A packed Basingstoke Arena prepared to see in the New Year on the ice as the Paul Baldwin Agencies Basingstoke Bison welcomed the Peterborough Phantoms back. Over the Christmas / New Year period the Bison had completed a perfect six point sweep to secure themselves solo possession of the top spot in the league table meaning this battle was huge in starting off the New Year.
Bison’s injury woes continued as Symonds, Rounding, Karpov and Hiadlovsky all continued to miss out with Joe Rand back in the line up replacing Doug Sheppard who’d covered for Karpov the previous weekend.
Matt Thompson took charge of the game and called the players together just after 6.30 to get the game underway. As expected both teams were quick and sharp in the opening exchanges. Ales Padelek attempted an opener but with Joe Greener in hot pursuit the Phantoms sharp shooter fired wide. Bison were gifted a chance to get on the board early as Janis Auzins left his net to retrieve a puck which bounced away from him and fell for Rene Jarolin but with the forward looking a bit surprised to receive the puck his shot went just wide.
Powerplay time followed as Jason Buckman received a holding penalty at 2.21 but a good penalty kill saw the man advantage end safely for the visitors who went on to take another penalty at 4.55 when Robert Ferrara took an interference minor.
Bison generated some good chances with Ferrara sitting out, Ciaran Long fired from the point which went just outside the posts, Ryan Watt and Joe Rand both tested Auzins as well but the shot-stopper kept the sheet clean as the Phantoms returned to full strength.
Neither team gave an inch as the first period ticked on but then Craig Scott rounded Stuart Mogg with ease but was greeted by the stonewall of Jon Baston who dealt with his effort with what was made to look like relative ease. Milan Baranyk was next to test Baston but he was met with a brilliant pad save as the left leg of Baston swatted away the shot.
With the league’s two top teams on the same ice it was inevitable stalemate would be broken and at 14.00 Joe Rand did just that. Alan Lack battled to get the puck free from the corner and layed off an excellent feed to Rand who was left plenty of space and time in front of Auzins and took full advantage of both, out-waiting the goaltender to slot home the perfect opener and bring the sizable home support to their collective feet.
Alan Lack was back in the action again when he fed Joe Greener soon after but Auzins had that one covered however couldn’t repeat that feat at 16.19 when Ryan Watt doubled the advantage for the Bison. Rene Jarolin carried the puck into the zone and fed Ryan Watt on the right wing who delivered a pin point accurate shot to send the puck high into the top of the goal before Auzins had even reacted.
Watt attempted to double his personal tally as he raced to the net, dragged the puck around and held on to it to let go but Auzins was equal and Watt couldn’t get a second attempt to stuff it home.
The first buzzer sounded at 20.00 with the Bison firmly in the ascendancy. Despite giving away two penalties it wasn’t the powerplay that hurt the Phantoms as both the Bison goals came from even strength. After a pretty level period with Bison just edging it was the fantastic quick pad save from Baston to deny Baranyk which motivated the home team on and once Joe Rand broke the deadlock Bison took an advantage, nailed home by a superb finish from Ryan Watt to make it comfortably 2-0.
Bison would have returned to the ice the happier of the two teams to start the second but both would be fully aware the game was far from decided.
Ales Padelek took the first chance of the middle period but found Baston equally as resolute as he’d been in the opening period. Soon after it was Bison’s turn to kill their first penalty of the game as Declan Balmer picked up a cross checking penalty clearing the net in front of Baston. About the closest Phantoms came to scoring was a shot from the blue line but as Baston made the save Balmer returned to the ice.
A spell of 4 on 4 followed when Lack and Levers collided followed rapidly by Joe Rand tripped by Greg Pick. It was even strength though as Lack picked up a charging penalty to go with the obvious trip.
At 4 on 4 Bison made use of the open space as Jarolin fed Vantroba who couldn’t quite beat Auzins and soon after Cam McGiffin denied Shaun Thompson on what looked to be a fantastic opportunity.
After a one timer from Ryan Watt sailed just over the net the Phantoms set about building some good pressure of their own but the quick moving Baston denied all they could throw at him. He moved from side to side in the net with lightning speed, his legs taking away the lower area and his hands speedily reacting to anything coming in high on either side.
Buckman was back in the penalty box with a delay of the game as his clearance went over the glass and into the stands putting Basingstoke back on the powerplay. The best chance on this powerplay would come for Darius Pliskauskas shorthanded as Baranyk took the puck from Balmer and fed Pliskauskas but he failed to trouble the netminder with his shot going wide of the target.
A great combination of goaltending and defence followed as a Baston save was followed quickly by Miroslav Vantroba taking the rebound straight off the Phantoms stick but this couldn’t end the pressure the visitors were building. As Ciaran Long broke the spell of pressure he got a back hand shot off which went wide but this did send Buckman back to the penalty box with a tripping call and put the Bison back with the man advantage.
It was Ciaran Long who would do the majority of testing on the powerplay but Auzins stood in the way denied two huge shots in particular.
The second buzzer was to sound at 40.00 ending a fantastic period of hockey even if it had gone by scoreless. Both teams had been at the top of their games for spells, but had created and maintained pressure but no matter neither had managed to break the middle period shutout and 2-0 remained the score at the second interval.
Powerplay was again the order of the day early on in the final period as Greg Pick served a holding penalty from 41.43.
For a moment Phantoms believed they scored shorthanded as fantastic Baston saved saw him fall backwards. Phantoms believed he’d fallen across the line with the puck but Matt Thompson confirmed that not to be the case and Bison retained their clear two goal margin.
The killer blow came from Joe Rand at 45.00 when he made it 3-0. Joe Greener’s shot was saved by Janis Auzins but Rand had got himself in close and fed the rebound in the back door and once again the home support stood to cheer a goal.
The third goal spurred on the home team who put chances together in succession. Lack set up Greener but Auzins had the stop, Connolly sped in immediately after but that attempt went wide. The Phantoms refused to give up however and Ferrara set Pick up but his shot ended firmly in Baston’s glove as he continue to show stops from almost every angle. Baranyk was hoping to make it 3-1 but his shot ended up powerless as Balmer got his stick in the way to remove all the power from the shot and leaving Baston one of the easier shots he made all evening.
Joe Rand almost had his own hatrick but in a frenetic phase of play Auzins scrambled to get the puck which was sitting almost on the line before Alan Lack could bundle it over the line.
The final 5 minutes came round and the atmosphere in the building started building towards celebrating a win. Phantoms however still intended to ruin the New Year party as Pliskauskas set up Levers but Baston flashed the pad and another shot was stopped. Padelek was next to trouble the goalie but his effort was dealt with via the blocker and the shutout remained on.
Peterborough continued to press hard but with the home support now clapping the theme to The Great Escape the 120 seconds left on the clock ticked down with Bison clearing up any Phantoms pressure and as the final buzzer sounded Jon Baston celebrated his 4th shut-out in 9 starts for the Bison.
A team performance won the game for the Bison. Joe Rand, who retired not 2 months back, has stepped up to do a fine job of covering for the injured Tomas Karpov and bagged two of the goals last night. Ryan Watt’s goal is a highlight reel goal and is worth watching Bison TV for on it’s own!
The Bison defence were good, quick and positive in their support of Jon Baston. In just 9 games Baston has formed an excellent understanding with his defence, they know what he’ll do and he knows what they’ll do.
In net Baston reminds me a bit of Dominik Hasek. He’s not a conventional, methodical goalie. He’s a fast mover, he gets to a good position but reacts well and quickly. An excellent video by Bison TV shows how fast he moves and how in one single play he denied 3 or 4 rebounds. Most netminders will make a save and deal with 1, maybe 2 rebounds but Baston single handed dealt with numerous rebounds and then the defence cleared the puck.
On the ice the Bison show their strength in depth. Tomas Karpov is a critical cog in the wheel but both Rand and Doug Sheppard have done admirably in filling his skates while he’s injured. The British players stand up for counting and aren’t afraid to share the glory. Each takes the spotlight from time to time and none are afraid for it not to be their night. They know in Doug Sheppard they have a coach who knows his team and doesn’t expect human beings to perform to the same robotic faultless standard every day. Humans make occasional mistakes and Shep knows that but knows that the core of players he has will see each player’s good days massively outweigh their bad days.
While Baston was superb all through the night it was also an off night for the Phantoms forwards. Darius Pliskauskas has some of the best wrists in the league, Ales Padelek is a goal scorer but they were shut down and held scoreless. Following a pre-Christmas surge by the Phantoms they’ve found a drought since. Worrying for Slava Koulikov losing streaks can become hard to break so he’ll want to break the Phantoms run sooner than later.