Saturday night saw the Bison return to home ice when the Cardiff Fire visited the rink for the first time in the season. The Fire’s visit saw former Bison Captain Nicky Chinn return to Hampshire.
Matt Thompson took charge of the game and at 6.41pm the puck dropped.
Basingstoke Bison 5 Cardiff Fire 1
Dan Davies made his much awaited return for the Bison and it wasn’t long into the game before the first goal as Tomas Karpov lit the goal light at 2.33. Bison had advanced early on and hadn’t looked back. Kurt Reynolds shot in and the rebound fell for Tomas Karpov who did the business for the game’s opening goal.
Dan Weller-Evans was called on to make a save from Michael Samford which turned out to be the Fire’s only shot on goal through the period. At the other end Jordan Lawday was being kept much busier. Tomas Karpov fired just wide as he advanced with speed, Aaron Connolly’s shot was saved and a rebound sat tantalisingly just out the reach of Hallam Wilson. Paul Petts fed from behind the net to Tomas Karpov but he couldn’t double the Bison advantage at that opportunity.
As David Christian wound up to shoot on a rare break Dan Scott swooped in took the puck and soon after it was the Cardiff net end again seeing all the action. Tomas Karpov beat Jordan Lawday but the Cardiff netminder was saved by the iron work. Dan Davies sent the puck to Roman Malinik but an extended pad saved the Fire on that occasion.
Callum Buglass got into the attacking zone for Cardiff but his shot was no trouble as it went wide.
Earlier in the game Ryan Sutton had left the ice moving gingerly in pain but his return shift saw him double the Bison advantage. Paul Petts did the providing and Sutton scored through the 5 hole for 2-0 at 13.01
At 15.58 it was 3-0 when Tomas Karpov and Josh Smith combined to set Dan Davies in on goal and he closed in before at the last minute lifting the puck over the netminder’s shoulder to score on his return to the team.
Bison ended the first period three goals to the good in a period that they dominated and outshot their opponents 15-1.
Cardiff tried an early break in the second period but got caught off side. The game’s first penalty was called at 23.34 when Ellis Sheppard took a tripping penalty, hauling down Oscar Evans and giving the Bison a powerplay. The powerplay didn’t click and as Fire returned to full strength a shot from Roman Malinik was stopped by Cardiff’s netminder. Kurt Reynolds fired to the net and Josh Smith tipped but to no avail. Aaron Connolly hit the post and as the rebound returned to him the shot was blocked by a Fire defenceman.
Jackson Price brought about a need for a save from Dan Weller-Evans but they couldn’t maintain offence as a Joe Baird shot was deflected wide. Lawday made a good stop from Paul Petts. As minutes passed in a so far scoreless second period Cardiff continued to try and generate chances while the Bison rolled their lines giving everyone fair share of ice. Aaron Connolly and Dan Davies were both stopped by good saves before, with 1.37 to play in the middle period, Cardiff broke the shut out. A cleverly worked play saw the players behind the net drawing Dan Weller-Evans to one side before quickly getting the puck out in front on the other side of the net and allowing a tap in before he could gain position.
Bison started the final period rapidly. Early chances came and were converted at 42.49 as Tomas Karpov doubled his tally. Good passing from Ryan Sutton to Dan Davies to Tomas Karpov saw him fire in. He then scored his second of the period to bring up his hat-trick at 46.25. This one he closed in on the net and shot high all at good speed.
Cardiff got a chance on the powerplay as Paul Petts sat out for hooking at 46.59 and a big save was needed from Dan Weller-Evans to deny the looming Nicky Chinn. Petts returned and there was a near miss for Cardiff as Hallam Wilson had the goaltender beat but not the goaline and it was cleared.
Aaron Connolly fired at Lawday’s chest and he made the save, he went on to deny chances in quick succession from Dan Davies and Tomas Karpov and two successive chances from the Bison captain too.
There was a disturbing moment as Paul Petts took a big hit and stumbled from the ice visibly shaken. He was led away quickly by the medics to be looked over.
A couple of chances to Roman Malinik came just before the final two minutes which, like most of the other 58, saw more chances from the Bison.
Sadly it’s easy to see why Cardiff are still searching for their first point. They were simply too defensive and this denied them the opportunity to try and attack. With virtually no attacking play in the game the chances of scoring enough goals to beat the opponent are minimal.
Cardiff created a box which greeted every Bison advance and then opened at the last moment to let their goaltender see the shot. With Lawday making 47 saves he deserved the man of the match award for the opponents. The fact he faced 52 shots questions the effectiveness of the box as a defensive tactic and the fact Cardiff generated just 7 shots questions the tactic as a “Plan A”.
There’s arguably a place in the game for a trap and boxing out the opponents. Perhaps if you’re 5-0 up in a must win game then boxing out the opponents to close the game out would be worth trying but from 0-0 at the start of the game, when it’s harming the opportunity to attack, it’s questionable.
The Fire are inexperienced team at this level. Much of the focus this summer and early season has been on the big teams dropping to NIHL1 and over the summer the promotion of the Fire was overlooked. Jordan Lawday in net gave them a chance but with the system they played a lot of that chance was removed.
Bison missed Vanya Antonov and Grant Rounding up front as well as Stuart Mogg who didn’t play in defence. Crucially for the Herd they welcomed back Dan Davies. Over the years he’s progressed to being a stand out Brit in the EPL and there were huge expectations of him in the NIHL1. It’s great to see him back playing again, he looked good on the ice and his goal was a work of skill and beauty. His return will give the Bison two very strong lines at NIHL1. He’s a play maker and scorer and anyone that questioned his value had it highlighted to him over the last six weeks of his absence.
Head Coach Doug Sheppard rolled his lines through the game. All players got ice time and some got a lot more than they usually would. It’s a good chance for those players to pop up and be noticed. It was also an opportunity for Dan Weller-Evans to prove himself although he only faced 7 shots in the game.
Finally it was nice to see Nicky Chinn back in Basingstoke and getting a good reception. He oozes class and is still an asset on the ice even after the fantastic career he’s had to date.