Running with the Herd – Bison vs Milton Keynes Lightning 01/04/17

EPIHL Playoff Group B

Basingstoke Bison 3-2 Milton Keynes Lightning

Miller x2 …………………..Emersic

Rand ……………………….Hölli pp

Punch the ticket:

Bison fans were treated to the rarity of all rarities at home in this game; a full roster. Grant Rounding iced in a full face guard after his hit from Frankie Bakrlik last Saturday in Milton Keynes.

I’m not one for throwing clichés around if I can help it but the idea of a cliché is that there’s a lack of original thought behind it but this was the archetype of a playoff game. It was tense, it was exciting, the hockey was edgy and nervous and both sets of fans lifted their respective rosters.

Hockey is a game of three periods and it really was a game of three for the Bison as the game had three very distinctive phases. In the first, the Bison gave what might be deemed their usual first period; a high energy approach where they threw the kitchen sink at the Lightning, forced many rebounds out of the opposition netminder which they didn’t follow up then in true Bison fashion got stung on the counter. The second period saw the Bison regroup and play a bit smarter. They did get fortunate, certainly on the second goal, that Przemyslaw Odrobny doesn’t seem massively keen on holding tight to the post but they rode that good fortune as well as manage to get their system set up and the two goal lead was established going into the third. The third period then was the attempt at Doug Sheppard shutdown hockey which worked for the most part bar the powerplay goal.

The one issue in the third for the Bison was they started to lose their cool a bit in the third. As is the way with games between these two teams, it was niggly with lots of off the play little hooks, grabs and whacks at each other. Whilst I think that Mikolaj Lopuski was fortunate to not take a penalty at the same time as Dan Scott to then have Derek Roehl take a penalty on the same powerplay as the Lightning scored could have made things a lot harder than they needed to be.

To Roehl’s credit, whilst he didn’t score, this was one of his better recent games. There’s something to be said about the way that British hockey values the league more than the playoffs but Roehl (and Rand for that matter) have the idea of playoffs hard-wired into them. Roehl was throwing himself in front of every shot, trying to do everything he could. He was arguably a man of the match candidate as a result.

The actual man of the match, Joe Miller, took both his goals very well. The first was thanks to the work of Vanya Antonov as he went on one of his mazy runs that drew the defender and allowed Miller the space to take the pass and fire home. The second was as a result of the above but also relied on the fact that Miller saw the chance and gave it a go. You may insert your own Gretzky quote here.

For those wondering about the remonstrations from Tomas Hiadlovsky on the first Lightning goal, the argument was to do with where Hiadlvosky was. The Slovak felt that he had been taken out by one of the Lightning forwards and impeded from making the save and that as he was in his goal crease that it was goaltender interference. Mr Matthews determined that the Bison netminder was outside of the crease and thus that call couldn’t be given. To be fair to Mr Matthews and irrespective of Hiadlovsky’s positioning, I don’t think the official can be blamed for not seeing exactly where the crease exactly began or ended. It should actually be noted though that the Lightning goal was a cracking shot from Blaz Emersic.

There was a job to be done and in the end, the Bison got it done. It was a real teamwork effort from the Herd who took a setback in conceding despite having had lots of pressure to turn the game in their favour and hold on. With Swindon unable to get more than 6 points, it meant that the Bison confirmed their spot at the Coventry weekend for the 4th time in the last 5 seasons. The Herd also currently lead the playoff group going into tonight’s game with Swindon. With the tiebreakers between the Bison and MK completely level, the Herd’s superior goal difference overall sees them lead the group. MK need to better the Bison’s result by 3 goals to win the group.

A word on our opponents:

So that was the last time for the foreseeable future that we will see the Milton Keynes Lightning in a competitive game in Basingstoke. Games between the good side have always been physical and bar a couple of incidents have always been played in the right spirit which will be missed. A slight boo to the folks who thought it was a good idea to stick an MKL flag on to some of the title banners and over the Bison logo. A slight cheer to those who encouraged them to move it to a more suitable location.

With Frankie Bakrlik rested, the Lightning were otherwise at full strength and it showed; they’re a very good EPIHL side. I think there’s an argument that they underachieved having finished as far behind Telford as they did but the quality that they possess as a unit is undeniable.

The Lightning played a very similar style to the Bison; a mix of mostly dump and chase with the odd charge up the middle or wings which trying to establish physical dominance. The other thing that the Lightning are very good at (and having a good netminder helps) is they are really good at weathering spells of pressure from their opponents. Given that this is essentially the Bison’s MO where they charge in and almost fire shots and let the law of probability dictate that something will eventually go in, it’s actually quite a useful ability to be able to have. Whether Nick Poole or Pete Russell has been the head coach, that defensive assuredness has been a hallmark of Lightning hockey.

Przemyslaw Odrobny got man of the match for a 21 save performance and he made some very good saves though he also had some awkward moments. His rebound control at times, especially in the first, was not brilliant and it seemed to catch his defence on the foot. That’s not to say Odrobny is a bad netminder and he certainly wouldn’t be the first netminder to struggle to get to grips with the angles in Basingstoke as older Bison fans will remember Jody Lehman never really got settled whether playing for Coventry or Sheffield. What will be interesting to watch will be Odrobny on that “bigger” ice (I say “bigger” because the dimensions at Coventry aren’t significantly bigger than either MK or Basingstoke) with that much more open venue. The Polish international is clearly very good but I don’t venture the Barmy Army want the heart attack moments next weekend.

The other player who really stood out was unsurprisingly, Antti Hölli. The Finnish forward is clearly a step above the EPL with a shot that will trouble most netminders. I’d be interested to see if he’s offered a contract for the Lightning’s step up to the EIHL. Given he’s just about to turn 30, he’s certainly in a place to be able to do it and has experience in EIHL calibre and better leagues.

Milton Keynes didn’t win in Basingstoke this season nor did the Bison win at the Thunderdome this year. The record in the playoffs is level as well. These two could contest the final if results go their way and if this is the basis then it will be a very good final.

Lowlight of the night: There wasn’t actually that much, this was a great game but the hit from James Griffin on Dan Davies as well as Joe Baird’s boarding of Milan Baranyk were two unnecessary hits.

Highlight of the night: The Bison’s first goal coupled with the fact that we’re off to Coventry again. See you there, everyone!

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