Saturday night saw the new look Sheffield Steeldogs make their first journey to Basingstoke of the season. The two teams had met two weeks previously in Yorkshire where the Bison had taken the points thanks to a 1 goal win.
Over the summer the Steeldogs decided to part company with Andre Payette and therefore shedding the Dogs of his style of play. Dominic Osmon was originally announced as Payette’s replacement before Greg Wood eventually took over with Osmon becoming the man in charge in Hull. Further changes occurred recently when ownership changed hands with this being the first game under the new ownership.
Formalities concluded with an impeccably observed minute’s silence leading into the National Anthem before Matt Thompson took charge of his first game in Basingstoke this season.
Stuart Mogg nearly had an early go ahead go but just couldn’t quite get enough on the puck and Dalibor Sedlar dealt with the bobbling attempt. The opening goal wasn’t far away however and followed a huge hit delivered by Alan Lack in front of the Steeldogs’ bench. Lack may well be the shortest man on the ice but such was the force the hit was delivered with it sent Lee Haywood flying back into his own bench. With attention focussed on the Steeldogs bench Tomas Karpov capitalised on the disruption to skate in and backhand home the opening goal at 2.03.
Craig Elliot was lucky to escape unpunished after a cross-check like hit on Tomas Karpov but he escaped both the punishment of the referee and the Bison crowd that had formed around their downed Czech forward.
Sheffield’s first offensive chance was swiftly denied when Arnoldas Bosas was robbed of the puck by a Declan Balmer poke check but the Herd were soon on the powerplay when a blatant slash by Stanislav Lascek saw Miroslav Vantroba completely lose his stick.
The man advantage gave the Bison the chance to double their lead and again it was Karpov that would do the damage. With the extra man Basingstoke were in no rush, they took their time to set up the perfect powerplay. Ciaran Long laid off a slap pass to Joe Greener, just to the left of the net and Sedlar committed to making the save from Greener but with nobody watching Karpov he skated into perfect position to take Joe Greener’s pass and tap it home into an open net.
Bison were near unstoppable as Aaron Connolly fired a shot through Sedlar that went just wide of the net, Joe Rand got through but was denied by the shot stopper, Haywood with his glove around the forward’s neck to try and move him on from waiting to see if the puck became loose.
By the midway point it had been pretty much one way traffic with the Steeldogs yet to assert any authority on the game. Vantroba denied Andrew Hirst an attempt to cross the blue line before Sedlar made another save from Karpov.
Bosas had a couple of attempts, first firing wide but then denied attempting a wrap around before Alan Lack was set free in behind the Steeldogs defence but a simple save from a shot straight at Sedlar ended that move.
Steeldogs got their first powerplay at 15.14 when a big Balmer hit received a 2+10 check to the head penalty. Hiadlovsky showed the powerplay Dogs the worth of his poke check and the man advantage ended with no scoring happening.
Back at full strength Bison tried more to further their lead, Karpov combining with Symonds but Sedlar was up to the save. Craig Elliot fancied his chances at the other end but Hiadlovsky was out and covered the puck at the hash marks.
The first period ended with the Bison in charge at 2-0 but just before the buzzer Karpov was taken out again which resulted in a scuffle at the buzzer. Both teams benches emptied onto the ice, the officials watched on and had words and the teams separated for the interval.
Period 2 started as period 1 had ended, with the Bison in the ascendancy. Shaun Thompson and Aaron Connolly combined early on and Watt and Karpov did the same soon after, both attempts saved by Sedlar. Lubomir Korhon got round the Bison defence only to find himself denied by the resolute Tomas Hiadlovsky. The Steeldogs fans believed their team had broken the deadlock soon after as the net bulged from a Stanislav Lascek shot but his shot had hit the outside of the net and any further threat was ended with the whistle blowing.
At 24.19 Ryan Watt delivered a huge hit on Stanislav Lascek that saw him go down and stay down a long time. Referee Matt Thompson carefully considered before awarding a boarding penalty and the Steeldogs went back on the powerplay.
Just 20 seconds later Joe Greener and Lubomir Korhon joined them in the penalty box with coincidental slashing minors.
Chances continued to go frustratingly begging and at the half way mark tensions boiled over which saw Alan Lack and Craig Elliot come together. A cross check from Elliot enraged Lack with the two players scrapping. 6 minutes each were handed out as both took a seat.
Ryan Watt set free Tomas Karpov with another chance to go for his hat trick but his shot took a deflection and disappeared into the roof. The third goal for the Bison wasn’t far away though and it was Ciaran Long who netted from Joe Greener and Stuart Mogg. Long was in the right place at the right time and a perfect set up from Greener allowed Long to bag the goal with 4.46 left in the period.
At 36.28 Callum Pattison took objection to a hit from Declan Balmer and a blatant slash saw Matt Thompson award the Steeldog a minor penalty. Within 20 seconds of his return he was off again with a 10 minute misconduct following a shot at Ciaran Long.
The second period buzzer sounded with the Bison still in the ascendancy at 3-0.
For the Steeldogs to stand any chance in the third period it seemed they needed a complete change of approach. The Bison were playing a confident game, they were the better team. The Steeldogs were playing without belief it looked like. The passion that Andre Payette injected into the team was absent and without that it seemed they were here for the ride rather than the game.
Period three started with Ciaran Long splitting the defence and setting up Joe Greener but a sprawling save from Sedlar kept it at 3-0. Kurt Reynolds was in the action next, first having his blue line shot denied by Lewis Bell, taking the puck in the back, and soon after passing to Stuart Mogg with the forward’s deflection going wide.
Joe Rand had a couple of chances, both wide just wide of the net. Ryan Sutton gave Karpov a lay off which also went wide before eventually Hiadlovsky was troubled again but the shot didn’t reach him due to a deflection.
At 50.07 the Herd added another as Karpov and Lack raced down the ice, with Karpov passing to Lack, Lack to Watt and Watt back to Lack for an easy finish in front of the goal and 4-0.
Miroslav Vantroba got called 30 seconds after the goal offering the Steeldogs a powerplay while the Bison served a tripping minor. Karpov came close again to his hat-trick with a shorthanded effort but going round the back of the net he just couldn’t quite finish.
The visitor’s night was pretty much summed up in one play as Lewis Bell looked to lay off a pass, tripped, fell and his pass ended up firing all the way down the ice for an icing call.
Arnoldas Bosas started a cross checking penalty at 52.44 and a combination of passing and curious bounces off the boards saw the Bison dominate the zone for the majority of the advantage but fail to add to their tally.
Back at full strength Steeldogs finally managed to create a little pressure in the Bison end but Hiadlovsky was up to both Korhon’s shot and Bell’s shot through traffic.
With 1.50 left to play Pattison picked up a careless tripping penalty giving his team another shorthanded spell to deal with. The special team situation proved too much to deal with and Bison scored their second powerplay goal.
With 44 seconds left to go Tomas Karpov found Ryan Watt, Watt found Joe Greener who received the pass, stepped forward and finished perfectly for 5-0. This final goal saw Dalibor Sedlar throw his stick away in frustration.
It was ultimately an easy win for the Bison. They registered a comfortable 5-0 win without really having to run through all the gears which with an important and tough clash the next day against the Guildford Flames allowed them to keep something in the tank.
For the Steeldogs it’ was a worrying performance. It lacked energy, lacked passion and it appeared to lack any belief that the two points could be theirs at the end of the game. People criticised Andre Payette for the way he ran the Steeldogs but maybe now his contribution can be seen. A performance like that would never have happened under Andre’s leadership. I’ve seen the Steeldogs win games, I’ve seen them get hammered but the one thing I’ve never seen is them to play with such little passion and belief.
Think back to Andre’s first full season in charge. It was Ben Bown’s final season in the EPL and he was without doubt the very best goalie in the league. It was also the year Janis Ozolins set the league scoring on fire and Andre’s coaching and game plans capitalised on that. When, the next season, he lost both those players he knew the limited resources he now had couldn’t play the same way so he changed it up and made the team play a more physical game. It worked as well as it could. The Steeldogs were competitive, probably playing above expectations.
Now a core of this year’s team has been retained from the Payette era however they’re being asked to play a different style of hockey. Last night not only did it not work but they failed to show any real determination.
Bison stepped on the ice at 6.30 looking to win the game, the impression Steeldogs gave was they took the ice looking to avoid defeat and that’s two totally different objectives.