After a successful pre-season with 3 out of 4 wins the Sherfield School Basingstoke Bison took to home ice to start the 2016/17 season and the defence of the English Premier Ice Hockey League. Their opponents were the Telford Tigers, who didn’t complete a win against the Bison last season but were a much improved team from the Tigers that failed to defend their league title last season.
Basingstoke Bison 1 Telford Tigers 4
Stephen Matthews was in charge of the game and dropped the opening puck and almost straight away Tomas Hiadlovksy was called into action as Corey McEwen had the game’s first chance. Telford’s new goalie, Ondrej Raszka, was in the thick of it soon after as Declan Balmer fed the puck to Ciaran Long at the net but two couldn’t combine to open the scoring.
The scoring was opened at 4.34 when Tigers took the lead. Jonathan Weaver found Michal Satek who powered along the wing before feeding the puck to the centre where Matty Davies completed to get the puck in.
Rene Jarolin soon set away Aaron Connolly who’s shot was saved by Raszka and the huge rebound went begging.
As the half way mark in the first period came the game was pretty even. Bison were getting a lot of pucks on net but failing to do anything with the offered rebounds while Tigers were just good for their goal lead.
The goal lead was jeopardised when Tigers took a careless too many men penalty at 11.24 and it was 33 seconds into the man advantage that the Bison had the game back level again. Ciaran Long scored the league opener for the Stampede as he powered home a feed from Declan Balmer.
Chances were still coming at both ends but at 14.45 MacCauley Haywood took a tripping penalty which put the Bison back to the powerplay. They couldn’t get the jump on their opponents who executed a good kill.
19 seconds after the penalty expired the Tigers took the lead thanks to an impressive turn of speed. Good passing saw Michal Satek in shooting position and he found the target just on the inside of the post for 1-2 at 17.04.
Tigers looked good and composed and at 19.37 that paid off as they took a 2 goal lead. Zajac’s shot was tipped in by Rick Plant with 23 seconds left in the period while Jacub Barton sat out a tripping penalty.
Discussions took place at the end of period buzzer when Phil Hill laid a hit on Petr Polodna but it did nothing to change the 1-3 scoreline after the opening period of league hockey.
While the Bison would have been looking for a dream start and a goal back at the start of the 2nd period there was no relent from the visitors. Obviously spurred on from their lack of points in the 15/16 season against the Bison they were quick and sharp as the second period started, keen to capitalise on a good opening period.
Hiadlovsky was looking good as the Tigers kept coming but then the Bison started creating chances of their own. The net came off behind the Tigers goaltender as he slid through his crease to deny a good chance from Tomas Karpov.
Bison were back on the powerplay at 26.53 when Matthews saw Dan Scott return a hit he’d taken from Polodna and awarded the Tigers’ man a roughing minor.
The first chance of the powerplay was a shorthanded breakaway from Weaver but a pad save from Hiadlovsky kept him at bay. Bison powerplay chances were saved and the Herd just couldn’t get the stream of rebounds coming back out and with that the Tigers returned to 5 skaters.
Raszka did make a clean save when he caught a high floating chance from Shaun Thompson. Soon after he watched a Rene Jarolin effort slide past the outside of his post. Grant Rounding then fed the puck to the net, Alan Lack connected with the tip but just not enough redirection to get it in the goal and as it beat the keeper it sailed through the crease and away to safety.
It appeared the Telford goalie had luck on his side, Lack’s tip went wide, then Towalski tipped a Reynolds shot just over and all that added to the fact the large number of rebounds on offer were just falling safe!
With Bison looking good and playing their best hockey of the game so far it was against the run of play that Tigers knocked in their 4th of the night with 1.59 left in the middle period. It was Heywood who roofed the puck over the sprawling Bison goaltender. Hiadlovsky made 2 big saves to deny Tigers goals 5 and 6 and then the end of period buzzer sounded.
A refreshed Bison started the third period with different line combinations matched against the Tigers than they’d put out in the first two periods.
Where Tigers had looked to set the pace in the opening two periods at the start of the third they seemed content to let Bison do that and sat back looking to nullify Bison chances rather than create their own.
The opening half exchanges lacked the fluidity that earlier period exchanges had, neither team quite hit their strides early in the third period.
With just over half the third period gone and the Bison probably holding momentum in a scrappy period Balmer and Heywood ended up having a bit of a get together with the result a 2 minute powerplay to the Bison as both players had sit downs.
Vanya Antonov managed a couple of good chances on the powerplay, his first attempt blocked and his second going agonisingly high and the Tigers weathered their penalty kill unscathed.
The very tall Doug Clarkson finished off a Tigers 2 on 1 taking the last few steps alone but Hiadlovsky blocked off the angle.
Time was running out for Bison to start their comeback and with 5.13 on the clock left to play Alan Lack and Phil Hill went off to serve slashing and roughing penalties leading to a spell of 4 on 4. 17 seconds later a further penalty call on Warren Tait, taking down Reynolds, led to a Bison 4 on 3 powerplay and the home team took their time-out.
Back from the 30 second time-out Bison looked good on the powerplay, gaining position quickly and well and working the puck around with confidence but still couldn’t quite get the perfect finish. Ciaran Long got a shot off which saw a pad save from Raszka and the same player just couldn’t quite finish the rebound off either.
Penalties expired and still the Bison hustled for their second of the night. They kept the zone and a huge scramble happened right in front of Raszka but his luck held and nobody could get the puck across the line. Hiadlovksy denied Heywood with 5 seconds to play but that was it, the game was over and the Tigers had ruined the opening night party by leaving with the points.
It was a frustrating night! Sometimes they happen where you just can’t see where the goal is coming from, not through bad play but just sheer frustration. Bison played well, evidenced by the fact they outshot the Tigers but Ondrej Raszka enjoyed luck all through the night.
The Tigers goaltender gives up rebounds! Save after save resulted in rebound after rebound but his luck came in that they just didn’t fall well for the Bison. The rebounds he offered were huge, long distance rebounds which the Bison had already overskated in their rush to look for the more conventional rebounds.
It’s fair to say on another day Bison may have been 5-4 winners in this game with a rebound or two picked up, a slightly heavier deflection on a tip in or a couple of millimetres horizontally or vertically on close chances. Bison will play worse games than this and win this season!
Now, a word or two on the opposition. The Tigers looked good, better than Guildford had the previous weekend. They deserved their win. Tom Watkins has done well in his summer signings and early doors practices are obviously showing benefit too. They looked fit, they looked powerful and they looked fast. Their speed was a huge asset tonight.
As teams learn Raszka they’ll learn to not rush in for his rebounds and I fear that the number of rebounds he gives up may go on to hurt him across the season unless he can tighten up quickly. Bison have the firepower to capitalise on those rebounds but it seemed just didn’t expect them to bounce out as far as they did.
For Basingstoke it was 1 game from 54 so no need to panic yet. This 16/17 team was always going to have a different dynamic to the 15/16 team due to Joe Greener’s departure. Greener was the best British power forward in the league. He was irreplaceable by a single player. There are players who can play a skilled game as well as Joe Greener, and players who can play a physical game as well as Joe Greener but he was unique in the EPL in that he did both well together. Bison did pick up some very good forwards in upcoming Vanya Antonov and the experienced Dan Davies so there’s no shortage of skill added to make up for what left when Greener headed overseas but the new dynamic may take a game of two to fall into place.
Panic stations – no. One of those days – yes.
For panic stations see 4-11 on your home opener, not actually at home, and with reportedly travelling fans asking for refunds to go and see your nearest geographical alternative instead!