Manchester Phoenix were the team to visit the Bison arena as the next opponents for the Paul Baldwin Agencies Basingstoke Bison. Bison were still missing long term injuries Alex Symonds, Grant Rounding and Tomas Hiadlovsky with Alan Lack on honeymoon and Joe Baird also scratched. Phoenix new signing Martin Baranek took his place in the line up.
Officiating duties were led by Tim Pickett with Andrew Cook and Ali MacPhee and at 6.30 the man in the armbands called the teams together to start the game.
Early on a dump in from Ciaran Long resulted in a stoppage in play while the rink staff cleared up the light the puck had hit on it’s way into the zone while music rung out around the arena.
The opening few minutes were frustrating as every offensive move tried by both teams were whistled down for the off side. Indeed there was even an icing called by Ali MacPhee which under hybrid icing should never have been called.
181 seconds into the game Ciaran Long would serve the first penalty as he picked up a tripping minor but it was a less than impressive start to powerplay by the visitors as the returning Tomas Karpov had the best chance shorthanded but the scare seemed to spur on the Phoenix as Kovar then pressed Baston into action but his glove ended that chance. Russell’s shot deflected away wide and the penalty ended after Boothroyd shot at the chest pad of the netminder allowing an easy save.
At 5.41 the Bison were on the board as Stuart Mogg set free Tomas Karpov and the free scoring Bison forward looked like he’d never been away from the game as he skated in with speed and shot the puck over Stephen Fone’s shoulder. The Bison sniper adds so much to the line up but his return was like he’d not been injured and not missed a single game. He had speed and power and his shooting was as sharp as ever.
Ciaran Long was sitting out again at 7.09, this time with a kneeing penalty as the Phoenix went back on the powerplay, the only notable chance for the visitors coming from a Mark Thomas chance through traffic but Jon Baston had that one covered as he held on for a whistle.
With the Bison back at full strength Ciaran Long and Joe Greener gained the zone with pace, Greener initially fired just wide and a Fone save met Ciaran Long’s effort with the rebound.
Bison were looking offensive again when Martin Baranek took down Ciaran Long and with the referee’s arm raised for the delayed penalty call on Baranek for a trip, Jon Baston headed to the bench and the extra skater joined the play. It was swift and clinical movement from the Bison that made the second goal as Shaun Thompson found Tomas Karpov who saw Matt Towalski in position to fire in the second for 2-0 at 12.49.
Phoenix tried to get back into the game with Satek combining with Kovar but Baston denied the chance and quickly Aaron Connolly was shooting at the other end but Fone had the save ready. Long twice then tried his luck as did Reynolds but Fone denied all three chances. Connolly tried again but it was the line of Karpov, Watt and Towalski who worked the Phoenix defence with ease as the period continued but Fone continued to keep the net empty as the first period ended 2-0.
Period two saw Ciaran Long complete his hat-trick of penalties as he collected cross checking to add to tripping and kneeing at 20.43. A Karpov shorthanded chance was quickly followed by “words” between Ryan Watt and Martin Baranek and with cross checking and slashing handed out coincidentally the Phoenix powerplay continued. The visitors could make little of the remaining powerplay time and but soon after Stanislav Gron found Baston unbeatable and soon after that Watt and Baranek returned to the play.
4.24 into the period Bison continued their scoring, Ciaran Long the man to strike this time. Rene Jarolin rounded his man with ease before feeding Ciaran Long who released a blast from the slot for 3-0 with Fone left little chance of a save on that play.
A delay of the game penalty followed for Phoenix captain Luke Boothroyd who sent the puck out of play and 35 seconds into the powerplay it was 4-0. It was another blast from Ciaran Long, this time with a neat tip in from Aaron Connolly which sent it home out the reach of Fone.
A pad save from Jon Baston denied Gron but at the other end it was almost non stop for Fone as the newly formed Karpov, Watt, Towalski line shot almost for fun. Fone can have off nights and when he does the Phoenix have struggled badly but despite 4-0 before the half way point Fone was the only one saving the Phoenix from being further down.
Phoenix were back penalty killing again when they picked up a too many men call. It wasn’t even close to a change as the whistle blew down the play in the Bison defensive end and there were six Phoenix outskaters on the ice all deep in the Bison zone. The powerplay didn’t last long though as Stuart Mogg took a slashing penalty 1.04 into the man advantage setting up 4 on 4.
With the 2 men in the penalty box Phoenix managed to gain the zone and probably had their best chance of the game so far but despite Kovar’s best attempts Baston kept his sheet clean. As the Phoenix penalty ended they had a 56 second powerplay of their own before Mogg returned and just after the Bison defenceman returned Phoenix tried crashing the net again but the defence stepped up and Baston nullified another chance.
With Bison pressure around the Phoenix zone Robin Kovar was forced into a hooking penalty which put the home team back on the powerplay. Gron tried to score shorthanded with a high shot but it wasn’t high enough and Baston denied him then at the other end Fone just closed the 5 hole before Rene Jarolin could poke the puck through.
Back at 5 on 5 Gron set off Satek but he shot high over the bar and when the set up was reversed Gron sent his attempt wide and that concluded period 2 with a second 2-0 period meaning the second interval started with the Bison benefitting from a 4-0 scoreline.
The third period started with Karpov denied by Fone but probably due to being impeded by Ben Wood who picked up a hooking minor at 41.47. Satek attempted to go shorthanded and was rewarded with a penalty shot as Ciaran Long played a good defensive role. Long did enough to force Satek wide but the Phoenix man fell to ice and referee Tim Pickett raised his arms to signal the penalty shot.
It would be Satek who would take the shot against the goaltender on the hottest streak in the EPL. Satek took the puck at speed from centre ice and initially went to the left of Baston, cut back in and attempted a high shot but Baston rose and shouldered the puck away.
Soon after salt was rubbed in the wound as Rene Jarolin made it 5-0. Ciaran Long, who’d worked busily all night long took the puck to the net, Joe Greener accompanied him and it was #97 who fed Rene Jarolin to complete the goal.
Phoenix finally generated a bit of pressure as first Satek shot, then Wood but both were stonewalled by Baston. The pressure did bring a trip from Jacob Ranson which Tim Pickett penalised but again the visitors failed to make anything of the extra skater as Boothroyd’s chance was an easy save for Baston being shot right at his body. Jarolin and Long broke shorthanded but Fone made the save and the man advantage ended.
It was Ryan Watt off for the next penalty as he was penalised for roughing after a collision with Stephen Fone. A neat move from Michal Satek got him to the net where he layed off a lovely drop pass but nobody had gone with him in support and it was an easy clear for the stampeding Bison.
Stuart Mogg attempted to add a goal to his earlier assist as he rounded the net but couldn’t get enough to squeeze it past Fone but then it was powerplay time again, this time for the Bison as Satek was called for clipping on Ranson.
Martin Baranek came closest to scoring but his attempt rung the crossbar before bouncing to safety. Back at the other end Karpov looked to double his personal tally with a back hand chance but Fone had the save ready.
There were a couple more chances for both sides but Basingstoke ended on 5 and Phoenix failed to break the shut-out meaning Baston completed his third successive shut-out.
Ciaran Long, who’d worked hard all night long drew the man of the match award for the home team while the corresponding award went to Stanislav Gron for the Phoenix.
The man of the match choice is often contentious. I’ve seen people on-line question the award to Ciaran Long but having watched the whole 60 minutes it was one of those games where you’d struggle to pick a recipient for the Phoenix. I guess it would be between Gron and Satek or possibly even Fone. It would be hard to award the losing goalie in a 5-0 shut out the man of the match award but it’s fair to say that had it not been for the Manchester shot-stopper being on form the score could have been double.
The return to the line up of Tomas Karpov added so much for the Bison. He played one shift in a game just before Christmas which told him he hadn’t recovered from his injury yet and hadn’t then iced in a match since. From his very first shift though on his return he skated like he’d never been away. He didn’t lack any speed, his skating was 100% and there’s never question of his puck control and scoring / playmaking.
What also happened was the unleashing of a new line. Matt Towalski had joined the Herd while the Czech was out injured but last night Doug Sheppard created the line of Karpov, Watt and Towalski and that line had the Phoenix under pressure all night long. It created a nightmare for Tony Hand knowing which of his lines to match up against this high energy line for the Bison but it also tired the Phoenix out giving the other lines the chance to go in and do damage.
Bison are missing players through injury. Signing Jon Baston to cover Tomas Hiadlovsky was a genius streak by the man with the plan but still key players are injured or just returning from injury. Where the Bison excel is that they play as a team. They share responsibility, they share success. They enjoy playing for and alongside each other. Watching on it’s obvious none of them crave individual glory, they share the opportunities with each other. The goal scorers are play makers and the play makers are goal scorers.
Jon Baston recorded his third successive shut-out and his sixth in eleven starts for the club. He impressed in a poor Hull side for me at the start of the season and I was amazed when they cut him loose. What’s happened since has been amazing. He is a stand out goaltender but he has formed an amazing bond with his defence. The goaltender and defence work outstandingly together and on the rare occasion Baston’s not ok on his own the understanding he’s built with the defensive core sees the team ok. Yes he’s an import and some frown upon import goaltending the EPL but when you’re that good you more than justify the import slot.
Baston as a Bison is good for the Bison and it’s also good for Baston. He was seeing a lot of rubber in Hull and a lot of those were fantastic scoring chances because the young and inexperienced Hull defence weren’t able to protect him well. There wasn’t much expectation with a start up club either but at the Bison there is huge expectation. He takes to the ice knowing, as an import, he’ll be in the spotlight and knowing there’s an expectation in every game he plays. What he does get is better protection from one of the league’s best defences. But when the defence are beaten it’s down to him and he just seems to soak up pressure and get the work done. You almost forget he’s just 21 and at the Bison he is getting great opportunities to develop and excel. There’s no doubt that Jon Baston could well be playing at the highest level in this country very soon if he so chooses.
Baston is a part of the team and it’s the team that sit top of the league at this point in time, a position they’ve earned by scoring well, defending well and of course good goaltending.