Thursday, 12 April 2018

Quality Triumphs Over Quantity

Bison 4 Telford Tigers 0
National plays off final

Holy Guacamole! What a one sided game. Not what most of us expected. The Tigers iced 6 more players than Bison. Yes 6. Not 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5, but 6. Not content with already having a full roster, they dragged former Bison favourite, Joe Miller, protesting, kicking and screaming out of retirement. Alas for Joe (we still love him) it was not the final hurrah he had hoped for, but instead a Tigers’ hoist the white flag capitulation on a par with the surrender of Zanzibar in the Anglo-Zanzibar war of 1896 (that conflict lasted only 38 minutes).  By the end of 60 minutes of play, Bison had shown that numerical superiority counts for nothing when those players don’t turn up. Or perhaps they did turn up, but were overwhelmed by an outstanding display from the best team in the NIHL. Biased me? Yes of course, but don’t take it from me - listen to what the neutrals were saying. The shot count was 41 to 15 in Bison’s favour. ‘Nuff said. Well actually no there’s much more to be said, so pray, dear reader, read on.

P1 opened and on 6:05 we saw the first penalty of the game with Macauley Halford elbowed into the box for kneeing. It was to prove metaphorically, but thankfully not literally, fatal for the Tigers with Bison snatching a go ahead goal on the power play only 17 seconds later. The Czech chap Roman Malinik, as slippery as the slipperiest eel you could imagine, set up Kurt “The Scissors” Reynolds for a shot. As the puck arrowed towards the net, we heard a click (OK not from the other end of the rink we didn’t) and the puck changed direction, courtesy of a Tigers’ stick, and flew past the hapless Tigers’ goaltender Denis Bell like a jet propelled set of false teeth. Bell seemed shocked. He would have been even more shocked if the thing flying past his had had actually been a set of dentures. In 1940 Ernest Hemingway published his classic book “For Whom the Bell Tolls”. At that moment the bell was tolling for Bell. 1-0 Bison.

Bison continued to dominate and their efforts bore fruit just as the Tree of Knowledge bore fruit of which Adam and Eve partook, thus leading to their banishment from the Garden of Eden. The fruit in this case was a second Bison goal. The Bison Builders, who came to the playoffs clad in Hi-vis jackets and hard hats (see below for a picture of that bunch of crazy lunatics), will know that if you take a bag of Portland cement, 3 bags of sand and 3 bags of aggregate, mix these together with water and leave to set, you end up with concrete. The Tigers’ D needed to behave in a concrete fashion to baulk Aaron “Billy” Connolly as he took a pass from the Antonov twins (I am not sure whether it was Ivan or Vanya or perhaps it was both) and skated across the face of the goal. Alas the Tigerish D had obviously taken to the ice before the concrete had hardened and their resistance proved no more than that of wet slurry. Billy skated across unchallenged, unhindered, unhamstrung, unobstructed and unimpeded. He whipped a wrist shot past Bell with the accuracy of a bullet fired from Wild Bill Hickok’s Colt 45. The puck hit the net and then fell down onto the ice with a sound akin to a Steradent tablet plopping into a glass of water (OK I couldn’t hear that from the other end either). Back in 1979 Rita Ward had a huge hit with “Ring My Bell”. Bison were sure ringing Bell’s bell at this stage. 2-0 Bison.

The 1st period couldn’t end soon enough for the Tigers. They languished lackadaisically and lacklustrely like a load of loafing lounge lizards, 2 goals to the bad. They had been comprehensively outplayed, as the shot count of 13-4 suggested. Time to put Plan B into action and stage a comeback. But Plan B proved as ineffective as Plan A, if it ever happened – it was difficult to tell. Maybe Plan C should have been implemented instead of Plan B to replace Plan A. Bison didn’t need a Plan B as their Plan A worked well in P1 and continued to work well in P2 with the result that further fruit was borne, perhaps not as much as could be found in a Carmen Miranda headdress (see below), but enough to double their lead in the process and finish the period with a Blistering Biriyanis shot count of 31-11 over the two epochs. How many? Yes 31-11. However, I jump ahead, so let us return to 22:15 in the second.

Jason Silverthorn, so often a thorn in Bison’s side in the past, now proved a thorn in the side of his own team. He thrust his stick into the face of Tomas “Grandmaster” Karpov in a manner most dangerous and, as the Czech chap recoiled from the Canadian’s attempt to behead him, Referee Brooks emptied his lung into his Acme Thunderer and stopped play. It was an ugly challenge, which incensed the Bison crowd. Some shouted “Bring back hanging!”, whilst others, possessed of a more realistic understanding of the punishments available to the officials, exhorted “Give him a game!” But no blood had been spilled and Silverthorn copped only a 2 minute minor for his attempted murder. He may have thought he had got off lightly, but, if he did, he hadn’t because 1:34 into the 5 on 4, Bison made him pay the penalty for the penalty with another goal. Set up by Malinik, Reynolds fired in a shot. Bell blocked it but the puck squirted loose in front of the crease and before Bell could say “Jumping Jehosophat on a pogo stick”, although I am not sure whether he wished to say such a thing anyway, the luxuriantly bearded Josh Smith, Bison’s own Long Ciaron Long lookalike, forced the puck through the hapless netman like he was a ghost with no solid form. But he was no apparition, no specter, no spirit from beyond the grave. He was a goaltender in human form who had failed to block the goal. Ding dong Bell - he was now well and truly in the well and Little Tommy Stout wasn’t on hand to pull him out. 3-0 Bison.

Exactly 4 minutes later to the second in fact, Bison bagged another. The 4th goal was a veritable Ooo Matron goal, a zim-zam-zaramango goal, a wacko-the-diddle-o goal, which epitomised the way that Bison had torn their opponents apart with lightning speed breaks and pinpoint accuracy passing. This time it was Desperate Dan Davies breaking forward up the right wing. He didn’t ditheringly dilly dally with a deke and dangle. No indeed. Nor did he did not tortoise forward in a sluggardly fashion. Leaving the covering D-man breathless, listless and lifeless and adopting a state of being bereft of confidence, belief and optimism, Desperate Dan thundered forward, hammered forward and steamed forward all at the same time. Meanwhile the Antonov twins were also precipitating forward in support in a manner most untardy and, in the process, losing their covering D man, whose speed of movement was more akin to that of Puffing Billy (maximum speed 5 mph) than the Bullet Train. Desperate Dan thrust like a rapier over the blue line and speared a pass to the Antonovs, who rifled the puck home with arrow accuracy and thereby plunge a dagger into the heart of the Tigers’ aspirations. 4-0 Bison and the Tigers were getting rather angry with their inept team, which by now had plunged into a cesspool of hopelessness.

And so into P3 we moved. The Tigers had an uphill struggle. How were they going to turn the game around, having been so dominated, out skated, out shot, out smarted, out thought, out everything and failing to make any impression on goaltender Dean Skinns, who was playing out of his skin and looking capable of stopping one of Kim Jong Un’s nuclear missiles? They had to put Plan D or E into effect. Much to the chagrin of their supporters, they didn’t seem to have either and I am not convinced there was even a Plan B or Plan C in P2.

At one point in P3 the game stopped and rink repair men were called over to the Telford bench, which appeared to have suffered a malfunction. With reference to the crumbling sate of their arena, many of the Bison backers had come dressed in hard hats and hi-vis jackets on the previous day. From them a song appropriate to the moment rose up. “Bison builders can you fix it? Bison builders no we can’t.” With the bench repaired, albeit not by the Bison builders, the game restarted and Bison’s dominance continued. The 19 skaters of Telford couldn’t give any sort of headache to the 13 from Basingstoke and a Tigers’ comeback from 0-4 to the bad seemed to be receding as rapidly as Telly Savallas’s hairline

The game surged towards a conclusion. As it did so, we noticed a number of Tigers’ fans sneaking out – dashed bad sportsmanship I’d say. Or were they going to see if there were any Pukka Pies left? Only they will know. The final buzzer sounded and the Skydome burst into scenes of pandemonic joy and overwhelming pathos at the same time. Those who remained in the Telford blocks burst into tears. Were they tears of relief? Their team had had their trousers taken down and had been given a damned good spanking. Ooo Matron! But now it was all over. Those in the Whitley Warriors block threw their babies in the air and there was everything from wild pandemonium to civilised appreciation all around the blocks as they celebrated with their newly found friends the mighty Bison. Were they all jumping on the bandwagon, not a Johnnie Johnson type of bandwagon, but a Bison one? It did rather seem to be an "Anyone but Telford" situation.

Top Bananas were elected. Adam Taylor bagged the Telford accolade and the Antonov twins, Vanya and Ivan, had to share the Bison beers. Well Bison had won the treble. And those will be my last words of an amazing season.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Captain Connolly Curtails Canine Capers

Bison 3 Sheffield Steeldogs 1
Play off semi-final

Up went the metaphorical curtain for the second semi-final of the afternoon, the Telford Tigers having slipped comfortably and in an eel-esque fashion past a disappointing Peterborough Phantoms earlier in the afternoon. Who would they face in the final? All hopes for the south now rested with Basingstoke Bison. And what an Ooo Matron game it proved to be.

The game opened, as they always do, and we were treated to a very even first period with neither side managing to make a breakthrough. So I will not waste any paper on this scoreless epoch, but will instead move directly into P2.

The game continued to ebb and flow. Bison had had much the better of the first period, but the Dogs had come back strongly and, much to the horror of the Bison backers, it was the Dogs who took the lead on 29:00. Set up by Ashleigh Calvert and Tom Relf, Milan Kolena skated forward from a position wide to the goaltender’s right and whipped a pinpoint accurate wrist shot across Dean Skinns and over his glove. Ooo Betty. 1-0 Dogs.

The Dogs’ goal was the signal for a surge of glass half empty-ism amongst the dastardly pessimists of the Bison backers. The game was half over, Bison had failed to score and now the Dogs were in the lead. It was surely curtains for the Basingstoke icemen. The fat lady might just as well start singing. Well no it wasn’t and, in fact, the lead lasted 5:27 only to disappear as if part of a Tommy Cooper magic trick. Moments before, maybe 10-15 seconds, Mystic Jo said to the Che Guevara impersonator “we’re going to score” and lo and behold that is precisely what happened (that is absolutely true). Kurt “The Scissors” Reynolds supplied the puck to Josh Smith, who raced forward towards the canine net leaving the Dogs D moving as unrapidly as a load of feasting slugs on a lettuce leaf. Smith unleashed his shot only to find that the Dog’s netman, Dmitri Zimozdra, could move a lot quicker than his aforementioned gastropodal D as he got down to block the shot. The puck rebounded directly into Aaron “Billy” Connolly’s path. Zimozdra would have said “Bally hard cheddar, you Bison chappies - have another go” had he been able to, but he didn’t have time to get any words out at all as Connolly snapped the puck past him and into the stringbag before he could even say “What ho!” 1-1 with 34:37 on the clock. The deprecating pessimists emerged from their cesspit of defeatism. Yogi Berra was right when he said “It ain’t over till it’s over.” And it wasn’t, as you will learn by reading further, dear reader.

There were no more goals in the period, but that does not mean there was no excitement. Indeed no. During a late period Dogs’ power play the Antonov twins broke away and hammered the puck off the post. Shortly after there was the mother of all blue paint scrambles in front of the Bison goal. It was every man for himself with shoving, slashing, poking, whacking, prodding, stabbing and pushing being the order of the day with half those present trying to force the puck over the line and the other half trying desperately to prevent the puck from going over the line. Suddenly the puck squirted sideways from the pandemonic mêlée and went to, from a Bison perspective, safety. Shortly after the buzzer blared forth to bring a cessation to P2 hostilities.

It had been a pretty even period and a pretty even game overall. Which way the pendulum would swing in P3? Bison backers were leaving no stone unturned in providing vocal support in a most unGuildford Flames manner. It was a veritable Phil Spector-esqe wall of sound. A man wearing a red #63 Connolly shirt stirred up a chant. Alas his embryonic playoff beard, grown specially for the occasion, gave him an appearance which was more homeless man than ZZ Top. “Boom, boom, boom. Let me hear you say Bison,” he bellowed. “BISERN!” yelled the crowd back in answer to his request. Clearly unsatisfied with this response he repeated the request and was greeted with an even louder “BISERN!” This went on for several rounds. Alas no-one gave him their spare change, which was a shame after such a fine show of cheerleading. By the way did you know that the only member of ZZ Top who does not have a beard is drummer Frank Beard?

Then on 48:01 Bison surged into a lead they never gave up (oh sorry I’ve given the end away). Paul Petts or Ryan Sutton (I am not sure which, but they both picked up assists) speared a long pass forwards which was picked up by Connolly. He battled forwards, came up against a concrete curtain of confrontation which was the Dogs’ D, which had shed their sluggardly ways (see description of Bison goal no.1), lost the puck, regained the puck and then moved into the slot. The goal was almost completely blocked from view and there seemed to be more players between Connolly and the goal than the whole population of China. There was no way through surely? Well yes there was because Billy suddenly whipped a wrist shot high into the net. If there were any members of the aristocracy present (unlikely) they may have described the goal as spiffing, spanking, top drawer, wizard or capital. To the rest of us it was just a bloody good goal. 2-1 Bison. The dastardly pessimists, previously referred to, suddenly become overwhelming optimists. They had managed to extract themselves dripping from their cesspit of depression, anxiety and doubt. Of course Bison were going to win.

The Dogs had battled hard and had given as good as they had got, but what they hadn’t got was the lead. The clocked ticked down (or rather up – those who were there will know what I mean). Eventually it reached last chance saloon time for the Dogs. A time out was called. Goaltender Zimozdra was given his P45 and the game resumed with a 6 on 5. Then horror of horrors for the canine supporters, Bison skipper Connolly, who had already twice spanked the Dogs, took possession of the puck and broke away. The most striking thing about the breakaway was a pursuing D-man (not sure who that was) with an admirable display of lost cause chasing. He just refused to surrender. Winston Churchill would have been impressed. He, the D-man that is, not Churchill, had dropped his stick, possibly to leave his hands free to clutch at a straw, but, although thus emasculated, he didn’t give up and he hammered backwards towards the yawning chasm that was the Zimozdra-less empty net, a couple of yards behind Connolly. The hapless fellow was helpless and it was hopeless, but it was as if his life depended on it or that there would be no tomorrow. Perhaps he thought that it did and there wasn’t. But it didn’t and there must have been as we woke up the next morning and there was, albeit that that tomorrow was 3 days ago as I write, so it wasn’t even yesterday, although it would have been had I written this on Sunday. Confused? I am. Perhaps Yogi Berra was right when he said “The future ain’t what it used to be”. Back to the action, the impotent D-man’s efforts were all in vain. Connolly stroked the puck across the line to complete his hat-trick and clinch the game for Bison. 3-1.

The joyous Bison backers knew they were in the final, as with only 26 seconds remaining, the Dogs bolt had been shot William Tell style and their stuffing knocked out. And so it proved 26 seconds later when the final buzzer blared forth to end the canine misery. They would have to return to the frozen wastes of the north without the playoff laurels. But never mind, they had the NIHL North 1 league title under their belt. Who from the days of Donkey Payette would have thought them capable of winning a league title? Not I for one, but they had.

As for Bison they progressed into the final to face of the Telford Tigers, not the Wayne Sholes millions version, but the loose change version as they have become. Who would prevail? I don’t know why I’m asking that question – we all know.

Monday, 2 April 2018

It’s Raining Silverware in Bisonland

Bison 2 Peterborough Phantoms 1 (Aggregate 3-2)
Britton Conference playoff final 2nd leg

Fancy some fake news? The Bison trophy cabinet has been opened to admit a new piece of silverware so often that the hinges are suffering from metal fatigue. That may be balderdash, but what is true is that Bison do have a new trophy. Beating the Peterborough Phantoms 3-2 on aggregate, they lifted the NIHL S1 (Britton Conference) Playoff Final trophy – I wish it had a more racy title. As for the Phantoms, their season seems to be imploding. Their only hope of silverware is now the national playoffs next weekend and, if they fail to win that, their vast stocks of silver polish, purchased at the beginning of an expectant season, may soon be appearing on e-bay. We shall see.

P1 opened and the opening score of the encounter occurred on 10:07 and had the artistic qualities of a Marcel Marceau mime, except that I saw no players wearing top hats with flowers sticking out of them. And indeed it was fitting that the net should come off its moorings with the goal still given after last night’s fiasco at Peterborough where a perfectly good Bison net of moorings goal was washed off and a highly dubious Phantoms net off moorings goal was given, but Heaven forbid I should show any bias. How was it scored? I will tell you exactly. Desperate Dan Scott speared a superb long pass, not through the eye of a needle (and certainly no camels were involved), but instead through the Potty D. He set General Grant Rounding charging forward into the enemy defensive zone with Paul Petts in support. Petts acted as a decoy as he drew the covering D-man away wide right like a fly attracted to a piece of rancid meat. This left space into which Roman Malinik skated. Rounding’s pass onto the stick tape of the Czech chap was as accurate a bullet fired from Annie Oakley’s Winchester rifle. Malinik smashed the puck home as a despairing Euan King kicked the net off its moorings in a scandalous attempt to attract an arms thrown wide gesture from Referee Matthews. But instead out came the Matthews netwardsly pointing flat hand confirming that the goal was good in his opinion and not in need of washing off. 1-0 Bison.

A cataclysmic disaster, worse than the eruption of Krakatoa, the Great Fire of London and the Biblical plague of locusts rolled into one, occurred in the interval. Doris, our beloved but ancient Zamboni, broke down. Some said her hydraulics were shot, others said a puck left on the ice had got sucked up into the workings. Who, except those who attended the stricken mechanical behemoth, can tell us what ailed the unfortunate labouring leviathan. Suffice it to say that Doris’s night was over. After a lengthy period of time, during which Tolstoy could have written “War and Peace” had he been present, alive and not having already written it, out came Bessie, the back up Zamboni. The ancient chariot of ice resurfacing which is Bessie seemed barely able to move and displayed bodywork which would struggle to come anywhere but last in an aesthetics contest. Furthermore, as she had no water to spew out onto the ice, it was an ice cut or nothing. Were we going to get down to the bare concrete? Anything is possible at Planet Ice after all. As the courageous Bessie chugged round, she appeared about to die at any moment, But complete the task she did and it was not necessary for volunteers from the crowd to be enlisted as pushers, although that did look like it would be required on more than one occasion. Bessie and her driver left the ice victoriously to a massive ovation, which threatened to bring the roof of the Basingstoke Arena down. We were ready for a resumption of hostilities.

So at last P2 began. The game ebbed and flowed with Bison looking for a knockout punch and the ghostly visitors looking for a levelling score which would make it all to play for. Yogi Berra (that’s him below) once said that baseball was “90% mental and the other half physical”. The same is true of hockey, even if the maths don’t work. Whoever scored the next goal should get the momentum to go on and win the game – or so we thought. Well it was the Phantoms who bagged that all important goal, but all it gave them was the momentum to go on and lose the game, as I shall relate, dear reader.

The leveller materialised on 31:20. A giveaway enabled the Phantoms to surge forward in a manner most menacing. A shot came in and was saved, but not cleared and so a gaggle of players assembled adjacent to the crease, doubtless to exchange their views on the proceedings. Somehow Ales Padelek managed to squeeze the puck in and it was 1-1. Leigh Jamieson and Edwards Knaggs were declared assistants to the scorer. A mayfly lives for only a day. The Phantoms’ lead lasted a lot shorter than this, as I shall relate at the end of the next rather long paragraph.

Before the ink had dried on the scoresheet further scribbling was required as Bison surged back into the lead with a second go ahead goal. Paul Petts took possession of the puck in the neutral zone. He had a choice of two Bison players lurking on the blue line. This was reduced to a choice of one only as Malinik and a Phantoms’ D-man collided and ended up in an untidy heap. The Czech chap made a monumental effort to keep his right skate over the blue line to prevent an offside as Desperate Dan Davies received Petts’s pass and made his way up the right wing. As he hammered forward at breakneck speed, he became a blur to all, even those who had gone to Specsavers. In the meantime Malinik had not been an idle sluggard. He managed to extract himself from the untidy mess on the blueline, regain his skates and hammer forward with the speed of hyperactive cheetah in the middle of an adrenalin rush. He was in front of goal when Davies’s pass reached him. Allow me a soupçon of a digression. Any former cub scouts reading this? Back in my day in the 8th Epping Forest South the Grand Howl would open each meeting with the pack shouting “Akela! We'll do our best” at the tops of their voices. The Sixer leading the howl would then shout “DYB-DYB-DYB” (do your best) and the pack would reply “We’ll DOB-DOB-DOB” (do our best). Alas netminder King was unable to replicate this aspiration as he clearly didn’t do his best in keeping the puck out of the net. Malinik was perfectly placed in front of the goal to drive the biscuit straight through the King 5-hole. The goal caused the Bison backers to throw their arms in the air and the Phantoms faithful to throw a tantrum at their D. After working so hard to get back on level terms a mere 1:34 had elapsed between their levelling score and the second go behind goal. Coach Koulikov has no hair to pull out, but he must have felt like a damned good scream. 2-1 Bison and that is how the period ended.

P3 opened after another stellar performance from Bessie, this time vomiting water. Neither side could make a further breakthrough with the excitement continuing all the way to the final couple of minutes. Coach Koulikov dragged King from the net to enable a final desperate 6 on 5. Their attempts to level the game and the tie were to no avail. The final buzzer to confirm a Bison win blared forth and gloves and sticks were hurled Heavenwards as a gift to the hockey gods, who it appeared didn’t want any of them as they all crashed back down to the ice, just as Sir Isaac Newton would have predicted had he been present, but neither he nor Leo Tolstoy were. A seething gaggle of celebrating players mobbed the Bison goaltender Skinns. Coventry here we come.

Footnote 1 : Padelek and Malinik were elected Top Bananas.

Footnote 2 : Beware – the cost of silver polish threatens to bankrupt Planet Ice.