Jets Fans on Tour – Bison vs Lightning (Game 2)

Saturday night and another trip to Hampshire for hockey. One noticeable thing was despite still being January the M4 wasn’t in complete darkness when leaving Slough at 5pm. An uneventful journey saw arrival at the arena in time to watch the majority of the warm up.

From the warm up it was obvious that Jordan Hedley was going to get the start again ahead of the much more experienced Stephen Wall. From the times I’ve watched the Lightning I’ve yet to see Stephen Wall get the start this season which I feel is disappointing. The Lightning are the closest targets for the Bracknell Bees so it’s surprising to see them sitting the more experienced netminder. I don’t honestly fear the Lightning will be ousted from the play offs by the Bees but it’s still surprising.

Ryan Watt would make his Bison debut in this tilt. He had trained for a couple of weeks with the Stampede before confirming his deal in the week with Doug Sheppard. Shep is a coach who knows how to get the best from Watty, he had him in Slough at his very best when Shep led the Jets to the play-offs in 2012. Sacked from Slough at the owner’s direction last season Ryan ended the season in Swindon before starting this season in Bracknell. He failed to impress in the black and yellow of the Bees but I always take that with a pinch of salt. Many great players have moved to Bracknell and failed to impress, many average players have left Bracknell and then impressed. Now with a well respected coach and quality team mates it’s a chance for Ryan to prove he is still the high skilled talisman that most Slough fans know he is.

Tim Pickett was the man in charge of the game with James Ions and Alex Von-Haselburg-Palyvou on the lines. Just past 6.30 the big man called the players to centre ice and the game got underway.

Basingstoke advanced into the attacking zone early in the game and tested Jordan Hedley. He made some big saves and he and his defence weathered a lot of pressure before Dean Skinns was finally called into action making a big save from Adam Carr.

Hedley made save after save from the Bison before eventually Blaz Emersic was denied by Dean Skinns on a breakaway chance.

Within the opening 10 minutes Ryan Watt impressed. He was bringing huge energy, partnered up with Tomas Karpov and Andy Melachrino. Karpov is a man who makes things happen, he puts up good numbers and Watt is also a man who makes things happen. He was hitting well, he was looking sharp with his passing and on another night he could easily have had a hat-trick within the opening 10 minutes.

Basingstoke took the first powerplay of the game when Carr sat out a tripping call and it was one of the Bison young guns who secured the opening goal. Aaron Connolly finished off after Miroslav Vantroba got the puck to the net Connolly seized the loose puck rebound in the slot, turned and calmly fired before Hedley had recomposed from the Vantroba save.

Before the powerplay I’d questioned whether or not Watty may have had a part to play but the special teams are highly practiced and it will take a little longer than the first game for the new man to make the special teams. Make no mistake, with his energy and physicality he should make those teams in time as he will cause things to happen but with him on debut it was for the best that the existing powerplay and penalty kill plays kept their personnel.

Basingstoke cleared away their first penalty kill when Vantroba sat out a hooking call but were penalty killing again when Ciaran Long was penalised. Chris Wiggins, who the huge home crowded boo’d fervently every time he took a shift, levelled Michael Wales with an unpunished hit and when Ciaran Long got tangled with the Lightning man his was adjudged tripping giving the Lightning their second chance with the man advantage.

In a period that Basingstoke had owned with great offensive play, good defence and good goaltending it was disappointing to end the first period at 1-1. Straight off the face-off to Skinns left the equalising goal came. Bowers won the draw, back to Hook who completed the move for what the home team would feel was a disappointing goal.

Jordan Hedley “lost his net” behind him as the Bison pressed for a first period lead they deserved but it didn’t come and the opening period ended 1-1. The Bison had been a gear ahead of their opponents in the opening period, they deserved to be leading at the first break but that Hook powerplay goal had cost them. Wiggins, the pantomime villain, had done his job in winding up the Bison and drawing a penalty which had lead to the goal.

It took just 73 seconds for Bison to be back in the lead following the re-start. Lightning, buoyed by their goal at the end of the previous period were set in the Bison zone before losing control of the puck to Michael Wales. Wales found Reynolds who found Connolly with an inch perfect pass the Bison man was all alone from the defensive blue line. He had the speed to easily stay ahead of the back tracking Lightning defence and finished clinically high over the outstretched glove of Hedley for his second of the night and the lead restored.

It didn’t however take long for the visitors to keep pace and equalise again. Bison held the lead for just 1.04 this time as Emersic scored the Lightning second. Pass from the left to the right of Dean Skinns allowed Emersic to receive the pass and finish just before Skinns could get to the shot. He got a piece but not quite enough and Emersic celebrated the equaliser.

There was a moment of perfect team work soon after the kept Bison out of trouble. Cownie drew Skinns out of position but great defensive presence of mind stopped Emersic scoring into an open net as sticks converged to cover the goal line, the puck was cleared away and Skinns had time to return to position.

This scare didn’t upset the balance of play and Bison were ahead again at 25.41. With changed lines from the first period Tomas Karpov was now lining with power forward Joe Greener and it was these two that combined for the 5th goal of the game. Tomas Karpov took the puck to the net but was denied by Hedley, the puck was lose but nobody other than Joe Greener got the stick on it, the Bison man getting enough on it to skilfully guide it into the net.

Not long after it was 4-2. Joe Greener had a breakaway chance and for the second time in the game Hedley was defeated on a 1 on 0. It was a speedy play, Lightning lost the puck as Sheppard pick pocketed Ben Russell and Joe Greener seized on the now loose puck. He slid his shot under the outstretched pad of Hedley for 4-2 and Nick Poole immediately called his team in for a time-out at 27.22

Good saves came at both ends as both teams created chances. Hedley was continually being pressured by Karpov, Connolly and then Long while at the other end Marek Curilla was denied by Dean Skinns.

Declan Balmer took an interference penalty at 30.31 putting the Lightning on the powerplay and he was soon joined in the penalty box by Adam Carr and Miroslav Vantroba, both serving coincidental cross checking penalties. On ice strength stayed at 5 on 4 in favour of the Lightning, Balmer returned at the end of his two minute penalty and Carr and Vantroba also returned at the next stoppage after their 2 minutes were served.

At 39.18 Adam Carr scored the softest goal I’ve seen all season. He was fed by Lewis Christie and floated the puck on the net and gently sailed through the 5 hole of Dean Skinns. I said on Twitter at the time it was the worst attempt at a save that I’d seen and I stand by that now. What does however have to be taken into consideration in evaluating the goal/save attempt is that in the play immediately following the restart that led to the goal Dean Skinns had taken a hard shot in the face mask and it was evident at the time that it had affected him. Clearly it was still affecting him when Adam Carr benefitted to the tune of his goal.

A similar thing had happened in the Bison home game before Christmas against Guildford, on that occasion Skinns had been hit in the mask twice in close succession and it affected his play for the remainder of the game. With Weller-Evans on the bench who is yet to see a minute of action in the league it was obvious that Skinns would return for the third. Bison would start the third with a 2 minute powerplay opportunity as Grant McPherson was called for charging as the end of period 2 buzzer sounded.

The opening 40 minutes of the game were impressive. Two teams were showing skill, physicality, power and passion and the game was tightly balanced. Bison deserved the 4-2 they should have been ahead at the interval but would still take the 4-3 and the 1 goal advantage they had on the board.

That McPherson penalty came back to haunt the Lightning just 1.11 into the third period when Karpov finished from Rand and Vantroba for a powerplay goal. It was a good, set play, passing around, drawing the men out of position which opened the space from Karpov to finish in the slot. That goal should then have buried the win and kept it safe through the remainder of the final period.

Vantroba was soon off to the penalty box for tripping and almost immediately after his return to the ice Reynolds left the game. He had lined up Ross Bowers for a big hit but was adjudged a match penalty for check to the head which was later announced as downgraded to a 5+game penalty.

IMG_2584The resulting powerplay is one of the trickiest plays in hockey. What do you do with a 5 minute powerplay? Do you take your time and approach it knowing you have all 5 minutes or do you approach it as you would a 2 minute powerplay and try to set up early and pressure until you score?

As it turns out the Lightning did nothing with the man advantage. With Selby a long term absentee, and Brendon Baird also scratched Reynolds penalty did mean that someone had to drop back to defence to cover the remainder of the game. Joe Greener is a good two way player, he has played defence before to cover injury but had scored two good goals already in the game. Nick Chinn is the same, he has previously played on defence as injury cover and Michael Wales already was covering defence. Stuart Mogg had played a couple of defensive shifts earlier in the game but Ciaran Long was the chosen player who would complete the game in Reynolds place.

Leigh Jamieson levelled Nick Chinn, angering the Bison captain. In his career he’s given and taken many hits but what angered him was the fact he was levelled by a high elbow rather than a clean hit. As the angry Bison captain showed his anger to the Lightning not surprisingly nobody seemed interested in “discussing” this with him!

Milton Keynes drew out a hooking penalty on Ryan Watt at 54.54 when they were pressuring around the net, the arm of the referee raised to call the penalty. The conversion was complete when Jamieson finished from Horova. Skinns had a piece of the shot but the shot had enough on it to enter the net nonetheless for 5-4 with 4.25 left to play.

IMG_2595Jordan Hedley was struck in the mask as Wynn tipped a boomer from Vantroba and Sheppard’s chance went agonisingly wide. As the game entered the final 2 minutes Hedley looked to his bench for the instruction to leave. He was half way off when his team lost control of the puck and had to return to his net. As it turned out he just didn’t have enough time to leave the ice and the Lightning finished the game 5 on 5.

Basingstoke took the points that they deserved. 2015 has seen an impressive return to home form and last night was no different. A large crowd were treated to a great display of hockey from 2 teams, if Basingstoke were in 6th gear all night then the Lightning had kept close in 5th gear.

Notable points of the game were the huge energy Ryan Watt brought to the Bison. Bees fans will say he added the same to the game as he did to their games however the Ryan Watt we watched last night was much closer to the 2012 version that the Bees version. He skated hard, he worked hard, he laid his hits and he was close to scoring on at least 4 or 5 chances.

Dean Skinns came back out recomposed for the third period after being hit powerfully in the face mask at the end of the second period. There’s no doubt the Lightning third goal was weak, it shouldn’t happen at this level but it happened immediately after the goaltender was hit in the face mask. In December the same thing happened in the Flames game, on that occasion Skinns was struck twice in close succession. Dan Weller-Evans wasn’t called into action then despite everyone at the game saying that the goaltender had been heavily affected by those knocks. The good thing last night was that Skinns seemed ok in the third period, he made some great saves in the third period which was a good sign for last night’s result and also the Bison going forward.

The man of the match awards went to Lewis Hook and Aaron Connnolly. Hook can’t be disagreed with for the Lightning but for the Bison Connolly was in a pool along with Watt, Wales, Chinn and Greener any one of which could have walked away with the beers. Connolly scored two top quality goals which most probably secured him the beers.

The next game for the Bison is at Sheffield, the only team that I’m yet to see this season. I missed their first visit to Basingstoke but will be at the game in a couple of weeks to see their second. Their next home game is next Saturday against the Bracknell Bees, who I wonder if they’re still looking for replacements for Paynter, Wiggins and Watt?