With the temperatures plummeting outside the Paul Baldwin Agencies Bison took to home ice to take on the Lightning. It’s a battle of two Planet Ice Teams, two contending teams and a netminding battle of Tomas Hiadlovsky taking on the goaltender who could possibly have been his number two this season.
Despite Alex Symonds still missing from the line-up the Bison got a huge boost with the return of Grant Rounding. His contribution to the line up over the season can’t be underestimated and with recovery now complete he returns to the line-up to get match fit and from now on, every game he plays his impact will grow greater and greater.
Lightning were missing defenceman David Clemments and forward Jack Watkins with new import defenceman Martti Jarventie making his debut.
Tim Pickett was the man in charge with Andrej Korsaks and Andrew Cook on the lines. Starting goaltending jobs went to current Bison shot stopper Tomas Hiadlovsky in the home net and former Bison shot stopper Dean Skinns in the visitors’ net.
Ciaran Long was first to test the Lightning net and as Skinns made the save the new defenceman, Jarventie was keen to make his presence felt giving Joe Rand a shove in front of the goal. Joe Baird gave the Lightning the first powerplay of the game at 1.17 when he picked up a roughing penalty after a tangle with Jordan Cownie but a combination of MK failing to get going and Bison executing a good penalty kill saw the 2 minute advantage nullified.
Cownie and Sean Thompson then became entangled on the boards with Cownie intent on proving his physicality. A crowd quickly formed around the two but Tim Pickett had everything under control and the combination of penalties awarded to Grant McPherson, Cownie and Thompson saw the Bison start a 4 minute powerplay.
With a 2 minute powerplay it’s often easier to set up and get things done. You know you have just 120 seconds to get the job done but with a 4 minute powerplay you know you have 2 distinct opportunities and it’s often harder to get going. On some days a 4 minute powerplay is executed perfectly and 2 goals are scored, on others it’s killed perfectly and nothing happens.
Lightning came shorthanded at Hiadlovsky but the goaltender extended himself to cover as much space as possible and took away the chance before the net came free from its moorings. Powerplay chances then followed as a shot from Miroslav Vantroba was denied by Skinns despite a deflection on the way through. Ciaran Long was next to shoot, also denied by Skinns after a skilful play saw him evade 2 Lightning players before shooting. Aaron Connolly tried the 5 hole approach but Skinns was up to the challenge and the powerplay ended scoreless.
By the midway mark of the first period the game was still scoreless. The teams had laid down a physical foundation from which to build but neither had broken the other’s goal yet.
At 12.57 Jarvantie went for hooking and Bison were back on the powerplay. With just 2 minutes this time it was a quicker start to the man advantage. Joe Rand got the biggest chance of the powerplay when the Bison cycled the puck, feeding the Canadian but again Skinns was up to the save.
Back at full strength memories of Scott Spearing’s goal from the week before came flooding back when, under pressure from the returning Jarvantie, Hiadlovsky almost missed his pass but the Bison defence were quick to recover the situation.
There was more physicality as the first period wound down including a push and shove between Declan Balmer and Blaz Emersic but the first period ended 0-0. It was a scrappy period, bits of physical play but it was obvious neither team had hit their straps fully yet.
1.37 into the second period the scoring deadlock was broken. It was a good well taken goal. Lighting gained the zone on an odd man rush, Vantroba attempted to break the play but couldn’t and Blaz Emersic’s pass was perfect for a Cownie one timer.
The response from the Bison was clear to see. Straight off the whistle they were forcing into the Lightning zone but Joe Greener was just wide with his shot. Joe Rand then found a loose puck, quickly turned and fired but Skinns found luck on his side when the puck hit him and looped away to safety.
The equaliser came at 25.51 thanks to Ciaran Long, Kurt Reynolds and the goal scorer Joe Greener. Greener received the pass and sent it flashing over the glove of Skinns and high into the net.
The first goal was the flicking of the switch that set the game on to top level. The first period had lacked full intensity but at 1-1 the game was now on.
2.08 after the equalising goal Milton Keynes were back on the powerplay when Shaun Thompson went for a two minute tripping penalty. Lightning played the powerplay well but Bison were up to the penalty kill. Despite a load of traffic in front of Hiadlovsky he made a save and then another save when Jarventie shot from the point.
Milton Keynes were pressuring the Bison defence and goaltender when Tomas Karpov scored the Bison second. The Czech fought off impedance, gained his position, cutting across the front of the net before back handing the puck in for 2-1.
While the Bison celebrated their goal the Lightning bench was an altogether different scene. Peter Russell looked furious and immediately signalled to Jordan Marr to take to the ice. Dean Skinns was stood firm in his crease waiting for the resumption of play while Marr was getting himself ready on the bench. As Marr took to the ice with 2.08 left in the period a bemused looking Skinns begrudgingly left the ice and headed straight to the dressing room.
At the time Skinns was pulled from the Lightning net he had played 37.52, saving 19 of 21 shots for a save percentage of 90.48%. Some good saves were matched up with some lucky saves but with 22.08 left to play in the game he was off the ice and Marr was on. Statistically Skinns had been strong in the game so far but, as had been the case last season in Bison colours, despite being statistically strong Skinns can be frustrating. Joe Greener’s goal would have beaten a lot of goaltenders in the league but Tomas Karpov’s goal was arguable easier to save. The question was whether or not the change would come back to haunt them as the game went on.
The final 2.08 of period two saw little further drama and Bison were good for their 2-1 lead at the end of the middle frame.
Milton Keynes pressured hard in the opening minutes of the third period. Marko Luomala came close twice but Hiadlovsky was equal to the two good challenges. It was 3.18 into the period when Lightning pulled level however. Loumala found Leigh Jamieson who went on to power home the puck for 2-2.
Bison were on the powerplay at 45.57 when Blaz Emersic took down Tomas Karpov but the penalty kill was up to the Bison powerplay and it remained 2-2 at 47.57 when even strength returned.
In recent weeks there’s been a clear Bison dominance at home but for once it was level. Hiadlovsky was having to be on top form as Emersic and Cownie were both denied. Ciaran Long got an attempt at the other end but fired just wide but then action was back in the Bison defensive end where Shaun Thompson picked up a hooking penalty at 54.15.
Hiadlovsky came out to play a puck with Jamieson heading to the net but got caught way away from his net. Bison defence cleared away the threat as Shaun Thompson returned to the ice and another powerplay went unused.
Jordan Marr made a pressure save inside the final few seconds from Ciaran Long, the save saw a face off the left of the Lightning net but the visitors won the draw and kept the puck under control for the final few seconds and 2-2 was the final score of regulation time.
New for this season is 3 on 3 overtime, which is what was next to attempt to decide the result. With Hiadlovsky in net for the Bison it means all outskating imports are relegated to watching. The Lighting get to ice a single outskating import with a Brit in goal.
25 seconds into overtime a huge hit which took down Joe Greener saw Bison on the powerplay when Jarventie was called for boarding. With overtime being 3 on 3 it means that a powerplay adds a skater to the non offending team rather than removing a member of the offending team. The plan is that the powerplay is 4 on 3 and play returns to 3 on 3 at the first available opportunity. If the powerplay ends with a goal then resumption is at 3 on 3. If the powerplay expires without a goal then play will go to 4 on 4 until the next stoppage in play where 3 on 3 will resume.
The Bison failed to capitalise on the powerplay, and 4 on 3 lasted only a few seconds before a whistle blew and a skater left for both teams taking it back to 3 on 3.
With Lightning chasing the puck down into the zone, Hiadlovsky left the net to the right hand side to get the loose puck but in doing so lost his footing. The Bison were quick to clear the challenge but in doing so and releasing the pressure it meant a 2 minute powerplay as Joe Baird picked up a hooking call. At 4 on 3 Lightning failed to capitalise on the powerplay and the shoot out would be what decided the game.
Bison elected to shoot second meaning Tomas Hiadlovsky would face the first shot. Marko Luomala was sent out to shoot first and his attempt ended when Hiadlovsky poked the puck from his stick. Joe Rand would then be next to shoot for the home team, gathered the puck and moved purposefully to the net before slotting the puck home through the 5 hole.
Pressure then shifted to Cownie and Hiadlovsky. Cownie took the puck and approached from the left but the Bison shot stopper made the save look easy meaning Ciaran Long just had to score to end the competition. Long, the coolest penalty taker in the league, took the puck, advanced at a slower pace than Rand had but skilfully out manoeuvred Marr. He forced Marr into making the save before he’d made the shot then beat the save for a 2-0 clean sheet in the shoot out.
It was a game of two distinctly different parts. The first period was scrappy, neither team was at full tilt and it was stop and start. There was physical play but the absolute skill wasn’t fully turned on. It was quickly into the second period when Lightning scored first that the game kicked into gear and the teams hit full straps.
The pulling of Dean Skinns after 37.52 will no doubt be a talking point from the game. For Skinns, passed over for the Bison starters roll, coming out and starting in front of a fairly packed Bison arena will have been a challenge. To get hauled near the end of the second period with a 90+% save percentage seems harsh. However, as I mentioned earlier, Skinns has been known to ship frustrating goals much easier than those he’s already saved.
Then, fast forward to the end of the game and penalty shots. Hiadlovsky denied two Lightning shooters with little fuss, two Bison shooters scored past Marr with relative ease. Was Marr the goalie for penalty shots? Would the game have reached penalty shots if Skinns had remained in goal? Once the game went to penalty shots it would have been near impossible, and in fact wrong, to swap the goalies back. No doubt Skinns is the more experienced goalie, has the experience of penalty shots but by then Marr was the warmed up goalie, Skinns was cold and probably still licking his wounds from being pulled from the game earlier on.
I had fans of both sides say that Milton Keynes were the better side on the night but the fact remains the Bison took the two points. When it came to the crucial battles it was Bison who won them and that’s why the points went to the table toppers.
Joe Rand, playing in what would turn out to be his last Bison game, played a huge part in the win, scoring the first penalty shot. Rand has been an excellent servant for the Bison but full time work is taking a lot of his time now and it is for that reason that he won’t be a regular in the line up any further.
The win gave back solo possession of top spot in the table, although with a day off on Sunday it could be shared again by the time Bison next take to the ice.