Pre-season continued as the Bison welcomed the Flames to their rink in a local derby. The second of a four game pre-season and the final home game of the pre-season saw the local rivalry renewed.
As it seems will be the norm it was Dan Weller-Evans who led out the Bison during the line up allowing Tomas Hiadlovsky to take to the ice last. The youngster made way when it came to the starting line up for the overseas goaltender. For the Flames the distinction is less clear as both Gregg Rockman and Stephen Wall are capable of being starting netminders but the job on the night was taken by Rockman.
The home team once again took the opportunity to blood some youngsters from within the juniors and Buffalo while also announcing the full time signing of Alan Lack. What went on to be impressive is that these young players inclusion wasn’t just a token gesture, they all played a full part in the game.
Within just 40 seconds Aaron Connolly was testing the Flames starting goaltender as a good passing game set the Bison captain free but Rockman came up big. Hiadlovsky was called upon at the other end soon after, the referee’s whistle blowing as the Erik Piatak shot took the goaltender on the facemask.
Guildford were to score first 189 seconds into the game following a short spell of Flames possession in the zone the Bison regained the puck but quickly lost control. Flames pounced on the error, Matt Towe fed a pass to Kevin Phillips who finished for 0-1 through the 5 hole.
It was at 4.56 when Bison pulled the game level. Following conceding the first goal the intensity stepped up almost straight away and the second goal the game saw was possibly one of the best. It wasn’t the finishing that was the best but the creation of the goal. A hustling JJ Pitchley forced the turnover from the Flames and set upon a run to the net snapping off a shot which Gregg Rockman dealt with but then a diving Alan Lack finished the move to make it 1-1.
From 1-1 it was the Flames who stepped up their intensity. They worked hard to nullify the energy of the Bison youngsters, they worked hard to try and gel their quality players into the team they should and most probably will become with more time together and McKinney felt he’d snuck the visitors back ahead but his shot entered the net after the whistle had been blown by Tim Pickett signifying the net being free from its moorings.
Flames “scored” again but this time the shot itself had come long after a linesman’s whistle had announced an offside play. Hiadlovsky once again had his mask tested soon after, this time from a Callum Best shot and it was the Flames in the ascendancy and the Bison fire fighting.
Things got little better for the home side when, at 14.07, Joe Baird took the game’s first penalty allowing the visitors the first powerplay. After some pretty impressive Flames powerplay Alan Lack set Ciaran Long off on a shorthanded chance but the Bison forward was denied by a good save from his former Slough team mate. It’s a move that both would have practiced together many times at Slough but on the night it was good execution from Rockman to deny the go ahead goal.
The first period ended 1-1.
The Flames would have been very happy with how they’d performed in the opening 20 minutes but the Bison would have been wondering what happened to the smooth opening start they’d had on Wednesday.
What happened in the dressing rooms in the interval will always remain in there but the two teams came out totally different to their first period showings.
It took just 15 seconds for Bison to take the lead. With the face off won Aaron Connolly set up Shaun Thompson with what looked an almost impossible angle but the returning Bison forward completed the play for the go ahead goal. That’s one to watch Bison TV for to see just quite how he managed the goal!
Two minutes later and the Bison scored the game winning goal, again a good display of skill from JJ Pitchley. Ciaran Long set the youngster on his way and after some slick skating he beat Rockman for 3-1.
Goals continued quickly, this one from the visitors to close the margin to 3-2. Paul Dixon managed to match his top line against the Bison fourth line and Matt Towe slotted home a close in chance to tighten up the game.
Two big saves followed from Tomas Hiadlovsky as he first denied Kristofferson then shortly after it was Krajl’s chance to be denied by the shot stopper.
Two more quick goals were next, both for the home team. Goal four for the Bison is one that could appear one a “what happened next” section of a quiz show as Ciaran Long looked for all money to be about to launch the puck when his stick snapped! The puck fell to Aaron Connolly who fired with no fuss and it’s 4-2 at 28.43
At 29.19 Tomas Karpov scored his first of the season as Ryan Watt set him off, Karpov journeyed behind the net before emerging in front and roofing the puck for 5-2.
With 41 seconds left in the second period and therefore 41 seconds left in the first half of the game the scoring was done which, if you knew there were no more goals, may lead you to believe you’re in for a boring second half but that would turn out far from the truth.
Hiadlovsky again proved his worth as the Bison defence parted to allowed Phillips a great chance for his second of the night but the goaltenders pad ended hopes almost before they’d begun.
The balance of the game had changed. Bison had a convincing lead, Flames knew they’d need to chase the game, Bison knew they didn’t have to force the game. There were chances at both ends before Best hauled down Rand to start a two minute tripping penalty and the Bison second powerplay of the night.
Danny Meyers found himself denied by a brilliant poke check save from Hiadlovsky and the goaltender’s next big save took down Piatak entirely innocently much to the displeasure of the travelling fans.
Early signs of Hiadlovsky are promising. He skates well, he puck handles well, he is good with his stick and fast with his glove and pads. In his two outings so far he looks like the complete goaltending package despite still being in the adjustment phase from EIHL to EPIHL.
With the second period closing out Ryan Watt believed he’d netted a backhander but with no confirmation from the referee the middle frame ended 4-1 in favour of the Bison for a 5-2 score line.
The objectives for period three were clear. Bison were to play sensible hockey, minimising risks while Flames were to fight back into the game. After Tim Pickett had started the third period Matt Towe forced Hiadlovsky into an early save. It was a great save but only that the goaltender’s reaction itself showed that good skill can also generate luck. He’d trapped the puck but looked around just to make sure.
Rockman’s shoulder denied Karpov his second but Lundin was then denied by Hiadlovsky. It was the same man who denied Piatak with a poke save after the burly Flames forward muscled his way through the Bison defence. Eriksson was next to try his luck but Hiadlovsky had the bottom of the net taken away and another save was complete.
Hiadlovsky was proving his worth as while Gregg Rockman faced just 5 shots in the final period the Bison shot stopper was charged with saving double. Add to that the fact his attacking style of play probably denied a few more scoring chances actually turning into shots under the strict definition of the count.
Flames went back to the powerplay after a big hit laid by Lack was called as holding and within a minute of the conclusion of a successful penalty kill it was time to put the shorthanded tactics back into play for Doug Sheppard as Joe Baird collecting a hooking penalty 39 seconds into the final 10 minutes.
For so early on in the season both teams special teams units looked impressive. Flames had some good powerplay moves while the Bison’s penalty killing was more than up to the job, backstopped by the confidence of Hiadlovsky in net.
With 5.06 left to play Ciaran Long was adjudged a check to the head match penalty for what looked like shoulder contact with McKinney but the powerplay was nullified by a match penalty to Danny Meyers for the Flames for roughing. As the Flames then appeared to have six skaters plus their goalie on the ice, and as Meyers hadn’t been a part of the preceding play it appeared he could have joined the melee from the bench, again I’m sure Bison TV will prove or disprove that thought.
There was one more powerplay chance for the Flames as Ralfs Circenis picked up a holding minor with 2.29 left to play but after another good penalty kill Bison closed out the final 29 seconds for the win. As the action ended down behind the Bison net Rupert Quiney and Declan Balmer came together. The two eventually separated and were sent to their dressing rooms, no penalties were recorded.
Man of the match awards went to Tom Duggan for the Flames and Stuart Mogg for the Bison. I have no quarrel with the Flames award but I’m not certain how Mogg collected the home team award as while had a solid game I had Hiadlovsky, Long and Connolly all ahead of him but for his goal and setting up Lack’s goal I would have had JJ Pitchley as the Man Of The Match.
It had been two good performances from the Bison, one to secure their lead and the second to protect it. It had been two performances by the Flames, one in the first and the latter part of the third and the other in the middle. Flames started well, they looked much better than early last season but then seemed to lose direction in the middle of the game. Bison scored for fun in the first half of the second and the Flames it seemed had no answer.
After Wednesday’s game I had heard and read people doubting Hiadlovsky’s inclusion in the team. I wrote on The Hockey Forum that an import goalie who has played at a higher level does need time to adjust his game to the speed and play of the EPL. He showed against the Flames that he pretty much has all the elements covered. He’s a puck handler which is something the team will take time to get used to but he’s also good between the pipes. He’s aggressive in that he’ll come out to play or smother pucks, he’ll poke check when he can but he’s rapid with the legs to take away the lower half of the net too.
It’s pre-season. There have been changes in the both lines ups and it takes time for those changes to bed in. As just mentioned the exchange of goalie for one so different in style to his predecessor is a huge transition for the Bison. Both teams lost hugely experienced leaders as Nick Chinn and David Longstaff both now play their hockey elsewhere leaving gaps in leadership, skill and experience. There’s been other inevitable changes through a closed season but all that considered, added in with the fact it was a pre-season challenge, the standard of the game was pretty high. Both teams were happy to mix it, both were happy to show skill and intensity.
What probably won it for the Bison was their energy. Flames have long been criticised for an apparent lack of opportunities for blooding youngsters into the team but Doug Sheppard has allowed youngsters to play full parts in both pre-season games so far. Those selected by Sheppard have proven themselves well acquitted in skill but also have proven they’re happy to play the game fully. They don’t shy away from contact, they’re happy to battle in the corners for loose pucks and they have the confidence of youth still on their side to go out there and give 100% without fear of failure. They know it’s not quite their time to shine yet but they know good performances which impress their future coach can accelerate time to where it will be their chances. Sheppard has a proven record of empowering and encouraging youngsters as players like Aaron Connolly and Zach Sullivan (now of Braehead) will attest to.
Pre-season for Basingstoke now continues on the road with Guildford and MK taking their turns to host the Bison.