The Basingstoke Arena filled nicely to watch Ciaran Long’s 500th EPL game as the Basingstoke Bison took on the Sheffield Steeldogs.
With the Steeldogs players already on the ice each Bison returned to their entrance to form a guard of honour for Ciaran Long to skate out through as the 25 year old made his 500th appearance in the league.
Basingstoke Bison 5 Sheffield Steeldogs 2
Matt Thompson was the referee with Ormond and Sitch-Cunningham on the lines and after the formalities the centre ice puck drop got the game underway.
Both teams traded early chances, Ciaran Long looking to get a goal in his 500th game early on but sending his shot just wide and soon after Liam Kirk made Tomas Hiadlovsky come up with a save in the Bison net.
Derek Roehl from the slot couldn’t finish, then moments later as Roehl danced round a couple of Steeldogs players he ran into Tomas Brcko but fed the puck to Ciaran Long who was stopped by James Hadfield.
Ciaran Long got another chance but Brcko deflected it wide ahead of Rene Jarolin picking up a tripping minor at 6.03.
First chance with special teams fell to Ciaran Long who stole the puck but as Hadfield got down and extended the pad the 500 game man couldn’t quite get the puck over the extended pad. With the powerplay expiring Arnoldas Bosas charged to the net but caused no trouble when his attempt went high.
Back at full strength Joe Rand came from behind the Steeldogs goal but couldn’t get a wrap around in, the puck fell to Aaron Connolly in front but he also couldn’t get the puck in. Tomas Karpov sent the puck back to Dan Scott at the blue line but his shot hit a stick on the way in and deflected up into the roof.
Bison were caught on the change and Macaulay Heywood was alone in space but Hiadlovsky was alert and no damage was done.
Ciaran Long hit the post as the Bison charged back and then Vanya Antonov was racing in with speed but Hadfield extended the pad and kicked the puck out of play.
With Bison looking dangerous at 13.10 the opening goal came. Ciaran Long set away Vanya Antonov, he fed across to Dan Davies on a 2 on 1 and Davies then slotted back to the other side to Antonov who cut in and fired in the first goal.
Dan Scott took a puck to the face and dropped to the ground immediately when a zone clearance left the ice and hit him stood on the bench. After a slight delay while all around checked he was ok he was up and off to the dressing room for treatment but would be back on the ice soon.
Aaron Connolly went with Derek Roehl and the former set up the later but Hadfield extended his pad.
At 15.54 it was 2-0 when Antonov scored his second. Tomas Hiadlovsky collected another point as he sent away Dan Davies and Davies quickly found Antonov who skated in and slotted right under the arm for the second of the night.
Derek Roehl fed Joe Baird, Baird drove to the net and Towalski tipped but a save came. Stuart Mogg then stepped into to a back pass but Hadfield played the shot with his stick and deflected it away.
At the end of the first period Bison were good for their 2-0 lead and maybe could have had one of two more on a different day. The Steeldogs had matched Bison in terms of shots on goal but the Bison had better shots.
The second period started a little scrappy. Bosas got the first chance for the Steeldogs but Joe Baird got a stick on it and deflected it out of play. Rene Jarolin fed Derek Roehl from behind the goal but Roehl’s shot was blocked on it’s way through. Then as Steeldogs broke quickly Bosas was away again but Kurt Reynolds raced back and blocked another shot.
Dan Lackey took a tripping call looking to stand his man up at 22.08 and Steeldogs went to the powerplay. Dan Davies went in short handed with Adrian Palak marking him he still got the shot off but it was wide. With the Steeldogs failing to get anything going on the man advantage Dan Lackey returned to the ice at 24.08.
Long and Antonov gained the zone together, Long entered, stopped and waiting for Antonov to get position before laying off for a hat trick attempt but Hadfield denied the young Bison.
Bison powerplay time was ahead at 26.01 when Tim Smith took down Matt Towalski in the corner. The dangerous, young Liam Kirk was away after the Steeldogs intercepted a pass but his shorthanded effort couldn’t breach the last line of defence from Tomas Hiadlovsky.
Bison were almost 3 ahead when Smith returned Dan Scott was away with the puck but Hadfield produced a sharp save.
Hiadlovsky had almost doubled his assist count for the night when he sent away a long pass to Derek Roehl who was alone in space and tried to beat Hadfield 5 hole but the goaltender dropped and closed the pads just in time.
Tomas Brcko avoided a narrow off side call before shooting but wasting his effort as he shot straight at Hiadlovsky.
Chances came quickly at both ends next as Tomas Karpov tested Hadfield before Liam Charnock broke but Hiadlovsky denied him.
The Sheffield bench seemed angered as Liam Kirk went down in the Bison defensive zone but there was no call on the play and shortly Kirk was up and off under his own steam.
Derek Roehl chased a dump in and tried an acute angle but Hadfield hugged the post and stopped the chance. Next it was Antonov who seized on a bobbling puck but his shot was straight at the Steeldogs goalie.
With a delayed penalty pending against Aaron Connolly Sheffield pulled a goal back against the run of play when Bosas shot and fired in at 35.57
It wasn’t a single goal game for long as the man of the night made it 3-1 just 21 seconds later. It was a demonstration we’ve all seen before as Long dangled his way through the zone to the net and fired home at 36.18 for 3-1.
Brcko was lucky to get away with just 2 minutes boarding at 38.18 when he ran Derek Roehl into the boards.
Tim Smith wore a Ciaran Long slapshot as the puck hit him in the ankle, Liam Kirk made his way to the net but got too close and the puck was taken from him thanks to a Hiadlovsky poke check.
Ciaran Long and Thomas Relf both picked up coincidental roughing minors at 39.38 in reaction to Ciaran Long looking for a loose puck in the crease some pushing and shoving had occurred in front of the goal.
Bison ended the second period 3-1 up and were gaining momentum. They had made Hadfield the busier of the two netminders and had worked the Steeldogs defence hard.
As the third period started Basingstoke could make nothing of the remaining 18 seconds of powerplay and Brcko returned.
1.44 into the third Tomas Karpov rushed up the ice and shot from the right wing, he went behind the net and started his celebration and eventually the goal light went on. Matt Thompson discussed with his officials before allowing the goal. The puck had become lodged under Hadfield’s right pad but he’d dragged it behind the line meaning the goal was good.
Just under 3 minutes later there was centre ice action as Declan Balmer and Macaulay Heywood came together at centre ice. After coming together during play both players were quick to drop the gloves and while Heywood landed a couple it was Balmer with the takedown. Bison got the powerplay from the scrap as Heywood picked up an additional 2 minute roughing penalty to go with the double roughing minors both players were awarded.
With the break in play Dan Weller-Evans replaced Tomas Hiadlovsky in the Bison net, playing his first competitive minutes of the season on home ice. Upon the re-start Derek Roehl’s drive hit a man in front and fell for Tomas Karpov but the second attempt met with a Hadfield save.
Thomas Relf, who had served the additional two minute penalty from the scrap, returned to the ice and the puck fell for him on his return but his shot was a comfortable welcome to the game for Dan Weller-Evans as the shot was comfortably into his chest pad.
Stuart Mogg was set up for a slapshot but Hadfield was alert to the chance. At the other end Bosas rushed up the ice and with Grant Rounding in hot pursuit put his chance safely wide. Declan Balmer returned from his double minor as play stopped then a bad Bison change left Thomas Relf open in space but he sent his shot square on to Weller-Evans and he made another save.
Chances were coming as Charnock tried his luck but Weller-Evans had a glove save at the ready. The Steeldogs bench had taken great offence to Declan Balmer from his earlier tussle and with 9.07 left to play Arnoldas Bosas took a run at Bison number 24 earning himself a charging penalty.
Bison managed to set up Ciaran Long in the slot but his effort was saved by Hadfield and with Bosas returning soon after a Steeldogs won face-off saw the puck drawn back to the Steeldogs forward who raced in and rung one off the crossbar that deflected up and out of play.
Adrian Palak took a roughing penalty at 56.06 and it took 52 seconds for the Bison to convert the advantage to their fifth goal of the night. Bison set up a textbook powerplay and the puck was fed to Derek Roehl on the left point who blasted a slapshot in that Joe Rand, in front of the net, tipped in.
With the game looking to be closed out Grant Rounding took a high sticks minor penalty at 57.57 giving Sheffield a powerplay opportunity. With 1.38 left to play Steeldogs made it 5-2 when Liam Kirk shot mid net on Weller-Evans left side from a feed from Palak.
With 13 seconds left in the game Steeldogs added a third to claw back an air of respectability in the scoreline when Maccauley Heywood flicked the puck high into the net.
Bison closed the final 13 seconds out and took the points.
It wasn’t the game I thought it would be! I expected a bigger margin and to be fair the game wasn’t a 5-3 game. The Bison almost gifted a couple of late consolation goals giving the appearance on the scoresheet at least of an evenly matched game, which it wasn’t.
The Steeldogs came short benched. They had taken the sensible decision of releasing Mrna as he was spending more time off the ice than on it. No damage can ever be done to the opposition from in the sin bin or worse still from the sidelines sitting out a suspension. Mrna’s release was the sensible decision given neither the player nor the coach could control his indiscipline problem.
Adrian Palak taking up an import slot is also a curious decision. He set NIHL2 alight last year with 96 points for Deeside Dragons at 3.69 points per game. This year he’s managed just 12 points from 35 appearances at 0.34 points per game. For a forward that’s a poor return! For an import forward that’s an awful return! It shows the gulf in difference between NIHL2 and EPIHL. Think back to Joe Rand who signed for the Bison from the Wightlink Raiders in NIHL1 and was a success in the EPL, but Rand came from a league above where Palak came from and his return of 2.58 points per game in the much higher skilled league made him much more likely to succeed on the bigger stage.
The visitors were also missing Donatas Kumeliauskas and Callum Pattison. The former was a loss for the team and meant they were playing with just 3 out of a possible 5 imports and as mentioned above 1 of the playing 3 were out of their depth.
The Steeldogs played well considering they were short benched. They put up a good show but tired in every period. They started the periods well but the short bench against the pace of the Bison rolling all three lines showed. With the exception of the last period where they snuck a couple of late goals they looked visibly tired at the end of the periods.
The Bison put in a good performance. Vanya Antonov regained some confidence and took his two goals well. Derek Roehl played a good game too, his blast that led to Joe Rand’s goal was that fast Rand was lucky to get a stick on it in time!
It was nice to see Dan Weller-Evans get some ice time at home. He played the third period well the previous weekend in Bracknell. He faced just 8 shots but dealt with them all confidently. Against the Steeldogs he faced 10 shots and made 8 saves. Some of the saves were great saves but sadly for Dan there were a couple of defensive lapses that cost him his save percentage. There had been a bad change earlier in the game that had allowed a chance which Weller-Evans had saved but the two late goals capitalised on lapses. On both occasions the shooter had been allowed in to great positions making the job of saving more difficult for the goaltender. While his stats won’t be kind to him it bellies a good performance in the net.
Being a backup goaltender is a difficult job. These days it’s rare that the backup gets ice time. With an import starting goaltender it can be seen as a waste of an import slot to substitute that goalie with a Brit but equally it can allow greater flexibility as you can roll an extra outskating import. The backup has to be there and be ready to be called into action at any time but equally he knows he could be there and get no ice except for the warm-up. It’s a real team position, you’re often given statistical recording to do as you won’t be included in the rotating of lines. Dan is clearly highly thought of by his team mates and the Bison support and in the rare opportunities he’s got he hasn’t disgraced himself.
The final words go to Ciaran Long who, at the age of 25, celebrated his 500th EPL game with a win and a well taken goal as well. Even when he first came into the league aged 14 he had a huge amount of skill. He clearly hadn’t fully developed either physically or in terms of finessing his skill but he was an exciting prospect. As he’s grown physically so has he also put the finishing touches to his game making him one of the top British forwards in the league. His ability to sometimes embarrass opponents on his way to scoring is a joy to watch.
I remember watching Ciaran Long scoring a penalty shot against Basingstoke in his final EPL season at Slough. It was a one of those trade mark Long penalties where the goalie is certain he’s got it covered only for a last minute change making him look like a total amateur. Later in the same season, after having transferred to the Bison he did the same thing against the Jets. Both were as delightful to watch.
Despite not being the biggest built guy on the team he’ll never shy away from laying or taking a hit and his play making is equal to his goal scoring. He’s probably on the shopping list of every EPL coach. Only just 25 there’s no reason he couldn’t go on to 1000 EPL games still at the very top of his game if he so chooses.