NIHL 1 South Playoff Final
Basingstoke Bison 2-1 Peterborough Phantoms
Malinik x2 Padelek
Double it up:
After a close fought 1-1 draw the night before, it seemed that these two sides who were separated in the league table on the fifth tie breaker were once again going to fight out another nail biting encounter. Sometimes the easy story is the one that makes the most sense even if it was an incredibly elongated one thanks to the zamboni issues that saw the first period break last nearly as long as the first period itself. We tip our hat to the rink staff for getting the back up machine going.
In many ways Doug Sheppard brand shutdown hockey is made for the playoffs. Close games that require a bit of “grit your teeth” determination at both ends of the ice are not something that either the Bison or the Phantoms are adverse but the Bison managed to find that little extra something in their attacking play that put them over the line.
The Herd were the better side for the first twenty minutes as they had the better of the attacking chances and pressure though a 5-3 shot count in the Bison’s favour didn’t speak of tons of clear cut chances either way.
The second period saw the visitors step up a gear in their play and their physicality which made lots of sense against a shorter benched Herd side. When the Phantoms goal came it was arguably well deserved but the near immediate response from the Bison reset the home side’s confidence and allowed them to press on.
The third period just ended up being a war of attrition as both sides had their heads down for the finish. The Bison lost Grant Rounding in the second period to a knee issue and so the shorter bench that was already down Joe Baird before the game began switched to trying short, sharp shifts to keep the outskaters as fresh as they possibly could. The visitors started to crash the net and unsettle the Herd but thankfully everyone kept their cool in what had been a flowing game where Mr Matthews had tried to let the on ice action do the talking. Ultimately it was the Bison who held their nerve the best as the extra attacker yielded no reward for the visitors and another trophy celebration on Basingstoke ice.
Roman Malinik was nothing short of superb on this night. Having been almost understated in the quality of her performances over the season this time, with his wife in attendance, the Czech forward kept grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck trying to make things happen. So often the set up man, Malinik was the recipient of very good passes from Grant Rounding and Dan Davies and it was his finishing that proved the difference maker this time around as both his shots left Euan King with no chance.
Dean Skinns had an interesting night; at times like his counterpart, seemingly fighting the puck but the majority of the time he seemed to be dialled in to what was thrown at him. His defence let him see the puck which made the saves easier and whilst the Phantoms’ lone goal was frustrating, it was Skinns’ strength in close in the scramble and with the Phantoms crashing the net that was the reassuring factor. Playoff hockey so often becomes route one and it’s the netminder who is in the firing line. If Skinns is able to stand up to the attention then that bodes well. Sheffield are not known for their finesse.
The lines did get shuffled around after Rounding’s withdrawl but the Antonov, Davies and Karpov line remains one of my favourite things to watch when in full flight. It doesn’t score on every shift but has such a good blend of skill, flair and aggression that it’s impossible to not enjoy watching them play. Then there’s Aaron Connolly who skates through a concrete re-enforced wall at the drop of a hat.
This game could have gone either way but having dragged the title out of the hands of the Phantoms a few weeks ago it was a similar result again as a result of another whole team performance. It’s a second double trophy for success for Doug Sheppard during his tenure as head coach and the coach of the year accolade seems all the more apt.
A word on our opponents:
How the Peterborough Phantoms ended up in the Southern playoff final is not the concern of this piece (check out the latest BOTW podcast for that) but nonetheless, if I was a Phantoms fan I’d be sick to death of the Bison by now.
Nervy edgy games like this play into the Phantoms style but it was a good rather than a great start from the visitors. They just didn’t seem to quite have the attacking bite and whilst some have bemoaned the performances of Darius Pliskauskas this season, Peterborough needed someone with that sort of eye for goal.
However after the lengthy first period break it was the Phantoms who came out stronger in the second frame as they seemed to find an extra gear that they hadn’t had in the first frame. The game on the whole became much more open with both sides getting a bit more space to work with. It’s what gave the Phantoms the space for their goal which Ales Padelek took well. It’s also what gave the Bison the space to respond which was something of a problem.
In the final period the Phantoms upped the physicality again and threw the kitchen sink at the Bison. It just didn’t work. Sometimes you can give everything and it just doesn’t come off. After a lack lustre performance the previous weekend against Swindon, this was a better match up for Peterborough as they stylistically do better against teams like the Bison than they do the Wildcats. Whilst they will be disappointed to lose it’s better than it could have been for them heading into their game with Telford next weekend.
The above mentioned Padelek got the man of the match beers which was fair enough on the balance of play. As the Phantoms’ lone import he needed to make an impact on the game and he did. The defensive corps did a very good job of limiting the Bison at times and whilst Euan King felt like he was struggling with the puck on occasions, he also made some very good saves to keep them in it. Nathan Salem for me remains one of the better power forwards in the league. My only real frustration with the Phantoms’ performance was Will Weldon who should have spent more time concentrating on his play rather than bending the ear of Mr Matthews. He’s a superb player when he does. I don’t blame people for wanting to chat to the ref, Lord knows the Bison do it, but after every play?
The Peterborough Phantoms have now not won since their 2nd leg against Milton Keynes a fortnight ago and yet you cannot count them out of walking out of Coventry with the national playoff title. Slava Koulikov is a good enough coach and this is a good enough team to be able to do that over two games next weekend. Many won’t like that if that happens. The Phantoms won’t care.
Lowlight of the night: A fair few Phantoms seemed to want to bend the ear of the officials but as mentioned above, Weldon’s continued protestations detracted from a good game.
Highlight of the night: Malinik’s second goal and this…