The weekend started on home ice for the Sherfield School Basingstoke Bison as they welcomed near neighbours Bracknell Bees for a National Cup Game.
The home team were without Dan Davies but did add Sam Brooks to their line up. The officiating team were led by referee Matt Thompson with linesmen Justin Lalonde and Andrew Strain.
Basingstoke Bison 2 Bracknell Bees 5
A scrappy start saw both teams with chances but early nerves meant they weren’t converted. Some good early play from Dean Skinns denied a Josh Martin chance on a Shaun Thompson feed. Twice Tomas Karpov sent out feeds to the front of the net but on both occasions they sailed through as nobody managed to get a stick on them. A defensive zone turnover offered Scott Spearing the puck but his top nearside corner shot ended in Skinns’ glove.
Bison were the first team to the powerplay when Harvey Stead was called for high sticks at 6.18. They came nearest to scoring when Aaron Connolly created himself space but having rounded the Bees defence he was defeated by Alex Mettam.
With Stead back the teams battled at even strength again. Chances had been pretty even up to the powerplay but then Bison enjoyed some good opportunities. A free for all in front of the Bees net ended well for them when no Bison player could get a stick on the puck through the crowd. Mettam denied an advancing Karpov on the next play and soon after Ryan Sutton was met with an outstretched pad from Mettam.
A Josh Tetlow shot was tipped on its way in and the play was whistled down when the Bees knocked the net off chasing in looking for the rebound.
With 2.02 left in the opening period Bees got their first chance on the powerplay as Kurt Reynolds took a tripping penalty but could make nothing of the advantage and a fairly even period ended 0-0.
The visitors got the better start to the second period coming out the blocks quickly. Skinns shouldered away an early Thompson shot before Frantisek Bakrlik beat the netminder only to see the defence deny him between Skinns and the goal line.
Having weathered the early Bees attack Elliot Dewey fed a chance out in front that Josh Smith tipped too high. Ashley Jackson then fed a chance to Ryan Sutton who was stopped by a Mettam save. Off the face off the puck was drawn back to Dan Scott who blasted through the traffic but Mettam got enough of it to deflect it wide of the target.
At 28.59 Bison broke the deadlock with a penalty pending on the Bees Reynolds fed Connolly who broke behind the defence, drew Mettam one way and slid the puck behind him into the empty target.
It wasn’t long however before the game was even again when Steven Osman finished in a scramble getting the puck through Skinns’ legs. The goal was awarded instantly by the referee who was pretty much on the goal line but was disputed instantly by the Bison netminder. Despite protestation the goal stood and at 30.08 the game was locked at 1-1.
Jared Lane won an attacking zone face off and drew it back to Jan Bendik who fired home from the point at 31.16 to give the Bees the lead.
Play returned to even with chances falling at both ends but none converted. With 1.40 to play in the middle frame Dan Scott took a holding penalty. As the Bees powerplay got under way Matt Foord hauled down Vanya Antonov in open ice with the Bison player visually displaced there was no call. The middle period ended with the Bees ahead by a single goal.
The third period started with 20 seconds of penalty kill left for the Herd. As Scott returned Antonov collided awkwardly with the board and stayed down for a while but did return to his feet and leave the ice under his own motion. Even strength didn’t last too long as Ashley Jackson sat out a hooking penalty at 41.53 but it was 4 on 4 briefly as Steve Osman was caught for high sticks at 43.00
Bison tried attacking on the short powerplay with Dan Scott troubling Mettam and the rebound sat tantalisingly but was hooked wide by Josh Smith. Just as the Bees returned to full strength play stopped after a Bison shot struck Mettam in the mask.
It wasn’t long before Bees had added to their lead as Tom Avery freed up Shaun Thompson and with time and space he slotted low beating Dean Skinns for 1-3 at 46.03.
Bison were trapped on a line change with a too many men penalty at 48.22 and it took 3 seconds to convert the powerplay as Shaun Thompson won the face-off and drew it back to Frantisek Bakrlik who’s shot blasted through the defence and goaltender for 1-4 at 48.25
Bison fought back strong with a cross ice feed landing for Jackson in front but he couldn’t get enough on it and that chance slipped away. Dan Lackey broke free towards the end of his shift but James Galazzi held him back.
A Bees shot was tipped in front and dribbled agonisingly close to the line but Stuart Mogg got there in time and hauled it away from the danger zone. A quick transition saw Jaroslav Cesky feed the puck back to Dan Scott who blasted but Mettam kicked away the chance.
With 2.11 to play Bison had a powerplay chance when Stead was called for hooking on Rounding. The powerplay didn’t prove fruitful initially as it put the Bees further ahead when Bakrlik got in behind the defence and scored a highlight reel goal shorthanded. He advanced to the goal, drew the puck through his legs then fired high into the net for 2-5.
The Herd did have the opportunity of 39 seconds of 5 on 3 when James Gallazzi was called for elbows and with 28 seconds on the clock Ryan Sutton drew one back for the Bison on the two man advantage finishing from Ashley Jackson.
So there goes the National Cup! It’s been a frustrating competition for the Bison and one they probably will look back on thinking of squandered opportunities.
After the game I posted to twitter thoughts I’d shared and written before the game elsewhere. I was berated for this tweet
Tonight was disappointing for the Bison but remember Bees have played EPIHL with basically an NIHL1 standard team for a long time now so stands to reason they’d be suited to the NIHL quickly #nihl
— Mark Denholm (@markdenholm) September 30, 2017
However I stand by the contents of this tweet entirely.
Look at the form book and league tables for the last three years of the EPL and the Bracknell position tells a story. The Bees had a very good NIHL1 with the additional number of imports allowed under EPIHL rules. It’s not unreasonable therefore to put two and two together and come up with four. That NIHL1 team that couldn’t do it at EPIHL level should stand a very good chance of coming together and putting in results at NIHL1 level.
On my Twitter timeline, the tweet two before the one shared above congratulates the Bees on their win. They were the better team on the night and therefore they got the points. Frankie Bakrlik’s goal would have been worthy of the price of admission on its own. With 1-4 on the board and not long left if ever there was a time to try an exhibition game play in a game then that was the ideal time.
The Bees were well organised and played the game hard. They hustled and got good performances from their leading players, Bakrlik, Bendik and Thompson. Mettam also won the battle of the goaltenders too.
For the Bison the story is the same. It’s about the feed and the finish. With Dan Davies missing the top line is incomplete. Karpov and Antonov are working hard to either provide or receive the scoring feed, and on the second line Connolly is working hard too. At the moment though it’s a team in adjustment. For the last few years there’s been no shortage of talent with Derek Roehl, Rene Jarolin, Ciaran Long, Joe Greener, Joe Miller all either able to get the puck to the net or able to get a good connection on the feed coming to the net. Against the higher quality of goalie they’re now facing the younger players are taking time to find their feet and get the connection needed to beat the goalie or read the senior players and send across the perfect feed that enables them to snap a finish.
There were high expectations shared freely on social media when the NIHL1 was announced as being the second tier. To my way of thinking it still wasn’t the way to go but in making those assumptions people assumed that the Bison would retain the Brit core. Matt Towalski retired at the end of the previous season but Ciaran Long and Declan Balmer both left for the Elite League. Both left huge gaps to fill. In Ciaran Long I believe we should be grateful we kept him so long as he has a genuine talent and it’s no surprise his senior league opportunity has come. It’s unreasonable to assume that a replacement could be found to fill the role he played and the points he generated.
What’s also not helped the season off to a good start is Dan Davies absence. He was a top forward in the EPL and would have been expected to be so in the NIHL as well. He’s out until cleared to return which is the right thing to do but with his absence not only his goals and assists are missing but his face-off wins too.
It’s not been the start to the season anyone expected. Given the success the Herd have had of recent it’s right that supporters should have high expectations but it’s only fair that they should bear in mind that this is a team in transition. Doug Sheppard has delivered high quality, successful hockey for the Bison under his tenure so far so there’s no reason to doubt he won’t do the same again. Whether that’s making player changes, making line changes, re-evaluating systems or just a damn good pep talk Shep will work hard to make this come good.