Running with the Herd – Bison vs Sheffield Steeldogs 22/10/16Posted: 23/10/2016
Shot to the gut:
7 wins from the last 7, 5 goals from 4 different goal scorers, a well earned win ground out and the Bison win 100% of their games that Dan Lackey has scores in; all in all, a good night.
It was a bit of an uneven performance from the Bison across the 60 minutes where they started well, finished well but seemed to keep being caught out by taking lots of penalties (8 minors on the night) and by the Steeldogs’ speed. There seemed to be lots of great ideas but not a lot of it seemed to come off. For a neutral or a newbie to the sport, this game had a bit of everything. It was massively entertaining but the quality of hockey on display wasn’t massively high at times which was contrasted by some great individual moments of skill.
The Herd raced to a 2-0 lead then seemed to think they had the game put to bed at 3-1 which saw them switch off a bit and it made it that bit harder to get back to full speed when the game started getting grittier and gritter as the game went on. Sadly, and we’ll get into this below, this is not a Steeldogs team to take lightly. However the Bison deserve some credit for their adaptation to how the Steeldogs played in different moments of the game. It did take them a bit of time to figure out the best way to deal with their opponents’ speed through the neutral zone but could be happy that at least allowing Hiadlovsky to see the shot mean that he would save it if given suitable help. The Slovak would probably want the second goal back but the defensive failings on the first and third meant that he didn’t really have much of a chance.
The only thing I’ll ask of Tomas is that no matter what daft thing an opposition player has done, for the love of all the shiny things don’t stick the guy in the ribs on the way past. The Bison need one of the league’s best netminders playing and not being thrown out of the game or banned for moments of insanity. That’s not to say I’m against Hiadlovsky defending himself but there’s a line. Whether Mrna made a meal of it or not isn’t the point but hopefully this was just a rush of blood to the head.
Having just written about individuals above, that seems to be something of a theme for this game for me; whilst this was definitely not the best Bison team performance of all time there were some really good individual performances. Dan Davies had the best game that I’ve seen him play where he shook off a nervy moment on the bench where he seemed to take a knock to seemingly want to skate through the wall and through Frankie and Benny’s into the Odeon further down the Leisure Park.
Tomas Karpov got man of the match as he ground his way to going 2+2 in a 5-3 game and looks a lot better on a new line combination. Having seemingly been overthinking his play recently and not being so direct with things or playing himself into a corner, Sheppard put the Czech forward alongside the excelling duo of Matt Towalski and Shaun Thompson; two players who can put the puck in the net but have that ability to be physical and create a bit of space. The line seemed to work well all night.
Fans saw Ivan Antonov twist and turn the opposition inside out at times with his ability to try and set people up and we saw Derek Roehl continue to provide that spark of energy that the team will miss from the removal of Alan Lack though at times both were frustrated, Roehl especially, that what they were trying to do just didn’t quite come to pass. However the effort was there from both and the crowd were suitably enamoured with the efforts of both players, particularly Roehl after a shift were he challenged Bosas for taking out Hiadlovsky out of the crease, saw the Steeldogs man back down and then on the same shift absolutely plough through Ben Morgan with a very hard, very legal hit.
The fans also got two goals that have definitely been coming as Jan Jarabek got the game winner on an absolute blast past Hadfield and Dan Lackey was finally in the right place at the right time and got just enough on the shot to put it past the netminder.
We said it enough on here last season, it’s not even a hockey cliché so much as a stone cold hockey truth; teams that don’t play as well as they can but find ways to win will win things in the long run and that’s the story here. The Bison nearly got caught napping by a team that they underestimated at times but they collected themselves and found a way to win. The motivation and morale are high and the table is being climbed as they head into a tricky next three games. We await to see how Doug Sheppard and his charges approach them.
A word on our opponents:
A lot of people after the game were commenting on a variety of things regarding the Steeldogs from play acting to moaning and all sorts but I need to go at this from a different angle because you know what? I like the way that this Sheffield Steeldogs side plays.
There’s something to be said for the moaning not being necessary (though I don’t blame Mrna for moaning, I’d be a bit peeved if I’d gotten sticked in the ribs too) and as I said above, the game wasn’t high quality at times but having seen Sheffield come to Basingstoke a couple of weeks ago with only the two imports, to see them at full strength was actually a lot of fun. This is a good hockey side.
For a long time the Steeldogs played with that really gritty edge and a couple of highly skilled players because, as you would be quickly told, they didn’t have the budget to have loads of top end skill guys so would firmly hold with the “Made in Sheffield” philosophy to bring through younger talents.
With that in mind, now look at the Sheffield roster; Arnoldas Bosas needs to reign his temper and his elbows in but is a phenomenal talent at this level as is Pavel Mrna as evidenced by his goal that would have been enough for me to give him the man of the match beers on its own. Kumeliauskas and Palak add decent secondary support but it’s having players like Liam Kirk, Cole Shudra and Liam Charnock who have now fully stepped up into full time, high scoring EPL players that means that Sheffield have real scoring threats and a ton of speed. That’s not to say that there’s not that lingering undercurrent of that old “Dogs Hockey” but certainly in this game, Greg Wood’s men realised that they genuinely did have the speed advantage over a side that plays a fast passing game and likes playing a high press so they used that to their advantage.
So why didn’t Sheffield win the game? Whilst the visitors found weaknesses to exploit, they were 2-0 down very quickly so were on the back foot early and when they managed to exert a bit of their style on the game and made the Bison make mistakes couldn’t exploit them enough before their hosts got wise. A good example would be Mrna’s goal which came off a brilliant bit of individual skill. The problem was that the defenders learned the move quickly and they were trying to do the same thing too many times.
Whilst I’ve tried to focus on how well the Steeldogs played, we can’t escape that as the game got chippier that the Sheffield side lost a bit of their focus and the game was close at times to descending into the sort of fracas that we saw in early 2016. Thankfully it didn’t but it was that bit of lack of adaptation and lack of focus in the death that cost the visitors the points.
However I’ll keep reiterating that it seems that “Dogs Hockey” is evolving and if this is the direction that it’s evolving in then keep on doing what you’re doing, Greg Wood.
Lowlight of the night: Lots of needless off the puck stuff from both sides combined with the news from the Isle of Wight.
Highlight of the night: Toss up for me between Jarabek’s goal and Roehl crushing Morgan with one of the best open ice hits we’ve seen in Basingstoke for some time.