Last weekend I did something that was out of character, I decided to stay home and not go to hockey. I can’t do Sunday Bison home games as the face-off is too early but prior to last weekend I’d missed just one Saturday so it was nice to get back to watching the game tonight.
The one game I had missed this season was the Sheffield visit so it’s taken a while to finally get to see the Steeldogs. In a strange quirk of scheduling the Bison home fixtures for end of January and into February are Bees, Steeldogs, Bees, Steeldogs, Flames. Not much variety in the scheduling but some good games and also a couple of chances to try new things and blood some of the lesser experienced players in more pressure situations.
I arrived at the rink with warm up underway and was immediately asked if I’d seen what had happened on the ice? Many people then went on to tell me that the Steeldogs had tried to intimidate the Bison in the warm up. After words, a Bison player having his stick dragged from his hands, then some more words Aaron Connolly ended up with a slash from Andre Payette before giving back as good as he got. This was all brought to the attention of the referee.
With Bison missing the Baird Brothers and Grant Rounding added to the long term absentee Matt Selby, Matt Thompson moved to centre ice to start the game. His whistle wasn’t kept away from his mouth for long as just 3 seconds were played before Craig Elliot went to serve a blatant cross checking penalty. It seemed an early statement of intent from the Steeldogs as their plan was to obviously bully the Bison.
After 1.18 the goal light was illuminated behind the Steeldogs non British trained goalie as Aaron Connolly finished a sweet drop pass from Andy Melachrino. Ciaran Long getting the second assist the Bison completed a nice team manoeuvre to open the scoring.
The referee was penalising again at 2.50 as Michael Wales was the victim of what can only be described as a mugging by Callum Pattison. Wales was jumped, bundled to the floor and punched by the Steeldogs “hard man” who quite rightly picked up a 2 minute roughing penalty and stupidly added a 10 minute further sit down for misconduct.
Goal 2 came at 3.59 as Aaron Connolly scored his second. Joe Greener worked hard to get a couple of shots off but Connolly got the rebound and bundled the puck over the line for his second of the night.
At this stage a glowing point was ready to be noted, or in fact two. One was that plan A, trying bully boy tactics against the Bison weren’t impressing the referee and nor were they working as their goaltender and defence weren’t up to nullifying the Bison powerplay. The second point to be noted was that upsetting Connolly in the warm up wasn’t a good idea either.
With the Bison on the attack Dean Skinns cut a lonely figure at the other end of the ice. Steeldogs appeared content with continuing their bullying tactics which allowed Basingstoke to dominate the game. Nick Chinn got a shot off but into the lower chest of the Steeldogs goalie and it was the same player who gave away the first Bison penalty of the game at 7.08 when he delivered a crunching hit. Chinny had arrived at pace and hit like a train, driving through his target but his hit was adjudged worthy of an elbowing penalty. Ryan Watt who continues to look more and more like the player that left Slough in the summer of 2012 was denied by Sedlar ahead of two big saves from Dean Skinns, arguably his first difficult tasks of the game.
Back at full strength Joe Greener rushed to the net to try and poke home the puck but collided with the goaltender and picked up an interference penalty. Steeldogs got their second opportunity on the powerplay but this one would produce a goal; a careless turnover by Sheffield allowed Bison to pressure around the net and Ciaran Long controlled a rebound finishing into the back of the net for 3-0 at 13.19.
By now within the opening 14 minutes of the game it was pretty obvious that plan A wasn’t working for the Steeldogs. 3-0 down wasn’t the start they would have been hoping for and Dalibor Sedlar hadn’t looked worthy of the non EIHA trained player slot he was occupying on the roster. He’d looked like an average Brit goaltender rather than the stand out star that Janis Auzins has been the Phantoms in a non EIHA trained player role.
Tomas Karpov picked up a tripping call at 18.32 but rather than accepting the powerplay Andre Payette raced into Nicky Chinn on the whistle and the delayed penalty was called but also a 2 minute charging minor to Andre Payette making it 4 on 4. With an import goalie on the ice and an import skater in the box it was careless that the Steeldogs picked up a too many imports call leading to a 4 on 3 powerplay for the home team.
The Bison duly completed the perfect first period with 39 seconds remaining when Joe Greener beat Sedlar on the left pad side skilfully lifting the puck over the goaltender’s outstretched leg.
The remaining 39 seconds of the first period ticked down and 4-0 was the story of the first period. Bison were every bit worth the lead they had however it was the game plan of the Steeldogs that had given rise to the opportunities the Bison had finished off that contributed to the period.
In the interval Aaron Connolly had “lost” the second goal to Joe Rand, having his point changed from the goal to a helper.
The second period started where the first had left off, Bison enjoying periods of sustained pressure before eventually Calvert broke free only to fire his shot wide. Long forced a fantastic stop by Sedlar and then with a powerplay coming Dean Skinns headed to the bench, Sheppard pressured Sedlar but the whistle blew just as the Bison goaltender reached the bench with Sheppard having been unsuccessful.
There followed a couple of strange plays by the Steeldogs, first Ozolins laid a cross check on Tomas Karpov driving the Bison man into Sedlar who took a moment or two before appearing ok. Then Duncombe completed the same move on Ciaran Long with Sedlar again being at the end of it. It wouldn’t be second time lucky for the visitors either as Matt Thompson awarded the minor penalty to Duncombe allowing Bison back on the powerplay.
With Joe Rand having got the puck to the net Aaron Connolly was unlucky to pick up a slashing minor at 32.44 as he attempted to stab at the loose puck. It was after his return to the ice that he was at the centre of the Steeldogs next penalty when he lost his stick, slashed from his hands on a breakout play at 35.31.
Period 2 went on to end without any further goals being scored, but in favour of the Steeldogs they would start the final period with 52 seconds of a Greener tripping penalty left in their advantage.
Steeldogs failed to take advantage of the remainder of their powerplay at the start of the third period. They did however convert a later powerplay, while Ciaran Long served a hooking penalty for their only goal of the night. Ashley Calvert blasted a tidy shot from the hash marks that beat Dean Skinns glove side and broke what could have been the second successive shut out on home ice.
With the goal scored Sheffield did briefly look like they might be moving on to plan B but it didn’t last long. After forcing a couple of saves from Skinns they were back penalty killing when Elliot cross checked Michael Wales at centre ice.
What followed was something solely worth watching the highlights for as Tomas Karpov scored the Bison fifth goal. He got the puck in the corner, skated calmly to the net, drew Sedlar into position and finished around him. It was without doubt the play of the night.
There followed a chance for Ozolins who fired wide and Greener who was denied close range by Sedlar’s glove. Ryan Watt was next to receive words from Andre Payette and the resulting penalties resulted in a home team penalty killing exercise. That was soon nullified by Janis Ozolins who finally came to the attention of the large crowd but for the wrong reasons. He launched an open ice hit on Joe Greener that would have been high on a giant and rightly sat out for a 2+10 check to the head.
With 1.02 left to play Cameron Wynn netted the game’s final goal. Joe Rand won the face off back to Wynn who beat the outstretched pad of Sedlar and completed a workman like performance by the home team.
Steve Duncombe took the man of the match award for the Steeldogs. He is a really impressive player, he’s had spells in the Elite League and works hard every game for the Steeldogs. In a game where no particular player shone out for the visitors then Duncombe was a solid choice for the beers.
Aaron Connolly took the beers for the home team and was again a solid choice. Karpov created the highlight reel moment of the night with the Bison 5th goal but Connolly worked hard all night long, scored one and helped one too. He forechecked well, puck handled well and finished well too.
It was a peculiar night, the tone of the game followed from the incident in the warm up. Craig Elliot took a dumb penalty after just 3 seconds, at centre ice when the referee’s eyes could be looking nowhere else and an incident couldn’t be missed. Andre Payette threw away a powerplay opportunity when he charged into Nicky Chinn. Aaron Connolly, Michael Wales and Ryan Watt were all antagonised regularly but while they antagonising incidents were all taking place the scoreboard was racking up in favour of the Bison.
I was looking forward to seeing Janis Ozolins who’d been away from the Steeldogs for a few years. He, along with Ben Bowns in goal, turned the Steeldogs from a play off missing team into a top three team before being lured away into the Elite League. His return had been much hyped but last night he certainly wasn’t the player that I had remembered from his first spell with the club. He had one good chance on goal that he sent wide but stood out for his crash check that earned him a 2+10 rather than his scoring or play making prowess.
The Bison have, in the past, been criticised for taking silly penalties that had lead to them conceding valuable goals. Last night that didn’t happen, it was clear it wasn’t going to happen. Doug Sheppard had obviously anticipated the opponent’s tactics and addressed them in his team talk. Despite the goading the Bison shrugged it off and rather than returning the shoves and slashes they did their damage where it hurt most, on the scoreboard.
Many people tweeted me in the game saying that the constant penalties taken were a shame as at 5 on 5 the Steeldogs can play a good game. Indeed, they took the points on their home ice a couple of weeks back and obviously by playing a different game to the one they unrolled to play on Bison ice.
The Bison now enjoyed a day off and return to action next Saturday against the Bracknell Bees. It’s been a tough season for the Bees, 44 points adrift from the top of the table, Paynter, Wiggins and Watt all departed and none of the spoken about replacements found and signed. Bison have strengthened with the signing of Ryan Watt and currently sit in third place in the table, 28 points above their next opponents, and 13 wins to the good.