Running with the Herd – Bison vs Swindon Wildcats 27/12/17

National Cup Group D

Basingstoke Bison 3-4 Swindon Wildcats after penalty shots

Smith x2                       Birbraer

Scott pp                        F. Taylor

                                     Nell

Penalty shots (Swindon shoot first):

Smith saved                Bebris goal

Antonov goal               Nell goal

                                    Kostal goal

That was a thing that we did:

Despite having been effectively done with the competition a while ago, the Bison’s National Cup campaign was mathematically done the night before with the loss in Swindon and finally completed here.

The Herd were without Tomas Karpov and Kurt Reynolds took the warm up but sat out the game. Certainly the loss of Karpov seemed to hurt the Bison as they seemed creatively mute at times. Certainly I think over the course of the entire 65 minutes that the Bison were second best on this evening. They were losing the board battles and the ones in open ice. They struggled at times to connect passes and just seemed to be confused as to their direction at times. Being as the game was a dead rubber anyway, I don’t think anyone was expecting a barnstormer but the whole affair was a bit flat from the Herd at times compared to the Wildcats who did still have something to play for.

However the Bison also deserve some credit for showing some of a trait that they arguably don’t get enough credit for which is their resiliency. When being outplayed, the Bison are very rarely blown away. To borrow something of a hockey cliché, they put on their hard hats and went to work. Struggling with the speed and of the Wildcats, they decided to try and grit it out. At 2-1 off of a soft goal that Dean Skinns won’t be happy with, the Bison could have capitulated. Instead they bored down and dug in. They made it into the third and thanks to some ill-disciplined choices from the visitors got themselves level before a lovely bit of Antonov skill set up Josh Smith for his second of the night.

The goal that sent the game to overtime was one of those moments that just happen in hockey. As Edgers Bebris was trying to feed a pass to Aaron Nell it deflected off of the stick of Roman Malinik. Nell took a swing and it hit the sweet spot and went in. If there’s no deflection then perhaps the pass doesn’t connect or the shot goes into the back netting or whatever. Those are the margins in which all sport operates.

As for the shootout, stood on the line as I was I don’t think the puck crossed the line. Wildcats’ social media manager Ben Callaghan was stood with me and says it was. You can make of that what you will but for me Skinns had the puck trapped on the line. Whilst we don’t like to point the finger at the officials on here too much, I also respect his knowledge of the rules and all he does for the sport but the giving of the goal, an act that influenced the outcome of the game, compounded a confusing performance from Mr Evans whose game management style continues to perplex me.

Paul Petts got man of the match for an industrious performance but I’m slightly confused how Josh Smith didn’t get it on the night. I don’t agree that the man of the match should always go to someone just for scoring but Smith was the most effective Bison player of the night along with Malinik and Smith took both of his goals very well.

The only other part of this that bares mentioning in my opinion is why, in a dead rubber cup game with an important league game against Peterborough on Saturday, did Dan Weller-Evans not start this game? Dean Skinns is the number 1 netminder, he made a number of good saves but for this writer it made little sense for him to see time in this game. Why risk your number one when you don’t have to and can give your backup some needed game time into the bargain?

The Bison’s chance at one trophy is officially done and their poor early season form made sure of that well before this. They still have a chance at two and two key players down they made a really good fist of this game. There are positives to take from this.

A word on our opponents:

I don’t think any of us can argue Swindon winning the game. The Wildcats were the better side over the duration. They looked better knowing that they had something to play for as 1 point meant they would win the group. That extra impetus on the game clearly made the difference for them.

The Wildcats will be cross that they let the Bison back into the game late on when they should have closed that out. Really, when they had the Bison on the back foot in the first they should have pressed on harder but didn’t and it cost them. However this Swindon side appear to have a real depth to them that previous Wildcats sides have not had. Whilst they got caught towards the end of the game, they play an entertaining and effective brand of hockey that I find attractive to watch. Their speed in transition alone is frightening to watch and the addition of Edgars Bebris will only aid this once he settles in.

Stephen Whitfield was solid but I also disagreed with the man of the match for the visitors. I’d have given the beers to Floyd Taylor who has come on very well since the last time I’d seen him. His goal was well taken and whilst this was a very good all round performance by the entire Wildcats roster on the night, for me there was Taylor who stood out by how much he had improved or Matt Smital who made some very good saves. Smital the younger is not the finished product yet but we’re starting to see the glimmers of the potential many felt he had that I think that didn’t see at Bracknell. There’s a confidence there that is growing.

Some Phantoms fans have said that they think that the title race in the league is a two horse race between the Bison and the Phantoms. Whilst the Cats are 8 points back of the Bison and 7 of the Phantoms, if Wildcats win the games they have against the two sides then they are very much in it. I don’t believe in jinxes or the like so me saying this doesn’t mean anything but the Wildcats have a league, National and Autumn Cup treble very much within their power. Do not write them off yet.

Lowlight of the night: How flat the game was. Dead rubbers are not fun.

Highlight of the night: Aside from the Swindon fans chanting for Dan Weller-Evans, Josh Smith’s second goal was really nice.

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