Bison 1 Swindon Wildcats 3
Let’s go back to 1973. A man in pyjamas sneaks downstairs in the middle of the night. He wakes up the dog on the stairs and shushes it. He tiptoes into the kitchen and opens the fridge, which is full of R. Whites lemonade. He was the secret lemonade drinker of the famous advert, of course (see below). He told us he’s been trying to give it up, but it’s one of those nights. Well last night was one of those nights for Bison. Despite outshooting the Cats at a rate of 2 to 1, they found Cats’ Caledonian goaltender Renny Marr a formidable obstacle and managed to breach his defences only once. At 6’2” he’s a big geezer and agile with it. He was well deserving of the Top Banana award with a save percentage of 97.14, but I jump ahead, as always.
Let us go back to the first period. It was a chunderous one for Bison. Outthought, outplayed and outshot, they came in with a 3 goal deficit and it was uphill from then on. The Cats’ first goal followed a flurry of penalties to Bullas, Antonov, Birbraer and Malinik. With so many players having their collars felt it was difficult to keep track of how many were on the ice. It eventually boiled down to a 4 on 3 advantage for the Cats and they took full advantage of the extra man and additional space on the ice. On 11:25 Aaron Nell won a face off. The puck squirted to Sam Zajac, whose pass found Chris Jones in a great position close in. He lifted a shot over Dean Skinns’s right shoulder. It was a perfectly placed shot and Deano stood as much chance of stopping the puck as Wild Bill Hickok had of living see the 3rd of August 1876 (Eh? See footnote). 1-0 Cats.
On 12:46 it was 2-0 as the Cats bagged another power play goal. Set up by a Nell/Taylor combination, Jordan Kelsall found himself in the slot with his back to goal. He swivelled like a ballerina, although he wasn’t dressed as one (we have to be thankful for that) and shot in one fluid movement and the puck flew into the top corner of the net with the accuracy of a javelin thrown by Fatima Whitbread. Kelsall wasn’t dressed like her either. 2-0 Cats.
Bison huffed and puffed as the clock ticked down. Into the final minute we passed. Going into the locker room with a 2-0 deficit looked likely. From there a P2 recovery was a strong possibility for Bison if they stepped up a gear. Could they even snatch one before the buzzer? Well actually no and, worse still, the Cats snatched one for themselves. On 19:32 crisp passing by Nell and Jones found Maxim Birbraer at the back door. Whilst attempting a circumnavigation of the globe in 1937 iconic aviator Amelie Earhart (that's her below) disappeared without a trace. In a similar fashion the Bison D had disappeared without a trace. So there was Birbraer with the puck. How was he going to beat Dean Skins? It was an over the shoulder number, just like the other 2 Swindon goals. That’s how it’s done against a small, albeit agile, netman. You get the impression some thought had gone into all this before the game and, of course, the strengths and weaknesses of ex-Cat Deano should be well known to Coach Nell. 3-0 Cats and Ooooo Betty for Bison.
P2 was interesting. Bison certainly stepped up a gear and hammered away at the Cats’ net, but without reward. The Cats were coasting along in terms of the scoreline and just needed to keep things tight. Well they failed to do that, but every time Bison breached their defenses, there was the gigantic Marr to block like the Berlin wall, catch like a slip fielder, engulf like an amoeba or deflect away like the angled armour plating on a tank. Hadrian built an 80 mile long wall in the north of England to supposedly keep out marauding Scotsmen. (Perhaps that’s where Donald Trump got the idea of his Mexican wall). Now the tables were turned as a marauding Scottish goaltender kept out Bison. 18 shots to 3 in Bison’s favour was the shot count for the period, but the score remained 0-3.
And so into P3 we moved and we were treated to almost more of the same. However, this time the Cats’ defense had tightened up and Marr had only 9 shots to keep out. He was lucky when a Karpov shot hammered against the post with a clunk most sonorous and then we saw Rabbit’s Foot Joe Baird surge forward and get involved in a blue paint scramble attempting to do what his forwards hadn’t. He couldn’t.
On 53:53 there was a massive boarding hit. I didn’t see which Bison player was on the receiving end, but Floyd Taylor was the Cat perpetrating the unsavoury deed. A gaggle of incensed Bison players went to the spot and were confronted by an angry mob of Cats players. An unseemly altercation of the most unspeakable variety ensued. Suddenly we saw Aaron “Billy” Connolly and Sam Bullas locked together. They exchanged opinions regarding the incident. I couldn’t hear their words from Block C, but it would not have surprised me if it had incorporated expletives which would have shocked both a sewer worker from the Gorbals and a fishwife from Billingsgate. Pushes and semi-punches were exchanged, but the blood lust of the crowd was left unsatisfied as the two were separated before a meaty punch could be thrown. The two escaped censure, but Taylor did not. It was a game misconduct for him and on to a 5 minute power play went Bison.
At last on 53:53 with only 23 seconds of the power play played, Bison bagged a goal. Set up by Connolly and Desperate Dan Davies, Dan Scott let fly with a wrist shot from the hash marks. The goaltender, who had up till now looked as impregnable as the Maginot Line, the Great Wall of China and Fatty Arbuckle all rolled into one, couldn’t stop this one. The net bulged, on came the goal light. Out came Referee Matthews’s flat pointy hand. Goal Bison and 3-1 Cats. The crowd leapt to their feet to register their approval of the goal with shouts of “Yahoo!”, ”Yippee!”, “Hurrah!”, “Woo-hoo!”, “At last” and other similar exclamations.
Alas for Bison it was to be their only moment of deep joy, but in the final minutes it was all Bison. Whilst still defending the 5 minute power play the Cats copped another penalty - Stephen Whitfield for slashing. They now had 2:42 to defend a 5 on 3. With 2 minutes left Skinns was dragged from his net (not literally thankfully) and a 6 on 3 ensued. The Cats even managed to defend this. Whitfield returned to make it 6 on 4 and then the 5 minute power play ended. Bison could find no way through. Game over. The Cats had played a clever tactical game.
Top Bananas were the Cats’ Marr (who else could it have been?) and Malinik for Bison.
Footnote : Legendary gunslinger Wild Bill Hickok (see below), not to be confused with Alfred Hitchcock, who is someone completely different, was shot and killed from behind by Jack McCall, a sore loser, while playing poker in Nuttall and Mann’s saloon in Deadwood on 2nd August 1876. The hand he held at the time was a pair of aces and a pair of 8s, known thereafter as the dead man’s hand.