Running with the Herd – Bison vs Swindon Wildcats 11/11/17

NIHL National Cup Group D

Basingstoke Bison 1-3 Swindon Wildcats

Scott pp                       Jones pp

                                    Kelsall pp

                                   Birbraer

The perfect storm

Having skimmed through some thoughts from people this morning, there’s a real mix of feeling from the Bison fans about this game. Some think that a shortbenched side playing with two and a half forward lines and 4 defenders did the best they could against a decent side with a deep bench. Others thought that the Bison underperformed, misfired and played badly. Whilst BOTW will be accused of fence sitting because we always try to see both sides of the argument, there are elements of truth in both arguments.

The Bison were shortbenched and it did show. The side looked tired from the start of the game and this game did not help the forwards as in terms of shooting they seemed short of ideas. Ninety nine times out of one hundred, a Vanya Antonov breakaway one on none with the netminder does not result in the Russo-Brit shooting lamely at his pads. The Bison’s lack of depth and energy saw them employ few tactics that could harm the Wildcats over the distance. The top line of Antonov, Davies and Karpov fell into the trick of trying to do too much and overthinking on the puck. When they did shoot, it was like the logo on Renny Marr’s chest had a gravitational pull.

However it also has to be said that the Bison did not play well in this game. They put in the effort. That is undeniable and it showed on the faces of the players especially after Floyd Taylor’s major penalty gave the Bison a late lifeline but over the course of the 60 minutes they were second best and there’s no shame in saying that. When you’re beaten, you’re beaten.

The Herd had a poor first twenty minutes and whilst were arguably unlucky to be 3-0 down after the first period, they were because of their own mistakes. Dean Skinns cheated across and gave Chris Jones too much of a gap to aim at for the first, the defence broke down and gave Jordan Kelsall too much space and the same happened for Max Birbraer’s goal as well. Since the Bison rebounded from their early season poor form it has been the defence that has performed well as a unit that has been the backbone of the Bison’s recovery. Unfortunately that twenty minute lapse cost the Herd dearly.

Yes, the Herd were tired but having put themselves in a hole they made themselves easy to play against. They were short of ideas going forward and the tricks that had worked the last few weeks just seem to fail them on this night. They rightly got at least one goal but it was a case of too little too late, even if it did make for an exciting finish to the game.

The Bison can write the poor play down to a bad day at the office. It happens to all teams; Swindon lost to Streatham and Marr was pulled from the net in that game. The Bison can win hockey games and have the tactics, ability and energy to do that on their day. The real issue for me is the later one; the Bison need to get some extra bodies on the bench. Doug Sheppard cannot legislate for injuries and hopefully all the players out of the line-up return to action as soon as possible but they have to get bodies onto the bench as this roster will not challenge with 11 or 12 skaters icing in games.

Some argue that toughness is an issue and that a Chris Wiggins or someone to protect players and that phantom appearance at the end of the bench that one game has left people clamouring for an announcement. At this stage and irrespective of how well the Bison believe they are when they are busy, they need depth. Depth was the marker of the best Bison sides of the last couple of seasons. They do not have it now. It needs addressing as a matter of importance.

A word on our opponents:

Sometimes you don’t have to run roughshod over a side to beat them, you just have to be clinical. The Swindon Wildcats were clinical in the first and then simply said to the Bison, “you have to score, come at us and try to score.” The visitors then had the rather straightforward task of frustrating a tired side by clogging the neutral zone and limiting their space to operate.

Some have said that the scoreline flatters the Wildcats over the course of the game. 3-0 certainly flattered them after twenty minutes but a 3-1 win over the course of 60 minutes is probably fair on reflection. They struck then shut the game down; the Bison were effectively beaten by their own game.

Renny Marr got the man of the match which is fair enough for letting up 1 goal on 35 shots but how ruthlessly he was tested by those shots is up for debate. You could argue it goes to Chris Jones or Max Birbrear for the quality of their goals but this was a good all round performance by the Wildcats. They came in with a strategy, got a good early lead then adapted around it. They were fortunate; I don’t think the second Wildcats goal should have counted given that Vanya Antonov was rugby tackled to the ice in the build up but that’s hockey and those bounces go your way one day and don’t the next. The Wildcats go up the ice, get the bounce and it’s 2-0 on the powerplay to them rather than being 1-0 and at even strength.

Are Swindon the best team we’ve seen so far? I personally think Telford’s performance here was better but it’s no doubt that Swindon are firmly in the frame for the NIHL 1 South title. However this was the cup where the Herd haven’t been great. The league is a different animal.

What Swindon are however is incredibly cohesive. It’s a deep roster, even without the injured Toms Rutkis and the age old jokes about Swindon overplaying their top line despite having loads of players is at an end. The imports are used well, there’s good scoring depth across the lines. In our pre-season preview of Swindon, I said that if the Wildcats don’t win a trophy this season then it will be an abject failure. I think that even more so now.

Lowlight of the night: The entire first period

Highlight of the night: This might turn a few heads but the continued decent performances of Ryan Sutton. He’s not setting the world alight but he’s being asked to do a job and he’s doing it with minimal fuss or issue.

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One Comment on “Running with the Herd – Bison vs Swindon Wildcats 11/11/17”

  1. Mike says:

    Thanks for the report. Glad I gave this game a miss! Afraid you may need to use the line re needing depth for another week at least.


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