Running with the Herd – Bison vs Hull Pirates 22/3/17

EPIHL 2017 Playoffs Group B

Basingstoke Bison 7-0 Hull Pirates

Connolly x 3 (1pp)

Scott

Miller sh

Sound the cannon, we’re off and running!

It seemed that last night was a night for wacky playoff result and this was certainly one of them but I don’t think any Bison fan is going to argue with how this one worked out.

The start of the game was what you’d expect any playoff game to be; nervy, edgy, both teams engaging in a feeling out process but once the Bison found the breakthrough they didn’t look like losing and put the Pirates to the sword.

The Bison played archetypical playoff hockey in this game and the officiating allowed them to do so for the most part though Joe Rand was unlucky to be called for landing hits that seemed to be unpunished elsewhere in the encounter. The Bison were physical, took the body, pressed high and the visitors didn’t really have much of an answer for long stretches of the game.

The lines were characteristically juggled by Doug Sheppard at times to match the opponents and the Herd became even more North American in their attacking approach. If the space wasn’t there to skate into, the puck would be dumped in to set up the cycle and taking the body at every opportunity to rattle the Pirates and it worked. The traditional Bison high pressing forecheck helped win board battles and on the defensive side helped stifle the Pirates breakout.

Aaron Connolly’s man of the match was a relatively easy decision as soon as his hattrick goal went in. In many ways this was a performance, like Grant Rounding’s last Saturday in Swindon, where the sheer amount of effort that the player puts in finally comes good. Even at 5-0 up starting the third period Connolly, the team’s most vocal communicator, was screaming at his team mates that they needed to finish the job. Connolly’s tenure as captain has been defined by his effort and his enthusiasm and this was a captain’s performance where he took all three of his goals well combined with his usual tearing around the ice.

The only person who was arguably going to come close to that was Dan Scott. Before his signing, Doug Sheppard had reportedly been chasing Scott for a number of seasons and the performances since his arrival have been testament as to why. Arguably with something of a chip on his shoulder after the last game in Basingstoke against the Pirates where Scott was concussed by an elbow from Ugnius Cizas (great job on that by the way EIHA), the Chatham born defender responded by being a defensive rock all evening coupled with what available stats tell me were his first two playoff goals.

Otherwise it was a complete team performance; the Bison played well and the Pirates did not over the course of 60 minutes and it allowed Tomas Hiadlovsky to tie the club record for shutouts having only faced a shot every 4 and a bit minutes. Playoff hockey is engrained in their mentality so Derek Roehl and Joe Rand are in something of their element where they get to go out and check everything in sight. The one player whose two way game last night was also much more noticeable was Rene Jarolin who blocked far more shots than I normally notice him doing.

The Bison should feel positive about this result as it sets the stall out about the quality of this side at this, the business end of the season. The game was played with intensity and purpose and this is exactly what is needed. The Bison will face sterner tests going forward than they did last night, even from Hull who are a different animal at home (16 of Hull’s 20 league wins this season were at home including 3 against the Bison) and it’s easy to get ahead of ourselves but this is a very promising start. It’s now about keeping that momentum going into the weekend’s games starting with a tricky trip to MK where the Bison haven’t won this season either.

A word on our opponents:

This was not a good night at the office for the Hull Pirates. The Bison did play well and for the first half of the first period, the visitors kept pace with their hosts but once Aaron Connolly’s goal went in, it just never seemed like a comeback was on the cards. It was an inauspicious start to the Pirates’ first playoff campaign.

The problem wasn’t so much that Hull lost, teams lose hockey games, but it was the manner of the defeat. After going a goal down, all the energy seemed to go out of the Pirates and in the second they had no answer to the Bison’s offensive flurry as the defence constantly kept giving the Herd too much space to be able to work in.

Vlastimil Lakosil, who has been something of a scapegoat for the Pirates’ defensive struggles, made a variety of decent saves but will want a good few of the goals back especially Joe Miller’s shorthanded effort which went right through the five hole. On a night they needed him to have a good game, he didn’t. Ultimately the defence needs to find a way to provide him some more support if the Pirates want to win games in this group.

Jon Kirk got man of the match which was fair enough as he certainly tried. Actually a good few players tried but the depth of quality ultimately failed them. Lakosil had a bad night, the defence didn’t give him the requite support, the attack lacked any sort of bite and the team with the league’s top goalscorer managed 14 shots. It’s not a recipe for success.

The defeat should provide a wakeup call for the Pirates as to how they approach this weekend’s games with Swindon and Milton Keynes. Out of the three teams that the Pirates play in a group, the Bison are arguably the team with the least amount of speed and they got burned by giving the Bison too much space to work in. The Pirates tried to clog the neutral zone and couldn’t. They need to not give Swindon and MK an inch to work with. If the Pirates want to win a game in the playoffs then they are not going to win pretty on the whole. It’s got to be ugly, drawn out wins where they find ways to get service to Themar and their better scorers. If they play like they did last night, it will be a long playoffs for all the wrong reasons.

Lowlight of the night: Themar’s hit on Baird at the end of the first wasn’t necessary.

Highlight of the night: Dan Scott’s second goal was pretty

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