The sad fact of tonight’s game is that it’s my penultimate live game of the 14/15 season. The Bison play a home game next Sunday and then the solitary game the weekend after is played on the road. With the team likely to finish in a top 4 spot the play-off quarter final home game will most likely also be played on the Sunday. In case you’ve not spotted the theme, Sunday 5.30pm face-offs just don’t work for me as I am still at work finishing at 5, by the time I’ve packed up and hit the road it’s 5.10 and by the time I’d arrive the game is well underway with the majority of the first period played!
With the Bison on a 9 game home winning streak I hoped my final visit to Hampshire of the season would see the streak extend to 10. The home team welcomed back Brendon Baird into the team but Tomas Karpov and Matt Selby continued their absences with Declan Balmer still not fit following an injury collected towards the end of the win over the Flames seven days earlier.
Tim Pickett was the man given charge of the game and called the teams to centre ice for the face-off. A stop early in the second minute gave a chance to confirm by announcement that Bison goaltender Dean Skinns had now completed 10,000 league minutes in goal for the Stampede, becoming the first goaltender to do so for the Bison. Upon the announcement the huge sell out crowd stood to show their appreciation, acknowledged by a wave from #45
On the very next play Dean Skinns made a huge pad save, denying Kostal who had been fed by Nell on a 2 on 1. At the other end Stevie Lyle was also impressive in the Wildcats net and after chances at both ends it took until the 9th minute for the deadlock to be broken.
At 8.34 Nell broke away from the pack and skated in on the Bison goaltender having being fed by Bullas and with just the shot stopper to beat he did so under the arm for 0-1.
Soon after Ciaran Long had an attempt that went wide, he swiftly recovered the puck and fed Miroslav Vantroba but he was denied by a glove save from Lyle.
There followed a coming together by the benches between Ryan Watt and Tomas Kana with Tim Pickett awarding both players a roughing minor each for their troubles. From the face-off, in the Bison defensive end Lee Richardson beat Dean Skinns with a shot from the blue line that he’d most probably want back but it was now 0-2 after 13.32 of hockey.
A speculative effort from Stuart Mogg, again playing on defence, was easily dealt with by Lyle before a careless turnover allowed Aaron Nell to take an unimpeded chance from the slot which was saved by the extending leg of Dean Skinns.
At 16.57 Bison finally got reward for their hard work. Joe Greener worked the puck hard, moving it around the goal before the puck came to Miroslav Vantroba who shoved it over the line. The whistle blew, the Wildcats defence shoved Joe Greener into Lyle who bleated his unhappiness to the referee. With nothing but the goal awarded the netminder had to return to duty having conceded the goal.
The remaining 3.03 saw more chances but no more goals. The first period ended with the Wildcats probably good for their single goal lead. The Bison had played a good period but the Wildcats had capitalised on their chances and had defended well, disrupting the passing game the Bison have played so well over the last few weeks.
The second period started with the Wildcats completing a powerplay that had arisen at the end of the first. Some good penalty killing by the Bison saw the advantage nullified and then the home team went on the attack. Nick Chinn fed Andy Melachrino but the latter could only get the shot off backhanded and Lyle dealt comfortably with it. Lyle was less comfortable in his next save as Doug Sheppard and Aaron Connolly set up a 2 on 1 chance, the young Brit firing a high shot that the goaltender just managed to deflect away with his shoulder. Lyle soon after had to make another save as a confused line change from the visitors left him exposed to a good effort from Stuart Mogg.
There were chances as the second period turned into an excellent period of hockey but the best chance came when Jonas Hoog relieved Mogg of the puck but the home team were saved by a huge save from Skinns.
What followed was probably where the game turned. Up until the fourth goal of the night the Bison were pressuring hard and looked to be close to equalising up the game at 2-2 but two quick goals in a spell of just 22 seconds turned the game massively in favour of the Wildcats.
At 37.36 Sam Bullas scored the goal of the night. Fed the puck from Rutkis and Taylor he went round the defence, got Skinns committed before a neat toe drag around leaving the chance to fire into the now open net.
Just 22 seconds later Jonas Hoog made it 1-4. The actual goal had similarities with the one immediately previous to it as Hoog tempted Skinns leaving the goaltender believed he could poke check the puck away. Once he was committed Hoog took the puck away and tapped the puck over the line into the huge awaiting target.
The Wildcats would have enjoyed the second interval far more than the Bison did. Playing negative hockey is never a solid tactic but the visitors knew they could afford to take the sensible chances only in the final period, following the calculated risks while the Bison had to not only take their chances but also create chances from nowhere.
The third period was an offensive display from the Bison. You could go as far as to say it was an offensive masterclass as shot after shot went towards the Bison goal. Skinns was left to make just 5 saves in the final period by contrast.
At 45.06 Doug Sheppard made it 2-4. After a frustrating powerplay where the chances weren’t quite finished except one good attempt which was seen through the traffic by the Wildcats shot stopper the teams returned to five on five. It was soon after that the Bison player coach finished the period of pressure around the net by beating his former goaltender for a chance to come back into the game.
With 10.06 left to play the game was back alive. Bison Captain Nick Chinn had a tap in for 3-4. Joe Rand had the original chance which Lyle lost sight of after his save leaving Chinn the chance to get the puck into the back of the net and to force an exciting conclusion to the game.
The final 10.06 failed to disappoint. There were chances, there were skilled plays and there were good saves. Bison continued to pressure Lyle but nothing was forthcoming until with 1.16 left to play Sheppard called the Bison time-out. Skinns was called to the bench in favour of the extra skater and the best chance came with Joe Greener denied by a huge save from Lyle.
Wildcats had had a couple of chances to get an attempt on the empty net but both times Bison had regained the puck but with 14 seconds left to play former Columbus Blue Jackets player Tomas Kana got the puck into the empty net with a risk free attempt to seal the win for the Wildcats and end the Bison’s winning home run at 9 games.
Basingstoke were missing Tomas Karpov for the game. They’d missed him the week previously as well and you can’t underestimate the absence his injury creates within the team. The Herd are a team of just 4 imports, there isn’t a spare available and taking on a 5 import team (of which of course only 4 can play in a single fixture) with 3 imports is always going to be tough.
Credit to Swindon, they came to win, they had a plan and they executed it well. Swindon have always been a team that traditionally looked good on paper but perhaps fell short of transferring the whole picture to the ice. This year they’ve done that, they’re in fourth spot in the league and they’re competition for everyone.
The Wildcats defence were impressive in the opening period, causing disruption most times the Bison gained the zone and for the most part protecting Stevie Lyle well. Lyle doesn’t react well to players in his space but Swindon protected him well all apart from the one incident where Bison scored their first goal.
It was once again impressive to see a sell out crowd at the Basingstoke Arena for the second week in a row. Indeed traffic meant that Ben and I were only 10 people away from being turned away and I feel for those arriving after that. In an ideal world you’d like for your exact capacity to turn up every week, everyone gets in and enjoys a good game and nobody is turned away. Sadly for some fans there were people turned away last night but it is promising while some people question the very future stability of the country’s second tier that teams are doing well and the product is appealing enough for teams to be able to sell out their venues.
On to last night’s Bison record breaker, Dean Skinns. In the second minute of the game last night Dean Skinns became the first man to ice 10,000 league minutes between the pipes for the Bison. It’s quite an achievement but given the history of the club I’m surprised it’s taken so long to achieve.
For Slough Charlie Colon would have achieved the feat but taking 11 seasons to do so, notching up around 16,000 miuntes, however Gregg Rockman would also have achieved those minutes in much shorter time. In just over 4 seasons Rockman started 218 games, he was rarely ever dislodged from the net which means he would be around 13,000 minutes. That means Slough will have 2 members of that 10,000 minute club.
In his latest spell with the Bison Skinns has started every league game, the only time he has been absent from the net is with a delayed penalty impending or at the end of the game in an empty net situation. His back-up, Dan Weller-Evans, hasn’t managed to force his way onto the ice at all this season in league action. Skinns sits atop the minutes chart for EPL netminders this season but 10th in terms of save percentage with only Manchester’s backup and the two Bees goaltenders below him. I’ve seen him pull off some excellent saves this season, saves that I was certain he’d be capable of having seen him on debut but he’s also conceded some frustrating goals that you’d expect an EPL netminder to deny.
I remember watching him on his debut at just 16. People around the Bison arena were talking about this hot young prospect they had in goal. It was against Slough, he came on to play the third period with the Bison holding a lead from the opening 40 minutes. He was matched against Slough’s import goalie Dean Crossland who had not had the best of nights so far in the game. Skinns came on and was saved by his pipe work once but at just 16 he played will skill and confidence to back stop his team to victory. I left frustrated at the loss but impressed by the young Bison backup goalie.
Dean Skinns would go on to become Slough’s goaltender, playing 3 seasons including steering the Jets to their first trophy in 10 years when Steve Moria was in charge in 2008. He’s since been the Flames and Wildcats goaltender before returning to the Herd for 13/14 when he went on to backstop the team to the double of Cup and Play-offs. His play-off stats last year were exceptional with just 1.75 goals against and a save percentage of .936.
The night belonged to Dean last night in terms of celebrations but on the ice the night belonged to Stevie Lyle. The Bison won the shot contest 21-5 in the final period, Lyle was peppered all through and didn’t break. The two goals he conceded were both good goals but he turned away the other 19 shots.
The Wildcats head on to face the Flames today while the Bison travel to Bracknell to face the Bees.