BASINGSTOKE Bison have one hand on the English Premier League Cup after winning the first leg of the final by three goals last night.
Roared on by a healthy away support, Andy Melachrino’s double and further strikes from Miroslav Vantroba and Ciaran Long earned the Herd a 4-1 victory in Coventry, the temporary home of the Milton Keynes Lightning.
The result means that the Bison are strong favourites to lift the trophy at the end of the second leg, which will take place at the Basingstoke Arena next Wednesday.
They have a three-goal cushion to defend – and the Herd have not lost by more than two goals on home ice all season.
A happy Bison player/coach, Doug Sheppard, said: “We have put ourselves in a good position, but there are still three periods to play in the final.
“It was another good all-round team performance tonight. It was great to see some many Bison fans here and we appreciate them coming.”
Both teams were at full-strength for the game and it was the Bison who got off to the perfect start, Melachrino converting Michael Wales’ pass to open the scoring after just four minutes.
However, the hosts found an instant response, Tom Carlon netting after good work from Blaz Emersic and Stanislav Lascek little more than a minute later.
Both sides had opportunities to add to their tally, but there was no further scoring before the end of an even first period.
Milton Keynes began the second half on the powerplay, but the Herd were able to kill the penalty off. The Lightning did not fare so well when Grant McPherson was sent to the sin-bin almost immediately afterwards, Vantroba firing in from the blue line at 22:12, with Joe Greener and Tomas Karpov getting the assists.
Basingstoke netminder Dean Skinns made a good save to deny Adam Carr as the hosts looked for an equaliser, while the Herd had a great chance to double their lead when two Milton Keynes players were sent to the penalty box. However, they were unable to take advantage, home netminder Stephen Wall standing tall to keep them out.
A spot of fisticuffs saw the sin bin fill up soon after, with the Bison’s Aaron Connolly and McPherson departing for roughing, while Lukas Zatopek got a delay of game penalty to put the visitors on the powerplay.
They took full advantage, Melachrino getting his second goal of the evening from close range to make it 3-1 at 32:45.
Things got even better for the Bison less than three minutes later as Long finished off a nice move involving Greener and Nicky Chinn to extend the lead to three goals and cause the hosts to call a time-out.
That move had an effect as there was no further scoring in the rest of the period, despite a couple of penalty calls.
The Bison got themselves in trouble early in the final period, with Joe Baird joining Matt Selby in the penalty box to give the hosts almost a minute with two extra men, but the visitors defended stoutly to retain their three-goal lead.
Connolly was the next Basingstoke player to find himself in the sin-bin, but again the penalty kill unit did their job, while Melachrino went close to completing his hat-trick soon after, Wall making a good save to deny him.
The game ended with both sides losing players to 2+10 penalties for checking from behind.
Milton Keynes’ Leigh Jamieson was the first to depart and while Karpov went close on the powerplay, the Bison were unable to make their advantage count.
It was a similar story for the Lightning, the Herd seeing out the powerplay after Kurt Reynolds was penalised to ensure that they go into next week’s second leg three goals to the good.