Running with the Herd – Bison vs Sheffield Steeldogs 14/1/17Posted: 15/01/2017
Basingstoke Bison 5-3 Sheffield Steeldogs
Antonov x2 Bosas
Pedigree shown to the chums:
Much like last week, the Bison were faced with an opponent with a depleted roster but one that could prove tricky. However much like against Peterborough last week, it was a professional performance from the Herd to put the opposition away.
The first person we need to start with is Ciaran Long; for a 25 year old to have played 500 EPL games shows not just longevity but also his quality. Some will wonder why he has not had a crack at the Elite League but on this night it was a celebration of a player that went from the rough and raw to this current spell with the Bison where he’s been part of that core of players that have been so pivotal to the Bison’s success in recent years. From face cage at The Link to dressing as Santa to having won every trophy in the EPIHL, it is not hyperbole to say that Long is a top level British player in the EPIHL.
Of course, on his special night Long was given the man of the match award and he actually really deserved it. For the first half an hour or so nobody could touch or keep up with Antonov in terms of end product but Long’s effort and performance across the 60 minutes was outstanding. In some ways, Sheppard’s usage of Long on the night was very good. Long generally gets a lot of ice time but got big early minutes. With so much attention on him, Sheppard may well have iced Long a bit more to help work out that nervous energy that comes from a night focussing on you and having most of your family there. To be fair, it worked eventually. Long seemed to go as close as you possibly could without scoring and then with the Bison having conceded he went on one of his trademark little darts up the middle, dangled and scored a beauty of a goal to cap the night. Long remains on pace to equal last season’s total of 63 points.
The rest of the Bison roster also gave a good account themselves. As mentioned above Vanya Antonov scored two very well taken goals albeit one was much prettier than the other. The lines were juggled around a bit but the combination of Long, Antonov and Dan Davies seemed to yield some results.
Declan Balmer got the ire of the opposition bench and coaches. Along with being at his agitating best (he drew an absolute beauty of a charging penalty out of Arnoldas Bosas) Balmer and Dan Scott were very solid in defence.
We also can’t go too far without mentioning the netminding and the first competitive home appearance of the season for Dan Weller-Evans. Having gotten the final period in Bracknell last week, Weller-Evans came in after a solid if not heavily worked 44:30 for Tomas Hiadlovsky who only faced 20 shots in that time and picked up another assist. Weller-Evans stat line will be stung by the two goals, the second of which was a superb shot from Macauley Heywood, but otherwise it was a composed performance from the young Welshman who the home fans are keen to see do well. The hope is that with the run in to the playoffs very much in view that Weller-Evans will be given more ice time to aid his development as much as give Hiadlovsky a rest as you’d expect the Slovak to carry the workload.
With a big game away at Telford this Sunday, this was a “job done” for the Bison; a comprehensive win, no additional injuries and two more points on the board. It wasn’t a spectacular win but it was a win and that momentum we spoke of last week will remain important.
A word on our opponents:
With now 1 win in the last 5, I venture games like this are sadly becoming something of a theme for the Sheffield Steeldogs fans. They didn’t play badly but they didn’t play that well. It’s very much a mixed bag for them as a result.
The scoreline flatters the visitors slightly because they were well beaten across the 60 minutes but it’s easy to see why this Steeldogs roster is on the cusp of being able to challenge more than they currently are.
The issue for the Steeldogs is the quality in depth across the roster. There are some cracking players on that Sheffield roster and luckily for them are young Brits. Liam Kirk and Cole Shudra are obviously under contract to the Steelers but them, Liam Charnock and the recently added Macauley Heywood are all very good players. When you add in imports like Arnoldas Bosas and Tomas Brcko then you’re on your way.
However on this night they still have no replacement to Pavel Mrna, no Donatas Kumeliauskas or Greg Wood in the line up made for a bit of a tough ask for the Yorkshire side. Short bench, bit less depth on the bench and most games in this league are going to be tough.
That lack of depth also influences the game plan. You can’t blame Greg Wood for focussing his game plan around his top guys on the side but the problem is that they have limited options there. Budget and location obviously plays a part in who you can recruit to those positions but take a side like Telford as a comparison. If Davies’ line can’t score then you go to Kolena’s line. If Kolena doesn’t score you maybe go to Rick Plant then to a more Doug Clarkson physicality inspired approach. At the moment Sheffield have Bosas then Kirk then Charnock and 5 or 6 times out of 10 it will work but that’s not enough when the other sides have more options. It’s easy to say that Greg Wood needs to be more creative in his coaching but his roster is built to be that physical spearhead with additional skill.
In terms of the game, Liam Kirk was superb the whole night as was James Hadfield. The Sheffield born netminder will want a couple of goals back but on the whole I think it was a very good performance from him. I quite like Hadfield and ultimately we need British netminders being given a chance. You can argue the success of Sheffield as a roster on the whole but the decision to have Hadfield in net is one that I put on the plus column for Wood at the moment.
What do the Steeldogs need to do? Get as full a roster as they can at the moment and grind out results to secure 8th spot. If they get a bit of a run together at the business end of the season then the Steeldogs could so some damage.
Lowlight of the night: Dan Scott taking a puck to the head standing on the bench was a bit of a heart stopper.
Highlight of the night: There can be only one; 500th EPL appearance, immediate response to the side conceding, beautiful goal, congratulations Ciaran on a stunning career so far.