The Sherfield School Basingstoke Bison welcomed pupils from their title sponsor as they lined up on home ice to start the home and away weekend against the Sheffield Steeldogs.
Ahead of the game the Bison gathered for a presentation to Dee who had left Planet Ice after 12 years of loyal service.
With the anthems and presentations done it was referee Paul Brooks who called the teams to centre ice and began the game.
Basingstoke Bison 3 Sheffield Steeldogs 0
Both Derek Roehl and Jan Jarabek made their debuts for the home team while the Steeldogs, thanks to injury, managed to ice only two non EIHA trained players.
Debutant Derek Roehl got the first chance of the game, shooting into Hadfield’s glove and following the same player’s second chance Smith broke for the Steeldogs but Hiadlovsky pulled off a calm glove save.
With play advancing towards the Bison net Ciaran Long was caught with a high stick and immediately fell to the ice. The action had happened behind the play and out of the view of the referee so went unpunished. After a delay to clear the blood from the ice the game re-started.
Sheffield tried hard to pressure around the Bison net but believing they had their best chance so far on a quick wrap around Hiadlovsky jammed down his blocker trapping the puck and drawing the whistle.
Bison set about establishing some dominance in the game and Shaun Thompson barrelled up the wing but Hadfield made the save, Mogg fired a shot from the blueline which was saved and Antonov managed to bundle the rebound wide then Roehl thought he’d scored on a wrap around but the referee awarded no goal as the net was off.
Arnoldas Bosas tried his luck but some good stick placing by Jarabek saw the puck deflected high and away from danger.
The opening goal came at 5.34 thanks to two bits of good work from Rene Jarolin. Kurt Reynolds shot in and Jarolin tipped the puck bringing about a good save from Hadfield but the rebound fell straight back to Jarolin who buried at the second attempt.
As the Bison celebrated the goal Ciaran Long returned to the bench following treatment for the high stick he took earlier. It would be Long who would get the next shot off as Dan Davies fed him but his shot was just over the top corner of the net.
Chances kept coming, Mogg fired and Hadfield saved with the rebound just falling safe and then it was only some good defending from Morgan that broke up a play between Jarolin and Roehl.
With 3.35 left in the first period the first outing for special teams came about, Bison to the penalty kill and Steeldogs to the powerplay as Matt Towalski was called for slashing.
With the man advantage Sheffield tried to look more aggressive than defensive with Brcko being the main man. Wood fed him from behind the net, but he fired wired, then he broke the play as he came crashing into the net. He protested a trip but the referee saw nothing and called nothing.
The first period ended with yet another Bison chance as Jarolin sent the puck back to Reynolds to shoot but a tip from Connolly was still saved by Hadfield and the first ended 1-0 in favour of the Bison.
The home team had faced just 3 shots and created 18 and on another day, against another goalie, would have had the game sealed in those first 20 minutes. The Bison had played an attacking period, the Steeldogs had looked to disrupt the Bison, clogging the neutral zone and play a lesser skilled game to try and break up the Bison tactics.
Just 13 seconds into the second period Liam Kirk picked up a high sticks penalty. Such was the confidence of the Bison that the 3 forward positions and 2 defensive positions on the powerplay were all taken by attacking forwards. Roehl’s opening shot was deflected up into the roof, Jarabek shot and drew a save from Hadfield but an awkward bounce on the rebound saw the puck mischievously bobble away from the waiting Jarolin. With the Steeldogs believing they’d cleared Davies held the puck in at the blue line and quickly fed Kaporv who passed on to Antonov but Hadfield closed the 5 hole just in time to keep the shot out.
The next powerplay fell to the Steeldogs when Dan Davies got called for cross checking at 25.09 but despite the extra skater the best of the 2 minutes was for the Bison. The early powerplay was killed by Karpov who stick handled like he had the puck on a string meaning nobody could dispossess him but then shorthanded chances kept coming. Reynolds stepped in off the blue line to fire, Hadfield and his defence had no idea what to do with the rebound and it was Jarolin who got their first and nearly made it 2-0.
With the man advantage ending Bosas managed to create the first scoring chance of the powerplay but gifted an easy save for Hiadlovsky as the shot was straight at his body.
Long and Davies worked the puck between themselves and then fed Aaron Connolly who’s shot went over.
Having made little impact on their last powerplay the Steeldogs got another 13 seconds shy of half way when Dan Lackey was called for hooking. Once again the shorthanded play of the Bison outdid the powerplay of the Steeldogs, first Jarolin and Roehl were off shorthanded but their chance was broken up on it’s way to the net and then Karpov and Antonov raced down together but Antonov lost the pass in his skates. Lackey returned soon after and once again a penalty was killed off with ease.
Morgan would take the game’s next penalty at 32.30 when he got called for holding and spent a long time querying the call with the referee but the end result was still a 2 minute holding penalty.
As they had done while killing the previous two penalties Bison dominated the game with their own powerplay. Karpov couldn’t quite finish at the top of the crease, Roehl fired a shot into the glove hand of Hadfield. It was as Morgan was making his way back to the play that the goal came, 2 seconds after the end of the powerplay, when Jarabek blasted a shot from the back and Connolly tipped it from in front for 2-0 at 34.32
Ciaran Long hit the bar soon after, Jarobek brought about a save from Hadfield then Bosas managed to get to the other end and test Hiadlovsky but the glove save was better than the shot and the Bison net remained un-breached. Action returned to the other net quickly as Jarolin forced a turn over and quickly passed the puck to Roehl but Antonov put the centring pass wide.
As the teams left the ice following the second period buzzer Bison were 2-0 ahead in goals and 41-8 ahead in shots in a so far dominant performance.
The third period got underway and straight away the Bison Captain floated a shot in on net. Calvert was next to try his luck at the other end but Hiadlovsky flicked the puck over his net safely.
With 4.15 played Antonov was sent off for hooking giving the Steeldogs another powerplay. This one they started better and more aggressively and a very good save from Hiadlovksy denied the best chance when Bosas shot from the back of the zone Hiadlovksy came out to meet the puck confidently outside his crease.
A moment of comedy came soon after when Roehl laid a huge check, Smith dropped to the floor and the momentum of the hit saw Roehl carry on straight through the team bench door, he quickly turned around and ran straight back out to carry on his shift.
Bosas tried another shot but Hiadlovsky denied him again then Connolly and Long went to the other end, the former feeding it to the latter at the hash marks but Long’s shot going agonisingly wide. The same thing would happen just after as Antonov and Long sprung a 2 on 1 but Long would again mis-fire just wide of the net. Lackey would then fire wide next after a neat backhand pass from Shaun Thompson.
With 6.23 left in the game the third goal came. Lackey and Reynolds did the set up work, Reynolds shot from the point and the puck bobbled around tantalisingly in front of the net but fortunately Matt Towalski was there to get a stick on the puck and knock it home for 3-0.
Karpov set off on a skilled run taking Rounding and Lack with him but neither of them could finish Karpov’s work as the Bison looked for their fourth.
Hiadlovsky was in the action next, first a good save from Calvert kept his shut out alive then he had to be very quick when a Steeldogs shot took an unintended deflection from a Bison stick with Hiadlovsky having to quickly change direction and cover the opposite side of his net.
The final 2 minutes of the game saw Karpov fire out of play before Steeldogs tried in vain to break the shutout but Hiadlovksy held on and Bison took full points thanks to a comprehensive 3-0 win.
This game had to be the turning point for the Bison season. Summer signing Petr Polodna and early season signing Jakub Barton had both gone. Neither had quite cut it yet in a league ever increasing in standard. Polodna had shown some moments of brilliance but Barton was still adjusting to the EPL and the way it’s played. Derek Roehl and Jan Jarabek both made their debuts for the Bison.
Roehl came in with a huge reputation from the Elite League and he looked the part. I also spent a lot of time watching Jan Jarabek. If a defence man does his job well he often goes un-noticed so I made sure to look out for him. I was impressed, he played smart defensive hockey, he had a good eye for making the right outlet pass, he handles the puck incredibly well, has a good shot on him and he plays the body well too. Taking nothing away from the Captain I thought Jarabel was unlucky to be over looked for man of the match on his debut performance.
I mentioned the change in team dynamic since the departure of Joe Greener. He remains a player that just won’t be replaced by any single other player. One thing however that these two changes that had been made in the week had clearly made a change to was the team morale. Watching on the bench looked a more lively place and the players looked happier walking to the bar after the game to mingle with the supporters. The Steeldogs performance last night wasn’t the toughest test the Bison will face this season but they faced it well and put in a good performance.
I imagine the Steeldogs on their own home ice will be a tougher test but I was surprised by the Steeldogs on Bison ice. I know they are playing with just 2 imports but I thought the tactics they played they were never likely to win! Bison were an unknown quantity with 2 new imports in the line up they could either have fired or flopped but right from the opening drop of the puck it seemed Steeldogs had decided they were there to lose and their aim was to minimise the margin. The Bison were allowed to play free flowing, attacking hockey while the Steeldogs tried to sit back and soak up whatever the Bison through at them.
The Steeldogs tried clogging the neutral zone to take away the centre ice passing lanes but that didn’t work. Defensively they left Hadfield exposed yet remarkably he pulled out a 94% save percentage from 53 shots. A lot of the shots Hadfield faced he shouldn’t have faced, a lot were rebounds that a good defensive core would have protected him better from.
It’s tough when you face injuries. Even the relief import who came in as injury cover has now left the Steeldogs injured so it’s a tough place for them to be in right now but if you don’t try and win you’re not likely to win! If you only manage 15 shots against a top import goalie you’re not likely to score many goals. If you concede 53 shots including not clearing rebounds you’re lucky that you’re goalie kept you in the game at just 3 goals conceded.
One thing also worth considering, for all those questioning the future of British goalies, last night Hadfield proved that if you’re good enough there’s a spot for you in the EPL. As I’ve always said EPL coaches haven’t signed import goalies to block the progress of Brit goalies, they’ve said import goalies because of the lack of progress of Brit goalies. Sheffield, in my opinion, wasted an import slot on Dalibor Sedlar for a long time, this summer they cut him loose and brought in Hadfield. After having had a season out Hadfield was a gamble but with performances like last night he’s proving every bit worth that gamble.
Bison travel to Sheffield tonight. On their home ice the Steeldogs will owe their paying home support a better performance than the one they gave in Basingstoke but the Bison will be looking to claim their first four point weekend of the season, and with so few bodies for the Steeldogs now is probably the best time to be looking for that double win weekend.