It’s no secret the Elite League has gotten faster and more skillful, almost annually some might argue. The most notably improvement may have occurred this off-season when the defending champions, Cardiff Devils, got even stronger with some sensational new recruits. Why bring in up this you may ask? Well, just one year removed Ryan Finnerty brought together a roster which shocked the league with a second place finish; something which may now feel an eternity away for some sections of the fanbase in Manchester. The reasons behind this drop-off will discussed below, as the Storm have opened up with a disappointing 5-8-1 record and the article will acknowledge how the gap has grown between last years table toppers. A case of the second year blues perhaps?
This weekend past, the Fife Flyers welcomed the Coventry Blaze and MK Lightning to the Fife Ice Arena. It would see the Flyers taking away 3 league points to put them on top once more.
The Blaze lost to the powerful Cardiff Devils in a 4-0 shutout, but there were still moments in the game that made me hopeful as a supporter, as well as those that made me nervous.
Bracknell Bees 2-0 Basingstoke Bison
Bracknell preserved their four-point league at the top of NIHL1 South standings on Sunday night, thanks to a 2-0 shutout win over their arch-rivals in the Basingstoke Bison. Since the offseason with Doug Sheppard making the move from Basingstoke Ice Arena to the John Nike Leisure Sport Complex, it also saw the most successful coach in recent times with the Bison bringing most of his trophy-winning side with him up the M3 motorway and so the lead up to the game was always going to be emotionally charged.
Coming into the Sunday game, it saw both sides in relatively good form as the Bees and Bison clash came on the back of wins for both sides the night before, with Bracknell against Streatham (1-0) and Basingstoke against Invicta (5-3). A good crowd in ‘the Hive’ saw Bracknell starting the stronger of the two with former Bee in Alex Mettam forced into making a couple of early stops from the home attackers and kept them scoreless.
As the period went on, it saw the visitors coming more into the game and testing former Bison goalie in Dean Skinns and much like Mettam at the opposite end, he was doing his best to keep the biscuit out of the net. There was a bit of concern on six minutes, when Basingstoke’s import forward Michal Klejna took a heavy fall around the Bracknell crease when a collection of bodies and legs were all tackled up going for a loose puck, and Referee Steve Matthews gave a high sticks call on ex-Bison (see a recurring theme here) in Stuart Mogg.
Basingstoke had a spell of solid pressure on the home side goal and made Skinns work for his money, whether he knew much about saves or not. One passage of play saw George Norcliffe cutting down left and shooting short-side which had Skinns kicking it onto the foot of the post before making back to back saves while down on the ice to keep his old side out. The first twenty minutes were rather entertaining, with both sides playing some good hockey and didn’t see much in the way of rough stuff, as both sides seemed to be content to play hockey first than the physical side of the game.
After a scoreless first, it saw the Bees getting on the board first thought a Brendan Baird goal, as the Bracknell defenceman fired his shot through traffic and found its way by Bison goalie Alex Mettam for the 1-0 lead in the 26th minute and was a period bossed mostly dominated by the home side. The Bees were clearly buzzing following that goal and Mettam had to be on constant alert as Bracknell had their stingers up! Fair play to the young Bison side though, they managed to weather the storm from the goal and forced their way back into the game.
In the third, it saw play being evenly spread with the Bees looking for that killer goal, while the Bison just looked to create an opening that would get them back in the game. With the game on a proverbial knife-edge with a goal separating the side, things were starting simmer and frustration was beginning to rear its head in the game and kick in with time ticking down. With just under a minute left to go in the game, it saw the game explode into life. Firstly, Joe Baird who penalised and saw a stray arm up toward the head of a Bison man as they went into the boards, but an Interference went against him and so put the away side a 6 on 4 power play with Alex Mettam leaving for the bench. Basingstoke’s PP unit couldn’t set up a play and that allowed former Manchester Phoenix forward Roman Malinik to send the puck heading up ice into the empty cage for a 2-0 game at 59.34 to secure the points for the Bees – However, that wasn’t the end of the fun of the games.
That earlier interference call from Baird seemed to inject a feisty element to the game that had been missing throughout. Soon after the second Bracknell goal Bees Josh Martin and Basingstoke’s Michal Keljna got sent to the locker room after a scrum saw both receiving two minute roughing minors and a 10 minute Misconduct each with 18 seconds of the game left remaining, as the referee was looking to keep a lid on emotions from both sides, but there was still fireworks to come. Ten seconds later saw James Galazzi and Adam Jones trading borderline hits and finally resulted in Galazzi going for Jones and the two drop the gloves in front of the Bison supporters and while that was going on – Ryan Watt of the Bees and Jay King of the Bison squared off with Watt whacking the Bison players stick out of his hands and sending into the upper tier.
Following King’s refusal to go with Watt, it saw the ex-Bison making a ‘chicken’ gesture towards King and then followed it up asking and challenging the Basingstoke bench. The match referee had enough of his antics and seemingly lost control in the closing stages of this rivalry game and saw Galazzi given a 2+2 for roughing along with a 10-minute misconduct, while Watt picked up a ten minute for misconduct. For the Bison, Jones got 2+2 for roughing and a further 2+10 for boarding. It was a game that saw quality prevailing over quantity, as the Bison just lacked the cutting edge that a Doug Sheppard’s side, but they gave as good as they got and makes the next meeting between the sides on December 1st down at Basingstoke extra tasty.
Shots on Goal: Bees 28 Bison 23
Saves: Dean Skinns 60.00: – Bees 23/23 (100%) Alex Mettam 59.33:- 26/27 (96.30%)
PIM: Bees 40 – Bison 40
Well folks I was thinking one day, we should see about getting some interviews with some old time Elite players and some guys who played for Fife. You know, with it being the 80th anniversary and all?
So for this interview I have managed to speak with forward Bobby Chaumont.
The Kings continue to roll on during the week with one that was almost one to be forgotten about following the three games this week.
I know one thing is for certain whether it be a past, present or future season…you never have a quiet week when you’re a Sheffield Steelers supporter. Even the close season is never duller than ditchwater, there’s always something happening. This week was no exception as the rollercoaster of emotions took more and more twists. Read on…