With hockey back on a Saturday night the Bison entertained the Phoenix with the chance to extend their home run and take solo possession of the top of the table.
Paul Brookes was in charge of the game and after some running repairs to the rink got the game underway a few minutes late. It was just 91 seconds in before the first period exploded as Joe Greener and Mark Thomas came together. Behind the play gloves were thrown down, helmets taken off and the two squared up. After a tentative start both players landed some blows but with the better of the blows coming from the Bison man the home crowd stood in rapturous applause when Greener finished the scrap with the take down.
With the physical element of the game settled the scoring element was still denied, first by Tomas Hiadlovsky who then set Ciaran Long free who found Vantroba but Stephen Fone was up to that one. Fone then found himself the busier of the two netminders as Long tried his luck with Joe Rand almost getting the rebound. The home team looked sharp and well drilled as move after move was tried with almost clinical perfection but for some reason, that reason wearing the 31 Phoenix jersey, the scoreboard still said 0-0.
After Fone had denied an Alan Lack attempt Phoenix finally forced an error from the Bison but Jacob Corson-Heron, having done the hard work, finished by shooting straight into the body of Tomas Hiadlovsky allowing one of the easier saves of the night for him.
James Archer was next to try and beat Hiadlovsky but the glove flashed up and in sailed the puck. At the other end soon after some acrobatics by Fone denied Karpov the chance to finish. With the Bison forward having stolen the puck from a Phoenix defenceman Fone pounced to smother the puck.
Chances kept coming around the Phoenix net, Joe Rand almost opened the scoring with a wrap around but somehow it just didn’t quite get home.
Alex Symonds quickly stopped Gareth O’Flaherty in his steps as he layed of a huge hip check before Ryan Watt forced a turnover which set Karpov away but he shot just wide.
With 3.22 left in the opening period one of the goal lights finally illuminated but totally against the run of play it was the light behind the Bison goal. Nico Aaltonen fed Robin Kovar who set up James Archer to finish into the top corner of the net.
The goal spurred on the Phoenix who put together another couple of good chances but Bison weathered the storm and headed to the interval wondering how they could be down by the game’s only goal in a period they’d played the better hockey.
Just 1.03 into the second period it was all level when Stuart Mogg fed Aaron Connolly who completed to level the scoring at 1-1. It was a simple move but a simple move done well.
Soon after with the puck at the net the Bison headed there to try and force the go ahead goal but Fone held on as the teams gathered to chat.
Since the goal the second period lacked the intensity of the first. Both teams made errors but neither capitalised on the other’s mistakes. A Lack backhand was denied by Fone and soon after Miroslav Vantroba broke up a play at the other end which saw the net come loose behind Hiadlovsky.
Ryan Watt was next to test Fone but the Phoenix man held strong before a slice of luck kept it at 1-1 at Fone made a save taking himself out of position but failed to freeze or control the puck. Bison plays couldn’t quite find the way home with the puck however.
Phoenix were given a powerplay chance midway through the period when Mogg was despatched for slashing at 30.34 but the penalty was killed off. Just after the penalty had elapsed Gron was denied by Hiadlovksy but seized on his own rebound however play stopped as Gron’s second shot was into the face mask and the whistle blew.
Aaron Connolly was called for hooking out of a collision of players and Bison once again had a 2 minute powerplay to kill off. With 2.41 left in period 2 the extra man advantage finally swing in the way of the home team as Mark Thomas sat out a cross checking penalty brought about by taking down Joe Greener.
Tomas Karpov had a couple of chances and a scramble saw the goal light come on but the puck had failed to enter the net and the second period ended 1-1.
After 40 minutes I was still left wondering how the game was balanced at 1-1. Steven Fone had been almost single handed in keeping his team in the game during the first period when the Bison had been dominant and despite the early goal in the second period from Aaron Connolly neither team had really pushed on during the middle period.
The third period started with the game being wide open and there for the taking. Hiadlovsky stood tall with Bison gifting the puck to Stanislav Gron the netminder showed the glove and denied him. At the other end Bison beat Fone but somehow the puck was cleared off the line and failed to put them ahead.
Michal Satek executed a fine one timer but Hiadlovsky aggressively came out the net to challenge and deny the shot. The Bison shot stopper again kept his team level when he denied Luke Boothroyd but at 36.07 Bison netted the game winning goal and finally broke down the solidity of Stephen Fone.
Ciaran Long found Joe Greener with the power forward carrying the puck coast to coast before passing on to Stuart Mogg to execute the simplest of finishes. It was a demonstration from Greener of the sheer value he is to the team, added to the scrap he won earlier in the game, the part he played in Aaron Connolly’s goal for which he wasn’t credited on the scoresheet and the selfless way he carried the puck and laid it off for Mogg’s goal.
In a moment of madness Bison left Hiadlovsky wide open but a leg save did the job before Phoenix benefitted from a premature whistle. Bison drove to the net, Fone came forward to the top of his crease and the puck lay unprotected a foot or so in front of the netminder but the referee out of position he was forced to do as he should and blow the whistle having lost sight of the puck. His whistle came before a Bison stick to get to the puck and complete the third goal.
Phoenix were then given a powerplay as Mogg picked up a second slashing minor in the game and when Alex Symonds joined him 49 seconds later as a big hit was adjudged boarding it gave the visitors 1.11 of 5 on 3 to play with.
Gron managed a huge shot which was met with a kick save from Hiadlovsky and with that Mogg’s penalty expired. Symonds penalty also expired with no further trouble to the Bison but soon after Baird and Archer took seats as both were handed out slashing minors. The two players did square up to each other but the officials blew down and separated the players.
At 53.49 Joe Greener completed the Gordie Howe Hat-trick (goal, assist and fight) by adding a goal to his earlier assist and fight win. Symonds fed the forward who slid it home with pin point accuracy finding Fone’s 5-hole.
Phoenix clearly still hadn’t given up but just couldn’t complete with the momentum Bison now had. A Lack and Acher discussion went no further but the talking happened metaphorically at 57.24 when Karpov made it 4-1 with the puck going high into the net.
Ben Wood looked to pull back a consolation goal late on, being firstly saved by Hiadlovsky, missing the rebound and completely messing up the third attempt.
With the buzzer sound impending Ryan Sutton raced down the ice looking to make it 5-1 but his shot hit Stephen Fone and with that the buzzer sounded and Bison completed their 4-1 win.
It would have been easy for the game to get away from the Bison after a frustrating first period. Goals just didn’t come for them and yet despite being clearly the better team the period ended with a Phoenix goal being the only goal.
Aaron Connolly stepped up and quickly levelled the game in the second period but even still the second period didn’t follow on from the first period the way I had expected. It took until the third period when Stuart Mogg scored the game winning goal for Stephen Fone to be broken down and once that happened Greener and Karpov could make it 4-1 as the Phoenix were left chasing the game.
A season (at least) from Deeside can’t be easy for the Phoenix. Players having to travel to Deeside for training, a fanbase estranged from it’s town isn’t an easy situation. Milton Keynes had a tough year the year they played from Coventry while their rink was completely refurbished and I predict this will be a similarly tough year for the Phoenix as the commute affects every game and every training session.
The Bison continue to look a well drilled and well built team. Alex Symonds has slotted back in nicely on defence, Declan Balmer is back playing his game after a period out injured so defensively the team is strong. Stuart Mogg has moved back up front and is playing well. Aaron Connolly continues to impress every week and Joe Greener shows every weekend he really is one of the best power forwards in the league still. It’s not as often as it once was that he scraps but last night he proved if you’re going to take him on you best be good to try and come away with a win.
One final thought, man of the match. Can’t really disagree with the Phoenix choice, if you put it down to an either or it would have been Gron or the winner Russell. But the Bison award left me puzzled. If you put that down to an either or choice it would have been Aaron Connolly with Joe Greener just edging it. How Greener didn’t get it for a fight, a part in 3 of 4 goals is beyond me. Honourable mention would have been to Aaron Connolly but Joe Greener was the stand out candidate last night.
Having watched all but two of the home games this season it’s hard to believe how the MK road loss occurred. Tonight the Bison take on the Wildcats on the road before being back at home next Saturday for the new look Sheffield Steeldogs visit at 6.30