The Basingstoke Bison hosted their penultimate home game of the season as they welcomed Swindon Wildcats back to Hampshire.
The home team were missing Grant Rounding, having suffered injury the previous night while the Wildcats were all full strength except those with long term injuries.
Stephen Matthews took charge with Justin Lalonde and Nathan Ormond alongside and at just after 5.30 the game was underway.
Basingstoke Bison 3 Swindon Wildcats 1
The game was off at a frenetic pace and Wildcats were first to test a goalie but as Tomas Hiadlovsky held firm Stuart Mogg seized on the puck and quickly forced a pad save out of Stevie Lyle at the other end.
With both teams trapping each other in the neutral zone a bit of frustration crept in, Wildcats finally broke the zone but Bison drew an icing call as they cleared. Tomas Hiadlovsky was forced to cover up from a Stevie Whitfield neutral zone speculative dump in as the player rushed in looking for a rebound. A more convincing chance followed from Robin Kovar who worked the zone and got good position but Stuart Mogg had better position and got his stick into the shooting lane deflecting the puck out of play into the roof.
Having withstood that Bison started setting out their own stall and gained more control and generated more pressure in their own attacking zone. Stuart Mogg pinched in and shot and Stevie Lyle kicked the pad out. Bison didn’t relent and got their reward at 7.11. Wildcats failed with an opportunity to clear their zone and Tomas Karpov fed Joe Miller who fed Derek Roehl in front. Roehl dragged round the Wildcats defence before firing an inch perfect shot glove side just wide enough of Lyle’s outstretched hand to beat the goalie but still hit the back of the net.
Buoyed on by the lead Bison didn’t relent. Aaron Connolly was turned away by Stevie Lyle and quickly after he had to do the same to Ciaran Long as well.
With the Bison looking confident and in control Swindon capitalised on a rare defensive error by the home team and pounced on a turnover giving Sam Bullas the opportunity to tap in at close range to equalise at 9.27
A further spell of Bison pressure was finally broken by another icing by the Wildcats. Off the restart Wildcats forced Bison back into their own zone and it was there when Jonas Hoog intercepted a Declan Balmer outlet pass but Balmer was quick to regain control before Hoog could do anything. Balmer fed Dan Davies who charged down the ice and tested Lyle but no further addition to the score happened.
Derek Roehl created a chance from nowhere but a sharp Lyle save denied him. Wildcats soon crowded round the Bison net and the puck was off in the crowd at 13.37. A couple more chances for the visitors followed but a couple of pad saves from Tomas Hiadlovsky turned away both of them. A scrappy first period continued with Dan Davies, Joe Miller and Kurt Reynolds all trying their luck but none could penetrate Stevie Lyle’s territory and the first period ended tied at 1-1.
Early into the second period the game got its first penalty when Stevie Lyle took a roughing call at 20.22. Bison couldn’t get the man advantage working for them despite Ciaran Long having an early chance in the slot that slid past wide, then the Wildcats consistently managed to clear their zone meaning a majority of the two minutes was spent with the Bison regrouping and working their way back into the zone. The closest chance came as the Powerplay was ending when Stevie Lyle lost sight of a puck in a crowd in front of him but nobody could get to the puck at the top of the crease and eventually it was covered.
Phil Hill had served the Lyle minor and returned to the ice and Wildcats pressed hard to gain the Bison zone. Eventually the pressure bore on the home team and Derek Roehl took a hooking minor penalty at 24.02. It was level strength again at 4 on 4 34 seconds later as Jonas Hoog broke a stick and picked up an illegal equipment penalty.
Matt Towalski came frustratingly close to getting the go ahead goal at 4 on 4 when he pounced on a rebound but was taken out with a well timed check just as he was about to let his shot go. Bison played the 4 on 4 almost like a powerplay as they raced back into the zone with Joe Miller getting a shot off which Lyle covered. Ciaran Long shot from the blue line and Vanya Antonov attempted to tip it home but the tip went wide.
As Derek Roehl returned Bison would have a short powerplay but Hoog returned and it was back to 5 on 5. Back at even strength Aaron Connolly raced in but veteran Neil Liddiard broke up his chance. As the home team pressure mounted on their opponents Stevie Whitfield took a holding penalty at 27.54. There was a close call as Ciaran Long shot one that flew just wide but with pressure bearing down on Swindon they weren’t helped when Robin Kovar got a boarding penalty at 28.14 giving Bison a 2 man advantage.
With 1.41 of 5 on 3 Bison had time to set up their play. Ciaran Long fired in at 28.33 but Stevie Lyle covered. Off the face off the puck trickled over the blue line as it was worked back to the point but Bison were quickly back in to zone and Aaron Connolly forced a pad save before Ciaran Long’s effort with the rebound took a top drawer glove save to keep it out.
Another face off saw the Wildcats clear their zone but the Herd were back across the line and Ciaran Long shot again with a pad save denying him. Bison grabbed the rebound and Dan Davies and Rene Jarolin worked it back to Tomas Karpov who bulged the twine at 29.41 ending the double man advantage but leaving the home team 33 seconds of 5 on 4.
The Kovar penalty remainder was killed off then Wildcats immediately proceeded to ice the puck. After going behind Swindon looked to take some control back but Stuart Mogg out worked Phil Hill to keep him at bay. Mogg combined with Kurt Reynolds to keep Swindon out the danger zone and the puck flipped up into the team benches.
Phil Hill turned provider for Maxim Birbraer but his shot was too high. Almost immediately Bison were creating havoc around Stevie Lyle but couldn’t get a stick on to finish. As the game went from end to end Tomas Hiadlovsky produced a blocker save batting the puck to safety.
A blown down, but then waved off, icing saw a centre ice face off which Tomas Karpov raced away from with the puck bringing out two good Lyle saves as he shot and picked up his own revound.
There was a look of gladness on Stevie Lyle’s face at 37.03 when a Kurt Reynolds blue line shot went just over and players gathered in front from a scramble looking for a second chance forcing a whistle. Another breather came as Wildcats defence tipped the puck into the stands.
At 39.10 Ciaran Long went down under challenge by Neil Liddiard but both were penalised; Long for diving and Liddiard for holding. Neither team could do much with the open ice for the final 50 seconds of period two and it ended 2-1 in favour of the home team.
With 1.10 remaining on the 4 on 4 the referee dropped the puck to start the third period. Early on another puck disappeared into the crowd. On the restart Swindon produced pressure on the Herd, Robin Kovar getting in close to test the Bison goaltender. The pressure told when Declan Balmer got a 2 minute tripping minor penalty at 40.50.
Wildcats first attempt on their 4 on 3 went up into the netting. Back at 5 on 4 with Long and Liddiard returning play wasn’t fluid for long as the net came flying off at the Bison end. After being caught off side and losing the possession Swindon finally managed to get close to the net and worked the puck around their formation but a lose net drew another whistle.
Bison returned to full strength and Tomas Karpov and Aaron Connolly sped off but Aaron Connolly lost his shot with it blocked virtually as soon as it was released. Quick transition play saw Phil Hill sending a shot in but it was an easy save for Hiadlovsky. Bison were quickly back at the other end until a Swindon interception and clearance saw the puck back off the playing surface and into the stands again.
Derek Roehl tipped one in front from Kurt Reynolds and a scramble from the Wildcats cleared away the rebound threat. Two further shots forced Stevie Lyle back into action before pressure got the better of the visitors and Floyd Taylor was the guilty man getting a 2 minute hooking penalty at 45.16.
Straight off the face-off Stevie Lyle saw all of the Bison first attempt from distance but with players converging decided to smother the puck and draw a whistle. Swindon managed to keep Bison disjointed for the remainder of the powerplay and as Jonas Hoog broke down the ice shorthanded Taylor returned giving the Wildcats 5 out skaters again but Ciaran Long forced a turn over and headed forwards again.
Kurt Reynolds almost made it 3 for the Stampede after the home team had weathered a bit of pressure but Stevie Lyle just got enough of the chance. A close non call for offside saw Sam Bullas racing into the zone but Tomas Hiadlovsky made the save as the players came together with some pushing and shoving in front of the goaltender.
A shot snuck through the Bison defence but not through Hiadlovsky and the goaltender then started another rush however Wildcats defence forced the advancing Bison wide and kept them on the boards. Tomas Malasinksi broke out but his threat was over before it begun as he was taken out by a huge hit from Kurt Reynolds which was however seen as boarding and as such Reynolds begun a 2 minute sit out at 50.23
Four seconds after the restart Derek Roehl and Maxim Birbraer tangled earning them both 2 minute roughing penalties despite no additional pleasantries being exchanged due to Birbraer retreating after the initial tangle. The two matching roughing minor penalties were coincidental so play continued 5 on 4 in favour of the Wildcats.
Bison’s penalty killing was made further difficult when Tomas Karpov lost his stick near the start of his shift with Wildcats in the zone. The team worked hard and eventually cleared allowing Karpov to head off and be replaced by a player with a stick. This didn’t detract from the Wildcats who were back again in another wave but Bison got another clearance. Bison broke free with Dan Davies off shorthanded but at the end of a tough penalty killing shift he couldn’t take full advantage of the opportunity.
Bison returned to full strength and almost immediately after Derek Roehl and Maxim Birbraer returned after their coincidental penalties at 52.32.
With Swindon looking to keep pressing forward they lost a footfall race from a low down pass resulting in a whistle for the icing and a face off back in their own end. Bison collapsed well into their own zone to negate a threat from Robin Kovar, then set about more attacking of their own ending when Stevie Lyle caught and captured a huge drive from Declan Balmer.
Into the final five minutes Wildcats didn’t give up. They tried sending Jonas Hoog out to use his speed to get round the Bison defence but it was Vanya Antonov who forced a turn over from Neil Liddiard and set off Dan Davies but Stevie Lyle held strong again.
With under 3.30 to play a face off took place just outside the Wildcats defensive end and despite a Bison win Swindon were soon back on the attack but Kurt Reynolds got a stick on a cross ice pass to send another puck away to be somebody’s souvenir in the stands. Wildcats just kept on coming in the closing stages forcing Bison into icing a puck and just clearing another into the neutral zone.
Rene Jarolin finally got one he could send Ciaran Long away with but Lyle held firm. He did the same again with 46 seconds remaining drawing a whistle. Swindon took their time out with the face-off about to be held in their defensive zone.
The Wildcats won the post time out face-off but Derek Roehl worked the puck back in and kept pressure around the net. Swindon eventually broke but with 20.5 seconds left Hiadlovsky made a save. Stevie Lyle wasn’t looking to the bench so remained for the face-off. Eventually Bison cleared and Derek Roehl found Ciaran Long at the net and he toyed with Stevie Lyle before drawing him horribly out of position then scoring round him to make it 3-1 at 59.54 and from that point there was no way back for Swindon.
It wasn’t a classic play off game. Wednesday’s performance was a one sided domination of the Hull Pirates, Sunday’s performance was a ding dong battle with the Wildcats. Both teams attacked well, both teams defended well but neither team ever really got the step over their opponents.
The opening 10 minutes of the game were probably the best. Derek Roehl’s goal was good to watch, he seemed to almost freeze time as he received the puck while in a seemingly bad position but held the puck, dragged it to a better position then picked his spot and slotted home. Conversely the Wildcats goal came totally against the run of play meaning it was 1-1 at the end of those opening 10 minutes.
From there the game was scrappy. There were good chances at both ends but nothing that could be described as outstanding. Bison had a tough game the previous evening in MK and lost Grant Rounding who had been getting a lot of ice time of late and with that and Antonov’s return to a winning team may have caused changes in dynamics.
Swindon battled hard but other than their generously gifted goal early on once again would have felt disappointed. Their on ice performance not matching their off ice potential.
All the teams are now half way through their play-off fixtures. Bison are 2 from 3 and sit in second place in their group. Milton Keynes are 3 from 3, Swindon are 1 from 3 and Hull are yet to open their account. The other group is similar, Guildford 3 from 3, Telford 2 from 3, Peterborough 1 from 3 and Sheffield adrift at the bottom.
Crucially for Bison they’ve played 2 of their 3 home games. They’ve won them both but now they have 1 home game and 2 road games. Hull hasn’t been kind so far this season in terms of results but the Pirates play off form hasn’t been good so far. They’re -13 in goal difference so far! That result however can’t be taken for granted. Milton Keynes are in pole position right now with a clean sheet so a win on Wednesday over Swindon would be a great help to the Bison cause too.
The big game is on home ice next Saturday when the Lightning are in town. It may not be the group decider which could turn out to be Sunday in Swindon but it’s a tough test. Should the Bison qualify for Coventry they’ll need to rack up 2 wins over 2 tough teams to lift the trophy but first they need to get passed Hull and Swindon away for four points and Milton Keynes at home to lift their tally to ten points.