The Basingstoke Bison played host to the Peterborough Phantoms for the final time in the regular season with the home series tied at 1-1. Basingstoke had taken the points in the highly physical early season clash while Peterborough had taken the points in the early December visit.
Basingstoke Bison welcomed back their Captain Nicky Chinn who returned from illness but were still without Matt Selby and Brendon Baird also sat out the game. The Phantoms were missing James Hutchinson. Matt Thompson was the man allocated to take charge of the game.
The game got off to a good, high paced start, the teams were keen on putting on a good show for the decent Hampshire attendance and gain the valuable league points. Janis Auzins made some good early saves but was also helped by rebounds falling helpfully out of reach of Bison players. Dean Skinns also had a solid start.
The low point of the game wasn’t far away as Michael Wales, covering defensive duties, was called for a penalty. Greg Pick took exception to his former team mate and jumped him from behind. With Wales hauled down Pick dropped the gloves but with the Bison man already pulled to the floor with an unfair advantage he was unable to take up the offer from Pick and the two were penalised.
The Bison powerplay saw some good chances but it was 8 seconds after the man advantage concluded that the home team took the lead. Shots fired in on Auzins who made saves but eventually Nick Chinn got hold of the puck and got it past the import goalie for 1-0 at 9.38. The Bison had set up their play with the powerplay ending and continued to make the set up count as the teams returned to 5 on 5. After chances for Mogg and Wynn it was the experience of Chinn that opened the scoring.
Basingstoke pressured hard for a two goal advantage but some quick work from Peterborough caught Bison out defensively for 1-1 at 13.20. Phantoms were playing a quick passing game and Luke Ferrara passed the puck from left to right to Marc Levers who’s shot was already in the back of the net as Dean Skinns came sliding across. Levers had been left in front unchallenged and the Bison were undone by allowing the passing game of the Phantoms and leaving Levers unchallenged in a prime position.
Just 1.35 later it was the turnaround completed as Phantoms took the lead. Milan Baranyk finished at 14.55 as once again the defence weren’t quick enough to nullify the Phantoms offensive challenges.
The remaining 5.05 played out with the Bison the better team. Offensively they were the better team, shown by the 19-7 shots on goal count in their favour in the first period. The buzzer came with the score still at 1-2, the Bison the better team but thanks to two glaring defensive errors the trailing team also.
I’m a firm believer that momentum and ascendancy are great influencers of a hockey game. Bison left the ice at 20.00 with both even if not reflected on the scoreboard but returned for period 2 having it seems given both away. Phantoms were quick to seize momentum and pressured the Bison defensive zone but Basingstoke wrestled back the momentum which they firmly held by the second interval.
The transition of momentum resulted in a scrappy period of play, end to end hockey before Basingstoke again found their straps. I had been impressed by the smoothness of the Bison in early season when they were contending for the title. Their game then was based on fast, crisp smooth passing and players knowing the system. By the end of period 2 they were back to their best and Auzins was once again made the far busier of the two goal tenders.
Nick Chinn had the scores level with his second of the night at 27.35. He and Mogg had gone challenging the Phantoms net, the youngster finding the Captain who shot towards the net. The goal was originally credited to Mogg but was amended shortly after to reflect the accurate entry of the puck to the net. Chinn’s shot took a deflection from Lewis Buckman that left Auzins stranded and as the last attacking player to touch the puck Chinn gets full credit for the goal with Mogg the helper.
Just 5 minutes later Tomas Karpov stood tall and made it 3-2. Karpov’s goal was the highlight of the night so far (but was later to be snatched). Karpov and Sheppard combined to beat Auzins in a display of speed, Karpov to Sheppard who touched it once directing it back to his teammate who finished for 3-2.
Basingstoke now held momentum again, and were keen to show it. Auzins was called upon to make some good saves, the metal work helped also while the Phantoms were on the powerplay but there was nothing further to trouble the scorers in the period which saw the lead switch. The Bison had benefitted from Buckman’s deflection for goal 2 but had been the sole makers of their own good fortune for goal 3 in a great display from two fantastic players.
Period 3 was awaited with much anticipation while the ducks and pucks were thrown and the ice resurfaced. I got the impression that the next goal would be the goal that set up the win. 3-3 would have set up a real ding dong battle but 4-2 should have given Bison the control they needed to close out the win and pressure for further scoring.
There was an early Phantoms powerplay in period 3 as Melachrino was called for tripping just 13 seconds in. Darius Pliskauskas came closest to levelling but Dean Skinns glove denied the Phantoms man as he extended his hand, the puck nestled in and stayed there awaiting the referee’s whistle.
Skinns made a good pad save on the next play forcing the puck away from his left post and it was back to 5 on 5. The teams traded powerplay opportunities, the chances kept coming. Auzins denied Melachrino on a break away and did the same to Mogg later on. The young Bison had been credited with the Bison 2nd goal only to (correctly) lose the credit but was given a good chance to have his name inked into the goal scorer’s column for the fourth goal when he was left alone by the right post, just outside the crease, and fed the puck but Auzins saw the pass going and was equal to the attempt.
With 6.47 left to play the highlight of the night occurred. With a penalty kill on the go while Nick Chinn sat for tripping Bison had a couple of shorthanded chances, the first one through Doug Sheppard but the second one was the one that did the business. Ciaran Long broke into the zone with speed and fired the biggest shot of the net at the Phantoms goal. His shot came from the left side, high of the hashmarks still and was that powerful that Auzins had barely reacted by the time the goal judge had the red light on. I described it on twitter at the time as being unstoppable even by someone watching a slow mo replay and if Karpov and Sheppard had produced a highlight reel effort for goal 3 Ciaran Long had extended the reel with goal 4.
To be fair I don’t think Auzins would have a chance of saving @Ciaran_Long_89 short handed goal even watching a slomo replay #epihl #bihl
— Mark Denholm (@markdenholm) January 10, 2015
It now looked like Bison had the game in the bag but it wasn’t to be that simple as Baranyk scored his second. Norton fed Pliskauskas who fed Baranyk who somehow got the puck over the line. The whistle blew, the light illuminated behind the goal and there was some initial thought from the far end of the rink that it was possibly no goal as may have been after the whistle but credit to Matt Thompson he was positioned perfectly to see the play and awarded the goal.
Now 5.44 left to play and it’s back to a single goal margin. There was still to be drama in the game. I questioned, with a late Phantoms powerplay, whether a time out from the Bison would have been a good call. It would have taken momentum out the game, got the top Bison bodies a rest, but crucially it would have given Phantoms a chance to discuss their extra skater options too.
As it happened the time-out didn’t come, Auzins was seen looking to his bench 2 or 3 times with no response before eventually being called off the ice with 51 seconds to play. Despite the extra attacker for the best part of a minute the Phantoms couldn’t score. Bison defended well twice, didn’t look to risk icing for the glory moment on the empty net, and Dean Skinns made a couple of huge saves to keep it 4-3 as the final hooter sounded.
Man of the Match awards were chosen by the game sponsor and for Peterborough went to Janis Auzins. With 4 goals it would be easy to criticise that decision but he saved 47 of 51 shots for a 92+ save percentage on the night. The other candidate for the Phantoms I’d considered was Pliskauskas who had worked hard all night and was a constant threat around the Bison goal.
The corresponding award for the Bison had gone to Joe Rand. By the usual standards he sets he’d had a quiet game and my considerations for the Bison award would have been Nicky Chinn, Ciaran Long or Joe Greener. I’d also have considered Stuart Mogg who had had a good game too. I guess it just goes to show that different people view the game in different ways.
With two penalty shoot out contests last weekend and 3 from 4 points the opening game of the weekend being won in regulation is a good sign from the Bison. They have the opportunity to go to Guildford with their Captain back and with a little run of form too.