A SUPER-charged encounter is expected at the Basingstoke Arena on Saturday night as the Bison lock horns with the Manchester Phoenix – the second English Premier League top-of-the-table clash in the space of seven days.
Last weekend, the Herd chalked up their third success of the season, and their second on the road, over their closest rivals with a thrilling 4-3 victory in Altrincham.
The victory moved the Bison four points clear at the top of the table – a cushion they would love to increase further.
A win on Saturday night would also secure the series victory for the Herd, which is important as it is the first denominator if the sides should finish level on points at the end of the campaign. Basingstoke are in red hot form on home ice and chalked up a magnificent seventh straight win last Saturday with victory over local rivals Bracknell.
Making his debut in the game against Manchester will be the latest signing to the Herd, James Hutchinson – one of the top British EPL defencemen.
The 28-year-old was released by Peterborough due to financial reasons, and he will certainly add even more depth to a very strong defensive core.
He won the EPL grand slam with Peterborough, and last season the Elite League title with Belfast. Sheppard said: “I am very pleased to have signed James as he has won championships at every level.
“I have always found him very difficult to play against. “He will be another great addition to our team.”
Joe Miller, the Bison’s leading goalscorer from last season, is hoping to return from injury for Saturday’s clash.
Another 1,000-plus crowd is expected at the Basingstoke Arena for the mouth-watering clash, which has a 6.30pm face-off.
Bison player/coach Doug Sheppard said: “This is a massive game for both teams, and we will have to make sure we are at our best if we are going to win.
“Manch-ester are a very good team in every department, but another big crowd is sure to give our team a lift and will add to the atmosphere.”
Sheppard added: “Joe Miller is definitely hoping to be back.
“We will see how he goes in training as I will not be rushing anyone back from injury. But if he is in the line-up, then that adds another scoring threat for us.”
On Sunday night, the Herd will travel to lowly Peterborough Phantoms (face-off 5.30pm).
They have already enjoyed success in the Cambridgeshire rink, winning 2-1 win on their last visit.
And Sheppard is expecting another tough trip.
“It has always been the most |difficult place to play in this league,” he said. “They may be low in the standings, but we have to make sure we take care of our own business.”
In other news, two of the Bison young guns – forward Andy Melachrino, pictured left, and defenceman Zach Sullivan – have been selected to play for Great Britain under-20s in World Championship Division 1B in Ukraine next month.
The tournament runs from December 10 to 16 and GB will face hosts Ukraine, as well as Croatia, Italy, Kazakhstan and Poland.
Sheppard said: “It is very well-deserved as both players have been playing very well for us this season. It is great for the organisation to have two players in the team.”