Bison 1617 vs Phoenix (Game 1)

The Sherfield School Basingstoke Bison took to home ice to start their weekend and the Manchester Phoenix provided the opposition. With the excitement of the team line ups done both sets of players and their supporters together with the game officials impeccably observed a minute silence in respect of all those lost in war ahead of the National Anthem.

Basingstoke Bison 5 Manchester Phoenix 2

After the formalities were all complete referee Dave Cloutman called forward to players for the opening face-off and the home team set about establishing the tone for the game. Shaun Thompson barrelled past Luke Boothroyd but Stephen Fone had it covered. Derek Roehl was next and his shot rung the ironwork around the net, the puck landed for him on the rebound but he fired wide giving a now out of position Fone a let off.

Just 78 seconds into the game Bison were on the powerplay as Greg Pick took a roughing penalty but despite complete dominance of the 2 minutes the scoreboard didn’t change the home and away count balance. Long got the first shot of the powerplay but Fone was well positioned for the save, Aaron Connolly was next after some good creative work by Vanya Antonov but again Fone saved. Rene Jarolin worked in deep before feeding back to Jan Jarabek who’s blast ended up in the goaltender’s glove and Ben Wood started a goal mouth shoving match at the whistle.

As Phoenix returned to full strength there wasn’t much change in the game tempo as Bison continued their dominance. Long shot and Fone saved, Kurt Reynolds pounced to keep the puck in at the blue line and let lose a shot of his own forcing another save. All this was happening while Tomas Hiadlovsky was yet to face a shot!

Bison found themselves with a 3 on 1 but managed to out fox themselves and undid the danger on their own. That didn’t stop Long having another go shortly after, shooting through the screen of Lewis Baldwin but Fone managed to see the puck safely into his glove.

When the time came Hiadlovsky was sharp as firstly Boothroyd tried a one timer that was kicked to safety by the Bison shot stopped and when Bebris had his first shot of the game the Hiadlovsky blocker dealt with that attempt.

Bison were back on the attack shortly after and a perfectly executed move saw Balmer pass side to side to Jarolin with perfect accuracy, he went on to pick out Roehl but again the Phoenix goaltender allowed no way through. The visitors couldn’t retain control of the puck though and soon it was with the Bison captain but he offered an easy save, shooting at Fone.

After Boothroyd stood up Karpov at the defensive blue line Kovar combined with Malinik to provide the latter a chance he squandered by shooting wide.

With play back in the Phoenix defensive zone Long shot from a face off win, save was made by Fone but Antonov had the rebound which squeezed past the outside. Joe Baird shot in from the blue line with Thompson in front waiting for the deflection but he couldn’t get enough of the puck to deflect it in.

The team with the momentum became the team with the lead at 14.23 when the Bison scored the game’s first goal. Bison had the zone and the players were in the right places, Karpov slid across an inch perfect pass to Antonov who took position for the one timer past the Phoenix goaltender.

The Bison urgency didn’t stop there. Roehl gained the zone and fired, hitting the post for a second time, this one bouncing up and into the netting drawing a whistle. Soon after, having battled hard in the corner, Karpov skated out in front and tried lifting the puck into the net but Fone raised himself just in time to get a shoulder to the puck and deflect it over.

A curious line change allowed Bison’s Grant Rounding the opportunity to skate in alone and as he gained the zone and shot from the right hash marks his shot struck Fone in the face mask. The Phoenix goaltender took a little while to compose himself but remained in the game.

On the re-start Jarabek found Antonov who held the puck despite Phoenix attempting to outmuscle the young forward, Antonov found Karpov but the Phoenix survived at just 1-0 down.

As the first period buzzer sounded Phoenix could be grateful to their goaltender who had kept them in the game. Bison had registered 15 shots in the opening period and but for Fone would have been many to the good, while Hiadlovsky was tested just 5 times in the same time period.

Bison started the second period by hitting the metal work surrounding the net for the third time in the game. Karpov forced a turnover and quickly fed Antonov who moved the puck on to Long but the #89 backhand hit the crossbar. Shortly after Roehl was at the side of the net and when the puck found him he couldn’t quite get enough elevation to lift the puck high into the net.

It was a second Bison powerplay at 22.05 as Meidl ran through Jarolin which was called as charging and the home team got another two minute advantage. The biggest chance came from a Jarolin blast but for the fourth time in the evening a Bison shot ended in the distinctive sound of metal ringing.

As Meidl returned at 24.05 the Bison might be wondering how they’d dominated the opening of the period but not added to their scoring but Phoenix got a chance with a powerplay of their own after a high stick caught Boothroyd seeing Daniel Lackey head to the penalty box.

Declan Balmer helped out Hiadlovsky clearing a puck from the line. With the man advantage Phoenix looked a bit more competitive, Tuominen shot but Hiadlovsky caught the puck with nonchalant ease.

As Lackey returned he was gifted a chance, alone heading in to the attacking zone he found Fone in behind the net but when the goaltender mishandled the puck Lackey couldn’t quite get it into the open net.

A Stuart Mogg wrap around attempt was denied at the post but it was Bison powerplay time again at 29.48 when Meidl was called for holding Roehl’s stick. The first offensive move of the powerplay came against the man advantage as Bison coughed up the puck but Hiadlovsky made a save from Bebris’ attempt.

As Bison worked hard back in the Phoenix zone Jarabek went down after a whack to the face. As the puck exited the zone the referee blew down play. Jarabek took a moment or two but was off under his own steam and play resumed. Bison worked hard and dominated the powerplay but it ended with no further scoring.

41 seconds after the return to full strength referee Dave Cloutman blew his whistle to call a too many non British trained players bench minor at 32.29 on the Phoenix. It didn’t take long for Bison to convert this powerplay as Karpov found Balmer at the blue line and the defenceman powered it home with a booming shot at 33.02.

Phoenix fought back hard, Indra worked his way to the net but Hiadlovsky denied him. Pick then came advancing in, crossed the blue line and shot and as Hiadlovsky deflected it away it fell to the Bison who were quick on transition. Hiadlovsky’s deflection was picked up by Jarabek who sent away a perfect outlet pass to Karpov. Karpov moved in quickly and waited to draw Fone out of position on the doorstep before sliding home the Bison third of the night at 35.38.

With applause still ringing around the arena as the goal was announced Declan Balmer and Greg Pick squared off in the neutral zone. Both landed some blows before parting in a draw and heading off to serve the matching double minor roughing penalties.

Some good defending and goaltending for the Bison kept their sheet clean up to the end of the second period. It had been another dominating performance for the home team as this time they outshot their opponents 19-6.

The final period started well for the Herd as Karpov doubled his personally tally at 44.23 and in doing so gave the Bison their fourth goal of the night. With the puck at the net and a scramble underway it was the Czech who muscled his way in and finished from the top of the crease.

With that goal only just finished being celebrated 59 seconds later Derek Roehl forced a turnover in the Phoenix defensive zone and fired in past Fone for 5-0.

With five on the board the Bison could have gone on to roll up the score line but didn’t. Jarabek set off Rounding but Fone made the save then Phoenix came in on a 2 on 1 with Bailey attempting the wrap around but Hiadlovsky trapped it at the post.

With 11.21 left to play Phoenix got on the board as they capitalised on an rare Bison error gifting an opportunity, Malinik centred the puck and O’Flaherty tapped it home.

Ciaran Long took a pass and fired, saved by Fone he had a go at his own rebound but that went wide. With 7.36 left it was Long who picked up interference minor and Tony Hand took the opportunity to call the Phoenix time out.

Mogg raced away shorthanded from the re-start but ended up providing an easy glove save for Fone.

Phoenix appeared to have so much space to work with when they netted their second. They worked the puck between Meidl and Indra who found Tuominen and his wrist shot sailed high into the net for 5-2 at 54.26

Chances came at both ends and both goaltenders made saves to keep the scoring at 5-2 as the final 2 minutes came along.

A noisy Basingstoke Arena clapped, cheered and sung away the majority of the final two minutes as the Bison closed down the 3 goal lead for the win and another two points earned on home ice.

This is a hard game to sum up. It was two sides with totally different ambitions, one with a title to defend, one just hoping for survival and one day returning to the town who’s name they play under. The man of the match, picked independently was way off on both teams. Without Fone Manchester were sunk and would have been going home on the wrong side of a 10+ goal defeat. For the Bison Balmer did score a nice goal and did have a scrap but in my opinion the clear candidate was Karpov who scored two nice goals and worked hard all night long in addition to the two he scored and further two he made.

Taking it from the beginning, Bison opened the game confidently and took the zone almost immediately putting the Phoenix under pressure. The team this year is clearly built around Fone as offensively there isn’t enough strength in depth to be able to hope for many victories against the top teams. If Fone has a good night then the Phoenix stand a chance of a close game but if they find their goalie off form, as has happened with Fone in the past, then their chances of winning are pretty much zero.

In the past, when Phoenix were a contending team they had quality Brits and quality imports and the strength and depth of the team in every department was clear to see. Such was the quality back in the day that arguably in his last year, Tony Hand was one of the weak links in the senior players as his speed was gone. Now, there is some talent but just not enough to go around and by the 60 minute mark Bison clearly had more in the tank where it looked like the Phoenix were running on empty despite their easier finish.

With the Bison racking up a 5 goal lead by 45.22 including shooting and scoring in quick succession in the third period the work was done. Phoenix never had the depth and talent in offence to come back and get the game to overtime against the Bison line up in the 14.38 left to play. Having worked with Doug Sheppard in the past I know he’s not a coach who likes to run up the score for fun but I got the impression that the Bison could have gone on to complete the shut-out and added a few more of their own if they wanted.

Now, back to man of the match. It’s often a subjective issue rather than objective. Last night, for the Phoenix, it was objective in that I’m pretty certain everyone who watched the game, except for the person who picked the MoM, agreed that Fone should have had the beers for the visitors. He didn’t back stop his team to a win so it’s possible to see why someone would have looked past him but he was the stand out player on a pretty otherwise average team. He conceded 5 goals but he did so from 41 shots and it took 5 special events to beat him. He didn’t win his team the game but he certainly didn’t cost his team the game and he should have got the beers.

For me, for the Bison, it was hard to see how Karpov didn’t get the beers. Forget for a second the 4 points he bagged and just look at the work ethic he put in and the way he battled hard for every loose puck, the skilful way he handled every puck he had and the way he lead his line on the ice. Now added in two superb goals and two creative helpers and it is hard to see past him. Credit to Balmer who scored and had a scrap which is eye catching but best player, and therefore man of the match, for an excellent all round game was Tomas Karpov.

Where now for the teams? The Bison did what they had to do against a team outside (as it stands) play-off consideration. If being hyper-critical then you could say after outshooting the Phoenix 15-5 and 19-6 it would have been nice to see the same happen in the third and a rout completed. But, with a road trip to Sheffield the next night, and the points already secure it’s understandable why that didn’t happen.

For the Phoenix they are just short. Short on Brits, imports in general aren’t contending imports on the showing from Saturday night. They’re playing miles from home in a rink that’s taken its fair share of criticism as a Premier League venue and since leaving Altrincham in the summer of 2015 the fan base has by all accounts dwindled. I remember in my time at Slough Manchester always travelled in good numbers, same in my first season at Basingstoke but this season the away support block was taken up by a handful of travelling fans.

This week, the focus won’t so much be on Manchester and their apparent home coming which was announced as being Sunday 13th November vs MKL if I remember correctly, a game which is being played in Fylde with no a bit of work done on the temporary site. The focus this week is on the rapidly unfolding drama from Telford with many rumours circulating!

I feel for the fans, I feel for the players possibly out of pocket and maybe more and I feel for the alleged creditors.

After the above tweet however it’s hard to feel sorry for the Red Management and management that have been in place since Red. The EPL was a happy place, yes, at the time the Tigers were bottom of the pile, but Wayne Scholes came in and upset the apple cart and critically forced up wage expectations. I remember an interview Scholes did soon after taking over, in this interview he said he wasn’t over paying any player. I know of one player who’s wages were trebled to get him to sign for the Tigers! This handsome pay structure had a knock on effect on forcing up wages for all other clubs.

Now, as the EPL in general awaits the statement to come from the Tigers there must be worry around the league. Worst case scenario could possibly see the Tigers exit the league which leaves teams short on games that they’d budgeted for, also having to make credit payments to season ticket holders because they can’t fulfil the number of games promised in the season ticket package. While some clubs may be able to absorb that think of Bracknell and Manchester, a worst case scenario may well tip them over the edge.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope for the fans of the Tigers and for the EPL in general that it’s not the worst case scenario!

Until the statement comes from the Tigers we’re dealing in speculation so let’s wait for the facts and then make our judgements.