Last weekend, with my cover duty in the DJ Box at Basingstoke complete and the fact the games were from the English Challenge Cup against the NIHL1 teams Ben and I had headed to MK where we saw Lightning vs Phantoms in great company.
The schedule showing Bison vs Tigers for tonight there was only one choice of destination and after a journey down the M4 and A33 Ben and I took up our familiar position at the barrier by the Zamboni gate where we’ve been welcomed by the Bison fans that stand there.
I had high hopes for this game despite the recent score at Telford. The last time these two teams had met at Basingstoke it was an overtime win for the home side after an epic battle, could the two teams match the intensity of what was on show back then?
The Bison roster contains many friends of mine, the Tigers roster has friends too and it’s nice to watch friends doing their thing. Having signed up as cover and making his debut last weekend it was my first time seeing Ricky Skene back for the Bison. I watched Ricky make his way through the junior programme at Slough before representing the Slough Jets, I said to him last summer he still had lots to offer the game so it’s pleasing to see him back on the ice. He plays the game hard, but fair. He doesn’t mess around, he gives his all to get the job done and you can’t ask for much more than that.
Before the officials took to the ice there was speculation in our corner as to who might get the armbands for the game. I’d been greeted making my way in by one of the officials so I knew at least one of the linesmen but the armbands were still a secret. Out skated Tim Pickett and I knew we’d have a flowing but fair game ahead of us. Tim is one of the newer referees on the EPL circuit but he calls a good game, leaves the players to decide the result and tonight he would do just that.
Joe Miller gave his former team the first powerplay within 3 minutes of the opening face-off and the home team got to set the tone for the game. Two good chances came on the powerplay, Murdy making initial saves and the rebounds falling just out of reach of Bison players for a second attempt.
At the other end of the ice Dean Skinns was a fraction as busy as his opposite number. Davies attempted a re-direct from Danny Rose but a lack of pace on the original shot saw the former Jets man’s attempt saved by Skinns while Sheppard stealing the puck as Scott McKenzie wound up saved his netminder making a save on that attempt.
A second powerplay for the Bison still wouldn’t see the scoring opened. This powerplay re-enforced the tone pretty much as a good Bison team were denied by a netminder on fire. Ciaran Long who is usually very reliable when he gets close to the net was denied by an excellent save from the Telford netminder and an top quality feed from Joe Rand couldn’t be finished off by Grant Rounding as Murdy denied yet again. In between those two Murdy saves Dan Scott laid a huge hit that stopped a Melachrino offensive effort right in its tracks.
Having shown their powerplay unit twice Basingstoke had to show their penalty kill unit when Ricky Skene served a holding penalty. The skill of the Tigers couldn’t crack the Bison and back at full strength no scoring occurred within the remainder of the first period and it was 0-0 after 20 minutes.
Is 0-0 a true reflection of the first 20 minutes? In my opinion no. Bison were good, they were coming forward well, they were positioning well and they were denied 12 times by a netminder having an on-fire day. On another day they could have scored 2 or 3 in the first period. At the other end of the ice they were deserving of the clean sheet they’d kept so 0-0 wasn’t really a fair reflection.
With the players in the Tigers roster it was never going to be an easy ride but another 9.38 passed by scoreless. The opening goal came against the run of play, following a spell of intense pressure from the Bison the Tigers finally got to their offensive end. They worked the puck well and the one clear chance the Bison had to clear the puck they didn’t complete. Weaver shot the puck, the rebound flew up into the air and dropped conveniently right in front of Silverthorne who batted it from mid-air past Skinns for 0-1. On Twitter I described the goal as freaky as I can’t recall seeing a passage of play as such. The rebound looped and fell almost in slow motion and with the utmost in convenience for the Tigers.
Behind the Tigers net an overzealous hit from Martin Ondrej saw Joe Rand driven into the boards head first, the Bison captain Nicky Chinn took exception to the play and laid a hit of his own to level the Tigers man with ease. Tim Pickett calls the penalties as 2 for cross checking on the Bison and 2+10 on the Tigers for checking from behind.
Play resumes and just 3 seconds later the game is level. Straight off the won face-off Miroslav Vantroba fires towards the net and Joe Rand gets enough on it to direct it past the attempted save and the goal light behind Murdy finally comes on.
Ice hockey, like many sports, is a game of momentum. Sometimes things happen against the run of play but momentum is a great thing in ice hockey, when a team is going well they are hard to break down. At 1-1 the game was back level as it should have been but what happened next was a bit disappointing.
Having weathered 0-1 and fought back pretty quickly to 1-1 it was sad to see the Bison go down 1-2 as Silverthorn left a neat drop pass for Tomas Szabo who finds the five hole route into the back of the net.
The game was put right back to level again as Doug Sheppard picks up a turnover, skates to space and completes the beating of Murdy for the second time and within 51 seconds of dropping behind it’s 2-2 with 3.20 left to play in the middle period.
The teams left the ice after 40 minutes tied, the supporters left their seats to get drinks, buy merchandise etc and everyone in the arena knew the promise the third period held.
In the middle period the Bison had again been the better team. The shots favoured the home team 5-10 but both netminders had been beaten twice. Murdy had been beaten by two excellent attempts while Skinns had been beaten by the most convenient slow motion rebound ever and had allowed a five hole goal.
The winner would be the team that withstood the pressure as the two best teams in the league battled out the final stanza.
Goal number three for the Tigers again showed them capitalising on some luck. 6.36 passed in the final period before Dean Skinns was beaten by Joe Miller who’s shot rattled the pipe work. Rather than rattling and coming back out after one, maybe two deflections close in around the net the puck crossed the goal line leaving Tim Pickett, who was ideally placed, no option but to allow the goal. You could see the referee pausing briefly to review the events in his head to ensure the puck had gotten into the net fairly before allowing the goal.
Dean Skinns made two outstanding saves with no stick to keep it at 2-3. After losing the stick he denied both Silverthorn and Miller in close succession, the second from immensely close range.
The Bison continued to test Murdy, the former Wildcats and Phantoms man who had never previously impressed me continued to force me to reconsider as he denied attempt after attempt. With 34.9 seconds left in the game Murdy made another close in save as the Bison pressed forward. When the whistle blew Doug Sheppard called his players back to the bench for a time-out.
With Dean Skinns remaining on the bench it was an all or nothing attempt which after Murdy had denied a couple of other chances saw Telford seal the win when Jason Silverthorn scored his second into the empty net at 59.41.
With 10 seconds left in the game Max Bibraer and Joe Greener came together. The two headed towards each other after the face-off, Joe Greener raising his hands as the two were about to collide. The Tigers man went down and the Bison man went off, penalised with a match penalty for check to the head.
On most occasions in the event of a match penalty an injured player is patched up to the point where he can step back onto the ice and allow the penalty to be downgraded to a game penalty. On this occasion this didn’t happen, meaning that the penalty will stand as a match penalty and Joe Greener’s punishment will be an automatic one game ban, possibly plus whatever punishment the league discipline secretary deems fit.
The result on the night is disappointing. The team that put in the best overall performance came away with nothing. Two of the Tigers goals enjoyed their fair share of luck, and one was on the empty net. The Bison worked very hard against a netminder on top form for their two goals.
When I saw the first Bison vs Tigers game I said then that I thought the Bison looked the best team in the league. Telford have proven me wrong so far and have now established themselves a comfy lead at the top of the league table. Tom Watkins has done what many questioned of him, he hasn’t as such built a team over time but he has bought in some of the best players in the league and they are working together as a team. Telford recruited last season in controversial circumstances by picking the players they wanted from around the EPL mid-season but over the summer they rebuilt their team. They brought in new imports, the recruited from the Elite league and although I’m not privy to the inner workings of the Tigers finances it seems they built a money no object team to compete for Wayne Scholes’ stated goal of the treble this season.
Perhaps now would be the right time to re-assess my view and state that pound for pound the Bison are the best team in the league. I’ve seen them play every team now except Sheffield and they are a well drilled team, the coach leads from the front as does the captain and every player knows their role and fulfils it.
They have four quality imports, they have some well established Brits and some very good upcoming Brits. They play an exciting brand of hockey, the play the game hard but fair and they provide a great night’s sporting entertainment for the people of Hampshire.
Most interestingly after the game I found my opinion on the game disagree with two others who’s opinion I respect. One said that the best team won which wasn’t how I’d seen it and the other questioned the selection of Murdy as Tigers’ MoM whereas I’d seen him as the difference between the two teams. It just shows how different people can see the same game!