Building the Herd – Dan Weller-Evans

#93 Dan Weller-Evans

Position: Netminder

Born: Basingstoke, Hampshire (though he’s Welsh if you ask him)

Announced as signed:

With the Bison roster firmly taking shape, coach Doug Sheppard announced that the role of backup netminder would be filled by former Bison junior player, Dan Weller-Evans.

Taking time out of revising for his upcoming police exams, the 20 year old backstop spoke to Banners On The Wall;

Firstly Dan, welcome back to Basingstoke

Thank you! I’m excited to be back!

You were already announced as having re-signed for the Isle of Wight, what led to your move to Basingstoke?

Yeah I was getting ready for another year on the island with the Raiders but after speaking to Doug and there being a possibility of playing for the team I supported as a kid, it was a no brainer for me to come home. I had 4 amazing years on the island and I always said I would only ever leave on my own accord to play for the Bison.

You were a Bison junior before having your first crack at senior hockey on the Isle of Wight, what led to that move to Ryde?

I started ice hockey at U18s level so I was a bit of a late starter but Basingstoke was an A League junior club and to be honest I don’t think I was good enough to play there at that time. So I went to play on the island as the starter for their U18 side for a year and it did me the world of good. Playing every minute of every game was something I really needed to catch up. With regards to senior hockey I think I was just in the right place at the right time. I was the U18 goalie and when Toby Cooley retired a week into the season I was able to get the opportunity to back up Matty Colclough. That did me the world of good and I learnt a lot! I never thought I was going to remain in the side for the rest of the season but I worked hard and earned my spot on the team.

What’s Jeremy Cornish like as a coach?

He’s a great coach! He has always been good to me and that includes this move to Basingstoke. He is a coach who will run through a wall for the guys on his team and he expects everyone else to do the same. He builds teams with good chemistry and I think that is a huge factor in why the Raiders are successful and are in the hunt for trophies every year in NIHL1! I certainly had a blast in my 4 seasons with the team. He is someone you can come to with anything at any time and he will do his best to help you. He always gave me feedback on my play and what I could do to improve and he is the same with every guy on the team. We did lots of video sessions and he would constantly pause and tell guys what they are doing well and also what they need to do better. I would recommend anyone to go and play for him if they get the chance because you will improve as a hockey player and I think that shows by the amount of Raiders players that have made the step up to higher leagues. But also, you’ll have a lot of fun!

You’ve long been a watcher and admirer of Dean Skinns, what’s it going to be like playing with him?

Yeah I’ve known Dean since I was 5 years old, we grew up next door to one another! I used to go with his dad Tony to watch every Saturday night growing up. He gave me my first set of goalie equipment, sorted me out with my first roller hockey team and also my first chance in ice hockey. So it’s going to be great to have the chance to play with him and more importantly learn from him. He has ‘been there and done it’ in the EPL and it’s a great opportunity for me to learn from him.

Critics will ask how a 4 season NIHL backup is going to be able to step into an EPL game if Dean gets injured. Do you think you’re prepared for the rigours of playing at that higher level if the moment comes?

This is actually something I have thought a lot about since signing for the team. All I can do is work hard each practise and warm up and maybe game and hopefully prove them wrong. An annoying habit I’ve had in the last couple of seasons is having that couple of bad games that really ruin your stats for the year but it’s something I think I can eliminate from my game by working on my mental toughness. The role of a backup goalie is to win games for the team should something happen to the starter and I did that on the Island, I had 1 loss in all games played whilst I was there and I will be aiming to do the same for the Bison if and when called upon should anything happen to Dean. If I don’t get to play many games then I will be doing my bit on the bench for the guys. I get into the game even if I’m on the bench so I’m sure you will hear me at some point!

Jordan Lawday is going to be a 3rd netminder from the Bison. How would you describe his game?

Jordy is a young up and coming goalie who has come on a long way since I last saw him play. He moves very well and has impressed me in the last few skates we’ve had. Hopefully I can pass on a few things to him throughout the year but he is definitely one to watch for the future if he continues to work hard. He has a couple of years of junior hockey left so he has lots of time.

Any final message for the Bison fans?

It’s an honour to be home and to have the chance to play in front of the Bison fans. You guys are the loudest fans I have ever heard in my experience of playing/watching ice hockey and I know it’ll be the same this year. So I look forward to meeting those of you

who I haven’t met before and to seeing lots of familiar faces too. I hope you’re all having a fantastic summer and I will see you all in September if not before! Lets Go Bison!!

Dan played 2 seasons of under 18 hockey in Basingstoke having transferred from roller hockey before his move to the Isle of Wight for the 2010/11 season. In 16 under 18 contests, Dan posted a 3.40 goals against average and a .921 save percentage as well as making 6 appearances in NIHL 2 for the Wightlink Tigers and 1 on ice appearance for the Raiders.

Since 2011/12, the season a certain Joe Rand arrived on the island, Dan has been the regular backup playing behind Matty Colclough and Liam McAllister respectively. In that time despite seeing minimal ice time, the Raiders have been one of the most competitive sides in NIHL 1 South regularly being in the hunt for all the trophies. The 2013/14 campaign saw Dan make his most on ice appearances in a season with 7 posting a .885 save percentage and a 4.41 GAA.

I suppose I probably need to do a bit of a disclosure thing here; Dan’s a mate of mine. I first met Dan whilst he was playing under 18s and was a steward on match nights during the EIHL days. He was a tall, thin lad with a florescent vest over his gear and would disappear off to put the net back on the moorings after an ice cut. He was a nice lad. When I was told of Toby Cooley’s retirement and Dan’s promotion to the Raiders’ bench, I was pleased for him. It was a chance for him to get some training time at a higher level and he’s been there ever since. I’d chat to Dan when he made rare appearances at Bison games and when I’d make rare appearances at Raiders games, my love of Isle of Wight hockey being no secret here. For a joke, a friend of mine bought me a game worn jersey of Dan’s in the blind auction at the end of a season and I’ve never told him how much she paid as it would embarrass him and probably not in a good way.

My friendship with Dan to one side, the signing of Weller-Evans sends a clear signal; Dean Skinns is going to be playing a lot of minutes again this season. Skinns played like a man possessed all last season, thoroughly silencing all critics and putting himself in the upper echelon of EPL netminders. Sheppard has no reason to deviate from this model and with Connor Standing now being announced as the new starting netminder for the Solent Devils was not going to be looking for a 1a/1b netminding scenario but a clear number 1 and a clear number 2.

There are obvious questions with the signing of a backup who has seen minimal game time from a league below. Weller-Evans has started few games though he has one 60 minute shutout to his credit, a cup away game at Streatham. He has seen more ice time at senior hockey than Standing albeit at a lower level. Weller-Evans likely won’t push Skinns in terms of a fear of stealing the starting role like Skinns did from Annetts and Skinns had stolen from him by Colclough in recent memory but what he does offer is a capable option should the need arise in a game situation. This is not a netminder going in cold to facing senior players of quality.

The analyst in me sees this signing for what it is; it’s the backup who will hopefully get a chance at a bit of ice time over the season.

The Anthony Russell sitting in front of his computer writing this is just pleased that the young man who grew up a Bison fan gets to put on that jersey not as a fan, not as a junior but as a Bison.

Welcome home, Splinter and well done. Grant King will shortly be your new best friend.

Building the Herd – Ciaran Long

#89 Ciaran Long

Position: Forward

Born: Birmingham, England

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 10th July

(c) 5 Hole Photography

(c) 5 Hole Photography

Having completed the blueline section of the roster last week, Doug Sheppard returned this week with another big signing with the news that Ciaran Long has put pen to paper to return for 2014/15.

Long, who will turn 24 at the start of the season will amazingly be entering his 9th full EPL season after starting his senior career with Swindon. Long made a solitary EPL appearance for the Wildcats in 2005/06 whilst staring at u16 and u19 level at The Link before being a more permanent fixture in senior hockey in 2006/07 where he scored 1 goal and 2 assists in 31 contests.

2007/08 saw another season of EPL play and this time 9 points as Ciaran scored 8 goals and 1 assist alongside a barnstorming season at under 18 level with an outstanding 36 points and 100 PIMs in 10 games. 2008/09 proved to be Ciaran’s breakout year in Swindon as he firmly established himself as a player to watch with a 32 point season that put the eyes of EPL coaches firmly on him.

Since that season, Long has bounced around the EPL somewhat. 2009/10 saw him depart The Link for Slough where he had a 40 point season and picked up a playoff winners medal. This caught the attentions of then Bison coach Steve Moria who lured Ciaran from Berkshire to Hampshire for the 2010/11 campaign. Long became a firm fan favourite in Basingstoke as he tallied 30 points in 39 games for the Bison. He also near single handedly dragged the Bison through their playoff quarter final encounter with Milton Keynes but the Bison fell agonisingly short.

After that season, Long was tempted up the M1 and signed on for Tony Hand and the Manchester Phoenix. Again, Ciaran became a firm favourite with the fans and had a solid 2011/12 where he scored 19 goals and 31 points which earned him a return for 2012/13. The season started well enough for Long if a little light on scoring and just after the half way point and for no reason that’s ever been that well explained to me, Long left for Slough where he quickly ratcheted up his scoring prowess with 25 points in 21 games for the Jets.

Long re-signed with the Jets to begin 2013/14 but, as many did, fell victim to the perilous financial situation and was told to seek an alternative club. With Joe Miller having agreed to move to Telford under their new ownership, Doug Sheppard moved quickly to secure Long’s services and the forward was unveiled at the Booster Club’s Christmas quiz night having been “disguised” in a Santa Claus outfit.

Long proved a vital addition to the Bison, adding scoring and depth performing in all situations and proving a vital addition to the top line at the end of the season as he linked up with Andy Melachrino and Tomas Karpov following the season ending injury to Michael Wales. Combining his totals at Slough and Basingstoke for the season, Ciaran had 60 points in 54 games. The season was rounded off with a superb solo goal in the playoff final to level the scores just seconds after Manchester had scored a goal on a powerplay on a penalty to Ciaran.

Ciaran has also represented GB at under 18 level 5 times with 11 points and the under 20s 12 times for 12 points.

Sport sometimes throws up moments worthy of an Oscar winning classic. The goal, the save, that one moment of drama that feels like it should be on the big screen. Then there are moments like 500 odd Manchester fans chanting “Phoenix reject” at Ciaran Long only to watch moments later as he robs the man at the blueline, skates in and slots the puck past Stephen Fone. I’m not sure if that’s comedy or tragedy.

The Bison arguably profited more from Slough’s demise than any other EPL side. Whilst Peterborough inherited Slava Koulikov and his vast network of contacts and a few players, the Bison signed Michael Wales then Ciaran Long and secured two of three trophies. Long’s signing as well was perfectly timed. With Joe Miller’s notice period nearing its end before he moved to Shropshire, the Bison needed someone to fill his role in the top 6 and on the powerplay and most importantly, fill the lost points. Long was the ideal candidate. He immediately made an impact on a line with Joe Greener and Nicky Chinn a second line that had a mix of everything as well as an in form Chinn feeding passes to the right places. When Wales broke his ankle, Long was placed with Karpov and Melachrino who were so full of confidence they nearly floated away at times. Long has always played with an edge so was able to fill the hole left by Muzzy. Ciaran didn’t stand and screen the netminder as much as Wales did but was a viable attacking threat from all angles.

His combined totals for last season make Long a point per game player and with the return of so many of his team mates from last season, given him a foundation of playing alongside people he has had success with can only bode well. Joe Rand spoke in his piece about how 2013/14 was a season where the Bison hit the ground running from the season before. If the Herd are to do the same in 2014/15, a Ciaran Long firing on all cylinders is a scary prospect for any of the 8 opponents in the EPL.

What I always like about Ciaran is how he gets improves as the season goes on. Some would dismiss this as him playing for a contract but this contract he is on was 18 months from December so he knew he was coming back. When the games get more important, Ciaran Long gets better. It just seems to be one of those things. If you scour the BOTW archives back to the Bison’s 2011 playoff quarter final loss to the MK Lightning, this isn’t a new trait. That game always sticks in my mind because when the Bison were on the back foot, Long was on a virtual one man mission to pull the team through. It didn’t work that time out and the make up of the Bison roster is vastly different now than it was then but that spark is always important as we saw in Coventry.

A top British player still in his early 20s who can score a point per game, play point on the powerplay, play on the penalty kill is something all teams should want. That said, someone should persuade him not to dye his facial hair.

Welcome back, Ciaran; if you’re going to try and compete with Aaron and Muzzy for the BOTW Mo-vember title then get planning.

Building the Herd – Declan Balmer

#24 Declan Balmer

Position: Defence

Born: Kingston upon Hull, Humberside

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 3rd July

Declan Balmer (left) is the newest member of the Basingstoke Bison (c) 5 Hole Photography

Declan Balmer (left) is the newest member of the Basingstoke Bison
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Bison coach Doug Sheppard finalised the defence in Basingstoke for the 2014/15 season with the signing of Declan Balmer from league rivals, the Peterborough Phantoms.

Recently turned 19, Hull born Balmer will be entering his second full season in the EPL after 18 months in Cambridgeshire.

Balmer started his junior hockey in his home town playing 2 years of under 16s with the Kingston Crunch before heading to Bradford to start the 2010/11 season splitting his time that campaign between the under 16s and under 18s.

2011/12 saw Declan make his debut in senior hockey as he was drafted into the Bulldogs ENL campaign making 24 appearances and scoring 15 points. He also had an impressive season with the under 18s in Bradford scoring 40 points in 11 games.

His performances caught the eye of a couple of coaches and found himself on a two way contract for 2012/13. Balmer played for the Solway Sharks in the NIHL 1 North scoring 3 points in 25 games as part of the Sharks’ league winning side as well as scoring 2 assists for the Phantoms in 22 EPL games as Balmer graced the top level of EIHA play for the first time.

His performances for the Phantoms saw him earn a full contact for the 2013/14 season. In what was a challenging season for the Phantoms, Declan played 50 games games where he tallied 7 assists and 72 PIMs.

Declan is also a Great Britain junior international having represented his country at under 18 level 10 times tallying 1 assist and 10 appearances for the under 20s including last year’s World u20 division 1B championships held at Solway where he plied his trade with the Sharks.

So the first section of the Bison roster is now complete as the 6th and final member is announced in Declan and I’ll tell you what; I like this signing.

A few people might be apprehensive of signing a defenceman from a team that missed the playoffs to essentially replace an EPL all star in Zach Sullivan. It’s an obvious concern to have. With Brendan Baird occupying the 6th defenceman role akin to Carl Graham at the end of last season and Matt Selby now into the lineup full time, a lot of scrutiny suddenly falls on Balmer to be a like for like replacement but Declan’s game is not really that of Zach’s.

Balmer is 15lbs heavier and 5 inches taller. At 6’2 and nearly 200lbs he is a more imposing figure than Sullivan is and is a more physical player though the nature of their games is relatively similar. Low errors, low scoring stay at home defencemen who make the good first pass are a needed commodity on all teams. Now Declan’s PIMs are higher, that’s a by-product of a more physical nature of his play but ultimately they are different kinds of defenceman so whilst in terms of names on a roster sheet, it now reads Declan Balmer instead of Zach Sullivan. We don’t need him to be Zach Sullivan, we need him to be Declan Balmer.

So what does the Bison defence look like now with Balmer in it? The overall size is increased with his addition and given he’s likely to be 3rd or 4th defenceman the second pairing will likely see Declan with Matt Selby is now a much more old school shutdown pairing that will go out and wallop people. That’s two young defenceman, both 19, with a lot of responsibility on their shoulders in 5 on 5 play as special teams (though more likely penalty kill than powerplay in Balmer’s case). There are some who would be unnerved by that and I think that’s excusable but in true BOTW style, I’m rather looking forward to it.

The blueline corps has skill, size, physicality, youth, experience and depth going into the defence of the Bison’s two trophies. The one thing that the defence doesn’t appear to have is a massive amount of points production but, and this somewhat adds into the discussion I had with a few EPL fans at the end of the 2013/14 season over whether Marcel Petran should have been an EPL all star; you don’t sign defenceman to score but to defend. Having a defenceman scoring 60 points means little if you lose 2/3rds of your games and given the needs in the Bison defence in response to the players that left, a positionally responsible hard hitting defender is a much more sensible and necessary pick up than a free scoring offensive defenceman.

Welcome to Basingstoke, Declan. We’re all looking forward to it.

Building the Herd – Brendan Baird

#51 Brendan Baird

Position: Defence

Born: Southampton, Hampshire

Announced as signed: Bison website, 18th June

After staring for Bracknell under 18s at playoff weekend, Brendan Baird has joined the Bison (c) 5 Hole Photography

After staring for Bracknell under 18s at playoff weekend, Brendan Baird has joined the Bison
(c) 5 Hole Photography

With the announcement that one member of the family was back in town, the Bison added to it with the news that Doug Sheppard had signed up and coming defensive talent Brendan Baird from Bracknell. Brendan and Joe become the latest set of brothers on the roster to ice for the Bison at the same time joining names like Dean and Ashley Skinns, Andy and Kris Melachrino and of course Tony and Kenny Redmond.

Baird, 18 started as a member of the Basingstoke junior system before moving to the highly thought of junior system at The Hive and he has made steady progression at Bracknell ever since. 2010/11 saw him make his debut at under 16 level with the Stingers before splitting the next season between the Stingers and the under 18 Drones. 2012/13 saw Brendan make his debut in senior hockey as he played 20 games for the Hornets in NIHL 1 South alongside a productive 14 points in 15 games with the Drones and they finished 3rd in the league. 2013/14 was a banner year for Brendan; he played 19 games for the Hornets, scoring 5 points and also made his debut in the EPL for the Bees scoring 2 goals and an assist from defence in 10 contests. Still playing with the Drones, the Bracknell under 18s swept the board. They won the league losing only 1 game, won the North/South final against Nottingham at the Skydome before the Bison won the EPL playoff trophy and then topped it off with the National Championship, capturing the Rob Laidler Plate at the EIHA’s end of season junior hockey showcase as they defeated local rivals Guildford 3-1.

Brendan, who can play as a forward but will play on defence for the Bison, finishes junior hockey with 68 points from 77 games combined at under 16 and 18 levels.

Firstly, interesting choice of #51 by Brendan; someone suggested a brother fight for #15 but I think Joe appears to have already won this battle.

Since taking over as the coach of the Bison, I’d argue that Doug Sheppard’s record with young forwards is pretty good but his record with young defencemen isn’t that hot. Elliott Dewey appeared on the Bison roster at the start of last season, sat on the bench for about a dozen games then vanished off to the Buffalo and the club never officially explained why or gave a mention as to his removal from the full time EPL roster. As such it will be interesting to see how Brendan is initially handled but Sheppard appears to be signing a player with qualities and potential for this to work well for all concerned.

Sheppard has made it clear that Baird is the 6th defenceman which instantly lays out what we expected; to start with he’ll get no special teams play and will be used sparingly in the rotation. However Sheppard has shown that if he feels the situation is right that he will play younger players. Ingoldsby, Mogg and Wynn all were given chances in their respective positions when a shuffle was needed.

Defence however is a very different situation than playing up front. Many in Coventry felt that was part of the reason that Paul Thompson tried to use Matt Selby as a forward at EIHL level; because he wasn’t at the required standard at his natural position and it was a risk to put him there. The EPL does offer the luxury of a) not being a step too high for Brendan as he’s already proven that he’s worthy of a chance at this level and b) existing for this exact purpose; to develop young talent and under a coach with trophy winning pedigree and alongside the calibre of the already signed players he will get decent training and game time situations.

Why he’s chosen to do that away from Bracknell is interesting. If anything it’s arguably a better setup for a young player wanting to develop in some ways with NIHL 1 and EPL an option (the drop from EPL to NIHL2 is rather more pronounced) but maybe the lure of training with a team that is more likely to challenge and the chance to play alongside his brother at senior level before he retires (Joe can’t play forever obviously) is one that Brendan wants to take.

It’s a big step for the young man as he approaches his first full season of EPL hockey. His pedigree and skills at youth levels speak volumes for him and Sheppard, who has at least made an effort to bleed in younger players with a connection to the town feels that this is a viable skill set to add to the roster. Let’s see what he does with it.

Welcome aboard, Brendan.

Building the Herd – Joe Baird

#15 Joe Baird

Position: Defence

Born: Southampton, Hampshire

Announced as signed: Bison website, 18th June

(c) 5 Hole Photography

(c) 5 Hole Photography

Bison head coach Doug Sheppard gave the Basingstoke fans a double dose of delight this week with the signing of two defencemen, the first of these being the return of veteran blueliner Joe Baird.

Having made 1 appearance for the Beavers in the 1994/95 season, the Southampton born Baird enters his 9th season as a part of hockey in Basingstoke and his 21st in senior hockey.

A product of the Basingstoke junior system, Joe made fleeting appearances with the senior side in the BHL and Superleague. After a productive 97/98 campaign with the Buffalo in what was ED1 (now NIHL), Joe earned a full time roster spot with the Bison on their entry into the British National League in 1998. Joe remained part of the roster through till 2002 and famously scored in both Benson and Hedges Plate finals as the Bison notched back to back wins in the competition and were the last winners.

2002 saw Joe move away from Basingstoke and the start of his time in the EPL with the Wightlink Raiders. After 47 points in just over 100 appearances for the Isle of Wight, Joe moved to Bracknell for the start of the 2005/06 season. 4 successful years with the Bees were punctuated with the 2006/07 league and playoff double under then coach Ryan Aldridge where Joe played 179 games for the Hive based side.

Baird was to team up with Aldridge when he signed for Swindon to start 2009/10. 4 years with the Wildcats yielded 180 appearances and Baird became a popular player in Wiltshire though his last 2 seasons at The Link were hampered by injury.

It was something of a surprise for many when Doug Sheppard signed him in Basingstoke at the start of last season, many pointing towards the signing as further evidence of a presumed low finish for the Herd. Sheppard however instantly gave Baird an alternate captain’s letter on his jersey and Baird quietly went about his work. Arguably one of the Bison’s unsung heroes of the season, Baird tallied 11 points in 54 games and 140 PIMs, his highest season total since winning the EPL with Bracknell. Baird’s season will likely best be remembered for a moment of history repeating itself when he scored the Bison’s 3rd goal in the playoff final win over Manchester Phoenix. He also celebrated his 500th EPL appearance during the season, the second Bison player to do so after Michael Wales.

Joe also represented Great Britain 9 times at under 18 level and 8 times at under 20s where he tallied 2 points.

I’ll start with a story; it’s the morning of Sunday 6th April 2014 and I’m sitting in the front room of The Windmill pub in Coventry surrounded by a variety of people and wires as Ben Knight hosts a live edition of the Phoenix Podcast. As Ben’s a true professional, the show is running late and the topic of conversation has turned to the previous day’s events and the Bison’s win over Guildford in the playoff semi final. Someone’s mentioned Nicky Chinn’s performance and before I give Ben the chance to move on, I interrupt because I needed to talk about Joe Baird. I needed to mention that whilst Chinn grabbed the headlines for “that goal”, Baird’s performance had been outstanding and when the Bison had looked shaky, Joe remained unshaken. Not only did I manage to briefly hijack the show down that route but someone (who shall remain nameless…unless you dig out the podcast recording) who readily admitted they didn’t like him as a player was forced to admit the quality of Joe’s play on that day was brilliant.

Everyone will talk about Joe’s goal in the final and rightly so; the habit he has of scoring in big finals for Basingstoke is an interesting anomaly and it was a much needed goal but that semi final stands out for me as a performance that should be talked about but probably won’t.

It’s the curse of the way Joe plays the game in some ways. Permanently solid, low risk, low fuss and thus he doesn’t stand out. Your eyes are drawn to the booming(ish) shot and size of Vantroba or the versatility and quality of Reynolds. Joe Baird has really good positioning, hits well and plays really good outlet passes from the zone and thus doesn’t get the plaudits, not that he really cares.

Some argued that he takes unneeded penalties at times, there’s probably an argument to be made there as he didn’t get 140 penalty minutes by fighting. The joke for many was if Joe would get a hooking call but when. It’s true as well that Joe’s not the fastest guy out there and occasionally, you tug a guy back and you get called. Sometimes you don’t. It will be interesting to see whether his penalty minutes go up or down across this coming campaign. He certainly won’t be used for fighting if needed (hi Matt Selby) and we await how the officials will decide to call borderline checks.

I kind of understand why people who watch Joe Baird on another team don’t like him. He’s a veteran who plays with a bit of an edge and will do what needs to be done to get an advantage. The benefit of a season of watching him helped my appreciation of him grow from “he’s a role player” to “he’s a needed player”. It’s all well and good saying teams need veteran presence (they do) but Joe’s actually a really good defenceman. People won’t like how he plays, people may not even notice he is there at times. All that means is he’s doing his job well. However I do recommend one game where you pay extra attention to him for all the little things that he does. It’s an education in itself.

Welcome back, Joe; all clutch goals are greatly received.

Building the Herd – Grant Rounding

#?? Grant Rounding

Position: Forward

Born: Johannesburg, South Africa

Announced as signed: Bison website, 11th June

New Bison signing Grant Rounding (#26) tries to slot the puck past his now teammate Dean Skinns. (c) 5 Hole Photography

New Bison signing Grant Rounding (#26) tries to slot the puck past his now teammate Dean Skinns.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

A week long promise came to fruition late last night as Doug Sheppard announced the first new member of the Bison roster for 2014/15 was the capture of Grant Rounding from local rivals, the Bracknell Bees.

When asked for comment on his signing, Rounding said “I can’t wait to play for my hometown club who I grew up watching and being a mascot for!”

South African born Rounding, 23 has almost been part of the furniture at Bracknell since moving to the club after starting his junior career in Basingstoke.

Grant progressed well through the various levels at the Hive going a point per game with the under 16 Stingers in 2005/06 before progressing to join the Drones, Bracknell’s under 19 (now under 18) side as well as making his ENL debut with the Hornets in the 2006/07 campaign. After two seasons of excelling and going over a point per game with the Drones, Grant joined the Hornets full time for the 2008/09 season and kept up a point per game pace with 22 points in 20 games in his first full season of senior hockey. His 2009/10 season wasn’t as productive with 8 points in 16 games but he saw a resurgence in 2010/11 where he returned to a point per game pace at the ENL and he made his EPL debut for the Bees scoring 1 goal and 1 assist from the 20 contests he dressed in.

Grant moved away from the Hive for 2011/12 season, joining the Isle of Wight Raiders. Originally paired with now Bison team mate Joe Rand, the impressive Rounding kept up his high scoring rate in the ENL and had 16 points from 16 games before injury curtailed his season.

After his rehab was complete, Rounding re-signed in Bracknell with the Hornets but was quickly thrust into the action at EPL level with the Bees. An injury to Oli Bronnimann forced then Bracknell coach Gareth Cox into calling up Rounding and his impressive performances saw him stay with the Bees for the remainder of the season scoring 3 goals and 6 assists in 49 games.

Grant was rewarded for his efforts with a full time Bees contract for 2013/14 and had an impressive season scoring 11 goals and 19 points in 52 games including the penalty shot winner for the Bees in Basingstoke back in November.

Novelty factor of having signed a South African aside (don’t worry folks, he’s EIHA trained remember), the signing of Rounding is a helpful addition to the Bison roster. The Bison thrived last season on the depth of the squad and being able to score goals across the lines and Rounding will certainly help there. 11 goals from last season playing on a combination of Bracknell’s 2nd and 3rd lines also speaks to Grant’s flexibility as to where he can be used by Sheppard. He’s able to play that checking line role when it is needed but if the lines need shuffling then he is more than capable of being on a scoring line when needed. If nothing else, that addition of another good penalty shot shooter to the team (go back and watch his game winning shot on YouTube) is never a bad thing to have.

Grant’s other big weapon in his arsenal is his speed. Able to get from one end of the ice to the other quickly as well as cause a headache for bigger, slower defenceman, this worked well for him when paired alongside Chris Wiggins and James Galazzi on the Bees’ third line last year. It was a line for the Bees that wasn’t afraid to mix it up and benefitted from having that extra added dimension Rounding brings to a line that is big on size and checking ability. It turned a grind line into a more potent offensive threat.

That speed offers other options for the Bison as well. Whilst the Herd are likely to not change much in terms of what plan A will be, a plan B that could include a true speed line of something like Rand or Karpov centring Melachrino and Rounding gives Doug Sheppard options when teams might be playing a gameplan that effectively counteracts what the Bison normally try to do. Rounding obviously isn’t the biggest of guys (his stats list him as 5’7” which makes him shorter than me!) but he can physically hold his own so it is unlikely that Coach Sheppard would be adverse to linematching him with encounters against large, physical defencemen.

The structure of the Bison forward lines is starting to take more shape as Rounding is the 8th forward announced. The club haven’t said how many forwards they intend to run nor do we know the likelihood of returns for Ciaran Long or Joe Greener as of yet so I’ll withhold judgement of who Rounding plays alongside until we know the full line up of forwards but I have to think some time regularly alongside Joe Rand and Nicky Chinn is both likely and beneficial for Rounding. If nothing else, Chinn feeding the puck to Grant will likely up his stats to the 15 goals that Sheppard is predicting for him.

Sheppard has signed a decent, young forward on the upswing and feels that Grant is worthy on a spot on what is a very established roster to replace a part lost in the off season. Some might argue that this isn’t a big name signing that maybe they felt was coming given the build up Sheppard gave it last week at Season Ticket Night but Rounding is a legitimate EPL talent that will make an impression. We get to watch him week in, week out now. Prepare to be surprised.

Welcome back to Basingstoke, Grant. No biltong jokes, I promise.

Goodnight and Good Luck – Connor Standing

Ahead of the promised new face to be added to the Bison roster tomorrow, the team say farewell to one of last season’s team with the news that backup netminder Connor Standing will not be returning for 2014/15

(c) 5 Hole Photography

(c) 5 Hole Photography

What have we lost?

With Connor’s departure, the Bison lose a good netminding prospect. It’s the toughest job in the world being a backup netminder and his ice time was certainly limited but in his time with the Bison he has had the opportunity to train alongside some good netminders including Stevie Lyle who of course started for Great Britain whilst in Basingstoke. Connor is reportedly a sponge when it comes to his training and takes it seriously so now he has the opportunity to put those skills learned into better practice, Doug Sheppard will no doubt be keeping an eye on things.

Where has he gone?

At the moment we don’t know bar to be a starter at an NIHL 1 South team. Given the departure of Christian Cole to the Wightlink Raiders, rumours already abound that Connor will sign for the Solent and Gosport Devils but that is unconfirmed at this time. Neither Bracknell nor Oxford have announced netminders and they would all be options as well.

Who replaces him?

At the moment, nobody though it will be interesting to see where Sheppard goes on this one. Manchester have recently announced their netminding duo for the upcoming season as Stephen Fone and Declan Ryan who are both EPL quality starting netminders. There are pros and cons to having a 1a/1b goalie duo which we won’t debate here and now but whether Sheppard goes for such a combination or wants Skinns to carry the majority of the workload and sign an up and coming prospect to be backup is a question as yet unanswered. I’d venture the later over the former but you never know.

Final thoughts:

I’ve mentioned a couple of times that probably the only thing I’ll grumble about over the course of last season was that somehow we couldn’t find a way to give Connor a single second of ice time. I understand that Dean Skinns wanted to prove a point and he did that in spades. Given the nature of some criticism that was thrown his way when he returned I don’t blame him but there were definitely situations where Sheppard could have found 5 minutes for a developing netminder and not have caused any issue.

That gripe out of the way, I don’t think there’s many of us that will disagree that this is a good move for Connor wherever he is going. If he’s going to become a starter at NIHL 1 level then he is going to be facing some decent quality shooters (his former team mate Jaroslav Cesky for one who has joined the Isle of Wight for one) and get good ice time in a league with teams with a variety of game plans.

It will be a change of pace for him, if as expected he signs for a mid to lower end side, as he will be facing a ton of rubber after essentially 2 seasons cold but this is the point. It’s time to put some of that training alongside EPL all star netminders and shots from EPL all star defenders and forwards in warmups into game time situations and I for one, wish him all the best in the new challenge.

Enjoy yourself, Connor. We’ll all be keeping an eye out.


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