January on home ice concluded for the Paul Baldwin Agencies Basingstoke Bison with the final visit of the regular season of the Bracknell Bees in the M3 derby.
The regular absentees were still missing for the Bison however Joe Baird returned from injury. The Bees iced just one import for the game with Jan Bendik being the only non EIHA trained player representing the visitors.
The opening few minutes were like one way traffic. 55 seconds into the game Rene Jarolin found himself denied just in front of the net and at 1.30 Kurt Reynolds tested Mettam with a blast away from a good centring feed. Soon after Tomas Karpov carried the puck into the zone and fed Ciaran Long but neither Long, nor Lack powering in looking for the rebound managed to break the goal line.
There was a hint of trouble for the visitors when Jan Bendik hobbled off coming up to 3 minutes and this did little to stop the momentum for the home team. Long and Lack combined only to be denied and then came a couple of chances from the back as Miroslav Vantroba sent in a shot which was deflected and then a second in soon after which whistled just wide of the net.
At 8.39 the goal light lit when Rene Jarolin finished off some great team work. Daniel Lackey and Stuart Mogg did the work to get the puck into the zone and fed Rene Jarolin in the slot and the Bison import beat Alex Mettam for 1-0.
The half way turnaround of the first period didn’t see any turn around in the momentum as Matt Towalski positioned himself just outside the crease and tried to jar home a chance. Just as the 11th minute started Aaron Connolly just failed to score through the back door as Mettam was positioned on the right side of his net Connolly waited at the left side for the pass. As the puck edged past the outside of the post Connolly chased behind the net, followed by Josh Tetlow who checked the Bison forward and Connolly ended up colliding head first with the boards. Referee Dean Smith soon blew his whistle but it turned out to be because the player was down as no call was made on the play.
At 11.50 Jon Baston saved his second shot of the period, the first had been a speculative dump in earlier in the period but this time Baston was sharp to deny the first real scoring chance the Bees had generated for themselves.
Less than a minute later Ciaran Long went coast to coast but his shot was high. Soon after a couple of close chances followed for Rene Jarolin but after Alex Mettam had frozen the puck and stopped play Josh Tetlow seemed to be wanting to tangle with Jarolin, the Bison forward uninterested in wasting his time.
Bison pressure continued as a neat drop pass from Joe Greener set up another chance and then the pressure told when Carl Graham picked up an interference penalty taking down Ciaran Long, bundling him into the crease.
It took just 15 seconds for the powerplay to be converted as the Bison won the face-off, controlled the puck and fed it back to Declan Balmer at the blueline. He let lose a slapshot and Shaun Thompson deflected it down and into the lower area of the net for 2-0.
Bison offered a powerplay chance to their visitors at 17.10 when they picked up a too many men penalty, caught on the change in their own zone. Bees did manage to put together two quick chances but Jon Baston dealt with shots 4 and 5 well and the first period went on to end 2-0.
While the Bison had enjoyed a distinct advantage over their opponents through the opening period the sheer lack of actual on ice skill from the visitors meant the Bison performance that had got them to the top of the league wasn’t needed. The Bees were full of grit and determination but player exit after exit through the season and the fact only one import, who hadn’t looked fully fit, was icing meant the first period was comfortably won by the Bison in 1st gear.
Period 2 started with a glimmer of hope for the Bees when they managed to gain the attacking zone and set up some pressure. Their hopes were increased when Joe Baird picked up an interference penalty just inside his team’s defensive zone at 23.01. Despite the Bees powerplay the biggest chance game when a turnover gifted Shaun Thompson the chance to breakaway with Matt Foord in pursuit but the Bees player ended his team’s powerplay by setting up 4 on 4 thanks to his hooking penalty 38 seconds in.
Stuart Mogg nearly had the Bison third goal but his deflection of a Kurt Reynolds feed was saved. With a short powerplay when Joe Baird returned to the ice Ciaran Long found himself saved and the Bison man advantage ended.
Bison were back on the powerplay at 28.49 when Josh Tetlow picked up an elbowing penalty but no harm was done as Bison failed to convert. Uncharacteristically, while Jon Baston was rarely troubled in the Bison net Alex Mettam wasn’t as busy as he could have been at the other end either. Bees played a stodgy blocking game trying as hard as possible to disrupt the Bison game plan.
As the period ticked down Matt Towalski was away on a breakaway but the outlet pass was just too far ahead of him meaning he had to over-skate the shooting opportunity before he could get the puck under control. As the Bison continued to work hard in the Bees defensive zone Jan Bedik was a little unlucky to pick up a tripping penalty at 35.53 meaning another chance for Bison to ice the special teams.
The highlight of the two minutes was a superb save from Mettam denying Alan Lack but the Bison weren’t interrupted in their possession of the puck during the advantage and Mettam was kept busy all through Bendik’s enforced absence from the ice.
The second period ended with Daniel Lackey unlucky to score via a fine shot but a scoreless middle period left Bison two clear at the second interval.
The opening minute of the third period was all Bison as the line of Long, Greener and Jarolin dominate the depleted Bees. Ciaran Long looked nailed to make it 3-0 in the 41st minute but Thomas Relf got his stick in the way as the puck floated through the crease denying Long the chance he was positioned for.
Jon Baston made back to back good saves at the other end of the ice, the second from Matt Foord as he only just beat the chasing defenders to his shooting position on a breakaway.
Tomas Karpov then stepped forward to produce some excellent work in the 44th and 45th minutes but the Bison were lacking the finishing to make it a cricket score. A Jon Baston save from a deflected Bees shot was quickly followed by more Bison offence as Joe Greener and Ciaran Long both took chances. Stuart Mogg was denied from the blue line before Matt Towalski was struck by the puck and immediately left the ice for treatment.
Ciaran Long picked up a slashing penalty with 10.15 left to play but despite being shorthanded Bison continued to dominate their opponents. It was 4 on 4 for the second time in the game when Matt Foord took an interference penalty but Bees were to finally break their deadlock 9 seconds after the return to full strength when Scott Spearing finished a neat pass from James Galazzi to make it 2-1.
In truth, with 7.01 left to play, it could have been much more than 2 to 1 but it’s just not Doug Sheppard’s style to run up the score against any team, let alone one who has been ravaged by player exits over the season.
Now, with a closer scoreline, Bison stepped up a gear and the Bees were left struggling as the game drew closer to it’s conclusion. Rene Jarolin’s shot almost found a way through but somehow Alex Mettam got enough of it to make the save although he did look around nervously to make sure! A huge shot in the 56th minute saw the puck deflect up and out of play but eventually, with 2 minutes left to play, what had looked inevitable since the Bees goal happened and Bison made it 3-1.
As Bees looked to clear their zone Shaun Thompson intercepted the clearance just inside the blue line and it was Tomas Karpov who cut in front of the net with the puck and backhanded it into the goal for 3-1.
Bees called their time-out and soon after the re-start Alex Mettam headed to the bench. Tomas Karpov came into the zone with the puck but Jan Bendik got his stick in the way to deny the Bison 4th and he hosts settled for a non-taxing 3-1 win.
I’ve never been an ice hockey coach, I’m not sure therefore how you’d approach a game such as this. You know you’re opponents have lost pretty much all their top end talent and you’re also aware that they are down to one import who looked to be a bit from full fitness. Twice in the game he left the ice visibly unhappy. The obvious answer is to go all out and run the score up but what does that achieve. It does nothing really to test the superior team and it does absolutely nothing for the morale of those remaining with the lesser team.
Bison put in a performance that did enough to get them the win. They dominated the game and probably could have scored more than they did. They earned the win solidly, it wasn’t an all out demolition but it was a solid performance to earn the two points. When the Bees did pull back a goal and bring the game close Bison stepped up a gear and showed by totally dominating the closing 7 minutes of the game what they were capable of.
It’s a sorry time for the Bees right now on the ice. With the signing deadline approaching they are a team in desperate need of players but they’ve done the sensible thing and worried about the business first. Bakrlik departed before Christmas an Kostourek left after Christmas leaving an unfit Smital and Bendik. Top end Brits also left the club meaning a promising team at the start of the season has ended up a team that most top end NIHL1 teams would fancy their chances against on a regular basis.
Following the game last night it was notable that Lukas Smital shook hands with the players offering his left hand, keeping his right hand protected in his pocket. Could it be we’ve seen the end of his playing career? If there is to be a Bees team next season and Smital intends to carry on then the sensible thing to do would be see out this season off the ice and return to full fitness for next season. There’s little left for the Bees this season with the cup and league gone and qualification for the play-offs out of reach too so is it worth rushing back from what appears to still be a troublesome injury?
Last Wednesday Bison couldn’t do enough on Spectrum ice to progress to the cup final, ending their chances of completing the treble but what it does do is allow the league leader to concentrate on the league. Play-offs are a shoot-out lottery with just 4 games over two weekends but the league finds out who’s best over 54 games and that’s now the focus for the Bison.
Games like the Bees game allow two points to be earned easily while keeping something in the tank for the second game of the weekend.