It was a smoother than usual journey down to the Spectrum for a Sunday evening face-off. The M4 – M25 combo can be tricky heading out of Slough at 5pm on a Sunday but thankfully last night all the traffic was behaving well.
Basingstoke had, the previous night, played out a tough home win against Peterborough Phantoms while Guildford had enjoyed a night of rest meaning they would without doubt be the fresher of the two teams heading into the fixture.
Tim Pickett was given charge of the game and called the players together to get started. Flames dominated the opening exchanges, after some scrappy play right at the start Flames gathered the puck and their play and set about the opening goal. At 1.40 a neat drop pass found Tvrdon and his shot over Dean Skinns’ glove made it 1 goal from 1 shot.
Things couldn’t get much better for the home team when they found themselves up 2 goals thanks to their third shirt. Campbell found Tvrdon who had plenty of space and sent a second wrist shot past the Bison goaltender at 5.29.
It would have been easy and predictable to see the Flames steamroller their way into an unassailable lead from a position like that but scripts aren’t written for hockey and Bison had other ideas.
The first Bison goal will win no awards for prettiness but they all count! Hadfield, chosen ahead of Rockman to start in net, made the initial save after Flames had allowed Bison players to get to the net. Ciaran Long had the step on Flames defence and when Hadfield’s save left a juicy rebound it was Long who was first to it and sent the puck into the back of the net for 2-1.
Bison’s second came about as a result of simply the better team work that their opponents. Again in the zone Flames failed to make an impact on disrupting the Bison play and it was Cam Wynne, powering in who lifted the puck high over Hadfield into the roof of the net for 2-2.
The third Bison goal again came from close range to the net as Hadfield and his defence failed to clear or control the puck. The impressive Aaron Connolly was the one who sealed the deal on goal five of the first period to give the Bison the lead.
By now memories of the poor Bison start had been dispelled, the Flames reign in the ascendancy had been cut short and the better of the chances in the remainder of the first period went to the men wearing black although the score remained at 2-3 come the first interval.
Period 2 was a much more physical affair that the first period. Straight off the drop Danny Meyers and Joe Greener went for it. The two were obviously planning it from the moment the teams lined up to face-off, the officials had already had words to interrupt the planning but nothing interrupted the “afters” as soon as the puck dropped. I doubt we’ll see the scrap on the highlights as things like that don’t make it onto Flames TV even if they did actually take place but both players managed a few swings for each other before wrestling each other to the floor.
The period itself was a feisty one, quite a few big hits, some late, and some fantastic. The biggest hit of the period was layed by Bison’s Declan Balmer on Andy McKinney. It was a big, powerful clean crunching hit, if there was a coaching manual on how to deliver a hit that would be the first lesson!
Meanwhile, what the game is all about wasn’t forgotten either in the second period as Joe Rand made it 2-4 with 2.24 left to play. It’s scary to think that just 2 years ago Rand was playing in NIHL1, he makes things happen, he has the skill you’d like from an import forward and he finished from Connolly and Melachrino for a two goal cushion. By now I had expected to see Gregg Rockman start the third period (which didn’t happen) but Bison enjoyed their second interval knowing that they had firmly established ascendancy and were on the way to their first four point weekend in the league for a couple of months.
At some point in period 2 Flames goalscorer Roman Tvrdon had left the ice. I didn’t see him pick up an injury but he definitely wasn’t icing by the end of the second period and didn’t return for the third period either.
Bison wanted a good solid start to the third period to boost their hopes of the four point weekend. 5.22 into the third period Flames had pulled back a goal and heaped the pressure back on. It was the only of their three goals on the night that was a product of team work. McKinney got the puck behind the net, fed it to Kristofferson who fed Longstaff who roofed the puck over the netminder.
The game is now wide open, the comfortable lead the Bison held is now cut and a 1 goal lead in the third period isn’t really a cushion at all. Don’t get me wrong, you’d always like the goal on the board but where a 2 or 3 goal lead affords you some comfort you know that one bad play, one bad bounce or a bit of back luck could see the game tied with ease.
Flames then picked up what can only be described as a silly penalty. With Tvrdon having disappeared sometime in the second period Kvetan took down Joe Greener in what was a terribly clumsy challenge. Kvetan plays the game hard, often dirty (unless of course you’re a Flames fan in which case he’s an angel) but the way Joe Greener went down looked unsavoury. It took him a while to regain his feet and he bravely stayed out to skate off the pain he was in. Kvetan left the game with a match penalty for tripping.
The penalty has since been downgraded on the electronic gamesheet to a 5+game which means Kvetan won’t automatically miss the next game but his, at best, clumsy, take down cost his team leaving them 14.03 to play with just 2 imports.
The Flames did try hard for the remainder of the game, the Bison played a cohesive team game. Savage probably had the best chance to equalise with under 5 minutes left when he had a clear opportunity to release a powerful shot but instead advanced to the net, lost the opportunity to power home the puck and allowed Skinns a much easier save to make than he may have had.
Late game powerplays favoured the home team but despite having 2 late opportunities with the man advantage and a time out at which time the pulling of Hadfield was arranged the Bison held strong and deservedly took full points from the game.
Sunday night had lacked the intensity of Saturday night, perhaps something to do with two completely different atmospheres at the games but on the ice the game wasn’t as high intensity. Guildford are a better team since their import changes but they just didn’t seem to have urgency to their game. They didn’t seem as gelled as their opponents and in the final count up that was the biggest difference. Hockey is a team game and the team that played as and for a team were the ones rewarded with the points.
It’s now, give or take, mid January. The Bison are still missing Matt Selby. He’s a big lad, a good defenceman, a physical presence and without doubt a future star of the EPL but he’s still missing from concussion like symptoms following the nasty hit he took on October 12th. He’s since played a handful of games but worryingly all they’ve done is re-agitate the concussion. If you’re 40 years old and in that position then the sensible thing to do would be to look back on your career and hang up your skates, but Selby is a young man, at the start of his career and it’s firstly sad that he’s played just 6 or 7 weeks of hockey but secondly sad the effect this must be having on his life at a time where he should be enjoying himself he’s protecting himself from on-going concussion symptons!
I said to those I watched the game with last night that the EIHA need to clamp down harder on “dangerous” plays. There is no place for such dirty play in the second league of the country, officials need to know that penalties they dish out will be backed up by league management. Only by issuing stiffer penalties and still with them will we move to eradicate the dangerous play.
Heading into the run in Basingstoke are going the right way. They started strong, I had them as contenders early in the season before a blip in form saw them drop to mid-table. Wins are coming again now, they’re climbing the table and while the league is gone, most probably to the Tigers, the play-offs are still anyone’s.