With the away leg of the weekend won the Bison needed to secure the win on home ice to guarantee themselves third place in the table. Ahead of the game at the Basingstoke Arena the 15/16 EPL winners banner was raised with pride celebrating the achievements of the team a year earlier in winning the EPL.
Basingstoke Bison 4 Swindon Wildcats 2
Roman Szucs, Justin Lalonde and Flynn Sytch-Cunningham took charge of the final regular season tilt and it was an early Wildcats powerplay when Derek Roehl was called for a slash at 1.05. Wildcats best chance on the early powerplay came with Robin Kovar finding Jonas Hoog who fed back across the net but Kovar failed to connect on the feed. Derek Roehl returned at 3.05 and Bison killed the game’s first powerplay.
Grant Rounding and Matt Towalski were off, Rounding fed Towalski who fed back but Rounding couldn’t connect to the feed which raced away to safety.
With 5.49 on the clock Swindon opened the game’s scoring. A shot came in from Robin Kovar and drew a sharp save from Tomas Hiadlovsky but he couldn’t make the second save when the rebound fell for Maxim Birbraer who fired in.
A few good chances fell to the Bison to level up. Tomas Karpov fed the puck back to the blue line to Declan Balmer who slotted across to Dan Scott but Lyle flashed the glove at Scott’s shot. Ciaran Long outmuscled Jan Kostal along the boards but he got tangled up when a Wildcats defender came in to the play as well. Declan Balmer floated the puck through to the net and it fell for Rene Jarolin but he couldn’t get it under control.
Tomas Karpov raced away embarrassing the Wildcats as he rounded two with ease but Stevie Lyle flashed a pad and denied him.
At 10.38 a bit of bad luck saw the Bison fall two behind. Wildcats fired the puck into the zone and as Tomas Hiadlovsky came out to clear the puck behind his net it took an unfortunate deflection back out in front and Maxim Birbraer doubled his and his team’s tally tapping into the empty net.
Just as had happened with the first goal Bison put together some good chances straight after the second. Rene Jarolin came close when he tried squeezing the puck through a narrow gap, it took Stevie Lyle a while to find it but he did eventually and covered. Tomas Karpov again skated round the Wildcats before firing by Matt Towalski’s tip saw the puck go wide.
Bison were on the powerplay at 13.55 when Stevie Whitfield took a slashing penalty. The best chance fell to Tomas Karpov for a blue line blast but the shot was blocked on its way in. Ciaran Long also sent in a shot from the blue line but his was saved by the Wildcats goaltender.
The first period continued at a frenetic pace as the Bison became frustrated. Differences of centimetres were making the Bison frustrated as passes were just off target or shots flashed by the outside post by the tiniest of margins but the first period ended with the home team trailing by 2 in a relatively low scoring period.
Bison were back in good form as the second period started. Dan Davies rushed the zone and dropped the puck back to Ciaran Long but Stevie Lyle made a save. Derek Roehl picked up the rebound and fired but Lyle caught the puck. Matt Towalski was fed the puck by Tomas Karpov after another impressive run but his shot fizzed off the outside post and wide. Bison’s fantastic opening of the second period finally was cut short when Swindon eventually cleared their zone.
Robin Kovar took the zone but was met by a Hiadlovsky glove save. Wildcats were back in their own zone quickly and as Stevie Lyle froze the puck Stevie Whitfield decided to try and shove Dan Lackey.
Jan Kostal gave Bison space as he back checked and slipped allowing Ciaran Long to slot across to Dan Davies but Lyle reacted quickly to shut the door. Rene Jarolin was next but Lyle saved his first attempt and as he tried to roof his rebound it went over the net.
Jonas Hoog got away at speed but Tomas Hiadlovsky came confidently out to shut down his angle and make the save. As play swung down the other end Joe Miller was felled by a stick to the face at the top of the crease but there was no call on the play.
With Joe Miller heading to the dressing room to clean him up from the high stick play resumed. Dan Davies tried to direct home a slap pass from Declan Balmer. Bison were so frustratingly close to opening their account but luck was falling for the Wildcats still meaning they were still 2 to the good.
The home team were given a powerplay chance thanks to an interference call against Maxim Birbraer. It was an energetic powerplay but the Wildcats net remained un-breached by 33.03 when Birbraer returned.
Kurt Reynolds saw a shot of his blocked but got the rebound back. His second shot was gloved by Lyle. Ciaran Long held his move to the net so he could feed the advancing Stuart Mogg but Mogg shot high. Dan Davies then passed to Rene Jarolin who sent in a centring feed but to no avail as nobody was there to connect.
Finally frustration turned to joy as Bison broke the sutout with 3.44 left in the middle period. Quick movement round the zone saw Rene Jarolin send the puck towards the net and Aaron Connolly re-directed it past Lyle for the Bison’s opening goal.
Derek Roehl released the puck to pass to Dan Davies just as he was hit, Davies fed to Joe Rand but the backhand shot was on the outside of the post. With the intensity high Stevie Lyle dived on a lose puck to freeze it but in the excitement Kostal shoved Ciaran Long into his own goaltender. The second period ended with Bison trailing by a goal and some heated words exchanged between Jan Kostal and Matt Towalski.
The second period had been all Bison with shots on goal 14-2 in favour of the home side. Bison knew a third period like the second would give them a good shot at retaining third place in the table but that a Wildcats win would put third place back in the hands of the game happening in Peterborough.
Rene Jarolin sent away Ciaran Long who passed to Derek Roehl who shot top corner but Stevie Lyle denied him. Tomas Karpov again rounded the Wildcats with ease but Lyle pulled off another save but it wouldn’t be long before the goal light was lit again. A dominant start to the third period saw the Bison camped in the zone early on and Tomas Karpov got the puck to the net and Joe Rand was on the doorstep to poke home the lose puck.
Another Tomas Karpov demonstration of skill saw him race down the ice, in and out the Wildcats forwards and defenceman but his shot trickled away wide when it took a deflection. Chances kept coming however, Rene Jarolin dug the puck out the corner and centred to Stuart Mogg who stepped up and fired but Stevie Lyle denied him. Kurt Reynolds was next to put the puck on the net and a Joe Rand tip hit the post.
Ciaran Long disappeared down the tunnel to get running repairs on his skate having lost an edge. Bison got a powerplay when Oliver Stone was called for tripping at 47.23 and 61 seconds later the transition from 0-2 down to leading was complete when Ciaran Long returned from his skate repairs to blast in the game winning goal. Tomas Karpov passed to Dan Davies who slid the puck across the blue line to Ciaran Long on the right point who stepped into the pass and ripped it passed Lyle with a sweet one-timer.
Rene Jarolin had the step advantage on his man and increased the gap but as soon as he fired Lyle saved. Tomas Hiadlovsky had some rare work to do when Toms Rutkis got into the attacking zone but he could do no damage. Robin Kovar found Steve Whitfield who let go of his shot but a glove save saw the end of that play.
Joe Miller broke and started the transition, feeding across ice to Rene Jarolin with Ciaran Long coming in support but Lyle denied the shot that came in from Jarolin. As the final 5 minutes of the game approached Toms Rutkis brought about pressure as he got into the zone and shot forcing a save from Tomas Hiadlovsky before picking up his own rebound but a diving netminder ensured his net remained unbreached on the play.
Joe Miller rung the ironwork as the game entered the final 2 minutes and with 90 seconds to play Ryan Aldridge took the Swindon time-out. Stevie Lyle remained on the bench from the restart and it was just 11 seconds from the restart until Bison were secure of their win when Ciaran Long forced a turn over and fed Derek Roehl who skated in and blasted the puck into the empty net and with it the Wildcats hopes of a win and the Phantoms hope of securing 3rd place.
Bison were playing for their final table position and play off grouping. They’d gone in to the season as reigning champions and the title defence was realistically out of reach just after Christmas. The less said about the league champions the better considering the way the league was won but for the Bison they are peaking at the right time. The regular season was at times good and at times frustrating but the finish to the regular season has been impressive.
The first period on Sunday was disappointing. Credit to Birbraer his first goal was a worthy goal but his second was the result of good fortune. To be fair to the Wildcats other than the two goals there was little to write home about offensively. They did defend well and Stevie Lyle was deserving of his man of the match award. The three goals he allowed were all well taken. Conversely it was rare that the Bison were tested defensively in the game, they mainly played in the attacking or neutral zones and looked good.
The Bison have got the bases covered. They’ve got good Brits with all round talent, they’ve got good depth with the imports. Tomas Hiadlovsky guards the net, Rene Jarolin and Tomas Karpov are both European imports, Joe Rand and Derek Roehl both North American imports. Roehl brings an all round and is probably the most skilled player in the league but he can and also does play the physical role too.
There’s six games between here and Coventry. For the Bison they have a good home record against all three opponents in the group but have mixed success on the road. They go in to the group stage of the play-offs arguably in their best form of the season so should have a reasonable expectation of success.