Saturday night is Hockey night in Hampshire and the visitors this week were the Telford Tigers. Rather than starting their season with a roar the Tigers had started with a whimper and were still looking to find their form that had seen them crowned champions in the league and cup a season earlier. Crucially for the Bison this game was all about getting back to form and playing the right style of hockey to be successful after a tough weekend.
First chance of the game went to the Tigers but Sam Zajac fired wide before Stuart Mogg repeated the move at the other end, however the first real test that Tom Murdy saw also see the goal light illuminate. Bison did the simple things right, got the puck to the net and bodies followed and with Murdy down to take away the lower net Ryan Watt clattered the puck over the line.
Tom Murdy was then forced to make some good saves as Ciaran Long and Tomas Karpov had their chances turned away. Tomas Hiadlovsky was more than up to whatever was thrown at him as Miller, White and Ondrej all were denied. An excellent save by Hiadlovsky was followed by a quick transition from the Bison and probably the best save that Tom Murdy would make in his shortened game.
Hiadlovsky made good use of the poke check again to bemuse Max Bibraer before Murdy was greeted with a Stampede as the Bison once again drove through the defence and the chance fell to Ciaran Long but Murdy held on to freeze the puck and release some pressure.
Kurt Reynolds dispossessed his former team mate, Joe Miller with a piece of sublime skill and he powered Miller off the puck, then with little further action the first period ended 1-0 with the Bison deserving the lead they held.
A longer than usual first interval allowed Doug Sheppard to add even more fire to his Bison team as they came out scorching for the second. 24 seconds in to the second period Aaron Connolly made a solo run from the half way line, set free by Mogg, and floated the puck into the back of the net. It was just 16 seconds later when Tomas Karpov almost copied the move and once again beat Tom Murdy with the Bison now holding a 3-0 lead.
A visibly furious Tom Watkins called his team’s timeout and upon the return it was Sam Gospel that headed to the pipes with Murdy pulled from the game.
A frenzied opening minute of the second period saw Telford Tigers get a powerplay opportunity with Shaun Thompson sitting out for hooking and 1.04 into the man advantage Phil Hill got a tip on from a Max Birbraer shot to make it 3-1.
The goal buoyed on the Tigers who set about pressuring the Bison, Hill attempted to double his tally but Hiadlovsky flashed the glove to collect that chance. A Tigers 2 on 1 chance was quickly followed by a spell on 4 on 4 as Ryan Watt and White were called.
Ciaran Long was denied twice in quick succession by Sam Gospel but the replacement shot stopper’s clean sheet didn’t last too much longer as Shaun Thompson finished a spell of intense pressure. He was repeating a move he’d tried just moments earlier as he skilfully banked the puck in off Gospel to make it 4-1 at 27.07.
An interference call on Ondrej put Bison on the powerplay and this man advantage would see goal 5 scored for the home team as Tomas Karpov would net again, this time unassisted with a shot from just inside the zone.
Soon after Bison were penalty killing and a 5 on 3 also when Watt and Long sat out together which forced some big saves between the Bison pipes. Penalties kept coming as Joe Greener and Joe Baird both received 2 minutes cross checking, Zajac received a 2 minute slashing minor. It was on the powerplay that Telford scored their second, not a classic but Szabo finished from Davies and Silverthorn to keep the visitors hopes alive.
With 4.04 left to play Bison made it 6-2 and gave themselves a comfortable cushion heading into the second interval. It was a goal that Gospel would no doubt want back as Tomas Karpov fed the puck back to the blue line where Kurt Reynolds floated a shot past the goaltender, almost in slow motion, for 6-1 at 36.56
A 5 goal period from the Bison was arguably their most impressive period of the season so far but as the teams headed away for the second interval you can imagine an unhappy team talk happening in the visitor’s room.
The third period saw a good rear guard from the Bison as the Tigers finally turned up to the game. Joe Rand fed Aaron Connolly for the first chance of the period but the shot fired away just wide.
2.57 in Tigers started a comeback when a trademark Hiadlovsky poke check save was evaded by Dan Davies to finish the goal around the netminder.
A string of penalties followed as the game avoided full strength for a long time. Watt and Zajac were first off for roughing followed by Tomas Hiadlovksy, who’s penalty was served by Alan Lack, for interference when a drive to the net saw the pipe work forced lose behind him in the melee.
With Alan Lack heading back to the ice a hit from Joe Baird was penalised by referee Paul Brooks which anger Hiadlovsky sufficiently for him to get a 10 minute misconduct for expressing his thoughts. Tigers failed to make much of the 5 on 3, a shot from Birbraer after the Bison returned to four players was dealt with confidently and the Bison saw through until the return to full strength.
A rare third period powerplay for the Bison arose when Phil Hill picked up a holding the stick penalty behind the Bison goal but with the home team tiring from so much penalty killing they were unable to capitalise on the powerplay chance.
A couple more great saves from Hiadlovsky saw the Bison into the final 5 minutes still 3 goals up but with 4.43 left to play the gap closed by 1 as Haywood made his way through the defence with ease to finish for 6-4.
The extra work of playing shorthanded, and a couple of 5 on 3 disadvantages clearly had an effect on the Bison as by the end of the game they weren’t quite as zippy as at the start but the hard work earlier on had ensured the win when it came. Telford even tried an empty net for the best part of the last two minutes, Paul Brooks offered them a 6 on 4 when he penalised Joe Greener but Telford were undone by their earlier poor work and the Bison had secured another two points and kept the home winning run alive.
The game was significant in that Ryan Watt clocked up his 100th league goal and 250th league point with his 1+1. After a horrible season last year it’s great to see the smile back on his face as he plays his game his way and most importantly successful for himself and his team.
After a dreadful weekend 7 days earlier it was vital Bison came back out the right way. Tigers at home and Phoenix in Deeside was never going to be an easy weekend but it would be hard to argue it not being tougher that Hull and Bracknell should have been. The Bison capitalised on some huge defensive errors by the Tigers that at times left both goalies hung out to dry. The league champions weren’t playing to that standard and that allowed the Bison to capitalise.
Aaron Connolly made a huge contribution on his return from injury. Wearing a full face cage the Bison Captain hit like a train, chased every puck down, created some good chances and showed how much his absence the week earlier had hurt the team. Speaking of returns it was nice to see Alex Symonds back for the Bison too. He’s an often overlooked player because he goes about his role with minimal fuss. He gets things done, and his inclusion massively strengthens a defence that even with Balmer in was arguably a little light, and with Balmer out injured was massively light.
For the Tigers it highlighted the continuing off pace start to the season. The starting goaltender had been chased from the net within 21 minutes, the replacement received little support from the defence either certainly through the second period. They say it’s easier to win trophies than retain them but 54 games is a long season so we’ll see what the Tigers can pull out the bag.