Basingstoke Bison 5-1 Telford Tigers
Karpov Salem (pp)
Beware of flying bears: The Bison headed into the game minus Zach Sullivan who is on international duty with the GB under 20s which saw Michael Wales switch to playing on defence for the Herd. The Tigers also lost Danny Rose to international duty and Marcus Maynard was a scratch due to injury as well as the recently released James Preece.
The Bison went on the attack right away; a Joe Baird pointshot was tipped in front but Sam Gospel made the save. Miller and Sheppard were also sprung with a 2 on 1 breakaway but rather than make the pass, Miller tried to make a move and shoot himself but ran out of room and Gospel net was breached but not for long. Danny Ingoldsby fired the pass to Joe Greener in a mile of space, Greener’s shot was saved by Gospel but Karpov was on hand to poke the rebound into the net at 05:04 as a shower of teddy bears rained down onto the Basingstoke Arena ice to celebrate the goal and Ingoldsby’s first EPL point.
The Bison kept their foot on the gas but still had to fend off the Tigers attacks, Adam Walker coming close after he redirected Timo Kuuluvainen’s shot but the visitors were quickly undone when Miika Kiviranta was called for hooking which sent the Bison to the powerplay. It took the Bison just 14 seconds to double their lead as Joe Baird’s pointshot was put past Gospel by Doug Sheppard at 08:32.
Sadly for Telford fans, the Tigers just weren’t learning from their mistakes and Michal Pavlu picked up an interference penalty that allowed the Bison to make it 3-0 just after the halfway mark of the period. The Herd worked the puck around, created the space then sent it back to the point to allow Miroslav Vantroba to fire a blast past Gospel thanks to Joe Rand’s screen at 10:05. Tom Watkins called a timeout in attempt to steady the reeling Tigers who responded well and played better for the rest of the period.
That said, it was the Bison who were playing better. Aaron Connolly had a great chance when he sped past the Tigers defence to race in on Gospel only to lack that final touch to add the Bison’s fourth goal.
Former Bison James Smith picked up a hooking call to give the Herd their 3rd powerplay of the period but it didn’t click as well as the previous two. The passes weren’t as crisp and the best chance with half a net to fire into was denied when Gospel made the best save of the night when he dived post to post to keep the puck out of the net to stop what looked like a certain goal. The period ended with the Bison deservedly in front.
The second frame didn’t start well for the Tigers. James Pease was caught out behind the Tigers’ net by Tomas Karpov. The Czech forward put the puck into the slot for Andy Melachrino steaming in but the one time shot was saved by Gospel to save Pease’s blushes.
The Bison then seemed to fall back to type and made hard work of the second period as they got themselves into quick penalty trouble with two infractions in quick succession. Connolly was called for delay of the game as he fired the puck out of play from his own zone and the Tigers were handed 15 seconds of 5 on 3 powerplay when Joe Miller was called for hooking. The Herd killed Connolly’s penalty but succumb during the second penalty kill, the puck batted out of the air past Dean Skinns by Nathan Salem at 26:20. Joe Greener tried to argue that there had been a high stick on the play but neither Mr Hogarth or Mr Hicks were swayed by his arguments.
The Tigers were in the ascendency, even as they gave up another powerplay thanks to a slashing call on James Pease. The Bison powerplay looked lost at sea and gave up two quick shorthanded breaks to the Tigers but good defensive plays by Vantroba and Baird managed to bail the Bison out of the mess they had put themselves in. Timo Kuuluvainen came close as well as he was fed the puck from behind the net but Dean Skinns was able to make the save.
The Bison topline of Sheppard, Miller and Greener were working hard during the game and the final touch finally came at the moment the Herd really needed it. As they swarmed the net, Joe Miller took the puck behind the red line. He tried to feed Joe Greener for the one timer but the Bison assistant coach scuffed the shot and the puck found its way back to Miller who looked up and fired the puck off of the back of Gospel into the net to make it 4-1 to the Bison at 33:59.
Bison skipper Nicky Chinn managed to get into an argument with the officials close to the end of the period. As he tangled with Nathan Salem, Chinn thought a penalty would be incoming and when it wasn’t he proceeded to slash Salem’s stick out of his hands. The Tigers couldn’t take advantage and Pease was called for tripping just under a minute into the Tigers powerplay. The extra space provided by the 4 on 4 played into the Bison’s hands. Kurt Reynolds managed to spring a 2 on 1, fired the puck to Andy Melachrino whose laser guided wrist shot nestled into the top of the net past a diving Gospel at 39:28. The period ended and so did Gospel’s night as he was replaced by Declan Ryan for the final frame.
The Bison started the period with powerplay time and were quickly returned to the man advantage when Kiviranta was called for slashing but there was no way past Ryan in the net.
The chances bounced backwards and forwards as the Tigers looked for a spark and the Bison just seemed to want to play patient hockey, protect their lead and strike when opportunities arose. Jaroslav Kruzik hammered a shot that Dean Skinns was equal to and Tomas Karpov had one of his trademark dances around the defence stopped by Ryan.
Danny Ingoldsby got a rise out of crowd when he checked James Smith near the benches. Smith got up and tried to take a run at the Bison youngster but the Scotsman was quickly sat back down by the young forward which had the home fans roar their approval.
The teams traded penalties, Taylor for tripping and Vantroba taking a necessary penalty as he tripped Kuuluvainen to stop a breakaway but the chances started becoming fewer and far between as the period ran down.
Sections of the crowd started chanting, wanting an appearance by Tigers’ enforcer Owen Bennett and were granted their wish but the most Bennett managed to do was be checked by Ingoldsby and Melachrino.
The final buzzer sounded on a night that got the Bison two important points and more importantly, a lot of cuddly toys for the kids at Naomi House.
Keeping focus: Last night could have been a game where the Bison ended up getting caught up in some of the recent issues off ice between the two clubs. Instead both sides were professional on the ice to the ultimate degree and it was a decent hockey game that was played out without much incident. The better team won.
Doug Sheppard got the man of the match beers and it’s hard to argue with it on reflection. Sheppard’s not been the team’s star performer over the course of the season so far, at times looking like he has been struggling for form, but last night was probably Sheppard’s best performance of the season that we’ve seen so far. It was a case of Sheppard playing his game but his hard work was creating the space he needed to be that more creative than he’s had a chance to be recently and that showed last night. His line with Greener and Miller dug out that 4th goal in the second period that helped stem the tide during what I’ll call “the second period sleep” the Bison seem to have. With the Bison playing very flat, the coach stepped up and helped drag the team through.
Kurt Reynolds had another great night on the blueline which was important with the absence of the in form Sullivan. The entire blueline corps, bolstered by Michael Wales had a few wobbly moments but were solid all night and did a good job of shutting down the Tigers offence. Many who have never seen Wales play on defence were pleasantly surprised by just how comfortable he looked on the blueline.
We also have to tip the hat to Danny Ingoldsby on his first EPL point. The 4th line don’t normally get many shifts but with the move to defence for Wales, Ingoldsby and Wynn were given more shifts and didn’t look out of place when they did. The arguments that Wynn needs to bulk up and Ingoldsby needs seasoning have some weight to them but they seem to be able to do that at an EPL level so hopefully that will continue. Stuart Mogg and Carl Graham are now the only two outskaters active on the Bison roster without a point.
The Herd weren’t massively tested last night but didn’t take their opponents lightly into the bargain as they did against Bracknell a few weeks ago. They played their game and when the Bison play their game they are a tough task to defeat in the EPL.
A word on our opponents: Whilst the recent signings have the Tigers fanbase rightly in a good mood, last night’s performance will not please Tom Watkins and the Telford coaching staff. They took too many penalties, didn’t do well on the penalty kill in the first when they gave them away and lacked attacking dynamism when going forward.
Timo Kuuluvainen rightly got man of the match because at times he felt like the sum of the Tigers’ offensive threat at times. He was the side’s most dangerous player on the night when it felt some of the other top 6 players for the visitors didn’t seem to hit their stride. His speed and handling made him a constant threat so it wasn’t a shock to see him awarded the beers.
I felt sorry for Sam Gospel mainly because (after I’d finally realised he had been pulled) I didn’t think he was playing badly. Yes he had allowed 5 goals but many were due to getting no help from his defence. Screened twice on two powerplay goals, a goal banked off of his back, a huge two on one breakaway given up. I’m sure there was a logic behind swapping Gospel for Ryan but I’m not sure the young Nottingham man’s performance warranted it.
The bigger game for the Tigers this weekend is tonight against Bracknell which is a must win in terms of the picture for the final playoff spot. The Tigers need to just put this game to one side, regroup and go again.
Lowlight of the night: Whilst I appreciate some find it fun chanting for Bennett, when the team is 5-1 up in the final minute don’t cheer for the other team’s token “enforcer”, cheer for the team!
Highlight of the night: Melachrino’s goal, utter beauty of a strike.
Well, November is over. Which means that we’ve been in mourning for the glorious Movember ‘taches that at least half the team managed. They will live on in our hearts though, and in the hundreds of pictures we took so that we could properly evaluate their mo-growing abilities.
The Telford Tigers are causing waves in British hockey at the moment, especially within the EPL but in his hotel room in Liverpool, new owner Wayne Scholes is in buoyant mood; “I think we’re having a great time. I think we’ve injected a bit of enthusiasm and excitement into ice hockey. I think that’s always a good thing when you can add something to a league that’s done well but has its challenges. I think that if you can add something when you join or get involved with a league then I think that’s always a positive thing. And honestly it’s a sport so it’s supposed to be fun.”
It’s a theme that permeates our conversation, the idea that sport should be fun and to be fun it needs to be competitive. Scholes believes that a way to improve that is improving the fortunes of his home town team.
They needed the help and honestly it was difficult to look at the standings and see Telford so low. It was difficult, I didn’t enjoy it and I sat there and I talked to the guys at the office and I said “you know I think there’s something we can do. I think we can help these guys”. I had a conversation with Mike Washburn who was the chairman (of Tiger Tracks) at the time and Paul Thomason, I had a look at the business, had a look at the numbers and said “I think we can make this a profitable business. I think we can do it in a way that gives you an opportunity to be competitive in the league and I think that any time you can add competition to a league, that’s kind of the point. That’s why we have leagues, it’s why we have competitive teams and I said we can make this a more competitive league and any time you have a more competitive league you have a more fun game and the more fun games you have the bigger the crowds you have and the bigger the crowds you have the better for every team and that’s something we’re focussing on right now is adding more competition to the league.
The timing of Scholes, the owner of Utah based Red Touch Media, getting involved in the Tigers again dated back to a phone conversation with Tigers manager Paul Thomason when the club were looking for a financial boost;
Paul Thomason called me and said “hey now would be a really good time” so said “OK let’s sit down and meet” and we sat down and had a good long conversation about the history of the club over the last 5 years. I’ve got a number of businesses that I run, I spend a lot of time travelling so I focus on my family a lot in my spare time but it just happened that he called and said “Now would be a really good time, you still have a passion for the Tigers. We could use some help.”
So we sat down and had a really good chat and a good discussion about what their vision for their style of play was with Tom and what excited me was they really had a vision for kids. They really wanted to see the youth get developed, they really wanted to give the young players a chance to excel and to do that, the one thing that was stopping them was some experience in the team. They’ve got a couple of great players, you know people like Scott McKenzie have done wonders but they needed some other players and so we had that conversation and in the end I said “look we’ll happily help you as a sponsor, that’s not a problem, we can help you out with that” so we put some money in as a sponsor and it kind of reignited a bit of a flame you know?
It was that involvement that drew Scholes back to the rink where he now famously spent time as the Tigers stickboy during the heyday of the Tigers when players like Chuck Taylor and Bison legend Kevin Conway represented the Shropshire side.
It was interesting to go back to Telford Ice Rink and go back to where I grew up and it’s not that I don’t visit Telford I just hadn’t been to an ice hockey game in a while. I always sort of kept in touch with it but being back reignited a bit of a passion, seeing the game and the players just made me remember the days when I was a terrible, terrible hockey player. I was shockingly poor. I would never have been good enough to make the team but I just loved skating and I thought “you know maybe now’s a good time.”
Scholes however doesn’t see himself as being another Neil Black character at the moment; one thing I’ve learned in business is never say never. It’s silly to say that if an opportunity came up that you wouldn’t ever go for it. That said it’s not on the cards now, I mean right now my only focus is the Tigers. I want to build them in to the most successful team and want to do it relatively quickly. So the only focus I’ve got right now is Telford.
Scholes is an engaging person to speak to, there’s no denying that as you listen to him speak about what he wants to achieve with the Tigers. For a long time the Tigers were seen as an organisation that many people had admiration for, part of which we both agreed was down to the coaching style of Tom Watkins.
That’s one of the reasons Telford’s always been a well liked team and one of the reasons I think it’s ironic that so many people are angry with Telford. It’s very easy to go from being the most loved team in the league to being the villain, I find that amusing. But that hard working ethic and it’s very important for us that the players we bring in are hard workers. Apart from anything else I like to work hard myself so I can respect people who work hard. I have a tough time with people who coast.
Eventually the conversation turns to the topic on everyone’s mind; call it poaching, call it tapping up, it’s been the hot topic of conversation in British hockey for a number of weeks since the announcement of Joe Miller’s signing from the Bison. From his tone of voice, Scholes has clearly thought about the answer. He knows this question has been coming and initially he sounds prepared.
Honestly I think it might be the most ridiculous response I’ve ever seen because I can’t work out what for love nor money that we’re doing wrong. We’ve broken no rules in the league, we have never broken a rule in the league. I’ve looked, there’s nothing that we’ve done that’s not in the rule book so I can’t for love nor money imagine why two clubs would react in that way and be petulant and in the same way that the teams have followed the rules themselves. I sort of go OK, I don’t know what to say other than “well that’s strange, it’s good for one to follow the rules but it’s not good for the other one?” I don’t get it. Look for me, I’m a businessman and we do things by the book and follow the rules. It’s up to the league to change the rules.
It’s a storm in a teacup he says then he stops and sighs before changing tack. Look do you want my honest opinion? Of course, I say. My honest opinion is that so many people have had all the toys to themselves for the last 10 years and all of a sudden they’ve got to share the toys and they’re throwing a tantrum and I find it embarrassing. I mean honestly if I were them, I’d be embarrassed.
There’s a pause and I interrupt; “errr Wayne, can I quote you on that?” I say wondering if he’ll suddenly stop and backtrack on what is a pretty strong statement. He carries on undeterred; of course you can! Look I’m always going to be honest with you. I’m not a guy that’s going to lie or that’s going to do the PR thing. If I were in their shoes reacting the way that some people are, I’d be embarrassed.
It’s at that point that Scholes throws out a real curveball into proceedings.
You know I’ve had 3 death threats in the last 2 weeks. It’s bizarre, I look at that and go “really?” I mean we’re talking about a sport. The whole point of sport is competition, that’s why we have x team vs x team, it’s competition. Well if a league becomes non-competitive because the same team wins it every year or because the same top 4 teams win it every year or the same top 4 teams have all the best players, how is that a league? How is that competitive? How is that a sport? That’s not a sport, that’s a practice league. I was under the impression that this was a competitive league and I know that’s how the league management see it and honestly I like the league management. I think they’ve done a great job of building a sport that’s gone through some really tough times, through lots of reasons.
Despite criticism from many sections of British hockey, he is glowing in his praise of those who run the EPL; I just think they’ve done a good job in the league and I have a lot of respect for Ken Taggart and the management of the league. I really admire what they’ve been able to accomplish so for me, the league is about sport, it’s about competition. The idea that other teams would get frustrated or angry and then vent in public is astonishing to me as a businessman, as a person, I don’t get it. I can’t understand coming out and screaming and shouting about another team. It’s a sport! I don’t understand it. I can’t imagine that I would ever do that. I don’t see a reason to become emotionally unravelled in public. I just don’t get it.
Whatever your view on how Telford acquired their recent signings, Dan Scott will join Telford in 2 weeks and Miller leaves Basingstoke for Telford to start 1st January. Scholes is clearly delighted with the Tigers’ latest additions.
I hear it from fans all the time, other fans get kind of angry and they think there’s some clandestine plan to destroy other teams and I’m like “you know what dude, I just want a competitive team.” It’s as simple as that. So what do you do if you want a competitive team? Well you look at the league and you look at the good players and you talk to the coach and you say “who do you want? Who is going to make this the team that you want it to be?” It’s not just about picking random people. It just happens that we’re very fortunate that both Joe and Dan have played at Telford and they both enjoyed it here and they both happen to fit the style of play that Tom and Paul Thomason really want to put into effect for the long term future of Telford and I think that made it a very easy decision to look at those players so for us it was an easy decision and of course if you find that players have an interest in playing in your team then, great.
We’ve been very clear about our vision of what we want to do in Telford. It is about building a very strong plan in Telford for the future. It’s not about hoping it works this year then next year see what happens. Every deal has to be good for the players, good for the team and good for the league and if it’s not then we don’t want to do it. We only do things that are good for everybody involved. I look at players like Joe, he is a great leader. Joe is someone who brings a very level head, a very mature outlook on the play. You can out him on the ice and nothing phases him. He doesn’t get wound up easily, he’s a mature player who you know is going to get a knock here and a knock there and he’s not going to retaliate. He’s a guy who’s got a level head. He knows the right time to do something and the right time to walk away and I think that’s critical on a team like ours where we’ve got a team with a lot of young players who are looking to people to teach them what to do and when to do it and lead by example and that’s Joe. He is a fabulous addition to the team.
Then you look at Dan, gosh I love watching Dan play. He’s a very intelligent player. He’s one of those players that gets his head in the game. He really sees five steps ahead and I think when you’re talking about having the right kind of defence, you need players that read the game incredibly well and that’s Dan and despite his age, you know he’s not an old player he’s a young guy but he absolutely doesn’t have that head. He plays 5 years ahead of his age. He’s just an intelligent player and I think that’s something we’ve certainly looked for. Joe is another intelligent player. We are looking to add smart players, people who can play a strategy, people who can manage their own thoughts on the ice rather than being told and dictated to and that fits with Tom’s strategy because Tom’s very much a coach who likes to give players some autonomy. He’s going to give them a strategy and then get them to implement it and of course he’s a coach who’s going to pull them back if he needs to but he’s very much a coach who wants to let the players play so it fits well to have those two players in no question.
Despite his views on the new signings, Scholes was quick to point out that he’s not about to get heavily involved with on ice activities; I’m probably one of the worst owners ever because I don’t tell Tom anything. I don’t tell him what to do, I don’t tell him what players to get. I simply expect one thing, dedication…well two things; dedication coupled with hard work. I think you’ve got to give a coach time to do what they can and I think right now this is Tom’s real first opportunity to have the players he wants… Am I disappointed when Telford lose? Yeah, I am definitely one of the first people to tweet my disappointment if we lose but the bottom line is Tom’s the coach. I’m not the coach, Tom is and I trust him so I have to let him get on with it.
My personal belief this year is we’ll make the playoffs and the great thing about the playoffs is that anything can happen in a playoff he says laying out his goals for the rest of this campaign. My personal expectations as a fan are I desperately want to see us in the playoffs. I really do. I believe, I do but I don’t put any pressure on Tom, I don’t need to. He’s a fabulous coach and I need to give him the support to do what he wants to do.
Whilst very excited about the future, the past is very much on Scholes’ mind with regards to the Tigers and he was quick to praise the previous fan trust leadership.
One of my favourite things about Telford is when you go through so much adversity, so many struggles, you become very bonded as a team. You’ve only got to look at what a great job the trust did; people like Rita Mackriel and Mike Washburn and Richard Marshall and Paul and Jill Thomason and all the people I could list who put so much in, they did so much in terms of building the right mentality. It’s a wonderful thing to watch. These people are so dedicated and so invested in the team. If they hadn’t done what they did, formed the trust there would be no Telford Tigers and I wouldn’t be here funding it now to make it a competitive team. I think that shows the power of fans. As much as I find some of the comments distasteful from fans who get pretty personal, it’s the passion of the fans that I like. Once everyone realises that the competition we’re adding to the league is healthy and it all dies down we’ll get back to how things were and back to being that group of fans that other sports in this country wished they had. That’s one of my favourite things about hockey in Britain.
Our conversation draws to a close but not before I can resist asking Scholes if he’s been giving any business tips to the Tigers’ current stickboy. He laughs, confessing that he’s not had that question asked of him before. I’m looking at our equipment manager and I think “poor bloke, that’s so not cool, we really need to get him some help. Why is he carrying everything?” Then I look at the players and think “why can’t they carry their own sticks? What’s wrong with them? Get your own water!” Our stickboy probably has a bigger budget than any other in the league because I empathise. I can’t imagine saying no to him.
The call ends and I sit back, taking a moment to quickly process the last 30 minutes. The newest owner in the EPL is clearly not shy of any controversy that he may cause or feathers he may ruffle of those he considers have had their way for too long. He is a man with a goal in mind and the means to achieve it. The question remains as to how the rest of the league will respond, both on and off the ice, to the Tigers’ ever increasing roar.
Basingstoke Bison 6-4 Guildford Flames
Vantroba Longstaff x 2
Karpov Kohut (says the gamesheet)
Put that fire out: The Bison headed into the game at full strength whereas the Flames were without long term absentees Curtis Huppe and Jez Lundin as well as Rick Skene and Marcus Kristoffersson so iced only 3 imports.
The first major incident was a Bison bench minor penalty that had crowd angry from the get go as someone from the Bison bench was adjudged to have grabbed at Branislav Kvetan. As it happened right in front of me (the bonus of sitting by the bench I suppose), I didn’t see a hold from the Bison bench, I did see Kvetan throw a punch. The logical thing from my mind would have been to put one of each side in the box but apparently not. The Bison managed to kill the early penalty after some good shots from the Flames.
At five on five, the Bison were having the better of the play and the better chances, Tomas Karpov dancing around his man tried to set up Michael Wales but the former Slough man couldn’t connect with Karpov’s pass.
The Flames were having chances but the Bison were coming more and more into the game and thought they had taken the lead just before the half way point of the period; Joe Miller beat James Hadfield in a race to the puck as the two fell together in a heap but Mr Cloutman quickly waved the goal off as having been kicked in again making the home crowd irate.
The Flames were sent back to the powerplay when Andy Melachrino was called for slashing but the Bison killed the penalty off and set right back to the attack. Melachrino digging at a loose puck in front of Hadfield which drew a crowd, Karpov had a shot from the slot that rang off the crossbar and it felt like it would be another night of multiple Bison chances with no joy before Joe Greener took the zone, passed to Joe Miller and the Welshman snapped a wrist shot past Hadfield at 16:30 to give the Bison a deserved lead. Miller celebrated by kicking the air, a clear indication of what he thought of his disallowed goal.
Then out of nowhere it was 2-0. The Bison kept the pressure on, worked the puck back to Vantroba who blasted through the screen provided by Rand at 17:40 to double the advantage. Almost straight away Neil Liddiard was called for holding and then it was 3-0 as Karpov fired past Hadfield from the slot at 18:04. The Herd had 3 goals in 94 seconds and ended the period with their tails up.
The second period didn’t start any better for James Hadfield as almost straight away it was 4-0 to the Bison. With the Herd pressing, Hadfield made the save from the initial Joe Miller shot but the puck rebounded out to Zach Sullivan who shot and Joe Greener was on hand to direct the puck into the net at 21:26. For some reason Hadfield was left out for another shift before he was swapped for Mark Lee at 22:07, ending his night with 4 goals allowed on 12 shots.
The Bison kept pressing; another great bit of play from Melachrino and Karpov to feed Wales whose redirect went over, Cameron Wynn had a shot in space saved by Lee and Joe Baird fired a puck off the base of the post but the next word would go to the Flames.
With Baird having been called for slashing, the Flames powerplay set to work and was rewarded for its efforts when Tom Duggan fired past Skinns at 29:41, 2 seconds from the end of the penalty.
The game became quite scrappy after this point as the Bison seemed to revert to the usual pattern of having issues in the second period, some of the play of one line forcing Joe Greener into yelling at the top of his lungs at the Bison bench.
The Flames clawed themselves back into the game further a few minutes later; Zach Sullivan iced the puck at the end of a long shift bringing the faceoff into the Bison zone. Off the faceoff, the Flames worked quickly and the shot from Kvetan bounced to an unmarked David Longstaff at the back post who had one of the easier tap ins of his career at 34:20.
The Bison had a powerplay opportunity after Kvetan was called for illegal equipment having tried to play the puck without his helmet after Aaron Connolly had draped himself over Kvetan whilst going around him but the Flames pk unit held firm.
Then, when things appeared to be getting dicey, the crowd were treated to a bit of a special goal. Despite initially being given to Tomas Karpov, Andy Melachrino picked up the puck, sped down his left wing, rounded the back of the net and fired off a shot that beat Mark Lee over the shoulder short side at 38:14 to make it 5-2 to the hosts.
The third period started relatively evenly before a slick passing move from the Flames made the game a bit tighter once again. Zach Sullivan felt he was being impeded behind the net but it was pass, pass and right onto the stick of Milos Melicherik who fired past Skinns with a lovely one time shot. It was announced as Kvetan, on the gamesheet as Kohut and both of them were incorrect. What wasn’t missed was a frustrated Sullivan having an angry conversation with Mr Cloutman then slamming his stick against the boards as he skated off.
The game was on edge for a while. The Flames were sent back to the powerplay when Aaron Connolly cleared the puck straight out of play from his own zone but powerplay and penalty kill units were evenly matched and with a faceoff in the Flames zone, called their timeout at 49:29 but nothing came of Sheppard’s set play when Karpov lost the faceoff.
The Flames had a good chance when Ben Campbell got the other side of Zach Sullivan but Dean Skinns was equal to the shot. The Bison had a powerplay when Andy Hemmings hit Carl Graham late after the play but again the Flames penalty killing unit stood firm.
The Bison nearly put themselves into a hole as time was wining down. Kohut and Graham tangled and fell with Kohut standing up and skating off with Graham’s stick. Without his stick, Graham stuck with the play and followed it behind the net where he hit Rick Plant from behind into the boards. It was called 2+10 as a check from behind but many felt Graham was lucky not to have gotten more for the infraction.
Again the Flames struck at the end of the powerplay; a great bit of play by Rick Plant to remove Sullivan from the play left the puck for Longstaff all alone in front of the net to pot past Skinns at 58:15 for the powerplay marker.
Comedy quickly ensued. With the score at 5-4 the Flames players were at the bench discussing tactics with the Bison waiting at centre ice. Having not called a timeout, Mr Cloutman got impatient, signalled he was going to drop the puck, waited till at least 5 Flames outskaters were on the ice and dropped the puck with none of them within a couple of feet of the centre dot.
The Bison went back to work and an awkward bounce off of the boards put the puck to Aaron Connolly who fired past an out of position Mark Lee at 58:57 to make it 6-4 and that finished off the game for the Bison. The final buzzer sounded and the home crowd was sent home happy for another week.
Made to work for it: It was another interesting second period for the Bison but all in all they were the better team on the night and it was helped by that early dominance and outburst of goals whilst in the ascendency. The Bison were helped by circumstances to a degree; facing a side with 3 imports and only icing 4 defencemen (more on that in a bit) always bodes well but a team with Guildford’s depth can never be taken lightly even and they weren’t.
Tomas Karpov got man of the match for a performance where he showed just how much of the creative heart of the team he is. He looked continually sharp and his stickhandling, particularly at speed is just phenomenal to watch. The entire line of Karpov, Andy Melachrino and Michael Wales caused issues for the Flames all night using a very simple formula that has worked for teams for ages; Wales clears the way to make space for the faster, more creatively minded players in Melachrino and Karpov to do damage. Dear Doug Sheppard, please don’t change this line for a bit.
Joe Greener was probably the other likely candidate for the beers; a 1+3 performance in what was one of his better games in the last couple of weeks. Bounces haven’t gone his way and his scoring form had been lacking but he was in all the right places last night.
The Bison’s indiscipline at times will have infuriated the fans and Carl Graham chose the worst time to check Rick Plant face first into the boards but again the Bison seem to get away with these things at times. You have to be good to be lucky they say.
Apart from the odd wobble, this was another good team performance from the Herd. They raced out to a lead, were rocked by the Flames on the comeback but held firm and took two deserved points from the encounter. A day off this Sunday gives the team a chance to enjoy their success and plan for next Saturday’s somewhat unusual encounter with Telford.
A word on our opponents: I’ll give the Flames credit where it’s due; shipping 4 goals early resulting in James Hadfield getting pulled and they regrouped and kept going. They didn’t play well enough to win but it takes a team of quality to keep going in those circumstances rather than just shut up shop and hope for the end. There were however some bizarre decisions made by the Flames last night.
A team a defenceman short with Lundin and Skene out and Chris Cooke saw no ice time. He even saw no ice time when Dixon had to return to the dressing room to fix an equipment issue. It was baffling and judging by the responses of some Flames fans, I’m not the only one.
The other big error came with that uncontested face off at the end. Jokes about getting onto the ice on time from Bavy aside (and seriously, how hard is it to skate onto the ice for the start of the game) but all Dixon had to do there was take the time out and that entire mess goes away. Instead they try to do what they wanted, annoyed the referee, Bison get an uncontested faceoff and immediately put the pressure on so a chance for 5-5 becomes, along with a lucky bounce off the boards, 6-4.
Rick Plant was a good choice for the Flames man of the match; he played hard, worked hard and was the best Flames player on the ice. His 0+3 performance was probably worthy of a goal and hopefully he’s ok after being driven face first into the boards.
The Flames however were second best on the night and most of the reaction from Guildford fans seems to agree with that. They didn’t start well and didn’t end well and it cost them.
The game tonight at The Spectrum between the Flames, coming off a disappointing loss and Milton Keynes who lost at home to Telford should be an interesting game for any neutrals who might be swinging by.
Lowlight of the night: Letting the Flames have a glimmer of hope when the Herd should have closed the game out earlier.
Highlight of the night: Andy Melachrino’s goal was very pretty.
So Anthony, you’re doing one of “these” blogs are you?
Yes, strange disembodied voice on the blog, I am doing one of those blogs.
And we’re just ignoring you totally stealing the hashtag from the Doctor Who 50th anniversary for the title, right?
For a disembodied voice, you’re a bit chatty aren’t you?
There’s been some very heated discussion recently after Deeside Dragons forward Shaun Kippin published his thoughts which included some minor and some very radical changes. I don’t agree with Shaun on some of the practicalities of what he’s suggested but I admire his attempts to produce a coherent strain of thoughts as to what could be done. It’s more than some of those in the higher management of the sport have managed recently.
In that spirit I’m going to throw some bits out there. I’ve tried writing one of these things loads of times and never seemed to really articulate what I want to say but as a friend of mine once told me, “publish and be damned.”
“Won’t somebody think of the children?”
Back in April, prolific hockey blogger and former Peterborough Islanders and MK Thunder goalie Rob McGregor published this piece (link) about what he thought was wrong with British hockey. Now I disagree with Rob on some of his ideas about coaching at the higher levels of the game here; Britain’s a small hockey market and player/coach and rookie coaches isn’t necessarily a bad thing at the highest level because a bit of realism is needed there. We’re a place to start out for coaches on the way up and that’s not necessarily a bad thing in my mind. Where Rob and I do agree is we need to sort out junior hockey and its coaching.
Lots of moaning does get done about import limits and them being too high. I agree, the import level in the Elite League is too high but we can’t cut that until we sort out what is coming through to replace it. The EIHL is wrong on many things (*cough* nonsensical conference format *cough* and put down that hammer Patrick Smyth of A View From The Bridge) but at the moment the import limit being around 10 or 11 makes sense to provide the quality required and desired.
One thing I’d scrap if I could right away, though I appreciate it’s probably impractical, is having junior sessions being banned after a certain time of night on a sliding scale depending on age. The South West Conference had a training session at 11:15pm on Saturday in Basingstoke. At least one player had come over from the Isle of Wight with their guardian so that’s finishing at 12:15am, shower and change then home with a ferry journey. Probably not the world’s worst experience for a 15 year old but that still seems excessive to ask that of them.
What we need to help junior hockey in Britain is Pete Russell and a Clone-a-matic 6000! Failing that we need find a way for us to make more people in that mould; good, experienced coaches focussed on junior hockey. There’s tons of people, parents and helpers across the country that help week in, week out with junior hockey; the EIHA needs to change their model of how they invest in them to improve them as coaches. McGregor mentions Switzerland a lot but speaking to other federations and the IIHF has to give some ideas as to how things can be improved. (The “workshops” section of the EIHA website under “Coaching Centre” is blank if that tells you anything.)
By going out, investigating options used by hockey nations higher up the echelons of the sport to provide a coherent and easy accessible development policy for junior players which is then followed through with to the best of the governing body’s ability that 10 or 11 imports number can, in time be looked at being reduced.
That said, the EIHL needs actively engage with the process as well and want to decrease the number of import slots when the time comes rather than looking to maintain the status quo but that’s another story.
Who am I? What am I?
Now this one is one of my own little hobby horses that I’ve explained in private to people but I’ll make it put it into the public domain here.
For my money, the English Premier Ice Hockey League suffers from something of an identity crisis; caught between this development league tag that is attached to it and its place as the second tier of British ice hockey. We have teams trying to develop and bring through youngsters into the EPL, some teams playing to win the league and paying a passing eye to development and some attempting to do both. We have a league where teams are giving young players minimal ice time whilst charging over the odds sums for tickets and vice versa. The waters as to the objective of the league is, have become muddied.
What is needed is a concrete and firm decision as to what the EPIHL is. To try and make the discussion as clear as I can, I’ll present it in two ways as to what the EPL could do;
1. The EPIHL is really a development league; the league stays true to what it is designated as. This means the teams (and to a large extent the fans as well) buying into the idea that players shouldn’t really be hanging around for years on end but be actively seeking to improve them with a view to them stepping up into higher leagues.
A veteran’s rule limiting the number of players over a certain number of games and a hard salary cap limit the clubs simply holding onto players as they can pay them more due to their price in the false market that’s been created for them. Young players get ice time to develop. The better ones move upwards and those who don’t have a chance to stay or move sideways into the NIHL. The question of imports remains problematic here but there’s no reason a 4 import league couldn’t have similar or slightly amended import rules applied to it that there are now. The development league tag means only EU passport holders can play currently anyway so why change it? That’s a point for further discussion.
Some teams won’t want to partake in that and they should be afforded a chance to step away and create a new 2nd tier league below the EIHL similar to a reborn BNL and they can then focus on forging links with teams in this new model EPIHL to give players good enough, a place to step up to between this development stage and the EIHL.
2. The EPIHL is to ice hockey what The Championship is to football; the league becomes more of what it currently is without the developmental label attached to it.
This doesn’t absolve the clubs from the development of junior talent (make your own jokes) but it opens the door for an expansion of what the EPIHL currently feels like; DEL 2. The developmental tag and all it implies then falls to the NIHL leagues and the EPIHL carries on pretty much as is bar a few changes.
Losing the developmental tag could open the door to non EU passport holding imports, even an increase in the import limit and these are options that could be investigated if that’s a road taken. I also feel that it wouldn’t hurt the league to have a soft salary cap/luxury tax. If teams can afford to spend over, they can and then part of the overspend is put back into the junior/junior coaches development fund for the ideas above. If nothing else given the change that the league
Could players move up and down between the EIHL and this new look EPIHL? Of course, just as they do now but if the EPIHL was more of this natural second tier, it wouldn’t be a slot taken from a “developing” player because the league isn’t beholden to such things.
That’s just two ideas but either way, there are probably tweaks that could be made to the EPIHL format to improve it.
Have a break
We need to give the national team more of a team ethos. There’s a couple of ways of doing this but it all amounts to the same thing; we need to properly use the IIHF international breaks to allow GB to play in them and improve the national side rather than just throwing them together at the end of the season.
I can hear some of you already, “Anthony, my club can’t afford to have a Saturday in the middle of the season without the revenue” and maybe British hockey could do what rugby does and have clubs playing during international windows but just because there’s no league fixture doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be done. Supporters club events, challenge games, training camps open to the fans, organising a flashmob game of dek hockey in the local shopping centre; it’s not like because there’s no game for 1 weekend in November and 1 in February that teams have to twiddle their thumbs.
I’ve put this idea out there before; name a national long squad at the start of the season and have a training camp before clubs get together. When the international breaks come, host games, play the imports select again, go to tournaments, even just training camp but get that squad back together in the international break. The focus should be getting a team, a proper team together for the world championships and that long squad is whittled down by injuries and form over the season till we have a GB side that knows each other and is ready to roll. We can’t magically make all of Team GB into Wayne Gretzky overnight but if you give GB a chance to be a better team, it follows that they might perform better in a team sport does it not?
Cost is the big factor here but sponsorship of national sides isn’t unheard of. It’s obviously easier for the bigger nations (Germany’s national team for example has a large sponsorship deal with Bauhaus, the country’s version of B&Q) but a couple of smaller deals combined could do no end of good. If GB Sledge Hockey can get BT on board for their Sochi qualifying tournament, there is no reason that the other national teams can’t attract sponsorship.
The person in the middle:
Find a way, any way, be it sponsorship or a £1 increase in members fees at every club to find a way to have some money to spend on giving the best training possible to the officials.
Now I’ve given some referees stick at games, we all have. There’s a general agreement that everyone wants things to improve, so let’s find a way to do that. Here’s a thought; fans seem keen to fund the officials’ worthwhile efforts for Movember, would they do so for their training? Each club picks a Saturday in the season when they get a decent crowd, ask everyone to donate £1 or 50p and half to their Movember efforts/charity of their choice if it’s not November and the other half to an officials training fund. Sound like an idea? We need officials and the ones we have we need to keep so let’s make an active effort to find a way to keep them about and improve their skills.
I’m not saying this is any definitive list that will magically solve all the problems but these are the four areas that really ticked over in my mind reading stuff recently. There’s the comments section below, do your worst.
Basingstoke Bison 6-0 Peterborough Phantoms
Karpov x 2
By the spirits: The Bison headed into the game with their new look roster, Michael Wales replacing Tim Burrows in the line up. The Phantoms appeared to be at full strength.
The game started and the Bison were immediately on the powerplay as Nicky Watt was called for hooking at 8 seconds but the Phantoms had the better chance during the Bison powerplay; Jaroslav Cesky being set loose but he couldn’t find a way past Dean Skinns.
The first part of the opening frame was a tight affair with both teams having decent chances. The visitors had a powerplay when Carl Graham was called for holding but the Phantoms couldn’t capitalise, almost giving up a shorthanded goal to Aaron Connolly who had been sprung by Zach Sullivan. The teams bounced back and forth with opportunities before eventually the dam broke; Joe Miller made a crafty move and fired a shot at Tom Murdy in the Phantoms net but he couldn’t hold on to the puck and Joe Rand was on hand to bundle the puck over the line at 09:12 for give the hosts the lead.
More penalties came and the Bison were looking at a 5 on 3 powerplay after Greg Pick was called for illegal equipment after playing the puck after losing his helmet and Petran was called for hooking but Miller was called for interference and the fans were treated to 4 on 3 hockey.
The Phantoms were looking for a way back in but were being frustrated by Skinns in the Bison net and as the first period wore on, the Bison were getting more chances. Débutante Michael Wales was set up in the slot by Connolly but Murdy made a very good stop. He was less lucky a few minutes later. With the Bison pressing, Zach Sullivan was waiting at the blueline and drove a shot goalwards that was tipped past Murdy and in off the post by Tomas Karpov at 18:02. Whilst the period had been tight, the Bison were good value for their lead as the buzzer sounded to end the frame.
The two goal lead has been called the most dangerous in hockey and the Bison came out for the second period looking to not fall into the trap of previous games. They kept the pressure on the Phantoms, killing off Nicky Chinn’s boarding penalty from the end of the first period and set to work. The Bison however were getting caught out occasionally due to the team’s gameplan of playing so high but Skinns was standing tall, his best save coming from his stop of a spinning backhand shot from Marc Levers.
When Frantisek Zubek was called for high sticking, the Bison powerplay took to the ice but never really seemed to settle itself down. The first unit changed for the second unit and there was initially no joy until Aaron Connolly took matters into his own hands. Connolly took flight down the right side, gained the zone and fired a backhand shot that beat Murdy over his glove for the goal at 27:59 for 3-0.
The Phantoms were reeling a bit and the frustration was clear; Marcel Petran was called for tripping and was in a furious argument with Mr O’Halloran in the armbands. Another official might have called the former Bison man for a misconduct penalty but the referee appeared to shout Petran down and continued with the play.
Erik Piatek had a good chance for the visitors to get on the board, superbly taking a cross ice feed and advancing on Skinns but again, the Bison backstop remained unbeaten. Sadly for the visitors, they were punished for their lacklustre attack moments later. With an official’s arm in the air for a slashing penalty against Zubek, Andy Melachrino and Michael Wales were away 2 on 1 towards the Phantoms net. Melachrino, wearing a face cage after last week’s facial injury fed Wales who marked his return to Bison colours by one timing his shot past Murdy for the delayed penalty goal at 33:17.
The Bison had their tails up and pressed for a 5th and quickly got it. With the Herd camped in the Phantoms zone, the puck was cycled back to the point where Miroslav Vantroba fired a pinpoint slap pass through traffic to the back post and before Murdy could get across to his right to make the stop, Tomas Karpov had coasted in unabated to redirect the puck into the back of the net at 34:23 and the Phantoms were forced to take their timeout.
The timeout helped to a point; the Phantoms were also sent to the powerplay by a Joe Baird highsticking call but there was no end touch to put the guests on the scoreboard. Lewis Hook also forced a turnover in front of Skinns but again couldn’t find the net. The second stanza finished and the Bison fans were in confident mood.
The third period saw Damien King replace Murdy in the Phantoms net but it didn’t start well for him. Joe Rand passed to Joe Baird who went for a lazy dump in feed into the zone. Where the puck ended up was past King in the back of the net, Baird’s lazy looping wrister finding a way under King’s right arm and into the back of the net. If Baird’s claiming that was intentional then I’m not sure I’ll believe him but hey, they all count.
Tomas Karpov was checked awkwardly into the boards which saw Joe Greener and Will Weldon have a coming together that brought mutual roughing penalties. Karpov was alright after a once over on the Bison bench.
Dean Skinns had seen some testing shots but was called into action twice in a short space of time. James Ferrara and Jaroslav Cesky were set loose two on one but Cesky couldn’t find a way past Skinns. Then moments later Piatek and Cesky were in again but again the former Bison couldn’t find a way past the Herd’s backstop as a chant of “Deano” rang out around the arena.
The Bison again gave up penalties as time ticked on as Greener, Graham and Wynn all took seats in the box but the Phantoms never really looked to have that final touch needed to get the puck into the net. As the final buzzer sounded, the crowd rose to their feet in appreciation of a good Bison performance and Skinns’ heroics in the net as he extended his shutout streak to nearly 143 minutes.
Hit them for 6: We’ll start with Dean Skinns because it’s the obvious place to do so. After discussing last week whether it was time for the doubters about Skinns to finally be silenced, the Basingstoke born netminder appears to be in a rich vein of form at the moment. The defence around him knows how he works and does their jobs well and with minimal fuss which allows Skinns to concentrate on making the saves when they come his way. Skinns faced 29 shots for the shutout last night, many of them were not particularly testing but the two on one breaks that he stopped, mainly from Cesky, might have slipped past Skinns in his last stint here but at this point in time he’s arguably the most in form netminder in the league and coming off two shutouts in 6 days.
Michael Wales had a good début for the Herd and played…well, just like Michael Wales. Muzzy put himself about well, finished his hits and generally made a nuisance of himself. His goal was incredibly well taken off a great feed from Andy Melachrino though I did have a raise a wry smile as he somehow managed to score and still clatter into the goalie.
Tomas Karpov took both his goals well though he does owe a tip of the hat to Zach Sullivan and Miroslav Vantroba for the assists but that’s the mark of a good scorer at times, being in the right place at the right time. Karpov is very much the natural playmaker but he has that talent to get himself into the right positions when needed.
Joe Miller has obviously been a topic of discussion these past few days, rightly so and whilst he didn’t have the most productive night it wasn’t for want of trying. He was frequently trying to make plays but sometimes things just don’t go your way.
The “Youth Brigade” line got plenty of ice time, a side effect of the scoreline but they put themselves about well. The race between who scores first out of Mogg and Ingoldsby continues.
The Phantoms didn’t provide the sternest of tests but this was a game won by the Bison’s quality and good play more than lost by the Phantoms’ inability to score. After some recent wobbles, this is the sort of performance needed ahead of Sunday’s game against Manchester.
A word on our opponents: The Phantoms players probably owe Tom Murdy an apology. Murdy is a decent netminder at EPL level and the fact he let in 3 goals on 11 shots in the second period was more down to the fact he got no help on some occasions. The Phantoms were flat, at times lacklustre and the times when the desperation kicked in that they needed to score the majority didn’t have the required potency and the really good stuff was turned away by Dean Skinns.
Greg Pick was a decent choice for man of the match all in all. It might seem odd to chose a defenceman for man of the match when they hung their starting netminder out to dry but Pick, to his credit kept skating hard, kept finishing his hits and just kept going when it seemed many of his team mates had given up the ghost.
I was also impressed with Lewis Hook, another player that just never seemed to stop going every time he was on the ice. I was also impressed with just how fast he was, the lad really has great wheels.
I’m sorry Phantoms fans but there wasn’t many positives to take from that game for you; shutout on the road, one netminder given no help and then poor Damien King just got caught out by a fluke goal and even with 3 powerplays inside the last ten minutes they just never looked like scoring. After last night, it’s a real back to the drawing board moment for the Phantoms.
Lowlight of the night: Not really one take last night from the game last night so err…yeah I didn’t win shirt from the player’s back. Boo hiss
Highlight of the night: Bison’s 5th goal, fantastic pass from Vantroba
All photos courtesy and copyright of Grant King aka 5 Hole Photography. Visit the website, buy a print and remember that the best goals in hockey are just like the best hockey photography; always go 5 Hole.
After Thursday’s general mass of news and yesterday’s bit of light fun, it’s back to the serious business today. It was revealed on Thursday that two players would be leaving the Herd, one of them being summer signing, Tim Burrows
What have we lost?
Burrows is a decent 2nd/3rd line forward at this level. He has decent hands, good speed, isn’t afraid to put the body about a bit and had good link up play with his line mates.
He’s not a big or flashy player but he’s a hard worker and never shirked his responsibilities at either end of the ice and you need good, “honest” players like that. Some of the initial link up play with fellow former Tiger, Tomas Karpov was promising as well. If nothing else, I enjoyed the German flag on the back of his jersey.
Where has he gone?
Tim is taking time out of the game. The Bison press release said he’s been given “an excellent job opportunity outside the game”. You can’t fault him for taking those kinds of opportunities.
Who replaces him?
As always, BOTW likes easy questions. Michael Wales is the obvious replacement here given the skill set and that, with the best will in the world I don’t think Wales is the goal scoring replacement for Miller.
“Tim Burrows is a great lad” was pretty much the universal response from everybody I talked to when he signed. Be it Cardiff or Telford, everyone was singing his praises and his skills when he signed for the Bison. When I spoke to him over the summer he was really looking forward to coming to Basingstoke with Tomas Karpov and having that chance at recreating the success they’d had in Shropshire.
I think if we’re honest, Burrows probably didn’t hit his stride, certainly not to the point he would have been satisfied with. He was signed to add secondary scoring and managed to get all the other facets of his game up and running but he had 1 goal in 17 games and 6 assists. My personal feeling on it was there was going to be a moment when the switch was flipped and he’d go great guns but maybe not performing as he would have liked made the decision to take this new job a bit easier.
The one thing that I really hope is that Burrows isn’t lost to hockey. He is a good player, you don’t have 40 point EPL seasons if you’re not decent and hopefully wherever he’s going there’s a chance for him to play somewhere or pass on his knowledge to some youngsters. These decisions are never taken lightly but they are taken and Tim’s chosen to step away from the sport.
All the best Tim, may the next chapter give you what you want from it. Don’t be a stranger.