Basingstoke welcomed Sheffield back to the Bison arena for the second time in a fortnight. On the previous occasion it had been a 6-1 whooping however since then Bison had added more to their injury list. Tomas Karpov sat out as did Aaron Connolly with the two having picked up injuries over the last seven days. For the Steeldogs they missed Callum Pattinson serving his suspension.
Referee Tim Pickett had been delayed in traffic with the M4 building due to an earlier accident but with Andrejs Korsaks and Sam Pering looking ready to start the game as a two man system the armbanded official took to the ice in time to take charge and get the game underway.
With 2.39 elapsed Dalibor Sedlar came up with the game’s first big save as a delightful drop pass was left for Joe Greener but he was denied close in by the Steeldogs import goalie. At 5.14 the same goaltender was assisted by the metal work when Michael Wales skated in on goal and his shot rung the ironwork, it was the same again 46 seconds later when the Steeldogs net gave a metallic ting.
At 6.39 the game’s first penalty was called with Miroslav Vantroba collecting a tripping minor and the Steeldogs took to the man advantage. On the 7 minute mark Janis Ozolins renewed his rivalry with Joe Greener, agitating the Bison man well behind the play and out of the view of the referee, the play eventually coming to a stop and the linesmen separating the two players.
With Sheffield still on the powerplay Doug Sheppard was taken down attempting to clear the puck from the zone, Ben Morgan got the puck and held the zone before finding Lloyd Gibson who had Lee Haywood with him and passed side to side in front of the Bison net, Haywood finishing before Skinns to get to his side of the net for 0-1 at 8.35.
At 11.05 as the Bison pressured Dalibor Sedlar the net reacted to what appeared a purposeful extension of the left leg and shot backwards, stopping the play as the referee’s whistle sounded. This proved to be the start of a pattern for the night.
Back at the other end of the ice Lubomir Korhon finished from Tom Squires at 12.52 to make it 0-2 with a goal that Bison goaltender, Dean Skinns, would certainly want back. The Bison man appeared slow on the save and the Steeldogs import had them surprisingly two goals ahead.
Straight off the resulting centre ice face off Bison advanced back into the attacking zone and put the puck in the net only to find Sedlar had once again kicked the net off its moorings and the goal wasn’t in fact a goal. On the very next play the net is kicked off for a third time by Sedlar as the Bison pressure around him!! More than likely spotting the pattern referee Tim Pickett penalises Sedlar and from then on the net seemed to move less!
With Bison on the powerplay they began their first man advantage without the injured Tomas Karpov leaving players in unusual combinations. Ciaran Long came close to scoring the Bison opener but with the save made and the whistle blown Haywood jumped on the Bison man, taking him down and in the process the net became dislodged once again but this time by someone other than #35!! From the restart Vantroba and Long combined to feed Andy Melachrino who wristed a shot past Sedlar who neither made the save nor dislodged the net and at 14.53 on the second time of the puck entering Sedlar’s net Bison scored their first.
Basingstoke continued peppering Sedlar who kept their goal tally down to just 1 but at the other end Dean Skinns made the save of the period, pulling off a great glove save with 1.12 left to play.
The Bison had massively outshot their opponents in the opening period but despite some antics the Steeldogs had give the large Basingstoke arena crowd a demonstration of what they could do when they cut the antics to a minimum and concentrated on playing the game.
The second period started with some good hits from the Bison including a massive defensive open ice hit bringing to an end a Janis Ozolins attempt in the high slot.
6.31 into the period Stuart Mogg worked hard to gain the puck and set free Michael Wales who found his scoring attempt denied by a huge save. At 26.59 Joe Baird was penalised for hooking as he protested his innocence. Baird let go of the stick and then when the Steeldogs player also lost his grip on the stick the playing implement dropped to the ground but the man advantage went to the visiting team. In a comedy moment Miroslav Vantroba obviously tired of the on ice bleating and the tiniest tap sent the bleater toppling off balance to the ice.
It was back at full strength when Vantroba himself was denied after a good drive to the net but a few minutes later the whistle was blowing again when Seldar again dislodged the net. This now meant the net had been lost from its moorings behind him at both ends of the ice!
Sedlar followed up with a great save denying a close in attempt but Andre Payette gave a reminder of why he is a good old school guy. He lined up a Bison player for a hit in front of the Zamboni entrance and through the gap in the glass could be heard calling “heads up” as he steamed in for the hit. Our sport has far too many dangerous plays, reckless hits and head checks but Andre is an older generation player who plays the game hard but fairly and it’s little things like that calling that could be lost from the game when players of that generation hang up their skates.
At 35.00 it looked to all in the rink as if the Bison had equalised as the netting buldged but it in fact distorted inwards as the puck hit the side netting and when the 40 minute buzzer sounded despite a second period in succession massively outshooting their opponents Bison retired to their dressing room still down by a goal.
There was all to play for in the third period as the teams returned to the ice and with 91 seconds elapsed in the final period Doug Sheppard levelled the game. He showed all his experience, collected a pass from Vantroba and waiting while he moved into the exact position he wanted to shoot from and releasing an inch perfect wrist shot for 2-2.
The Bison created and maintained lots of pressure in the early minutes of the third period, and Sedlar continued to deny them from adding to the two they already had.
At 47.09, with a man advantage in their favour he couldn’t deny Ciaran Long what would turn out to be the game winning goal. It had been a text book powerplay manoeuvre and Vantroba was once again the feeder who set Long away with the chance to fire from centre of the ice back by the blue line to make it 3-2.
Having given a totally different performance than they had two weeks ago it was clear to see the sheer disappointment on the faces of the Steeldogs when the light behind their goal illuminated sending them behind for the first time on the night.
A few moments later the pipe work rung again behind Sedlar but as the rebound fell to the Bison the net once again mysteriously left its moorings at the goaltender’s leg made contact!
Dean Skinns made a huge save around the 53 minute mark and Ciaran Long nearly made it 4-2 with a shorthanded attempt shortly after with just less than 5 minutes remaining.
The Steeldogs took their timeout inside the final minute and opted to leave the net empty. They came close to equalising at 59.52 with a big save from Skinns denied them. The Bison then had to weather 7.6 seconds of 6 on 4 as Joe Greener was penalised but they did and held on for another two points on home ice.
A massive crowd were in attendance last night for the game. It had the potential to be another blow out as had happened on the same ice just 14 days previously but Sheffield didn’t allow that to happen. They played totally different tactics, the Plan B that wasn’t in evidence a fortnight ago was the starting plan in this game and it showed in that they worked the Bison hard and made them earn the points.
Two weeks ago Sheffield dropped behind early, they clearly intended to try and out battle the Bison and when it didn’t work just upped the antics and were just rewarded for their tactics by seeing goal after goal scored against them. Clearly lessons were learned and the tactics were totally different, the Steeldogs took a surprise two goal lead early on and that re-enforced the tactics they’d started this game with. Yes there were antics but they didn’t dominate the game play as they had previously.
There were low points in the game. I remember Janis Ozolins being easily the best import forward in the EPL in his first spell with Sheffield but on his return to the Steeldogs he seems to have added “dirtiness” to his game, he seems to have picked up a fascination with Joe Greener. His fascination with the Brit power forward was more in evidence a fortnight ago but there were still digs off the play last night as well.
For me the biggest low point of the game was the regularity with which Dalibor Sedlar “lost his net” behind him any time there was pressure near him! On one occasion the net was even dislodged in response to a faked shot. On the second occasion the referee clearly had words about it and on the third occasion he called the delay of the game penalty. It was a fair call as the net had been moved three times within a few minutes, one of these net movements directly washing out a goal. After the penalty the net stopped moving for quite some time although it would move once in each of the second and third periods as well.
People have criticised Janis Auzins of the Phantoms for his on ice antics but on the occasions I’ve seen him at Basingstoke and Guildford I’ve not seen the net kicked off five times in a game!
For the Bison it was a clinical display whilst in the middle of an injury problem. Selby continues to be out following the concussion earlier in the year, Rounding is still out, Brendon Baird hasn’t returned yet but arguably the two newest injured players are going to prove the biggest impacts for the duration of their absences. Tomas Karpov is an import player, he is a hard worker, he makes things happen whether that’s scoring or assisting. His absence is huge! Equally large is the gap left by Aaron Connolly who hasn’t iced since his awkward collision in last weekend’s Bees game. He is a young energetic Brit who plays hard, has a game maturity ahead of his age and never fails to impress.
For the Bison to come back from 2 goals down with one of their imports missing, one of their top Brits missing on top of their already present injury crisis was a good performance. Every player worked extra hard to fill the gaps left, nobody got drawn into the antics, nobody got disheartened going in a goal down after 40 minutes despite outshooting their opponents 46-28 in the first two periods. They came out for the third period and Doug Sheppard showed the intent early on once again leading from the front before Ciaran Long netted the goal winner 7.09 into the final period. The Bison kept their home winning streak underway and now enjoy a day off before taking on Guildford Flames next Saturday.