The Basingstoke Arena offered a warm welcome to the league’s newest team, the Hull Pirates. Formed by Sheffield’s owner, mid summer, to fill the hockey gap left by the Hull Stingrays departure and to complete the EPL once again at 10 teams. The Manchester Storm’s admission to the Elite League kept that league full up too.
By the time the Pirates had formed the other coaches would have completed the best deals. The non EIHA trained players known to the UK would have been signed as would the top Brits meaning Dominic Osman had a tough job in signing his team.
The Basingstoke Bison took to the ice missing Aaron Connolly and Declan Balmer, both huge absences to the team.
Early indications weren’t good for the Pirates as it took them nearly 2 minutes to get a controlled touch of the puck. Jon Baston was called into action pretty much straight away but it would take a while longer before Tomas Hiadlovsky was needed to make a save.
Bison have been pretty effective in finishing this season but a combination of Baston saves and tiny margins of error denied the home team from opening their scoring.
Bison were faster, fitter and stronger as could be seen in the early physical exchanges. At one stage Craig Thurston left the ice after a huge hit by the team benches from Ryan Watt although the Pirate would later return.
Hull’s new import, Tommi Laine had the first real chance for the Pirates but was stonewalled by Hiadlovsky, soon after Lee Bonner found the same problem with his chance. The same player would soon after clear Stuart Mogg with ease but couldn’t finish.
For the first of a few times in the game the Bison and their fans were frustrated by the net coming adrift behind Baston as Alan Lack attempted to finish. Tensions boiled and Lack came together with Dominic Osman but while lack was attempting to defeat his opponent the Pirates player/coach was thrashing wildly still with his stick in his hand which looked to almost contact by his opponent and the officials. An easy win for Lack!
The outcome of the scrap on the ice was a Pirates powerplay and they did work hard and hustle but some good penalty killing teamed with good netminding saw the advantage unused before Hull then gave away a too many men penalty and offered the Bison their first powerplay.
Miroslav Vantroba powered the puck to the net but invoked an easy save from Baston, but with the puck in the zone the Bison set about closing in, passing well, moving well the good period of play was ended with the net coming adrift again as Baston slid across his crease his right leg taking the net off.
Pirates concluded their first penalty kill successfully but it didn’t stop the Bison from pressuring them. Karpov gained his position through the Pirates defence with ease but his backhand effort was saved and soon after Ciaran Long found the same happen to his backhand after he pounced on a turnover.
It was perhaps with amazement that the first period buzzer sounded with the game scoreless. The Bison would be frustrated with their opening 20 minutes, the Pirates the happier of the two teams. The visitors had played as a team with arguably only Baston sticking his head above the water for recognition and possibly Lee Bonner at the other end who had a couple of good chances.
Period two started with frenzy as the Bison pressured Baston early on. Shots hit the goalie, and the pipe work but still 0-0 until 1.39 into the period when Joe Rand made the break. Mogg found Vantroba and Vantroba found Rand with the forward calmly gaining control, taking position, drawing the netminder in and then slotting home past him.
Where the Bison had been good in the first period but lacked the final piercing, Joe Rand had turned that around in the second and the home team would have been hoping the floodgates were then opened.
Jacob Ranson, gaining extra ice time due to the absence of the captain, had the best chance of the period so far after Baston, down to make a save, couldn’t cover a loose puck, but the young Bison forward sent his effort wide.
Hull were to enjoy another powerplay chance when Stuart Mogg was sent away for interference at 28.08. Jonathan Kirk was turned away by Hiadlovsky and Mario Mjeleli found he took just too long over his attempt as Joe Baird levelled him before he could release the puck.
After a short period of even strength it was 5 on 4 again in favour of the visitors when Alan Lack started a holding the stick call just after half way. Pirates came close to equalising when a Tait shot deflected on net but Hiadlovsky showed lightning reactions to adjust and save.
It would be the powerplay that eventually allowed the score to level when a quick move from the Pirates saw Kirk finish. Baston set the play rolling when he fed Mjellili who got the puck back to the blue line and Kirk launched a fierce shot that levelled the game.
Joe Baird would give the Pirates another powerplay when his slash saw the stick leave his opponents hands, this penalty would be killed off with ease as the Pirates failed to replicate the heroics of their last man advantage.
Ryan Watt came racing down the ice alone and navigated his way round the entire Pirates team before finding his shot denied by Baston. Joe Greener followed, heading down accompanied by Ciaran Long but a pad save from Baston denied the duo.
Goal scorer Jonathan Kirk made himself a little unpopular when his hit levelled Alan Lack in the corner, with the Bison staying down for a while. The hit went un-penalised but eventually Lack was up and off the ice, although he’d take no further part in the period.
With 52 seconds left in period 2 Warren Tait picked up a 2 minute holding penalty which would mean Bison would start period 3 with 1.08 left of powerplay time as period 2 ended with honours shared at 1-1.
Period 3 broke the game alive as 2.08 into the period Hull took the lead. Arguably the league’s weakest team were now in the ascendancy against the current leaders and perhaps that was what was needed to bring the game to life.
It was Craig Thurston who finished for the second visitor’s goal which stood despite the net coming off behind the play.
Bison now slammed their foot down on the accelerator and swap into top gear. The third period wasn’t a contest, with the Bison dominating and the Pirates fire fighting. Hiadlovsky would see the puck only twice more in the final 20 minutes while Jon Baston was needed 22 times to keep his team in the game.
Alan Lack, returned from the hit in the second period, was in the wars again as his drive to the net ended with him flying through the crease. Vantroba then found Lack soon after who drove to the net and invoked reaction from Baston as Lack made an attempt to bat home the puck just as the whistle blew to signify it being frozen out of play. The two picked up slashing and roughing penalties.
Kirk was called for a careless delay of the game penalty with 9.54 left in the third period which put the Bison back on the powerplay. With a gulf in talent there’s only so many times you can offer a powerplay chance and Kirk’s call for delaying would be one too many.
In a clinical, obviously well versed move Ryan Watt started by finding Ciaran Long who waited for Joe Greener to gain position before feeding him the puck to do the rest with. Greener went on to beat Baston left hand side and it was 2-2.
Despite being level Bison wouldn’t back down from the intensity and straight off the face-off Ryan Watt wristed in an attempt which Baston would glove save. Soon after, for the first time in a long time, Hull would find themselves in an attacking position but Ciaran Long cleared the puck before any harm could be done.
Having been held without a penalty Joe Greener would be the subject of the play that would put Bison back on the powerplay when Bonner would hit him badly. With 2.53 left in the game the Bison would enjoy 2 minutes of powerplay opportunity.
With 1.48 left to play Bison’s powerplay was halted by Baston’s net being lose again and with 31 seconds left in the game Stuart Mogg was brought down from behind by Lee Bonner. This angered the Bison and a crowd quickly formed, Joe Baird being the man to look after his team mate being rewarded with 2 for roughing while Bonner collected 2+10 for checking from behind.
With a period of 4 on 4 ahead to end regulation time Doug Sheppard called the Bison timeout but the remaining 31 seconds couldn’t force the result and the Pirates had earned their first EPL point.
With players penalised at the end of regulation time the overtime would start 3 on 3, but the two matching minors were to skate to the benches at the end of their time before returning to the play to ensure 3 on 3.
Ryan Watt and Shaun Thompson combined but were frustrated early on in overtime as once again the net was off. The frenzy of open ice 3 on 3 hockey saw quick plays but as had happened for most of regulation time Bison dominated the extra period of play but couldn’t beat Baston. Watt had another chance, Hiadlovsky saved the day when Tait shot from a turnover and with 44 seconds left Hull called their time-out.
Tait shot as the buzzer sounded but Hiadlovsky’s pad save ensured the party wasn’t to be spoiled as yet and penalties would decide the winner.
Pirates would shirt first and a big confident poke check from Hiadlovsky was enough to force Laine off his stride and the puck did no damage. Joe Rand would be first to shoot for the Bison and despite Baston thinking he had made the save from the Canadian’s attempt the puck found its way into the net, the goal light lit and the Bison were ahead.
Craig Thurston would be the next shooter for the Pirates and in a simple move he out waited Hiadlovsky to level up the penalty shoot-out. His goal would be even more crucial when the usually reliable Tomas Karpov saw his shot go agonisingly wide to all level after two shots each.
Mario Mjelleli would be next to shoot for the Pirates and his shot entered the net via the 5 hole meaning Ciaran Long had to score. The league’s best British penalty taker would not disappoint, with his trademark coolness he bore down on the net with the puck almost on a string, first moving left, then right, left then right and then casually putting the puck in the net.
Dominic Osman would be next to shoot for Hull and was the second person to fall foul of the Hiadlovsky poke check save as he fired wide. Joe Greener, with the chance to win it in sudden death, found Baston shutting the pads to take away his shot and it went to the next round of sudden death.
Warren Tait fired his shot but Hiadlovsky made a stick save giving Shaun Thompson the chance to win it. Thompson attempted a back hand which went just wide and more shooters were required.
Jonathan Kirk was next to shoot for Hull who found a Hiadlovsky pad stop his wrist shot and Ryan Watt was sent out next for the Bison. Watt suffered a horrible year last year but is clearly enjoying his hockey this year, in a potentially successful team with good coaching and a defined role to do he stepped up to the ice with confidence. A right handed shooter he took the puck from the centre circle and advanced with speed towards the goal and after a few excellent dekes slotted the puck home and celebrated in style as he headed to the bench.
The Hull Pirates had earned their first EPL point, they had frustrated the Bison forced them into a deep penalty shootout to get the extra point. It had been an off night for the home team who recovered well to win an ugly win but keep the home winning record alive.
Sometimes human nature takes over and you can’t help but underestimate the opponent. Hull Pirates are a team made of relative unknowns, already an import swap underway and so far pointless in their inaugural campaign. Visibly the Bison lacked the clinical streak and the high quality execution at the start of the game that they’d shown in previous home games. This allowed Baston, who turned out to be excellent, to get his eye in and he went on to record an impressive set of stats in the game.
The Pirates gave a good account of themselves. They battled well, they frustrated the Bison and they took their chances they had well. They’re not a contending EPL team by a long way yet but what they are is a competitive EPL team, a team that will grow together, under a coach new to the league. They are a summer signing market away from taking big steps but they’re a team of harder workers. The first period was reminiscent of the Challenge Cup from last season against the NIHL opposition but this didn’t detract from them and they battled hard.
Make no mistake, there’s more to come from the Bison. They were missing their Captain, Aaron Connolly and also Declan Balmer. These are two big figures but also have two big impacts in the line structures for the team.