Running with the Herd – Bison vs Milton Keynes Thunder 04/11/2017Posted: 05/11/2017
NIHL 1 South
Basingstoke Bison 7-2 Milton Keynes Thunder
Antonov pp O’Flaherty
This, repeat this:
Certainly in terms of home games in 2017/18, this was the best all round game that we’ve seen and the best performance from the Bison. It did help that the opposition played a style that really suited them but also came at them a bit and the Bison under Doug Sheppard have always done better against teams that come at them rather than teams that sit back and wait on the counter.
The Bison knew that they didn’t have the larger bench and with so many injured guys meaning the Herd ran with 3 lines and 4 defencemen. The question during warm-up was what sort of a game the Herd would play as a result. Would there be any energy conservation ahead of the game with Telford? The answer was not really and they troubled the Thunder with their speed down all channels all evening and the visitors couldn’t handle the speed of the Bison’s transitional play through the neutral zone at times.
Roman Malinik had his best game in Bison colours so far in this performance; scoring a goal, assisting on another and generally looking more of an attacking threat. Malinik is much more of a playmaker than I think any of us realised and he’s found a way to work with Aaron Connolly and (last night) with Grant Rounding which made them a really potent attacking threat. The fact that Malinik was given the beers was not a huge surprise. He also took his goal well, being on the spot and using his size to not get moved out of the way and pot one of many rebounds that came the Bison’s way. Credit goes to Connolly as well for channelling his inner Ciaran Long on his penalty shot.
The return of Dan Davies to the side has also seen the return of a more natural first line of the Kent born forward with Tomas Karpov and Vanya Antonov. The Thunder had no answer for the speed or the skill of this line at times. It did suffer from Karpov and Antonov trying to do too much on their own on occasion but seeing the three of them able to move with virtual impunity at times was great fun. The line has balance, all players are constantly looking to distribute the puck and make attacking plays, all players aren’t afraid to backcheck and work in their own end. Hopefully the line is kept together.
We’d also be loathe not to mention the makeshift third line which did the exact job it needed to do. Ryan Sutton, Hallam Wilson and Oscar Evans didn’t look out of place and weren’t used sparingly in this game (the short bench meant they couldn’t afford to) and more than did their part. Some shrewd line matching at times by Sheppard at the start of the game eventually gave way to more of a regular rotation for them and it paid dividends for Evans who converted Wilson’s pass brilliantly for his first goal for the Herd. Evans had looked dangerous in his previous outings and this was just reward for being prepared to get stuck in.
Dean Skinns will want both of the Thunder’s goals back; first getting caught behind the net and not being able to settle for the shot from Carlon and then getting beaten with a “hit and hope” shot from Gareth O’Flaherty on the half boards. Skinns did make some good saves but the story again was this smaller four man defensive unit (still without Stuart Mogg) running a solid rotation and, whilst not being perfect and getting beaten on occasions, knowing how their keeper works and limiting the shots that he faced. Now they’ve got some confidence, it’s pressing on from here.
The recent scare at Streatham has seen the Bison wake up slightly to the fact that they can’t really take these games lightly, especially after Swindon’s loss to the Redhawks and Peterborough’s loss to London. The Bison are now the only unbeaten side in NIHL 1 South. They head into cup action for the next two games but head to MK next Sunday. The Bison players talk about keeping the train rolling. They need to do that through these cup games into their return to league action.
Swindon and Telford will be a much tougher task and the question still lingers as to what, if any replacements Doug Sheppard will be drafting in. He pulled the trigger on some changes but with a rotating line of injuries, the Bison head into some tough games with a short bench. They’ve always been a better side when busy. Will they be too busy? We’re going to find out.
A word on our opponents:
Aside from having the nicest jerseys so far, the MK Thunder are the best NIHL South 1 side that we’ve seen so far in Basingstoke. Some will say that this opinion is tempered by the fact there’s lots of ex-EPL players in the side and that’s what we’re used to here but the Thunder came into Basingstoke and did what no other classic NIHL side has really tried to do; go at the Bison.
In our pre-season preview we mentioned that the Thunder would play physical and skilful hockey and we did get measures of both. Rather than sit back and hope, the Thunder tried to play their game, impose their systems and maintain their structures. They were outplayed over the course of the 60 minutes but did what the other sides have failed to do in Basingstoke and that’s look a bit more settled and trouble the Herd more.
Tom Carlon was a justified man of the match and his partnership with Gareth O’Flaherty was certainly a potent one for the Thunder on this night. Teams either carve chances out to score or capitalise on mistakes. The Thunder did the later and their most threatening players were the ones who scored.
That’s not the say there weren’t other good performance in the Thunder roster. Rio Grinell-Parke has been much talked about and with good reason on what we saw last night. Jamie Line and Ross Bowers together look to have lost neither a step not their sight to make a good play. Despite the defence shipping 7 goals, I was impressed with my first viewing of Oliver Lord who looked very assured.
The Thunder had the physical edge but they just didn’t seem to be able to deal with the speed. This coupled with a bad night for Tom Annetts whose rebound control seemed to have deserted him on his old stomping ground made for a bad evening for the visitors. Josh Crane looked decent enough in relief but is not the finished article yet. There’s promise there.
The Thunder look like they could challenge in the playoffs and they will sneak wins against the ex-EPL sides, I’m sure of that on this viewing. However this was not that night.
Lowlight of the night: The Thunder’s second goal was a really bad goal to give up.
Highlight of the night: 7 goals from 7 goalscorers and a great first Bison goal from Oscar Evans will do it for me.