THE Basingstoke Bison have one foot in the final of the English Premier League Cup after winning 8-3 in the first leg of their semi-final against the Guildford Flames.
Last night’s outstanding result means that the Herd will reach the final if they are able to avoid losing by more than four goals when they travel to Guildford for the second leg next Wednesday.
The Flames actually led twice early on, but the scores were level at 2-2 after the opening period. The Bison then took control, scoring six goals without reply to lead 8-2 and while the Flames pulled one back late on, Basingstoke will be heavy favourites to progress next week.
The match was expected to be a close affair and the Bison did not get off to the best start, Dean Holland firing the visitors ahead at 1:58.
Joe Rand levelled the scores on a double powerplay less than two minutes later but Branislav Kvetan restored the Flames advantage at 8:00 as Kurt Reynolds sat in the sin-bin.
Both sides than managed to kill penalties but the Bison pulled level at 16:18, Joe Greener breaking away before setting up Ciaran Long to make it 2-2 at the first buzzer.
The second period got off to an even start, with Miroslav Vantroba hitting the post for the Bison and Andy Hemmings being denied by Basingstoke netminder and Gazette Sports Personality of the Year nominee Dean Skinns.
The Flames then lost Stuart Potts and Jez Lundin to the sin-bin, giving the hosts a double powerplay. They did not waste the opportunity, Rand touching home Tomas Karpov’s shot from the blue line at 32:02.
Player/coach Doug Sheppard then gave his side a two-goal lead going into the second break, firing home from the slot with a nice wrist shot.
The Bison began the third period in fine style, Karpov producing a fine finish after good build-up from Michael Wales and Reynolds to make it 5-2.
Karpov’s second goal of the game increased the lead to four goals at 47:20, his effort from behind the net going in off defender Neil Liddiard.
Guildford called a time-out in an attempt to stop the rot but it had little effect as the Bison scored twice more to lead 8-2 at 54:32.
Long got the seventh goal with an excellent strike from the left wing and insult was added to injury soon after as Wales floored Guildford’s Nicky Watt in a fight by the home bench.
Rand completed his hat-trick by netting the eighth after a fine pass from Sheppard and while it was the Flames who had the final say, new signing Martin Opatovsky pulling a goal back 13 minutes from time, they have a mountain to climb next week.
Click here to see a post-match interview with Basingstoke Bison player/coach Doug Sheppard.
Last night’s game saw the Bison hand a debut to new signing Matt Selby, who has joined the club on a two-way deal with the Coventry Blaze.
The Great Britain junior international, who is 18, will add even more depth to the Bison line-up.
Bison player/coach Doug Sheppard said: “It is a great pick-up for us and I am sure he will settle in quickly having played here before. I would like to thank the Coventry Blaze organisation for helping us with this signing.”
On Saturday (face-off 6.30pm), the Bison return to league action, hosting fourth-placed Milton Keynes Lightning at the Basingstoke Arena.
The Lightning pushed leaders Manchester all the way last Sunday before losing in a shoot-out and they will come to Basingstoke looking for their first win in Hampshire this season.
Bison player/coach Doug Sheppard said: “We know they are a good team and will have some very dangerous forwards. So we have to make sure we are strong in our end of the ice.”
On Sunday (7.30pm), the Herd travel to face a Sheffield Steeldogs side that they beat 6-5 on home ice last weekend.
Sheppard said: “Sheffield play much better at home. They are fighting for a play-off spot and we expect a very physical battle.”