A capacity crowd filled the Basingstoke Arena for party night as the Paul Baldwin Agencies Basingstoke Bison were to have the 2015/16 English Premier Ice Hockey League Champions presentations but first the matter of the final game of the season between the 1st and 3rd placed teams.
Bison were missing Alex Symonds through injury and the Captain, Aaron Connolly, was also absent following a horrendous injury the previous night. Both Ryan Watt and Joe Baird were listed on the gamesheet and skated out for the line up but neither took any part in the game. The Bison line up honoured Joe Greener, playing his final league game for the club with the team forming a guard of honour for #97 to skate out through. Flames rested Richard Ullberg, giving Gregg Rockman the start in net against Tomas Hiadlovsky who started his second game of the weekend.
Guildford Flames looked to get an early start both physically and offensively as Kevin Phillips laid a big hit on Joe Greener early on and then the visitors forced a sharp save from Tomas Hiadlovsky as a Mogg deflection nearly caused trouble. A passage of end to end tit for tat followed, Miroslav Vantroba ran solo to shoot but was denied by Rockman and almost immediately Janis Ozolins sped up the wing but his attempt was met by a Hiadlovsky pad save, kicking the puck away to safety.
The game’s first penalty wasn’t far away as Flames were caught with six players in the neutral zone, one of whom would then have to serve the too many men call at 4.56.
On the powerplay Tomas Karpov fed Stuart Mogg who shot high but Gregg Rockman made a glove save. Ozolins was trying to get a shorthanded chance but action from Vantroba ended that and Rene Jarolin would then test out Rockman, with the goaltender winning that encounter.
Not long after Flames returned to full strength Jez Lundin then put them shorthanded again as his clearance cleared the glass and left the ice meaning Flames would have another 2 minutes to kill off from 7.10
This powerplay went better for the home team as they gained the zone and worked the puck around, Mogg laying it off for Karpov who sent in a 5 hole shot for goal 1 at 7.47.
Flames Matt Towe looked to equalise quickly but his shot sailed wide of the net. Rockman was again called into action when Ciaran Long raced down but the Flames shot stopper was perfectly positioned to deal with his snapshot. Declan Balmer tried floating the puck on goal and a chasing Alan Lack picked up the puck as it went wide and rounded the back of the net looking for the wrap around but the pipe work came loose and the play was whistled to a stop.
Basingstoke gave Flames their first powerplay of the night at 10.30 when Matt Towalski picked up a holding penalty. The powerplay started well for the visitors but despite a couple of chances they ended the man advantage still scoreless. Flames were penalty killing again though soon after at 13.42 when Matij Kralj was caught holding on to Kurt Reynolds giving Stephen Matthews probably the easiest penalty call of the night.
At 5 on 4 Ciaran Long fired in a shot which Rockman saved, the rebound falling neatly for Joe Greener and the Flames goaltender was helped out by Sam Godfrey diving across the goal line to deny Greener’s rebound attempt. An advancing Tomas Karpov was stopped in his tracks and soon the Flames returned to full strength.
Flames fed Tom Duggan, waiting in the slot but he fanned on his shot and took a tumble. Soon after he was back at the net and this time took out the Bison goaltender but all that was forgotten at 18.25 when Bison doubled out their score. Karpov was the provider this time who put the puck on Shaun Thompson’s stick and his quick release beat Rockman.
The first period ended with Bison enjoying a 2-0 lead and comfortably dominating the offence.
Flames were almost on the board early in the second period when a curious deflection caught out Hiadlovsky but the puck ended up passing harmlessly outside the net. Players gathered in front of the benches as Kurt Reynolds was checked into the Bison bench by former Herd member Andy Melachrino. Feistiness continued early in the second period when Joe Greener and Jens Eriksson came together behind the play, the Bison picking up roughing and the Flame holding meaning a spell of 4 on 4 from 23.26
The extra space seemed to be suiting the home team as Karpov sped to the net forcing a Rockman save, then Reynolds shot was deflected by Thompson but the netminder’s glove stopped that chance. With 20 seconds left before 5 on 5 Flames pulled back a goal as Meyers set free Towe and a sweet move saw him beat Hiadlovsky 5 hole for 2-1 at 25.16.
It wasn’t long before the 2 goal margin was back though as Alan Lack made it 3-1 at 27.17. Lack first tipped a shot which Rockman saved then picked up the rebound and completed a wrap around.
Erikkson sent a shot wide of the Hiadlovsky’s left post before Flames gave away another powerplay chance when Ciaran Long was tripped on his way up the ice just past the half way mark.
With the powerplay in their favour Jarolin found Greener who found Thompson but he sent the shot wide. Balmer shot next but Rockman held on and then Balmer sent another shot in, this one getting a tip, but the Flames shot stopper was up to the task and made a diving save.
In an effort to stop Dan Lackey, Tom Duggan managed to slash the Bison man’s stick and this allowed another Bison powerplay to be easily awarded. A couple of saves by Rockman and one hitting the goaltender in the mask saw off the man advantage and Duggan returned.
Melachrino beat everyone but sent his shot wide then Kralj did the same, beating Hiadlovsky as well with a couple of minutes left in the period but the unmistakable sound of ringing ironwork filled the rink as the shot came flying back out off the post. Bison then gave Flames a powerplay when Declan Balmer was called for roughing at 39.27 and with the final 33 seconds of period 2 seeing no scoring Bison ended the period 3-1 up with Flames have 1.27 left of powerplay to use at the start of the third period.
The second period had seen much more intensity than the first but the home team were the ones in the driving seat at the second break meaning Guildford had to make the running through the third period to force the game.
Two quick chances came early on in the third, the first shorthanded for the Bison as Ciaran Long fed Joe Greener but the puck went wide then, with the powerplay, Flames worked hard to get the puck to Lee Esders but he failed to get anything on it.
Despite being a meaningless game in terms of points or positions it seemed both teams still wanted to win the fixture. Hiadlovsky extended a pad to make a save, Grant Rounding seized on the loose puck and broke free but Rockman made the save keeping the game 3-1. Play then stopped following a big hit from Kevin Phillips which saw Stuart Mogg stay down for a little while. With Mogg back up again more powerplay time followed soon after when Jez Lundin slashed Alan Lack at 44.19. The comedy moment of the night came about in the powerplay as Shaun Thompson took a tumble in the Flames defensive zone and struggled to regain his feet. It soon became apparent his blade had fallen out his skate and therefore he had just one foot to move on. In a sporting gesture Flames opened their bench door and extended their hands to help him off the ice for running repairs.
With Lundin back on the ice Kristofferson fed Kralj but the famous Hiadlovsky poke check sent the puck away to safety. Godfrey tried his luck next again the Bison net and then Eriksson also had a shot but Hiadlovsky had a save for each attempt.
The intensity of the second period had dwindled a little in the final period with both teams missing out on chances they’d like to have converted. Flames then got a 3 on 2 chance but between Towe and Kralj nobody seemed to take the responsibility of taking the shot so the Bison had time to clear away the threat.
With 3.36 left to play Bison were back on the powerplay again when Andy McKinney picked up a delay of the game call. Kralj and Campbell combined for a shorthanded chance but ended up firing wide and 24 seconds into the final 2 minutes McKinney returned. He dispossessed Mogg behind the Bison net and fed Towe out in front who shot wide. Esders would have the final shot of the game but Hiadlovsky was equal to it and the buzzer sounded ending a winning season and a winning game.
As the game ended Gregg Rockman collected the Flames Man of the Match award ahead of a presentation to Joe Greener then it was over to English Premier League Head Of Discipline Andy Worship to present the individual Bison players with their league winning medals before Captain Aaron Connolly was joined by Joe Greener to lift the 2015/16 English Premier Ice Hockey League trophy.
With the huge celebrations coming up after the game it would have been a bit of an anti-climax for the Bison to have lost their final home game of the season. But with so many players missing it wasn’t the full Bison squad so the win could have been much harder to come by. In truth though the Bison won the game with relative ease. It was nice to see Doug Sheppard again giving the younger members of the squad their fare share of ice time. Ryan Sutton in particular was given generous ice time, over the course of the season he’s come close to bagging his first EPL goal on a number of occasions and Sheppard offered him chances again yesterday. He’s given a good account of himself this season and his first EPL goal surely isn’t far away now.
During the presentations after the game the team spirit I’ve spoken off previously was plain to see. As each player stepped forward in order to claim their individual awards it was clear to see the rest of the team enjoyed each others’ success. The moment of the night came when Andy Worship offered the league trophy to the Captain Aaron Connolly who called forward Joe Greener to lift it with him. Connolly has been an inspired leader all season long, he’s played through pain and injury and given his all for the team. To have his season cut short on Saturday will be so disappointing for him but having suffered such a serious injury sitting out and recovering is his only option which will also allow extra time for his other injuries to heal up as well.
After the game Bison announced they had selected Manchester as their play-off opponents meaning an away then home weekend against the Phoenix for the chance to appear at Coventry in the final 4.