For the second week in a row the road trip destination was Basingstoke where two contenders would do battle. The Bison didn’t play last Sunday meaning their last outing was the penalty shot win over the Tigers, Ciaran Long being the winner on that occasion as the only shooter to score in the shoot out.
The Bison play a slick game, crisp stick to stick passes and having won a double last year and retaining the nucleus of that team players know each other and know their roles in the system well. The Flames have probably the longest surviving nucleus of any EPL team and with some of the veteran players now, it appears, taking a lesser role, some continue to lead the team. British ice hockey veterans Nicky Chinn and David Longstaff lead the two teams.
Over the last couple of years I’ve read a few posts questioning whether or not there is still a role for Nicky Chinn in EPL ice hockey. The answer to that is a simple yes! There is no room to even consider any other answer. A younger “Chinny” player a very tough physical game and some seem to think he should still play that game. I question why he should still play that game in a team that has more than enough younger players to take on that role? What he brings to the team is skill in abundance, experience in oodles and leadership that only those two previous skills can bring. His stick handling is a dream to watch, his play making is second to none and his presence in the team is inspiring to the younger players coming through.
On to the game and I have to say how great it was to see Michael Wales back on the ice. He is a consummate professional and I can only imagine how frustrating it was for him to sit out the start of the season after all the hard work he put in to recover from his injury at the back end of last season. Back on the ice last night there was no sign of rustiness, no sign of apprehension and he played the game at 100%.
The start of the game was different to I expected. Before face-off I predicted a 3-1 home win based on the games of both teams that I’ve seen so far this year. It took just 1.37 for Matt Towe however to beat the home team goaltender with a sharp move and put the Flames ahead. Guildford capitalised on this and they set themselves up some good scoring chances. Shots on goal in the first period finished level, Flames scored the only goal and could say justifiably they were the better team.
The middle period saw two good teams locked together, and nothing could split them. The Flames edged the shots on goal count by 2 but the score was still 0-1.
What the Bison leadership said in their team meeting in the second interval obviously will always remain in their room, we’ll never know, but it worked a treat. The dominance of the game changed, the Flames weathered the Bison pressure. Joe Greener got more and more worked up and it was almost predictable that it would be him that scored the equalising goal at 47.23. Basingstoke continued to look likely to score, the post saved the Flames on occasion to but the game got to overtime still tied at 1-1.
The brief break between the third period and overtime allowed the Flames to re-compose and overtime was played almost at play-off intensity. Two proud teams, desperate to gain the extra point and the momentum but five minutes of sudden death also didn’t see the game decided.
Now, if I was in charge at the EIHA then the game would have ended at this point, a 1-1 draw and a point to each team. It’s a league game, there are 48 of them and plenty of head to head deciders to sort final table positions so in my opinion it’s not essential to go to penalty shots to find a win. Penalty shots should only be used to decide the result in cup semi-finals and finals played home and away and the play-off qualification weekend. League games should be drawn and the points shared, play-off final weekend games should be played as extending overtime.
Anyway, I’m not in charge at the EIHA and penalty shots are used to decide the victory. If a picture is worth 1000 words then the video of the penalty shots can do the talking here.
The Bison missed Ciaran Long, ruled out of the game late in the day. He is a fantastic British forward, highly skilled and gritty but in a penalty shot game you’d want him on your side. He’s become the best British penalty shot taker in the league, arguably almost as good as Frankie Bakrlik, now with the Phoenix, when it comes to the one on one combat of a penalty shoot-out.
What we witnessed with another great advert for the sport. Two good teams playing a well officiated game, referee Tim Pickett allowing the players to decide the course of the match. Guildford dominated the early exchanges in the game, clearly they had done their homework on the Bison tactics and systems and they played a disruptive game. They didn’t allow the Bison to play to their system and it took until the third period for Basingstoke to click up a gear and get back into the game. The lottery of penalty shots meant the game was up for grabs once 65 minutes had been played.
A newbie at the game couldn’t have failed to have been caught up in the excitement which is great for the Bison for their ongoing attendance, the league for it’s continued viability and the sport.