By Tom Hurley
MK Thunder face Basingstoke Bison for the third time this season on Sunday when the Hampshire club travel to Milton Keynes for a 6:30 p.m. face-off at Planet Ice.
Lewis Clifford’s men will be attempting to be the second team to defeat Bison in league play this season, after Streatham became the first with a 2-0 victory Saturday.
Basingstoke (10-1-0 NIHL) have been beaten five times in cup play, the most recent of those defeats coming via penalty shots at Peterborough Phantoms on Nov. 18. — the same team that Thunder took two points from three weeks ago.
Czech forward Tomas Karpov leads NIHL South 1 in scoring with 34 points on the season, 18 of which coming as assists which places the Benesov native joint-top of British ice hockey’s second tier in assists.
Russian-born youngster Ivan Antonov sits fifth in the league and second on the Bison with 23 points in the eight NIHL South 1 games the 20-year-old forward has played. Captain Aaron Connolly is next on the Basingstoke scoring charts, with nine goals and nine assists on the season.
Thunder (6-6-3 NIHL) enter the contesr matching Sunday’s visitors in having played only one game last weekend — a 4-2 home win over the improving Cardiff Fire on home ice.
Defender Lewis Christie stressed the importance of MKT being ready to go from the first puck drop after falling behind first in each of the last two games, and both matchups against the Bison this campaign.
“We’re in a positive mind,” Christie said. “We had a good practice (this week), we’ll follow on from that hopefully, and have a good start to the game. That’s where we’ve been lacking against Basingstoke. They’ve got a good team, they bounce on us pretty much straight away. Hopefully we get a good start — that’s key for us.”
Veteran netminder Tom Annetts is expected to return between the pipes after teenager Josh Crane impressed on his NIHL South 1 debut last time out.
Former Bison forward Ross Bowers picked up two points in that win over Cardiff, which puts him top of the Thunder scoring tree with eight goals and eight assists for 16 points. Captain Jamie Line follows Bowers with 14 points, ahead of youngster Rio Grinell-Parke who has 11 points on the season.
Sunday’s game is dedicated as NHS Night, meaning all NHS staff can gain free entry at the turnstiles when showing a valid NHS ID. Ticket prices for non-NHS staff are priced at £9 Adults, £5 Concessions (students, over 65s, registered disabled, MKL season ticket holders), and only £1 for Under 16s.