With a disappointing open weekend done the second weekend of the season proper, and league title defence, started on home ice with M3 derby opponents, Bracknell Bees taking to the Basingstoke ice.
It’s no mean feat that the Bees even got to the starting line after a desperately tough season last year. They reformed under new ownership and retained the services of a great many loyal players who played most of the previous season without the remuneration they were contractually entitled to.
I don’t think anyone in Bracknell expects anything other than a tough season.
Bison were without Vanya Antonov in what would have been his first game against his old club while Bees were without Scott Spearing.
Dave Cloutman had the armbands on for this tilt and after a generous, warm round of applause in memory of Czech referee Pavel Lainka who passed away after taking a puck to the head he got the game underway with a centre ice face-off.
Basingstoke Bison 8 Bracknell Bees 1
The game got off to a rapid start which chances coming for the Bison. Jacub Barton was first to test Alex Mettam, offering the Bees goaltender an easy glove save just before 2.00 and Ciaran Long had his shot saved by the blocker at 2.34. Kurt Reynolds saw the puck back to him and he shot in from the blue line but another easy save was made.
It was Kurt Reynolds who set up the first goal as he fed a perfect puck to Shaun Thompson who let lose a wrist shot for 1-0 at 3.37
Bees managed to sneak their opening 31 seconds later against the run of play when they managed to string together a couple of passes, the final one across the crease and with Tomas Hiadlovsky down anticipating the shot the pass went in front to Luka Basic who netted high into the goal.
Chances followed at both ends; a deflection from a Mogg shot wasn’t enough to pass Mettam then James Galazzi benefitted from space on the ice but skated too far allowing Hiadlovsky an easy smothering save.
Tomas Karpov skated the length of the neutral zone and Bees defensive zone rounding the net and feeding out a puck in front but nobody was anticipating this leaving an easy clear for the Bees. Ciaran Long showed his skill feeding an inch perfect pass through traffic to Barton who shot wide then it was powerplay time for the Bison as a good chance for Dan Davies was hampered by the hooking of Krystof Kafan at 9.10.
Despite some chances with the man advantage for the Bison the best chance came to the Bees on a shorthanded breakaway but Stuart Mogg broke the play, and Bees returned to full strength with no scoreboard damage done.
Frustration showed on Lukas Smital at 12.47 when he was sandwiched between Karpov and Reynolds he let lose a slash on Reynolds with was clearly seen by and penalised by the referee.
Shaun Thompson tried to tip home a chance from Barton but Mettam made the save, however he could do nothing after a gathering in front of the net saw Dan Davies finish the scramble by putting a rebounded puck in. Celebrations were muted temporarily as Mettam stayed down for some time and was treated by the team therapist. As the goaltender returned to his feet the rink reverberated to the sound of the goal anthem as the home fans celebrated 2-1.
As Bison enjoyed good chances it was Shaun Thompson who finished off the third strike of the night for the Bison. He raced down the ice with Dan Lackey carrying the puck up the right wing before centring to Thompson who waited before releasing his shot high into the goal to light the light again.
Bracknell got their first powerplay when Shaun Thompson was called for hooking at 16.42. Martin Pavlicek tried his luck with the man advantage but his booming shot was met by an extended Hiadlovsky pad and the Bison completed a good smothering penalty kill.
Alan Lack rushed down the ice solo with the buzzer about to sound looking for 4-1 but the end of period buzzer beat him and Bison headed to the locker room 3-1 ahead in a period they’d enjoyed dominance of.
As the second period got underway Harvey Stead was first to try something but Hiadlovsky kicked away the chance and within a minute of the opening of the second period the puck was in the Bees net again. Karpov worked the puck to the net and Lack got the goal he’d been searching for before the buzzer when he tapped home from in front at 20.57
Kurt Reynolds was looking for two parts of the Gordie Howe hattrick when he shot from a Lackey pass but with his shot unsuccessful he then laid a huge hit. A break at the other end saw Alex Barker firing at Hiadlovksy but an easy blocker save was made. Mogg quickly turned it around and floated a solo effort at the Bees net but Mettam made that save.
James Galazzi came looking for action as Alan Lack patiently waited in front of the Bees goal for a rebound. Nothing was doing other than a discussion. Ciaran Long benefited from some terrible Bees defence but they recovered in time to push him wide and deny him a scoring chance at 27.00 but 25 seconds later David Gaborcik cleared the puck over the glass and earned himself a delay of the game penalty.
As Bison rushed the net on the powerplay it was Kafan who ended up in the goal ahead of Aaron Connolly picking up a high sticking penalty at 28.47 to even it up at 4 on 4.
A short 1.21 powerplay for the Bees saw Smital feed an unmarked Barker but he failed to connect with the pass. Kurt Reynolds then sprung shorthanded but couldn’t quite complete the play and Captain Connolly returned to the ice.
Back at full strength the attack from the Bison continued. Thompson was in front looking to tip home a Lack shot but couldn’t quite connect. With just over 35 minutes played Dan Davies stole the puck and carried it into the zone. He laid off a backhand drop pass to Connolly who fed it back and Davies then fed Jarolin but his shot said by on the far side of the net to safety.
Matt Towalski came barrelling in on Alex Mettam but was denied on the line by Mettam. He couldn’t stop Ciaran Long with 1.52 left in the period when Long left the puck for Polodna who shot and Long pounced in on the rebound with a wrap around goal.
It was almost 6-1 as the buzzer sounded but again Lack just couldn’t quite beat the end of the period. This time all the players gathered round the net as Dave Cloutman moved in to calmly send them off to the dressing room.
Bees started the third period with a 2 on 1 but Hiadlovsky cleared the rebound straight to Rene Jarolin who was off and away with it. A couple more chances fell for the Bees but their finishing let them down.
At 45.56 there was nothing wrong with Towalski’s finishing as Mogg sent him away and he broke down the ice and a calm finish saw the puck past Mettam and in for the Bison sixth of the night.
Under two minutes later it was 7-1 as Shaun Thomspon completed his hatrick with another good finish, tapping home from Ciaran Long out in front and before the celebrations of goal 7 had finished Czech superstar Tomas Karpov had breached the Bees net for the eighth time in the night. Karpov embarrassed the defence before calmly shooting past Mettam on the short side and Bison now lead by 7 with 10.39 left to play.
Lackey looked in on goal following a crisp pass from Petr Polodna but couldn’t get the shot off unimpeded. Galazzi was back at Hiadlovksy at the other end right after but his shot bobbled across the ice and posed no difficult to the shot stopper. Carl Thompson had a go next but another save from Hiadlovsky continued to frustrate the Bees. Gaboric fired twice and both times Hiadlovsky shut the door.
As the game entered the final two minutes it was clear despite the obvious Bison victory about to be finalised that the Bees weren’t going to give up. Try as they did though they couldn’t do anything to improve their earlier strike and the Bison claimed their first two points of the season.
I wasn’t sure what to make of the Bees team. Before the season started I placed them 9th in my prediction league just ahead of Manchester. With questions over whether Manchester have met the deadline for the planning meeting for their temporary rink and teams now telling fans not to travel to away games held at Blackpool I’m now wondering if by finishing in 9th place Bracknell would in fact finish bottom?
For the Bison it was nice to get the first points on the board but nobody is losing focus. Bracknell wasn’t the toughest test the Bison will face this season and with no disrespect to the Bees points from Bracknell games this season will be essential earns for the Bison.
Tonight there were some great plays put on by the Bison, a fantastic sequence of play initiated and controlled by Dan Davies towards the end of the second period showed the skill that line has even if the finishing was off target. The move Davies worked will undress any defence in the league and that line is still learning it’s chemistry.
Shaun Thompson found his scoring touch with a nicely taken hat trick. A wrist shot, a patient finish and a tip in were the three components of his hat trick. As always Karpov dazzled for his goal and once again proved why he is regarded as one of the very best import forwards in the league.
For Bracknell first let’s commend the owners who picked up the ruined club which was dragged through the mire last season. With no rich owner prepared to bankroll the team in the modern EPL it was always going to be tough to recruit a competitive team. If you were being truthful you’d say it’s probably a top end NIHL1 team bolstered by additional imports. The jewel in their crown disappeared when Antonov decided he fancied being part of a contending team and joined the Bison.
Smital himself has slowed a lot, he’s not the player he was 5 years ago. The Brit core wouldn’t look out of place on the Hornets roster and as I wrote in my preview of the Bees before the season started Mettam is yet to provide them with anything like starting goaltender statistics in the modern EPL.
Some games you can describe as lucky wins, unlucky losses or even say the scoreline flattered the winners. In truth Bison were more than good for the eight goals and likewise it I didn’t see where a second Bees goal was coming from.
Phantoms away, the next Bison game, will be a much tougher challenge and is the kind of challenge the Bison will need to rise to if they’re to defend successfully the EPL title.