Running with the Herd – Bison vs Bracknell Bees 23/12/17

NIHL 1 South

Basingstoke Bison 6-4 Bracknell Bees

Karpov                          Bakrlik x2 (1pp)

Connolly x2 (1pp)         J. Ealey-Newman

Smith pp                       C. Thompson

Scott pp

Antonov

Working for the reward:

Recent history saw the Basingstoke Bison and the Bracknell Bees at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of results and expectation. The loss to history of the EPIHL has, arguably, seen Bracknell benefit more than some as the Bees were suddenly more competitive than they were before. This is a good thing for the Basingstoke Bison and this game shows that. In the EPL days, our nearest rivals rarely challenged us. They’re back to a bit of prominence now and that’s a good thing for both clubs. The atmosphere in this game was one befitting a local derby that these games between the two sides have lacked for a few years. Whilst the Bison made something of a meal of this encounter, I hope we can have a similar Christmas time fixture next year with the Bees that engenders such emotions again.

The Bison were good value for the win on the basis of the 60 minutes but the first ten minutes of the second period will have given Doug Sheppard some pause for thought. The Bison uncharacteristically switched off and defensive errors that have been few and far between crept into their game. The Bees second goal was an example of this as Stuart Mogg and Joe Baird, two players who have had excellent seasons on the blueline, seemed to have a combined wobble that left Dean Skinns all at sea and allowed Josh Ealey-Newman a simple tap in. The game overall was not one that Dean Skinns will be happy with as he will arguably want all of the goals back (4 goals on 17 shots makes for terrible reading) but the sizeable wobble by those in front of him meant that a side who were cruising at 2-0 were suddenly 3-2 down and then at 4-4 when they appeared to be moments away from putting the visitors away.

However the Bison also deserve credit for their response to their mistakes. Doug Sheppard isn’t a coach that shouts and rants but seems to give them all a look and they realise that they need to do something about the hole they dug themselves into. They did it away at Streatham and they managed it on this night.

Having already scored one very good goal, Aaron Connolly led from the front and his second was off of another superb move from the captain. Muscling his way into the centre of the ice, he managed to hold off two or three Bees players before sliding the puck through the 5 hole of Alex Mettam to give the Bison back the lead.

The other player who responded well was Roman Malinik. Directly off of the faceoff from Bakrlik’s goal that gave the Bees the lead, the Czech forward charged down the ice, drew the penalty and then quarterbacked the powerplay that allowed the Bison to draw level through Josh Smith before setting Connolly away for his goal.

The combination of Smith, Vanya Antonov and Tomas Karpov caused problems all night and helped put the game to bed on the powerplay where Dan Scott scored and then combined to put the game to bed on Antonov’s goal. Karpov’s late misconduct penalty caused some confusion, appearing to get it for directing Scott Spearing to the scoreboard after the Bees’ player/coach had crosschecked the Bison import in the aftermath of the goal.

Elsewhere, the good form of Ryan Sutton continued and Hallam Wilson always seems to look that one step away from really lighting up the scoreboard. Whilst the defence did have its wobble, Dan Scott’s shot for what turned out to be the game winner was a lovely strike.

Teams having wobbles in games happens but the Herd need to be vigilant because they see the sort of hole they can end up in if they do switch off. Where they are fortunate is that they have the talent within the roster to pull themselves out of that hole.

The Herd have hit Christmas and are top of the league table and in the semi-finals of one of the cup competitions. Whilst the season has had some up and down elements, the Bison are clearly not looking to fade away as 2018 approaches.

A word on our opponents:

On reflection, the Bracknell Bees made more of a game of this then I think I’d given them credit for in the moment. You don’t score four goals by magic and Scott Spearing deserves credit for getting this team to play for him and play a style, that whilst it has an edge to it, is certainly direct. Yes, the Bees major offensive strategy appeared to be “give the puck to Frankie Bakrlik and wait for him to do something amazing”, there’s something to be said for the supporting cast as well.

Without Shaun Thompson in the line up others needed to step up. Carl Thompson, Tom Avery, Callum Best and Josh Martin put themselves about with ferocity and intensity. People made things happen. The Bison made mistakes and the Bees capitalised on them. When the puck was in the air near the net and the Bison defence were flat footed, Carl Thompson wasn’t.

I think the issue for the Bees was that where they were solid, they needed someone alongside Bakrlik. He scored twice, two good goals but without Shaun Thompson and Alex Barker uncharacteristically quiet there was that extra inch that the Bees needed in the death that they just didn’t have. I wonder if in this new structure if the Bees aren’t one or two players away from a title winning side. Whether they manage to add those players before the deadline and make a rush to the title or the playoffs remains to be seen but for all the jokes we make about Scott Spearing the player, Scott Spearing the coach appears to have a bit of nous for how to coach at this level.

Lowlight of the night: Bees 2nd goal, avoidable on all levels

Highlight of the night: Connolly’s first goal was pretty, really pretty

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