With the EPL Slough Jets having been disbanded some of the Slough Jets fans having taking to touring to get their hockey fix until hockey is returned to Slough.
Last night we took to the road to journey the M4 and A33 to watch Basingstoke Bison take on the Telford Tigers.
With the Bison having scooped the Cup and Play-off double last year Doug Sheppard knew he was close to the perfect winning formula and over the summer made minimal changes to improve his team, most importantly retaining the winning nucleus from the previous season.
Tom Watkins enjoyed a fantastic second half to the 13/14 season following the cash injection afforded by the change of ownership. With a summer to recruit and a budget to work with the challenges for Tom were to see how he could gel the most expensive Tigers team to start a season since their return to the EPL.
The Bison dominated the opening exchanges of the play in one of the most one sided starts to a game I’ve seen. Tom Murdy made save after save until eventually Tigers broke out and started troubling Dean Skinns. Tomas Karpov gave the Bison the lead they deserved and it was in the second period when Tigers eventually levelled up. From my angle just on the goal line it looked to be a lucky goal as the puck appeared to strike the goaltender’s helmet before Nathan Salem completed the move to score in front of a crowded goal area.
The third period couldn’t split the teams and neither could overtime meaning it was penalty shots to decide the result. In my opinion any team with Ciaran Long in it starts penalties as favourites. Over the last couple of seasons Ciaran has developed into a fantastic British player and is probably the best penalty taker in the league.
Scott McKenzie’s attempt failed as he missed his target, Joe Rand found the target but Murdy had put himself in the right place to save it and we were scoreless after the first round of shots. Szabo was next for the Tigers and as he skated away towards the net he went very wide on his approach, deeking back in at the last moment but the Bison support went wide when Dean Skinns denied the attempt. Next up steps Ciaran Long, a calm and collected approach and in the coolest move he holds onto the puck, dangling side to side and almost as it’s saved just shy of the goal line pokes it him single handed and it’s 1-0 after two rounds of shots. The Bison fans boo the next shooter as their former lad Joe Miller is the third shooter for the Tigers and when he can’t beat Dean Skinns that ends the game, the wall of Bison support in the far block erupt as Basingstoke win the game 2-1.
Having seen Manchester and Guildford so far against Bracknell and Swindon and now Bison against Tigers I am happy to say that the Bison are the best team I’ve seen so far this season. They were well skilled and well drilled, played a good system and played well at both ends of the ice. They attacked well when the opportunities were there and soaked up pressure when the Tigers attacked.
Credit to Tom Watkins and the Tigers who put up a great fight. They will definitely contend well this season and will be in the mix for all three available trophies. They too have added well to that start of a good nucleus built up last year with the addition of Dan Davies, Dan Scott and Rick Plant.
Hockey is alive and well, and hopefully one day will be alive and well in Slough again too.