As January rolled on so rolled around hockey night in Basingstoke once again as the Paul Baldwin Agencies Basingstoke Bison welcomed the Sheffield Steeldogs. Matt Towalski’s #21 jersey had arrived in the week as well meaning the Bison’s newest forward could wear his own number for his 600th EPL appearance.
When I interviewed Matt for Jets TV after his 500th appearance I joked with him that there was no reason he couldn’t play another 500! Off camera after the interview he told me he certainly didn’t feel he had another 500 in him but I insisted there was at least 200-300 more and I’m pleased to see another 100 completed and the start on the road to 700.
Bison continued to miss the services of Alex Symonds and Grant Rounding with Jon Baston continuing in the net while Tomas Hiadlovsky continues his recuperation. Steeldogs didn’t appear to be missing anyone of note.
Paul Brooks was the man in the armbands and almost straight away Dalibor Sedlar was made busy as Joe Greener fed Aaron Connolly and it looked like normal Bison service had resumed however it seemed the Steeldogs weren’t intent to be spectators in the game nor were they going to allow Bison to dictate the game.
Liam Charnock was first to test Jon Baston from the top of the crease but the Bison shotstopper had an easy save as Charnock was far from getting full connection with the puck on his shot. Greg Wood was next to try his luck as he gained the zone but another Baston save ended that attempt as Craig Elliot and Alan Lack had a few words after the whistle.
After a couple more Bison chances the opening goal came but it came behind Jon Baston as Arnoldas Bosas finished a centring feed by slotting the puck 5 hole for 0-1 at 3.51. It had been a quick transition from the Steeldogs as no sooner had Sedlar made a save than Smith, Korhon and Bosas were on their way towards Baston.
Steeldogs second, and the game winner, came on a powerplay opportunity as a hit by Joe Greener was called as boarding at 5.52. With the man advantage the Steeldogs took time to set up in the zone, smooth passing eventually got the puck to Hirst, waiting in front of the net, who did enough to make it 0-2.
The two early Steeldogs goals put the Bison in an unfamiliar position, it had been a long time since they’d been 0-2 down on home ice but the Steeldogs hadn’t finished yet. Their intention to spoil the 2016 home record continued but first came a small worry as Lee Haywood crashed into Sedlar taking the Steeldogs goalie backwards into his own net. After a brief stoppage though he was up and ready for play to resume.
Bosas continued the Steeldogs momentum as he sent in a fine centring attempt but nobody had the vision to be ready for the pass and it cleared to safety. Lascek took the puck on a journey behind the net and found Charnock in front but his two attempts found Baston secure.
A spell of 4 on 4 followed as Craig Elliot picked up a 2 minute elbows penalty which was matched by Kurt Reynolds getting a slashing penalty. With the open ice Tomas Karpov and Ciaran Long raced into the zone, Long to the net, Karpov carrying the puck but as Karpov fired Sedlar failed to give up the rebound Long had anticipated.
Baston made a save off his face mask before Alan Lack fed Ciaran Long but Long’s shot was saved by a Sedlar pad save. Maybe it was the effect of trailing by 2 goals but the Bison play wasn’t the same smooth play that had got them to the top of the table, points clear and a couple of games in hand. Lascek found his way to the net but Baston saved the short side attempt. Squires was next to try his luck but again Baston saved and then Bison finally looked like the league leaders as Joe Greener rounded the Steeldogs defence with ease. On that occasion his shot came to nothing but shortly after he combined with Rene Jarolin to feed Ciaran Long who’s second attempt at the back door lit the goal light and brought the Bison right back into the game with 25 seconds left in the opening period.
Bison pressured hard in the final seconds of the opening period looking for the equaliser but it wasn’t to come and the first ended 1-2.
Full credit to the Steeldogs who worked out quickly that if Bison played their tactics and systems their way in their rink the Steeldogs would be little more than passengers along for the ride. Instead they played a disruptive game, failed to allow the Bison to settle, took away shooting chances and more importantly disrupted the slick passing that the Bison team is based around.
After the interval Bison looked to have started well. Karpov fed Watt, Watt fed Lack but Sedlar saved. The same thing happened shortly after when Reynolds got a shot but then the whole game changed. A hit that felled Tomas Karpov saw Bosas trying to go with the Bison forward but he was having none of it. Ryan Watt came in to protect his team mate and a scuffle ensued. With double minor fighting penalties being given to everyone Ben Morgan added a 10 minute to his 4 minutes but crucially Ryan Watt got a match penalty for slashing that saw him awarded an early shower.
The visitors made the most of the powerplay time as they kept Jon Baston busy. A trademark scramble save midway through the powerplay drew a whistle and gave the Bison a quick breather but Lascek soon after sent in a blast which Baston saved and then Bosas’ shot was saved by the pad and then covered to deny any rebound chances.
As the Bison returned to full strength Karpov and Sutton headed away 2 on 1 but the young Bison missed the chance. The home team were to be on the powerplay soon after as Stanislav Lascek took down Alan Lack so a 2 minute powerplay awaited the Herd while Lascek took his seat.
Bosas got the first chance of the powerplay as he tried shorthanded but after he failed to secure a third goal for the Steeldogs Tomas Karpov took control but his shot was met with a glove save as Sedlar plucked the speeding puck from mid-air. Stuart Mogg would be next to try but his float in to the net was missed on the tip in by Alan Lack and consequently, by missing the deflection, ended up an easy save for Sedlar.
With the visitors back at full strength Karpov continued to be in control, first setting up Mogg and then Alex Samford but both attempts were saved by the Steeldogs goaltender.
Kurt Reynolds then provided the visitors with a powerplay as he was attempting to free himself from Bosas stick he was called for illegal equipment as he tussled free from the hold. It would be Bosas however that would end the powerplay 16 seconds in when he took down Karpov. As the Bison raced into the Steeldogs zone it looked initially as if the call would be tripping but with the penalty being called at the same time as a marginal off-side call it was holding that was awarded.
The best chance of the 4 on 4 came from Rene Jarolin but Sedlar was still proving unbeatable. Soon after both players returned. Aaron Connolly went down as a result of a big hit which saw Alan Lack and Craig Elliot having words for the second time while Lee Haywood and Joe Baird also had words. As the players separated there were no penalties awarded.
Timothy Smith picked up a slashing minor at 35.47 as he took down Jarolin but the Bison man got a matching roughing penalty.
With 1.56 left in the middle period the Bison were called for too many men putting the Steeldogs on the powerplay and their advantage doubled at 39.22 when Ciaran Long took a cross checking penalty defending his goal. The Dogs believed they’d extended their lead on the 2 man advantage but the goal was disallowed due to a player in the crease and the Bison got to the second buzzer still 2 men down but the score remained 1-2.
4 seconds into the final period the Bison returned to full strength and the Steeldogs failed to capitalise also on the remaining time in the Ciaran Long penalty, the only real powerplay chance being a telegraphed shot from Bosas that provided Baston with one of his easier saves of the night.
20 seconds after Long returned there was another too many men call on the Bison made but this 2 minutes came and went thanks to an excellent penalty kill.
Drama came at 46.31 when Alan Lack was taken down in the motion of shooting by Timothy Smith meaning Paul Brooks awarded the penalty shot. Lack would be the player to take the shot and as he advanced to the net he settled the puck and shot from distance but the puck went wide of the net. Lack isn’t a player I recall having seen offered up in the sudden death penalties at the end of a tied game and it appeared his visibly lacked the confidence of Long, Greener, Karpov who take far more penalties.
Aaron Connolly, Rene Jarolin and Ciaran Long all were frustrated by Dalibor Sedlar over a period of a few minutes as the Steeldogs defence boxed out the Bison. The shooting opportunities weren’t the normal ones the Bison generated for themselves as the visitors dug in deep to protect their net, instead they were longer range chances which made for easier saves for Sedlar.
As the 55 minute mark rolled around Bison were upping the pressure but the Steeldogs were up to everyone of them. Baston was sharp at the other end too meaning stalemate approached as the final 2 minutes started with the score still at 1-2.
As Ciaran Long made it to the net and was denied again by Sedlar, Doug Sheppard took the home team timeout with 1.14 left to play. With face-off right down by the Steeldogs net the Bison net remained empty as Baston stayed on the bench. Frantically the Steeldogs tried to clear their zone, the first time wide of the net for icing and the second time a clever deflection from Ciaran Long ensured a long range shot missed the net.
As the buzzer sounded, and with frustrations and tensions running high the game erupted. Joe Greener got the better of Lee Haywood after the Bison player was jumped from behind, but the main action happened in front of the Steeldogs bench. As many players became involved with their opposite numbers Dan Weller-Evans and Thomas Barkworth ended up going with each other too while the two starting netminders stood chatting away from the scuffle.
Scenes at the end of the game were ugly, there’s no other word really to describe them but I feel also inevitable. Tensions were raising throughout the game as players became more and more frustrated. It was a game that needed a firm hand, good management and swift decisions. Instead, to me, it seemed virtually every decision was made by committee. With the arm raised a lot of decisions saw the referee consult the linesmen before communicating his decision with the scorer.
Paul Brooks is a younger official, starting out in the EPL. During the game there’s only a couple of penalties that could really have been contested but frustrations still boiled over. The only reason that could be is the game management.
There are some distinct styles in refereeing. There’s the vocal game management style used by Dave Cloutman, Matt Thompson, Tim Pickett and Stef Hogarth. This allows them to call fewer penalties as the game is managed by constant communication with the players and penalties are a last resort. It often allows the game to flow better too. There’s a totally different style used by someone such as Stephen Matthews, who isn’t as vocal with the players but isn’t afraid to call penalties. When a penalty is called that’s that and there’s no room for consultation with every player on the ice reference that penalty.
I always remember an official we had in the BNL days, Glenn Meier who’s now located back home to Canada. Glenn was a no nonsense official, he called every game in the same fair manner and took no cheek from the players. He wasn’t afraid to call a 10 minute misconduct if he felt the players overstepped the line. Players fell foul of that but it was the way he called a game, it was up to players to learn the way officials called games and get on with the game. After the game Glenn was always happy to chat in the bar to the fans and players and explain any call he’d made on the ice but during the game Glenn was the man in charge and everyone knew the time for explanation was after the game. Dave Cloutman, Matt Thompson and others in the BNL era were also the same, more than happy to answer any reasonable question after the game.
Where the EPL had things spot on was the adoption of the now gone 4 man system. With experienced officials, who are great game managers in the league the upcoming officials could benefit from learning alongside the experienced ones. Now, an upcoming official, will get thrown in at the deep end, often controlling experienced players in a tense environment in front of hundreds of fans.
Paul Brooks will be spending his Sunday morning writing reports following last night’s game as any official has to do after issuing match penalties. The EPL head of discipline will have been kept busy by last night’s game as well as there are 4 match penalties in the game that all need ruling on.
One of those match penalties went to Callum Pattinson who picked up 2+2+match for fighting at 60.00 as he was one of those at the heart of the post game scrum. Having watched the whole match though I don’t recall him getting a single shift in the 60 minutes of play though?
Last weekend I wrote that the Bison played as a team. They enjoyed each other’s success, enjoyed playing for each other and together with each other. Last night showed the flipside as having spoken to some of the Bison after the game the mutual disappointment was clear to see. Every player felt bad not just for their part in the loss but for each other in the team and the overall loss.
Putting it in perspective, it’s just the second loss on home ice that the Bison have suffered in the whole season. They still sit 4 points clear at the top of the table with 2 games in hand on the nearest chasers. Next is Telford in the league ahead of a home and away semi-final, starting Wednesday against the Flames for the Premier Cup.