With the highs of 2015/16 still fresh in the memories of hockey fans the 2016/17 pre-season had started on Wednesday at Swindon before the home ice return for the Basingstoke Bison saw them take on local rivals Guildford Flames.
The Bison won the league in 2015/16, the best team over the course of the season. The Flames had won the 2 knock out trophies, the Premier Cup and Play-offs so this was a battle of the champions.
Bison got off to a dominant start with Tomas Karpov and Alan Lack keeping Flames goaltender Mike Will busy but with 59 seconds played the goal light lit behind the away goal as the Bison scored their first of the new season. Antonov fed in a powerful pass to the net and it was new import Petr Polodna who tipped it home.
Guildford found their way down to the Bison net as Tom Duggan broke away but Tomas Hiadlovsly extended a pad and denied the chance. Action was soon back around the Flames net but in a flurry of action Lack was awarded a slashing call giving away the game’s first powerplay chance.
Despite a couple of good plays the Bison were more than up to the penalty kill which was needed again soon after Lack returned when Tomas Karpov picked up a hooking minor penalty at 6.26
Hiadlovsky pulled off a huge save to deny Quiney’s shot as he was pinching in but soon balance swung further in favour of the visitors as Ciaran Long picked up a cross checking penalty in retaliation to something missed by the officials.
It was with the 2 man advantage Flames scored to level the game. A tiring penalty killing unit was worked hard by the Flames and pulled the players wide to allow space for Meyers to fire in for 1-1 at 8.19.
At 12.06 Bison were back in the ascendancy with some almost exhibition game finishing from Tomas Karpov. Grant Rounding provided the feed to Karpov who pushed the puck forward, drew it back, pushed it forward again and drew Will out of position then wrong footed him with his finishing.
Flames finally got to build some pressure around the net, Andy McKinney getting the first chance but firing over the net but despite the period of pressure and having Bison in their zone on the back foot there were no further meaningful chances.
There was another powerplay chance for the visitors when Karpov took down Melachrino. The felled player had a chance on the powerplay but despite there being no time or space pressure managed to totally waste the opportunity.
Almost to rub salt in the wounds of the glaring error Bison were 2 on 1 shorthanded as Rene Jarolin and Aaron Connolly raced the length of the ice together, Jarolin finding Connolly who shot top shelf for 3-1.
Flames ended the period on a powerplay when Lack took his second sit down of the game at 19.02, this one for holding the stick. Flames managed a powerplay 2 on 1 but the Hiadlovsky right pad saved the day and with the net off the whistle blew.
When the end of period buzzer sounded Bison could reflect positively on a good opening period which saw them justifiably 3-1 up but Flames had the opportunity of 1.02 left on the powerplay to start the next period to look forward to.
After the return Stephen Matthews dropped the puck again and the game was back underway. Matt Towalski looked to sneak another shorthanded goal but Meyers broke the play before the Bison man could release a shot. After some scrappy play though Rene Jarolin didn’t so much blow away the cobwebs as blast them away. Connolly set away Jarolin and he barrelled in and blasted away high into the net with Will’s reaction only coming after the twine had bulged.
Chances kept coming as Rounding couldn’t quite beat Will before a tripping penalty went to Andy McKinney giving Bison a powerplay. Flames broke shorthanded but Hiadlovsky saved. Flames seemed to be enjoying the better of the Bison powerplay but with the line change came a change of momentum for the home team.
Another powerplay chance went to the Flames while Declan Balmer sat down for a roughing call from 29.43. The powerplay looked good except just couldn’t finish past Hiadlovksy as the Bison shot stopper was in good form. Even a crowd in front the net couldn’t stop Hiadlovsky seeing Eriksson’s shot and another good Flames chance ended without reward. Campbell rounded Mogg with ease but again couldn’t get the puck into the net. Kevin Phillips was next but again Hiadlovsky denied a good save grabbing the puck.
A period of end to end play followed with new signing Polodna creating a good solo chance then Jarolin setting up Kurt Reynolds but both were denied by Will.
After a 4 goal first period the second period ended with just the 1 goal and Bison good for their 4-1 lead.
The opening of the third period was a bit scrappy. It had an early season feel to it with teams just getting back into their strides. There were a couple of good chances at both ends but at 45.49 Will saw the fifth puck in the back of his net. Polodna did the hard yards, carrying the puck and taking the corner then centring the puck for Antonov while being pressured by the Flames. Antonov took the feed and fired home.
Flames managed to take and keep the zone but after a lot of hard work the puck was sent to Marek Maslonka who failed to get any decent leverage on the chance. Soon after Karpov set off on a run and tried to squeeze in a rapid wrap around but Will have enough to make the save.
Stuart Mogg went down after hitting the boards awkwardly after a coming together with Melachrino but he was up after a small delay and off under his own steam.
After a period of 4 on 4 there were some late chances at both ends. McKinney fired past the post, Mogg got sent on by Antonov but Will denied him. Bison won the face-off and it seemed almost everyone except Rene Jarolin stopped so Jarolin fired in but Will managed to stop it just in time. Jarolin tried again, this time from close in but Will saved again. Will also saved when Ciaran Long tried but then the final buzzer sounded and the home team enjoyed a good 5-1 win.
It was a workmanlike performance from the Bison against a Flames team that underachieved on the night. They started their back up goaltender against Bison’s starting goaltender and they just weren’t as sharp as the Bison. I’m sure there’s more to come from the Bison, especially when Vantroba’s replacement starts. The Flames fans will be hoping there’s more to come from their team.