Midweek hockey arrived at the Basingstoke Arena as the Paul Baldwin Agencies Bison hosted the first leg of their cup semi-final against the Guildford Flames. The home team were missing Symonds, Rounding and Hiadlovsky along with Joe Baird adding himself to the injury list, for the Flames Eriksson was the import to miss out in place of their newly signed goaltender.
Tim Pickett was the man in charge with Nathan Ormond and James Ions on the lines and at 7.30 it was the man in the armbands who got the game going with a centre ice puck drop.
Pretty much the first offensive chance of the game was ended by a tripping penalty as Ryan Watt look to get to the net Danny Meyers hauled him down in full view of the official in charge and earned himself a 2 minute sit out.
On the powerplay Rene Jarolin was millimetres away from opening the scoring as his blue line blast rung the ironwork behind Richard Ullberg. Still with the man advantage the next shot was saved via the netminder’s glove and he and Joe Greener exchanged words before the re-start.
Injuries came about shortly after as Aaron Connolly took a puck to the neck and ended up being treated on the bench. Soon after that Nathan Ormond took a Rupert Quiney wide shot full on but he too would carry on for the remainder of the period as would Aaron Connolly after treatment and a change of jersey.
Ciaran Long set up Tomas Karpov but a diving Jeremy Lundin blocked the shot and the puck fell to the Flames however Stuart Mogg intercepted their breakout pass and nullified their chance. It was Karpov again who wound round the Flames defence with ease but his shot hit the netminder’s helmet and play stopped. Janis Ozolins managed to start a scramble when his attempt was saved by Jon Baston he went on to shove Bison defenceman Kurt Reynolds and the gloves were off. Reynolds and Ozolins were joined in the melee by Quiney and Long and the resulting penalties ended up with a 2 minute powerplay for the Guildford Flames.
Rene Jarolin blocked a Marcus Kristoffersson shot on the powerplay and Alan Lack, who’d served the additional two minutes on the coincidental penalties, returned for the Bison making it 5 on 5 again. Soon after played stopped and everyone returned except Reynolds who continued to serve the second of his two minute penalties.
Tomas Karpov nearly opened the scoring with a backhand shot but Ullberg held on. Then it was Kristoffersson who tried but again it was Mogg who broke down the chance. Kevin Phillips soon after brought out a big save from Jon Baston then Ryan Watt steadied himself before Ullberg blocked his shot with his own body.
Matt Towe fired his chance wide of Baston and at the next stoppage Aaron Connolly returned after treatment to his neck, now wearing the 6 jersey. Lack tried to set up Matt Towalski in front of Ullberg but number 21 couldn’t get the finishing touch and a quick transition from Matt Towe brought about a glove save from Jon Baston. Flames won the ensuing face-off and quick reactions from Baston saw him come up with another big save.
Period 1 then ended without a single goal despite 15 shots in the opening period. It had been a high intensity period but both teams just lacking the killer blow to open the scoring.
During the break Nathan Ormond had to step back from the game so both officials donned armbands and ran a two referee system for the remainder of the game. James Ions started the second period off and Aaron Connolly’s drive to the net ended with the pipework coming adrift behind Richard Ullberg. The Flames goaltender then came up with a convetional save to deny Tomas Karpov but it was nearly an own goal next as Rupert Quiney nearly managed to deflect Karpov’s intended pass to Long past his own goaltender. Joe Greener’s chance also saw the net come lose before play came back to the Bison end with a traditional save from Baston being enough to end Sam Godfrey’s shot.
Andy McKinney turned the puck over to Ciaran Long in an attempted clearance which brought about Ullberg’s biggest save to date in the game, then it was powerplay time as Declan Balmer collided with Lee Esders, the Flames man going down and the Bison man awarded a 2 minute kneeing minor penalty.
A poor Flames powerplay saw Rene Jarolin benefit from a turnover but Ullberg answered both his attempts and Danny Meyers then left the puck for Ciaran Long but neither he nor Tomas Karpov could get to the puck. Bison were calling for too many imports but neither official answered the call.
Tomas Karpov was the second player on the night to beat Richard Ullberg but the puck screamed through the five hole and hit the pipes before bouncing back out safely for the Flames. Miroslav Vantroba was next to try and register a shot but his cleared the net for height.
Danny Meyers and Matic Kralj sped to the net but instead of pulling out Meyers collided with Jon Baston taking the Bison goaltender down. The therapist was called for as Baston took a few moments to compose himself but carried on.
Miroslav Vantroba was unlucky to pick up a retaliatory call as McKinney hit him a couple of times out of view of both officials but when Vantroba turned round in frustration both officials saw the cross check and awarded the penalty.
Flames started putting on their best powerplay of the night and a flash of the pad from Baston denied Meyers but then they turned the puck over and Lack fed Karpov but the shot went agonisingly high. Lack was causing mayhem again when he provided a screen but play ended when the net came off again behind the Flames goaltender.
17 shots were shared in the second period but still the buzzer sounded to signal the second interval with the score still 0-0. The middle period had upped pace and intensity from the opening period and promised an exciting third period.
James Ions once again dealt with the opening face-off to start the third period and almost straight away Jon Baston produced a huge save to keep out a fast moving Matt Towe. With a penalty coming on the Bison 4.38 into the final period Janis Ozolins managed to slash his stick across Baston ending in a head connection which saw the Bison goaltender down for the second time in the game. Reynolds’ original hooking penalty was matched by Ozolins’ slashing penalty and the game re-started 4 on 4. It was soon 4 on 3 in favour of the Bison when Aaron Connolly was impeded by Kevin Phillips and the Flames player collected an interference call.
Back at 5 on 4 Danny Meyers took a shot from Tomas Karpov in the lower leg and took a while to re-gain his feet. His shot block took momentum from the Bison powerplay and with 11.30 left to play it was back to 5 on 5 and that would turn out to be the last special teams chance in the game.
At 51.44 finally the deadlock broke but in favour of the visitors. Bison were pressuring hard around the Flames net and a quick transition saw the Flames break and open the scoring. Andy Melachrino sent off a quality pass to Matt Towe who gained the zone at speed and a snap shot made it into the back of the net through the 5 hole with 8.16 left.
With a goal now on the board intensity took another step upward. Joe Greener was impeded on his way to the net but play continued and then it was Kralj who tried to repeat Towe’s earlier successful move but Baston saved the shot and the rebound. Baston was kept busy but then Bison got back to their attacking end but a pad save from Ullberg denied Ciaran Long.
The first leg ended with the Flames holding a goal advantage to take forward to their home leg next week.
On reflection 0-0 would have been a fair scoreline to end the first leg with. Had that been the case it would have been one of the very best 0-0 games I’d ever seen. Both teams played the game hard but both lacked the finishing touch.
Jarolin and Karpov both beat Ullberg, Jarolin early on and Karpov in the second period but both were denied by the pipes. Had either of those two shots been a millimetre the other way maybe they’d have been off the post and in and then it would have been a different game altogether. Those are the breaks though, when things are going for you one or two of those would have been goals and then you’ve got 1-0 or 2-0 by the second interval instead of 0-0 and a totally different game.
Speaking of goaltending it was sorry to see the regularity with which the net came adrift from Flames netminder at either end of the ice. Once it came lose behind Baston but numerous times when Bison were pressuring it was off behind Ullberg. It must have been a real test of patience for the officials to not call a delay of the game penalty. On one occasion toward the end of the game as James Ions put the pipe work back as play continued no sooner had he done and rejoined the play himself than than Ullberg appeared to reverse into his own net with play at the other end and then without surprise the very next Bison offensive charge the net was free again!
Clearly Flames had identified the importance of Jon Baston in the Bison net as well. In the middle period he was collided with by Danny Meyers which saw him flex his knee and get the therapist out before returning to duty. In the third period he was the victim of a stick to the head from Ozolins and, as is always said, you’re always responsible for your own stick. Thankfully neither incident forced him out of the game.
In truth it wasn’t a polished performance by either side. Both created chances but neither had finishes. Sometimes players were in the right place but without the right move or other times they just weren’t there. Flames had clearly done their homework and were intent to disrupt the smooth game Bison have crafted. Just as Sheffield had done at the weekend they disrupted the passing lanes for the Bison, they forced shooters to take poorer quality shots and it worked.
Has the season fall apart for the Bison? Absolutely not! They’re still in with a shout for the league, they’re still in for a shout with the cup and of course they’re in with a good chance at the play-offs also. In 2012 something went wrong at Slough towards the end of the regular season yet Doug Sheppard pulled it together and an unfancied Slough team went on to win the play-offs. Here there’s nobody labeling the Bison as unfancied in any of the competitions, it’s just 3 games that have been lost, no significant injuries have occurred (that weren’t already covered) and just as something has unclicked I’m certain Shep will click it back again and the Bison will be back to the team they’ve shown they are this season.
For the Flames, I’m not sure I see Richard Ullberg as the keeper they were expecting. I didn’t see anything last night (other than the net moving) that Gregg Rockman couldn’t have offered them. Maybe Ullberg will go on to prove me wrong (Flames fans will know how Jozef Kohut did that) but on the evidence of last night I’m not sure he was worth an other import sitting out.