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A review of Basingstoke Bison's double-winning season
BASINGSTOKE Bison have just completed their best-ever season in the English Premier League, as they won the English Premier League play-off crown and EPL Cup.
However, few fans tipped Doug Sheppard’s team to do as well as this at the start of the campaign.
They looked to have been proved right when the Herd lost their opening game of the season 2-1 against the visiting Swindon Wildcats, as old boys Steve Lyle and Alex Symonds came back to haunt them.
The following week it was fitting that, in their 25th anniversary season, the Bison would record their first victory of the season over their oldest local rivals, Bracknell Bees.
This was the first of four straight wins, which was ended on the first weekend of October as they suffered a rare home loss to Guildford.
The following night, the Herd gained quick revenge as they recorded their first win in 10 visits to the Spectrum, Sheppard scoring the winning penalty-shot in a 5-4 victory.
The Bison gave Slough’s new goalie Kamil Jarina a debut to forget in October, as they raced to a 5-0 first-period lead as Joe Rand netted a hat-trick in a four-goal haul as the Herd won 7-5.
The Bison grabbed victory from the jaws of defeat on the second weekend of November in Peterborough, as goalscorer Tomas Karpov tied the game in the final minute and then scored the overtime winner.
The following night, the Herd booked their place in the semi-finals of the EPL Cup after a 2-0 victory against Slough Jets as Dean Skinns recorded a shut-out.
With the departure of Tim Burrows, Michael Wales was signed from Slough and he scored on his debut as the Herd beat Peterborough 6-0 and Skinns made club history as he became the first netminder to post back-to-back shut-outs.
December saw a double-header weekend success over Bracknell, which saw Skinns celebrate a double shut-out.
Ciaran Long made his debut in the 1-0 home win and then scored a brace in the 5-0 away victory.
Joe Miller signed off his time in Basingstoke with the penalty shot winner against Sheffield.
The first game of 2014 saw the Bison move to the top of the EPL, after Karpov scored the game winner at Guildford in a 4-3 victory.
The best comeback of the campaign saw the Herd fight back from 3-0 down after four minutes to win 5-4.
The last game of January was one of the best of the season as Guildford arrived for the EPL Cup semi-final first leg.
The opening 20 minutes ended with the sides locked at 2-2, before the Bison took hold of the tie and led 4-2 at the second break.
The third period saw the Herd really go to town as they scored four more to make it 8-2, before Guildford scored a late goal.
The first weekend of February saw Michael Wales and Joe Baird both reach the milestone of 500 EPL games against Milton Keynes and Sheffield.
The second leg of the EPL Cup semi-final in Guildford looked to be going to plan at 2-2 after 40 minutes.
However, it turned into a tense night as, with 40 seconds left, Guildford had narrowed the lead in the tie to one goal, but Kurt Reynolds hit the empty net to book the Bison a place in the final.
February ended with four straight wins, the last being a 5-1 victory against title rivals Manchester, which put the Herd four points clear at the top of the EPL.
The first leg of the final of the EPL Cup in Coventry against Milton Keynes Lightning saw the Herd record an excellent 4-1 victory.
In the second leg, the home side got off to a dream start as Aaron Connolly scored after 20 seconds and Karpov increased the lead.
Milton Keynes then battled back with four unanswered goals to make it a one-goal tie at 52:12.
However, the Bison were not to be denied as Andy Melachrino struck with five minutes left and the Herd won the cup 7-5 on aggregate.
Basingstoke still had a chance of the league title, as they beat Sheffield and leaders Manchester lost.
This set-up a winner-takes-all clash in Manchester, which the Phoenix won 5-2 and the Bison had to settle for second spot.
So this just left the play-offs, and the Herd cruised past Sheffield as Skinns recorded his fifth shut-out of the season in 2-0 away leg win, which was followed up by a 6-2 victory on home ice.
Once in Coventry the Bison finished off the job as they beat Guildford 5-2 and Manchester 5-3 to complete their double-winning season.
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