead. However the powerplay units misfired and couldn’t get anything going thanks to some decent penalty killing from the Tigers.

Telford were sticking to their guns and were using their speed to keep finding the holes that they could exploit and the combination of Davies and Satek would hurt the Bison again. Taking the zone and stretching the defence, Davies would be the set-up man this time as he fed Satek who, with Hiadlovsky being screened by his own defence, would draw the Bison goalie towards the centre of the net and then fire back towards Hiadlovsky’s right post and find the net at 17:04 for the 2-1 lead.

It would only get worse for the Bison. After taking a very long look at the challenge, Mr Matthews called Jakub Barton for tripping which gave the Tigers a powerplay chance that they would take full advantage of. The Bison penalty kill did well for the first little while but the Tigers’ special teams unit got get up, stretched the defence and Satek’s shot was tipped past Hiadlovsky, again screened by his own defenceman by Rick Plant at 19:37 for a 3-1 lead at the first break along with a very late and elbow lead hit from Phil Hill to Petr Polodna.

The Tigers started the second period brighter; slick passing going forward combined with the Bison just not managing to get anything going made for a really uninteresting start of the second for the home support.

However the Bison started turning the tide and were getting good shots on Raszka’s net. Karpov went close after some neat passing but the Pole kept the puck out sliding from right to left.

Petr Polodna landed a big hit on Dan Scott who didn’t take kindly the fact the hit was a little from behind. As every Tigers fan yelled at him not to retaliate, he retaliated and Scott was called for roughing. Despite a shorthanded chance from Jonathan Weaver that Hiadlovsky did well to deny, the Bison’s powerplay and minutes following that kept forcing rebounds out of Raszka but just couldn’t seem to find a way to put the puck in the back of the net. Rene Jarolin also had a good shot but it zipped the wrong side of the post.

Given that they were 3-1 up, the Tigers sat back and tried the tactics that had worked so well in the first period; wait, counter at speed and strike. Davies and Satek went close again but this time Davies’ tip was wide of the mark.

Raszka’s net seemed to be living a very charmed life; Rounding had a shot tipped by Lack but it went through the goalie, across the crease and away. Towalski tipped a shot from Reynolds that beat Raszka and the bar. Karpov had a shot that went wide.

The problem of course is that close doesn’t count and one defensive lapse killed the Bison and the game. A turnover in their own zone, some neat passing and Macauley Heywood fired over a sprawling Hiadlovsky at 38:01.

The period came to the end with Hiadlovsky called into a couple more saves and the Bison in a 3 goal hole.

Doug Sheppard changed up the lines to start the third period in the hope of sparking some offence however it just didn’t seem to work. Not needing to score, the Tigers played what Bison fans would recognise as Doug Sheppard hockey; they had the lead so they shut the game down and disrupted a Bison team that on the night was low on confidence.

Nothing seemed to be going the Bison’s way. The rebounds off of Raszka fell to nobody, Doug Clarkson clattered Tomas Karpov from behind with no call, every pass just went 1 inch too far one way or the other.

Frustration started to sink in for the Bison. Declan Balmer landed a late hit to a Tigers player on the boards that was called. Macauley Heywood steamed into the fray and a few punches were thrown. Somehow, and I’m not sure how, the Bison ended up with the powerplay from the affair but couldn’t capitalise. Vanya Antonov went closest but his shot missed the top corner.

The teams traded penalties as time rolled on; Lack and Hill clashed off the play and took matching minors then Warren Tait was called for tripping so the Bison took the timeout just before the 4on3 powerplay. Again Raszka couldn’t really control the puck too well but his defence helped him out. Time wound down and that was that, the title defence had not started off in the best way.

Bleh: I am aware that bleh isn’t a real word but it’s the best way to describe last night. There was some good but most of it was frustration so we walk away from the game and just go “bleh”.

The result slightly flatters Telford but feels worse because it’s clear that the gameplan just didn’t work and the performance just wasn’t there overall. The one person I feel a bit sorry for is Tomas Hiadlovsky whose landed with a 75% save percentage despite having actually played quite well and got very little help from his defence.

Grant Rounding got man of the match but I had 4 people in mind for it. Yes, they got scored on once but the line of Lackey, Thompson and Towalski was the hardest working line of the night. Where the other lines misfired, they did their job the best for the 60 minutes. They’re not spectacular by any means but they were gritty and put in a shift.

The other player was Lewis Turner who stood out on the defence likely because the rest of the blueline was uncharacteristically under par, screening their own goalie for goals 2 and 3. Turner on the other hand looked assured, confident, made the smart plays and just generally did very well I thought.

The one thing that really frustrated me was just the sheer lack of awareness to go to the net with a keeper coughing out rebounds like there was no tomorrow. Yes the Tigers defence boxed out to try and help him but there were times when it looked like that defence wasn’t comfortable with the goalie and vice versa which wasn’t exploited. Many people said that they felt that this was the exact sort of game for a Joe Greener or a Joe Rand but 1 game in to a 54 game season I refuse to pick apart the roster just yet because we don’t know fully what this team has in its locker.

It’s not a good start, that much is fair but we need to give this roster a chance to bed in. Let’s give it till week 3 and then wonder where all the tweaks need to be made.

A word on our opponents: Credit where credit is due; well done to Telford, the better team won on the night. There’s very little argument from me on that point. I do think 3-1 would be a more fair reflection than 4-1 but that’s just me.

There’s no real bad for the Tigers out of this performance so let’s separate this into the good and the “less good, partially concerning” which is where we’ll start.

Ondrej Raszka and his defence need to find a way to better coexist or there will be issues. Raszka gives up a lot of rebounds and I mean a lot of rebounds. Fortunately for the Tigers they came up against a team who seemed at times to avoid the front of the net, especially in the third when their opponents’ heads were down. Another team may not be so giving in that sense.

I’m also not sold that much on the defence off of the back of this performance but that’s a double edged sword. They weren’t made to work that hard so how do we know how they’ll do in the crunch? That remains to be seen.

The good? That attack is very good going forward. The physical presence of the line of Corey McEwan, Jason Silverthorn and Doug Clarkson especially is going to be an issue for any team but think about the line matching at home. You’re a coach and you put out your smaller, more skilled line then out comes that line which has skill and size.

The combination of Michal Satek and Matty Davies appears to work so I’d expect Tom Watkins to not touch it. They did the most damage last night and Satek was the correct call for man of the match for me.

As I said above with the Bison, it’s easy to read too much into one game. It’s a good start, an impactful start but I try to not make a habit of reading too much into the first game of the season because all sorts can happen as teams clash for the first time with only pre-season hockey behind them. However, as I said in the Tigers preview piece, they are certainly a team to keep an eye on.

Lowlight of the night: The overall performance wasn’t great

Highlight of the night: Aside from what can only be called a ceremonial finishing of a check when Kurt Reynolds checked Doug Clarkson and we all had a good laugh, the Bison’s goal was actually a very good finish by Long.

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