With a 100% home record to protect the Bison took to the ice to take on the Phoenix. As is always the way it seems Phoenix travel short benched early season and that would be their downfall in the game.
90 seconds into the game Stephen Fone got a taste of the pressure he was to be under all night as he was forced into a save right in front of his goal. At 2.17 he made another save, this one high as the Bison clicked into gear.
Play was interrupted while blood was removed from the ice following a huge charge from Mark Thomas that levelled Bison’s Shaun Thompson. With the player eventually returning to his feet the blood was removed and Thomas started his two minute minor penalty for charging.
The subsequent two minute man power advantage saw some good play from the home team. They made the most of the extra man, the cycled the puck well, the passing was crisp and accurate but, credit to the Phoenix penalty killers, they just denied the Bison the chance to complete the final two moves. They couldn’t get the man to the net and the puck to him at the same time so the penalty ended scoreless.
Some end to end hockey followed interrupted by a huge save from Thomas Hiadlovsky, positioning himself directly behind the incoming powerful shot and holding the puck to freeze play.
At 10.37 Bison came closest so far to opening the scoring following a period of pressure in the Phoenix end. The puck went from player to player before the shot came in which Fone saved while apparently knowing nothing of it. The loose puck sat behind him, in the blue paint of the goal crease and in a battle of sticks Bison players were denied the chance to complete the opening goal as it was finally a Phoenix stick that cleared the puck.
Buoyed on by the closeness Bison continued to pressure the Phoenix but then Joe Greener picked up a 2+10 for check to the head on a play back at the Bison defensive end. Given the leniency shown on the earlier Phoenix charging call Joe could justifiably feel a little hard done by with his 12 minutes of penalty time.
A clinical, efficient penalty kill followed by the Bison as they denied the Phoenix the opportunity to take advantage of the extra man but just 20 seconds after the return to full strength Robin Kovar hauled down a player in the corner and return the special team advantage, offering the Bison their second powerplay of the game.
What had looked inevitable happened when Miroslav Vantroba found Tomas Karpov who slotted the puck to Ciaran Long who wound up and riffled a shot into the back of the net high over Fone’s left shoulder. The shot came from just behind the hash marks and left the goaltender with little chance of making the save. It had been another good powerplay by the Bison but the difference this time was that rather than making the drive to the net Ciaran Long took advantage of free space in the middle of the zone to receive the puck, wind up and let his shot go.
The lead however wasn’t to last long as at 19.17 James Archer made it 1-1. It had been a quick transition from the Phoenix which caught the Bison out, the defenceman went down to block the puck but Archer held on to navigate round the block and let his shot go.
The final 43 seconds of the first period ticked away with no further scoring, the Phoenix probably the happier of the two teams with the score but the Bison without doubt the happier of the two with the play itself. Their first period had been dominant over the Phoenix, they had pressure in the zone that their opponents hadn’t managed, they had executed two good powerplays but frustratingly they had lost Joe Greener for most of the period.
The teams skated out for period two and, as it seems customary now, waited for the ice to dry! The period break would have inevitably seen two very different team talks in the respective dressing rooms but the next 40 minutes would separate the teams the way the early exchanges had indicated.
An early altercation between Ryan Watt and Nico Aaltonen saw some pushing and shoving but despite an indication from the Bison man he would be happy to go the Phoenix man seemed happy to have started something he had little intention of seeing through! Ryan Watt was penalised two minutes roughing to serve for his efforts while Aaltonen was let away with no penalty time.
A subsequent throwing the puck penalty, rarely seen called, to Miroslav Vantroba saw the home team having to kill a 5 on 3 penalty. The 54 seconds on two man advantage started with a face off to Hiadlovsky’s right but the better of the chances came for the shorthanded team. First JJ Pitchley forced a chance from seemingly nowhere and then Aaron Connolly did the same. Bison had managed to kill of both penalties.
A huge hit in the corner from Alan Lack was then adjudged boarding and he went to serve two minutes but again Phoenix powerplay failed to impresse other than Fone denying a shorthanded Greener effort at 29.09. The Bison found themselves with another shorthanded chance with 14 seconds later and Long would be next to test the Phoenix shot stopper just after the return to full strength.
Jacob Corson Heron went off for two minutes for hooking at 30.44 and this powerplay would be enough to break the scoring frustration for the Bison. After coming close on numerous occasions both at even strength and shorthanded the powerplay saw them re-establish the lead. Vantroba and Tomas Karpov combined for the goal, pressuring Fone and after a couple of chances were saved Karpov finished for 2-1. The lead the Bison now had was justified from the play so far in the game and showed the patience the team has. There had been chances that had slipped by, there had been frustrations but the team kept their cool and took the powerplay chance when it came.
Soon after JJ Pitchley was off for a sit down as he was called for hooking when the net came off but this was another Phoenix powerplay that they failed to convert, or look threatening on. The two minutes were duly killed off in a fairly matter of fact way.
Just when it looked as if the teams would take the interval at 2-1 Declan Balmer gave the Bison a two goal lead, finishing from Alan Lack and Shaun Thompson with a huge blue line shot. Then, with the goal not even announced yet, Bison won the ensuing centre ice face-off and headed straight back to the goal, this time Joe Greener the one to finish from Ciaran Long and at 39.56 Phoenix were left shell shocked as Greener’s effort made it 4-1.
Given the difference in between the two teams’ play in the second period Phoenix would have, I’m sure, been happy to take the second interval at 2-1 but in truth the 4-1 was probably the more accurate reflection of the 40 minutes played so far.
Just 35 seconds into the final period Manchester hinted they may be keeping the game alive as Mark Thomas scored from a tight angle that left the Bison goaltender visibly frustrated. Taking nothing away from Thomas though, it was a good goal and would probably have been enough to beat most netminders in the league.
The comeback hope was short lived as after the initial 35 seconds of the period Bison again took control of the game, despite a two minute boarding call on Declan Balmer at 41.41. The Bison were quicker, they were more drilled and the systems looked better. After a missed boarding call on the Phoenix they set about gaining control in the Phoenix zone and some good close chances were seen until the net came off behind Stephen Fone.
Trent Hope was next to the penalty box as he was called for boarding at 47.08. This powerplay saw good set up, good control but was lacking the finish of the earlier converted two. Just as the powerplay ended JJ Pitchely was off on a breakaway but denied by Fone. At 50.01 the same player was called for cross checking and a time out taken ahead of the powerplay.
Hiadlovsky made a big save at 51.08 and the net came adrift forcing the play to stop but other than that the Pheonix made little impact on the powerplay.
A slash from Jacob Corson-Heron saw the Phoenix player lose his stick and saw the arm of the referee raise to indicate a penalty on the way. Tomas Hiadlovsky headed the bench giving the Bison the extra man and before the penalty was called the delayed penalty was taken advantage off. With Corson-Heron trapped on the ice with no stick and the extra skater on for the Bison the pressure proved too much and it was Stuart Phillip Pearson Mogg who fired the puck home from between the hashmarks for 5-2.
At 55.48 the teams came together in front of the bench following a huge elbow in a melee but nothing was called.
With 57 seconds remaining and the game won already Alan Lack sent the puck into the back of the net to bulge the twine once again and Bison sealed a comprehensive 6-2 home win.
The shots on goal mirrored the ascendancy in the game, the 34 shots the Bison had showed the dominance they had. The 18 shots the Phoenix had showed the defence of the Bison working well.
It will have been a frustrating night for the Phoenix who arrived short benched and were always in second place all through the game. For the Bison it was a frustrating first couple of periods as despite being clearly the better of the two teams they were held to level for the first half of the game but kept their patience to finish well when the good opportunities came.