Running with the Herd – Bison vs Sheffield Steeldogs 01/10/16

Immediate impact:

With the Bison’s poor start having backed Doug Sheppard into a corner, the one thing that the Herd’s coach really needed was his two new signings to start paying dividends immediately for them on the ice and what he got was immediate production.

With a much more direct and physical style, Derek Roehl quickly ingratiated himself to the Bison fans as he went close on the first two chances on the first shift of the game. Another shuffle of the lines saw Roehl on a new look top line alongside Rene Jarolin and Vanya Antonov and the general reaction from those in attendance was that this line is going to be a lot of fun to watch. Ultimately the line did its job within 6 minutes as with the help of Kurt Reynolds they created a very well worked goal that saw Jarolin tip the puck then pick up his own rebound off of the save by James Hadfield.

Two training sessions into their new partnership, the line is not quite clicking 100% yet and you could see it in the way certain things didn’t come off; the odd errant movement here or off line pass there but it’s clear that the combination is well on it’s way to firing on all cylinders. The wildcard on the line isn’t really Roehl himself by Vanya Antonov. The young Russo-Brit is used to playing with players a bit old and more experienced than himself but I felt at times last night he was working very hard but not very smart at times. Ultimately this new world of being away from Bracknell, without Lukas Smital as his linemate is still a learning experience for him. Experienced veterans like Jarolin and Roehl are a bit more savy to such things where Antonov isn’t just yet but if this new line lasts then he has two decent veterans to learn such things from.

I said on his farewell piece that Jakub Barton was the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time for the Bison and he will go down as a rare recruiting misstep from Doug Sheppard. He appears to have done a bit better with Jan Jarabek.

Jarabek’s style on defence is nothing particularly revolutionary for the EPL but this game was a good way to get him up to speed with how the Bison play as they were faced with a short benched opponent playing a very stand off style for the duration of the game. Jarabek had time of the puck, time to make the passes and used his space well. He looked for the correct outlet pass rather than the quick one or the 100% perfect one. Whilst it’s unfair in some ways to compare the two, he seems much more of a Vantroba like player than Barton was and that’s really what the Bison needed. He also was generally used on the ice with the correct player; he was occasionally on the ice with Mogg and Reynolds but was generally out there with Baird and Balmer who would hang back and allow him to venture forward a bit more. The extra space he found himself being given also allowed his team mates to set him up for his shot which won’t break any speed records but is certainly big and on target. The Connolly goal was a good example as Jarolin fed it into his compatriot’s wheelhouse and an excellent tip by the Bison captain put it past Hadfield just a moment too late to be credited as a powerplay marker. One game in, Jarabek looks like he will be alright.

Yes and No:

In a lot of ways, the misfortune that the Steeldogs are suffering off the back of injuries and suspensions coming into this game is exactly what the Bison needed however it’s a case of tempering our expectations and not getting too excited. We can be happy with a touch of realism attached to it.

It would be a hard position to take to say that the Bison are fully back to their old ways after a controlled and relatively low energy win over a side playing only two imports against five but as mentioned above, that allowed the Bison to be able to try things and test things. It allowed them to try and settle the Roehl line, it allowed them to ease Jarabek into the defensive rotation.

One of the bigger things it allowed was extra ice time in the third period for the grind line of Lackey, Thompson and Towalski which continued its industrious performances which have become a hallmark of their play in the early part of the season. They also got their just reward as Towalski netted his second of the season as the puck pinged around in front of Hadfield late on.

The Bison appear to have their top line set (Antonov, Jarolin and Roehl) as well as their 4th line set as above so the question became what happens with the middle six at the moment. Connolly, Karpov and Lack were one combination with Davies, Long and Rounding the other which all had their moments but again, need to find time to train and play together more if they’re going to work long term. There were swaps around of course during the game and you get the feeling that those two “middle” lines will be very fluid over the course of the season. Ultimately if the LTT combination continues playing as well as they have been, do they start chipping away at the ice time of the other lines down the road? The likely answer is no because of the role that they’re playing but having players on that bit of an edge and being able to earn more ice time by playing well is a good incentive.

I would also be loath as well to not mention the shutout from Tomas Hiadlovsky. With only 15 shots, it might be one of the lowest totals he will face for a shutout but again, it serves many masters. It’s confidence building for Hiadlovsky whose stat line took a bit of a beating during the early games as well as the defence which looks immediately improved with the early addition because yes, the opposition was depleted but you can only beat what’s put in front of you and they did that handily. The 2015/16 EPL player of the year was kept to a 0 point night despite the Steeldogs trying to feed him the puck near constantly when they got the chance. The team defence was very good on the night against some decent offensive players like Hirst, Wood, Charnock and Kirk and the Bison can take that confidence into tonight’s game in Sheffield.

A word on our opponents:

It’s always disappointing to lose, and not that I’ve seen any of it, but it would be unfair to slam the Steeldogs for the loss. 3 imports and more players down by a virtue of injury and suspension and it showed really as the Steeldogs stripped back their game plan to try and contain the Bison. It was probably the wrong game plan on the night as a singular incident but the right game plan over the course of the weekend.

The Steeldogs played no forecheck, backed off and clogged the neutral zone at every opportunity which wasn’t ideal in the course of Saturday night. It gave the Bison space and the one thing that it’s generally a bad idea to give a team that thrives on quick passing, is space. A lot of people on the night (me included) said that the Steeldogs parked the bus early, hoped not to concede loads and try to counter on the break but the last part didn’t really happen. There were a couple of hairy moments but even so, the Steeldogs didn’t really offer a great amount going forward bar Bosas and Hiadlovsky was equal to that task.

That’s not to say that the performance was all bad from the Steeldogs. There was a lot of effort and in spite of a couple of wobbly moments James Hadfield had a very good game in a game where he got peppered from start to finish.

For all the jokes you might want to make, Greg Wood is not stupid. Presented with a set of circumstances, he’s made some decisions as to how to play when. Steeldogs should have one of their imports back for Sunday’s game at home with Basingstoke which will change the outlook of the game a bit. It’s not that Wood came in to the game accepting a loss was inevitable, any team of Greg Wood’s will be expected to give 100% effort but this game in Basingstoke was I’d venture that in front of their own fans and on their own ice that the Steeldogs will adopt something of their more traditional, physical approach and certainly a more high tempo game with the crowd behind them. That’s just smart coaching. The question for the Steeldogs will be whether they can also do a better job of reigning the Bison in.

Lowlight of the night: The highstick in the first couple of minutes to Ciaran Long was pretty nasty.

Highlight of the night: The slightly comedic moment where Derek Roehl checked Tim Smith to the ice, fell through the bench door, stayed on his feet, got caught by a member of the bench staff then ran back on to the ice to continue his shift.

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