A huge crowd assembled at the Bison Arena with fans scrambling to get to their seats to see Mr Basingstoke honoured with his shirt retirement ahead of the game.
The Tigers skated out followed by the Bison before the presentation party took to the ice and then stepped forward Tony Redmond, accompanied by his wife and children. Two special 20 Redmond jerseys had been made for the occasion to compliment the banner which now hung from the Arena wall, one was presented to Tony Redmond and the other was up for winning on the shirt off his back competition. A bunch of flowers was presented to Emma Redmond to conclude the opening ceremony.
The ceremonial puck was dropped by Tony Redmond ahead of Stephen Matthews taking charge of the game.
After 1.04 Bison started celebrating with Alan Lack believing he had the opener but with the goal light not on the referee looked to and checked with the goal judge who indicated he didn’t believe the puck had fully entered the net so no goal.
With the game remaining 0-0 Jon Baston, on debut covering for the injured Tomas Hiadlovsky, showed his stuff when Joe Miller was set free but denied by the 21 year old Finn. Max Bibraer was next to attempt to test him but his shot was perfectly situated for a glove save and with calmness and confidence Baston held on for the whistle.
Powerplay time came when Birbraer tripped Karpov in open ice in full view of the referee but in truth the Bison didn’t click into gear with the special teams at this opportunity and with just one real shot coming the man advantage wasn’t capitalised on.
A clumsy hit on Karpov, who seems to pick up more than his fair share of those, from Phil Hill saw Lack rush in to protect his team mate and as a crowd formed the referee’s arm raised to indicate the penalty to Lack which would see Tigers get a powerplay chance.
Tigers powerplay offered little except for Martin Ondrej but Baston denied his attempt and it was back to 5 on 5.
It was now the officials had to take a decision how to call the game. Physicality was on display from both teams but to his credit Stephen Matthews allowed the teams to engage in a full on contest.
At 13.24 the goal light illuminated behind Gospel as Ciaran Long completed the opener on the second attempt with Rene Jarolin getting another point with the assist.
Just 1.32 later the home team were handed another man advantage with Ondrej picking up a roughing minor but it was Joe Miller who was quickly away with a shorthanded attempt which ended when Declan Balmer muscled him off the puck.
Jon Baston continued to stand tall with Rick Plant denied and then a fantastic shot from Jason Silverthorn was deflected out of play via a Baston blocker save.
Save of the game denied the Tigers their opening goal when Baston dived coast to coast across his goal. Tigers would have been forgiven for thinking it was 1-1 as it looked to be a certain goal to all except the debuting Finn.
The first period ended with another Bison powerplay as Silverthorn served a tripping minor as he hauled down Ciaran Long at 17.58 but as the Tigers returned to full strength the buzzer was about to sound for the end of the opening period at 1-0.
Period two saw a dominating start from the Bison as Joe Greener took the puck from the face-off and Ciaran Long tried hard to force home the Gospel rebound Greener had created but Telford’s netminder managed the save.
It wasn’t long before it was 2-0 when Ciaran Long bagged his second of the night at 23.12. Joe Greener and Sam Zajac were having a discussion by the benches but Reynolds passed to Baird who set Long up to send the water bottle flying with a huge wind up and perfect shot.
A bit of Tigers pressure followed but Baston had no intention of collecting a puck from behind him as he denied a 2 on 1 and then a Phil Hill blast before seeing his team penalty killing again when Declan Balmer picked up hooking at 27.20.
Another good penalty kill for the Bison saw the game remain at 2-0 but at 30.58 it was 3-0. Gospel was left alone after having made two saves it was Alan Lack that scored at the third attempt with the second rebound.
Lack was almost on hand for his second soon after but a good save from Sam Gospel denied him that before Vantroba and Baston combined to deny the Tigers the opener they so desperately sought.
With Joe Baird serving a cross checking penalty Tigers came their closest all night to scoring when Weaver completed a good set up but was denied by the iron work behind Baston. The night got worse for the visitors soon after when Tomas Karpov netted 5 hole on gospel with the Bison shorthanded. The goal unfolded almost in slow motion as Mogg fed Long who found Karpov and it was almost as if you could see him calculate the best option he had before clinically finding it and firing home.
It was almost 5-0 as Grant Rounding fed Joe Baird as he exited the penalty box but height saved the Tigers from conceding another goal as Baird’s shot sailed comfortably above the cross bar. Max Bibraer had the same problem at the other end as his shot also cleared the pipe work on the high side but the buzzer sounded to conclude a 3-0 period.
At 40 minutes the game was probably where neither coach would have imagined it would be as they made their ways to the rink earlier on. It was obvious which of the two coaches would be the happier but for Tom Watkins the 12 minute interval was a chance to reflect on what wasn’t firing and have a go at climbing a pretty insurmountable mountain in the final period.
Joe Miller tried his luck early on in the third only to find a stick save from Baston deny him. Tigers conceded another powerplay when Tomas Karpov was impeded by Plant, it wasn’t until Gospel made the save from the Bison’s Czech that the whistle blew to send away Plant to serve a 2 minute holding the stick penalty.
Only 10 seconds of the powerplay elapsed before Karpov’s second of the night was in the back of the net. A shot from the blue line from Ciaran Long was tipped in in front by Karpov and that made it 5-0.
Down but not out Tigers drove to the net on a 3 on 2 but another amazing Baston save robbed the visitors again and kept alive his hopes of a dream debut. Aaron Connolly nearly made it 6-0 despite being knocked off balance by Danny Rose the Bison captain got the shot off from his knees but Gospel got enough of it to force it wide.
With a delayed penalty goal, a shorthanded goal and a powerplay goal all showing the Bison special teams were working well on the night it was almost inevitable when Danny Rose picked up a delay of the game penalty as his clearance went out of play that it would result in a goal.
With Rose powerless to do anything but watch from the penalty box Ciaran Long who had scored Bison’s first and second goals also scored their sixth to complete his hat-trick at 46.24. Ryan Watt and Tomas Karpov combined to get the puck to Ciaran Long who blasted home from near the hashmarks as the Tigers disappointing night continued.
Baston continued to keep his perfect debut going when he denied Bibraer again and soon after Dan Scott who tried to use traffic to his advantage. After a save by Gospel Ryan Sutton and Blahoslav Novak exchanged words with the Bison youngster showing he has a bright future in the league adding physical play to his already impressive play.
With 8.15 left to play it was 7-0 as pressure round the net saw Lack score his second of the night. Karpov and Jarolin got the puck to the net and it was Lack with the final touch that saw it cross the line.
With the result long ago decided it was just the margin of the win left to be finalised and Phil Hill powered past Stuart Mogg but Baston was again on top form to deny the blast. Birbraer soon after found himself denied again although this attempt drew criticism from the Bison as Baston had already dived to cover the puck before a late whack from the Tiger.
It was nearly 8-0 when Joe Greener believed he scored but Stephen Matthews was quick to rule out the goal. There was no doubt the pass connected with Greener’s skate rather than stick before entering the net but the rules allow for a deflection to count as a goal but not a kicking motion. As Greener gestured the deflection Matthews stood tall in disallowing the goal.
Joe Greener was again in the action when he and Birbraer collided but the penalty went to the Tigers man who picked up a diving penalty allowing Bison another powerplay. With the Tigers penalty killing Sam Gospel, who’s night had been great so far, was merrily cross checking Aaron Connolly in front of the net which was also spotted by the referee and earned Phil Hill a trip to the penalty box to serve the penalty on behalf of his netminder and hand the home team a 2 man advantage.
Tigers managed to kill the penalties but the crowd rose to their feet for the final 90 seconds to clap the Bison on to the shut-out win.
It was a great night for the Bison, Ciaran Long with a 6 point night, Tomas Karpov just a point behind and Jon Baston completing a 27 shot shut-out. It was a performance “Mr Basingstoke” would have been proud to be a part of as the Bison fully played their part in honouring Tony Redmond.
Bison entertained a packed crowd all night long with an all round team effort. Ciaran Long could do virtually no wrong as he scored 3 and created 3, Tomas Karpov was busy all night long putting up 2+3. Joe Greener who ended up without a point had been busy all night long and you know you have a good team when one of the best Brit forwards doesn’t get a point but you still blow away the opposition.
I had said during the week that Baston signing to cover for the injured Hiadlovsky was a great move for the team and the player. The 21 year old Finn had been dumped earlier in the year by Hull Pirates and replaced by Raitums but it’s clear looking in from the outside that the problems at the Pirates run much deeper than one of the most promising young netminders in the league. Guesting for the Bison gave him a chance to play behind a contending team and a chance to show case his talents with the support of high quality players around him. He made some notable saves including a couple he had no right to have saved.
Tigers had players missing and players making their way back into the line up but this had been a performance far removed from the Tigers of 12 months ago. In 2014/15 Telford comfortably won the league and dropped few games yet 4 games short of the half way point in the season the 2015/16 Tigers sit in 6th place, 9 points off the top of the table.
This performance had been a below par performance from Telford against an inspired Bison team, out to honour one of their legends.
There was little that Tom Watkins could have done but I was surprised to see Sam Gospel complete the game. With Tom Murdy on the bench and Gospel obviously not having the best night of his career maybe a goalie change could have been affected which may have reduced the defeat.
While this was a tough game for the Tigers it’s proving a tough season for the Red stable. It’s never nice to see teams struggle but within a few weeks of each other both Bracknell and Manchester have released worrying statements. It’s highly worrying that after years of stability in the EPL that two teams from the Red stable have issued the metaphorical buckets so early in the season.
What comes next? It’s all well and good the Bison and the top 3 or 4 competing for the league title but what’s the viability of an 8 team league?
For the Bison they make the visit to Deeside to face the Phoenix tonight before what I predict will be their toughest test on home ice to date when Slava Koulikov brings his Phantoms next Saturday.