It was another busy night at the Basingstoke Arena as the Peterborough Phantoms visited the Paul Baldwin Agencies Basingstoke Bison.
It wasn’t all good news for the Herd as Ryan Watt joined the list of scratches from the team list meaning some shuffling of the lines was needed from Coach Doug Sheppard.
Dave Cloutman was the man in charge of the game and at just after 6.30 dropped the puck at centre ice. Bison won the draw and immediately set about testing Auzins in the Phantoms net. 15 seconds in he was tested for the first time and the Bison pressure didn’t relent. 14 seconds later Bison had opened their account. As they continued to pressure in the zone Aaron Connolly worked hard on the back boards to feed Stuart Mogg in the slot and the Bison defenceman fired one in low for 1-0 at 0.29.
Even after the centre ice face off Bison were back at the Phantoms net and Bison sticks desperately looked to get the touch on it for 2-0 but eventually Janis Auzins managed to cover up.
Jon Baston had had a lonely start in the Bison net but at 2.33 Milan Baranyk and Craig Scott broke down the ice but Scott’s shot was deflected high and out of play. Soon after Darius Pliskauskas would get a stick on a Ciaran Long one timer robbing it of virtually all it’s energy.
At 6.40 Bison went to the powerplay when Baranyk ended up with a boarding call after a nasty looking hit on Rene Jarolin. Jarolin eventually left the ice on his own feet and would return after having his bloody nose cleaned up. Bison failed to capitalise on the man advantage and after the return to full strength the visitors would build pressure around the home team net but Jon Baston was up to the challenge and a glove save ended the play. Cam McGiffin would try his luck next through traffic but a pad save from Baston dealt with that effort.
While Bison had without doubt enjoyed the balance of play in the opening minutes the Phantoms were now having their chance but the Bison soaked up the pressure. Bebris fired wide and then Baranyk managed the same. Jason Buckman’s shot was straight at Declan Balmer who stopped the shot from getting to Baston.
While Tomas Karpov, Alan Lack and Dan Lackey troubled the defence there was no way past Auzins before Baston tracked an Ales Padelek shot through traffic. 27 seconds later Alan Lack was in front of the net pressuring for a chance to bury a rebound from the Stuart Mogg shot.
The first period had been a great period of hockey, two top teams going head to head but despite the early goal there was just that one in the period and the 20 minute buzzer sounded with the score at 1-0.
An early second period chance for Tomas Karpov was denied by Janis Auzins and then Phantoms turned it around and equalised the game. The Phantoms came down into the Bison end at speed, Lloyd Gibson managed the first shot which Baston was equal to, then in a scrum of action in front of the goal the puck came loose and Darius Pliskauskas managed to find a path for it under the Bison goaltender for the equaliser.
At 1-1 there was a step up from the Bison with Alan Lack sandwiching his chance in between some excellent work from Aaron Connolly. The Bison Captain sped towards Auzins before firing agonisingly wide of the net, then it was Lack who saw his shot deflected out of play and then back to Connolly who this time was the provider as he allowed Ciaran Long to shoot but his shot took a deflection over the net.
James Ferrara was soon sent away to serve an interference call at 24.41 and the Bison would make this advantage count. Ciaran Long was denied on the first chance of the powerplay with a kick save and then as the Bison continued to work the puck in the zone rewards came as Aaron Connolly made it 2-1. Joe Greener and Rene Jarolin provided the helpers as Jarolin fired the puck in front for Connolly to deflect into the net.
It was just under a minute later that the Phantoms found themselves with their first powerplay when Shaun Thompson was called for hooking during in attacking move. It took Phantoms a little while to get their powerplay unit together and their best chance was blocked by a diving Tomas Karpov and soon after the home team were back to full strength.
Tit for tat followed next as Rene Jarolin carried the puck and waited and waited but his move was eventually denied by an Auzins poke save, at the other end Jon Baston had to be equally as sharp as Darius Pliskauskas shot through traffic but Baston was sharp and held on.
Bison almost had a carbon copy of goal 2 as Greener fed Jarolin who fed Connolly but Auzins had the save ready. Greener would go on to test the Phantoms goaltender himself shooting through traffic but another save from Auzins dealt with that chance.
At 35.11 Phantoms equalised again for 2-2. Bison seemed unhappy with the goal but Dave Cloutman was perfectly positioned and watching on and adjudged Weldon’s goal to be fair. From behind it was virtually impossible to see how it went in but all that mattered in the eyes of the officials was it did go in and Phantoms were once again level.
With 40 seconds left in the middle period Robert Ferarra took a holding penalty but Phantoms troubles were compounded when Craig Scott decided he would question the call and ended up with a 10 minute misconduct for his troubles.
Peterborough killed off the 40 seconds of powerplay that played out in period 2 and the second period ended with the teams locked at 2-2. The opening 40 minutes had produced some great hockey, Bison edging the first period, Phantoms fighting back in the second period and an enthralling third period ahead.
Period three started with 1.20 remaining on the Bison powerplay but Phantoms killed it off efficiently, Robert Ferrara returned to the ice and Craig Scott remained serving the 8 minutes left on his misconduct.
Phantoms had a good start to the period, playing high intensity hockey but when Bison came back down towards Janis Auzins he appeared to believe the puck had struck his helmet but no stoppage had come.
Defensively Bison had to be strong and soak up Phantoms pressure but then came a couple of Bison chances, firstly Rene Jarolin forcing a save from Auzins with the rebound ending just out of reach of Joe Greener. Tomas Karpov set up Declan Balmer who fired on net but nobody was in front for a deflection and an easy save was completed in between the Phantoms’ pipes.
Edgars Bebris brought about a save from Jon Baston which saw the whistle blow and Craig Scott return to the ice following the end of his misconduct.
Ciaran Long made a solo run towards the Phantoms net just inside the second half of the period but lost possession as the Phantoms defence pressured him. Tomas Karpov sent a shot in a couple of minutes later with Lack in waiting for a chance to deflect but Auzins had the puck covered.
With 5 minutes to go Jon Baston pulled off a huge save but at the same time Declan Balmer picked up at slashing penalty meaning Phantoms would get a powerplay opportunity with 5 minutes left to play.
Bison initially killed the penalty well but Phantoms were intent on making the man advantage count and kept on coming. At 56.26 their hard work paid off when Darius Pliskauskas and Ales Padelek set up Tom Norton to move in and fire the puck into the back of the net.
Straight after the goal Slava Koulikov took the Phantoms time-out and immediately the change in tactic was obvious. Phantoms lined up bodies in an attempt to trap the Bison but when they did get through they found Auzins unbeatable. Joe Greener saw his attempt saved and Rene Jarolin couldn’t quite get the rebound on target. Bison continued to apply pressure and with a tip going just wide the visitors took the opportunity to ice the puck for a line change. With the whistle blown, and an impending face-off to the right of the Phantoms goal Doug Sheppard called his team’s time-out with 1.13 left.
Jon Baston remained on the bench following the re-start but the Phantoms were buoyed by their lead and Bison spent a great deal of the remaining time defending their own zone. The clock counted down and Phantoms sealed the lid on their road win.
Bison came stampeding off the starting block with speed and energy and while Mogg’s opening goal didn’t come about from the best shot he’ll ever release it did give the home team the jump early on. 1-0 after 29 seconds is a good positive start and puts the opponents on the back foot. From then on the Phantoms came into the game, they expanded their defence and took away the space that the Bison thrive on. Phantoms bodies blocked shots but learned from the mistake of screening Auzins early on leading to Mogg’s goal.
Ryan Watt’s absence also led to a reshuffling of the forward lines. Watt’s a versatile player, he’s physical, he’s skilled and he can create space for others to play in as well as for himself. His absence saw Tomas Karpov lined predominantly with Alan Lack and Daniel Lackey and saw Ciaran Long lined with Matt Towalski and Shaun Thompson. The Greener, Jarolin and Connolly line has been in good form of recent so wasn’t changed.
Maybe Ciaran Long could have swapped with Alan Lack to spark the two lines? Lack is a grinder, Long can play a physical game but is a speedy and skilled player who can read Karpov well as can Karpov of Long. I can, however, see the benefits of splitting the offence across all the lines in the absence of Ryan Watt.
This one could be chalked up as a frustrating loss. 1-0 after 29 seconds you’d hope the game would go well from then on but Bison found many attempts frustrated by a hungry team. Slava Koulikov on the bench would have kept his team calm and focussed. A game plan would have been discussed before the warm up and his team are disciplined and stick to the game plan. It’s that ethos that won them the play-offs last season and that’s transformed the Phantoms from lower mid-table to contenders.
The biggest talking point of the game would have been the Phantoms second goal, the one scored by Will Weldon. From my view I didn’t see how the puck went in but players were questioning the legality of Weldon’s equipment with his helmet coming lose at some time during the play. The comforting thing is that you often hear people calling for the best referees in the league and in charge of this one was one of the best referees to have worn the stripes in this country. If he said the goal was legal then that’s because the goal was legal.
It’s a game that the Bison would have hoped to one but they had a cushion at the top of the league which meant they can regroup following the loss, learn the lessons of the loss and march on in search for securing the 2015/16 EPL title.