Goodnight and Good Luck – Wightlink Raiders

(c) 5 Hole Photography

(c) 5 Hole Photography

When I returned to Britain in 2005 after living in Germany and I started watching British hockey, the first big event of any impact was the folding of the London Racers. I never got to even watch the Racers live before the issues with Lee Valley and a bunch of other stuff caused the organisation to fold. One of those on the Racers’ last ride was Jeremy Cornish.

So here we are again with one of the characters of British hockey, this time as coach having retired and to come back one last time to see out the final game of one of a club so obscure in its existence that it could only be part of British hockey.

I’ve stopped and started writing this piece a few times because I get a mixture of angry and fearful about things.

I’m quite fearful because, and it’s a point I’ve been making a fair bit recently, it could all be us tomorrow. If we’re honest with ourselves British ice hockey always lives on a bit of a knife edge at the best of times and the demise of the Raiders is a rather concise bit of evidence towards that. A financially stable organisation disappears because of a situation beyond their control with their rink with nothing the governing body could have done and with the rink owners seemingly convinced that only their course of action was the right one.

There are clubs across the country that are in a decent place but there are many where hockey is a secondary concern of the rink owners, some where facilities are old and in a state of needing serious repair and some playing wherever they can get the ice time as they have no ice of their own…and that’s just the senior teams. Junior clubs and conference sides are training at insane times at night because it’s all they can get. With another facility gone for the time being, that’s added pressure on the ones elsewhere that are old and in need of repair. It’s a cycle that doesn’t look like it will end soon that the natural worrier in me can’t help but be concerned about it.

I get angry because this entire situation could have been avoided, it really does feel that way. People will tell me that I and others are getting overly emotional about the situation. As someone who is generally quite logical in his thinking, really process driven, I respectfully tell you to take a very long walk off of the already very long Ryde Pier. The time for emotionless examination of this will come but it is not today. Ice hockey inspires emotion and that anger at a lot of people and potential future internationals having the sport that they pour their emotion into being taken away makes me angry and I make no apologies for that.

I’m angry because, as I made clear in our open letter to AEW Europe, we see the short-sighted nature of the world that we live in. I won’t go into the full details of my arguments to them in this piece, you can read that here but even if you accept the need for AEW to lock everyone out of the rink, if negotiations are ongoing regarding the venue then why has the ice been ripped out of the venue with a digger this weekend? I asked the question in the other piece but I do need to ask it again here; was it so past the point of return that this was necessary?

People newer to this organised screaming into the vacuum of the internet that we call Banners On The Wall may wonder why I care so much about a team that I don’t actually support but as much as it has become respected by some for its coverage of the Basingstoke Bison and whilst taking the above into account there are two truths that permeate how this place works; writing is the way I best articulate my thoughts about stuff so doing all this is cathartic for me and as a result, I mean what I say.

I can’t remember my first Wightlink Raiders game at Ryde 100% but one of the early ones was watching a Raiders side that featured popular and free scoring Slovak forward Robert Franc and a goalie called Slavomir Sojak who was mad as a box of frogs, had a GAA over 5 and a save percentage over 90. It was everything from the ferry ride across the Solent to the train or walking down the pier to getting through the door into the cramped rink to be greeted by my friend (now friend of over a decade) Heather Jepson to chat through the day and then chat through the game we were watching; how the Raiders would be their own worst enemy, how the DJ would mention it was a family sport then always play the version of Green Day’s American Idiot with all the swearing left in, wondering if I would need to run up the pier to the ferry, all the plates of cheesy chips, it all made for part of the experience.

The Raiders took a bit of time to adjust when they dropped out of the EPL into the NIHL but eventually they turned into one of the league’s power houses. Raiders hockey was always about trying to do it with skill and if they couldn’t do it with skill then they’d just try to mow you down with brute force. They were a fun team to watch and yes, the surroundings weren’t exactly the Bell Centre in Montreal but I don’t know anyone who left without something of a smile on their face unless their team got thumped.

That’s the reason that I care; I’ve been lucky to go to rinks around the world but Ryde was unique, the Raiders were a unique club and the people were one of a kind.

And for now they’re gone from the hockey landscape.

Yes, those players may well find other clubs and yes thankfully it seems the Buccaneers will find a way to keep going for the time being but with respect to the newer side, it’s not them I watched.

I have stared at the page trying to think of a way to end this and I’ve struggled. Then again as this story doesn’t have the most definite of conclusions, maybe that’s somewhat fitting but I suppose I need to try.

So to all of you connected with the Raiders, I send you my commiserations as well as my thoughts and my hopes. I’ve been using #NeverGoQuietly in my tweets because I felt it was important that if this day did come that you didn’t go off into the night with a whimper but a bang. The hockey we saw from the club over the decades was never like that so you shouldn’t be either. The time has come to make your voices heard and get ice sports back onto the Isle of Wight where we all know they belong. You are always welcome in Basingstoke and anywhere you choose to watch your hockey. When that happy day comes that this enforced break ends, we’ll be ready with open arms for the Raiders to come marauding back across the Solent once more.

Goodbye Raiders, thanks for everything, we’ll be seeing you soon.

Building the Herd – Bison vs Sheffield Steeldogs 22/10/16

Shot to the gut:

7 wins from the last 7, 5 goals from 4 different goal scorers, a well earned win ground out and the Bison win 100% of their games that Dan Lackey has scores in; all in all, a good night.

It was a bit of an uneven performance from the Bison across the 60 minutes where they started well, finished well but seemed to keep being caught out by taking lots of penalties (8 minors on the night) and by the Steeldogs’ speed. There seemed to be lots of great ideas but not a lot of it seemed to come off. For a neutral or a newbie to the sport, this game had a bit of everything. It was massively entertaining but the quality of hockey on display wasn’t massively high at times which was contrasted by some great individual moments of skill.

The Herd raced to a 2-0 lead then seemed to think they had the game put to bed at 3-1 which saw them switch off a bit and it made it that bit harder to get back to full speed when the game started getting grittier and gritter as the game went on. Sadly, and we’ll get into this below, this is not a Steeldogs team to take lightly. However the Bison deserve some credit for their adaptation to how the Steeldogs played in different moments of the game. It did take them a bit of time to figure out the best way to deal with their opponents’ speed through the neutral zone but could be happy that at least allowing Hiadlovsky to see the shot mean that he would save it if given suitable help. The Slovak would probably want the second goal back but the defensive failings on the first and third meant that he didn’t really have much of a chance.

The only thing I’ll ask of Tomas is that no matter what daft thing an opposition player has done, for the love of all the shiny things don’t stick the guy in the ribs on the way past. The Bison need one of the league’s best netminders playing and not being thrown out of the game or banned for moments of insanity. That’s not to say I’m against Hiadlovsky defending himself but there’s a line. Whether Mrna made a meal of it or not isn’t the point but hopefully this was just a rush of blood to the head.

Having just written about individuals above, that seems to be something of a theme for this game for me; whilst this was definitely not the best Bison team performance of all time there were some really good individual performances. Dan Davies had the best game that I’ve seen him play where he shook off a nervy moment on the bench where he seemed to take a knock to seemingly want to skate through the wall and through Frankie and Benny’s into the Odeon further down the Leisure Park.

Tomas Karpov got man of the match as he ground his way to going 2+2 in a 5-3 game and looks a lot better on a new line combination. Having seemingly been overthinking his play recently and not being so direct with things or playing himself into a corner, Sheppard put the Czech forward alongside the excelling duo of Matt Towalski and Shaun Thompson; two players who can put the puck in the net but have that ability to be physical and create a bit of space. The line seemed to work well all night.

Fans saw Ivan Antonov twist and turn the opposition inside out at times with his ability to try and set people up and we saw Derek Roehl continue to provide that spark of energy that the team will miss from the removal of Alan Lack though at times both were frustrated, Roehl especially, that what they were trying to do just didn’t quite come to pass. However the effort was there from both and the crowd were suitably enamoured with the efforts of both players, particularly Roehl after a shift were he challenged Bosas for taking out Hiadlovsky out of the crease, saw the Steeldogs man back down and then on the same shift absolutely plough through Ben Morgan with a very hard, very legal hit.

The fans also got two goals that have definitely been coming as Jan Jarabek got the game winner on an absolute blast past Hadfield and Dan Lackey was finally in the right place at the right time and got just enough on the shot to put it past the netminder.

We said it enough on here last season, it’s not even a hockey cliché so much as a stone cold hockey truth; teams that don’t play as well as they can but find ways to win will win things in the long run and that’s the story here. The Bison nearly got caught napping by a team that they underestimated at times but they collected themselves and found a way to win. The motivation and morale are high and the table is being climbed as they head into a tricky next three games. We await to see how Doug Sheppard and his charges approach them.

A word on our opponents:

A lot of people after the game were commenting on a variety of things regarding the Steeldogs from play acting to moaning and all sorts but I need to go at this from a different angle because you know what? I like the way that this Sheffield Steeldogs side plays.

There’s something to be said for the moaning not being necessary (though I don’t blame Mrna for moaning, I’d be a bit peeved if I’d gotten sticked in the ribs too) and as I said above, the game wasn’t high quality at times but having seen Sheffield come to Basingstoke a couple of weeks ago with only the two imports, to see them at full strength was actually a lot of fun. This is a good hockey side.

For a long time the Steeldogs played with that really gritty edge and a couple of highly skilled players because, as you would be quickly told, they didn’t have the budget to have loads of top end skill guys so would firmly hold with the “Made in Sheffield” philosophy to bring through younger talents.

With that in mind, now look at the Sheffield roster; Arnoldas Bosas needs to reign his temper and his elbows in but is a phenomenal talent at this level as is Pavel Mrna as evidenced by his goal that would have been enough for me to give him the man of the match beers on its own. Kumeliauskas and Palak add decent secondary support but it’s having players like Liam Kirk, Cole Shudra and Liam Charnock who have now fully stepped up into full time, high scoring EPL players that means that Sheffield have real scoring threats and a ton of speed. That’s not to say that there’s not that lingering undercurrent of that old “Dogs Hockey” but certainly in this game, Greg Wood’s men realised that they genuinely did have the speed advantage over a side that plays a fast passing game and likes playing a high press so they used that to their advantage.

So why didn’t Sheffield win the game? Whilst the visitors found weaknesses to exploit, they were 2-0 down very quickly so were on the back foot early and when they managed to exert a bit of their style on the game and made the Bison make mistakes couldn’t exploit them enough before their hosts got wise. A good example would be Mrna’s goal which came off a brilliant bit of individual skill. The problem was that the defenders learned the move quickly and they were trying to do the same thing too many times.

Whilst I’ve tried to focus on how well the Steeldogs played, we can’t escape that as the game got chippier that the Sheffield side lost a bit of their focus and the game was close at times to descending into the sort of fracas that we saw in early 2016. Thankfully it didn’t but it was that bit of lack of adaptation and lack of focus in the death that cost the visitors the points.

However I’ll keep reiterating that it seems that “Dogs Hockey” is evolving and if this is the direction that it’s evolving in then keep on doing what you’re doing, Greg Wood.

Lowlight of the night: Lots of needless off the puck stuff from both sides combined with the news from the Isle of Wight.

Highlight of the night: Toss up for me between Jarabek’s goal and Roehl crushing Morgan with one of the best open ice hits we’ve seen in Basingstoke for some time.

The BOTW Podcast – episode 42

(We borrowed this from Tom's Twitter profile, if you took the image then let us know so we can credit you)

(We borrowed this from Tom’s Twitter profile, if you took the image then let us know so we can credit you)

So it’s time to open your ears to another hour’s worth of hockey news and views, BOTW style.

Our guest this week is Milton Keynes forward, Tom Carlon who chats to Anthony about life at the Lightning in their final EPL season, living aboard, his time in the EIHL and more.

Anthony gets series about the Isle of Wight as well as gives you the usual rundown of other stuff you need to know.

Remember to subscribe to The BOTW Podcast on iTunes HERE (go on, leave us 5 stars) and make sure you let us know what you like on Twitter or the BOTW Facebook page once you’ve listened.

The BOTW Podcast; the news, action and views from the EPIHL and all levels above, below and in between.

Running with the Herd – Bison vs Peterborough Phantoms 15/10/16


Basingstoke Bison 3-1 Peterborough Phantoms

Roehl x 2 (1pp)            Padelek


Positive head-scratching:

This game was weird; it was a good kind of weird given the result for the Bison as the win streak continues though it was certainly a bit of an odd one overall because two teams that met 3 weeks ago managed to have such a different game from a couple of weeks ago. That was the result of a couple of obvious differences but I found myself heading home from the game reflecting on a hard fought Bison win but was left once again reflecting about how funny the sport can be at times and whilst it might be a cliché, the phrase “that’s hockey” is the most apt phrase I can think of.

Having missed last weekend due to my sister’s wedding (following the game via Twitter at the reception led to one of those awkward moments where I yelled out “YES!” at Declan Balmer’s goal against Hull), the one thing that immediately leaps out from watching the Bison team is that the team spirit that has come to define the trophy winning teams of the last couple of years seems to be eeking back in. Yes, winning will do that but now the roster is settled down a bit (even with the stepping back of Alan Lack) but given they were playing a team that they have not had a great deal of success against in recent times that was going to prove incredibly useful. Would the Bison have won this game in the first or second weekend of the season?

The thing that defined this game for the Bison, and this will sound strange given that they took 7 minor penalties in the game was that the Herd were much less aggressive than people are used to. Combined with how the Phantoms played the game (we’ll get to that later), it made for a very unusual dynamic from the Bison. Some might have wondered that with the removal of Lack from the line-up whether the team would lack a bit of energy and that did seem to be something of an issue early as the majority of the first period saw the Phantoms playing a very high tempo game that caught the Bison somewhat off guard.

The game for the Herd was one of perseverance rather than one where they got to really play much of their game. Both teams tried clogging the neutral zone at times and there were a lot of turnovers from both sides with the last couple of minutes making me wonder whether there were equal ended magnets in people’s sticks. The Bison made it through a confusingly officiated tie by having that little extra measure of skill and that extra killer touch that the Phantoms seemed to lack on the night.

Derek Roehl’s man of the match award was fair enough on the balance of the team’s overall game where it was more one of team performance against a tricky foe. However with two goals and the game’s one bit of stand out individual skill that led to the opening goal that was arguably against the run of play, I think we could all rectify the beers going the way of the American. On the Bison’s top line and getting a ton of ice time, Roehl’s game is very noticeable. We were warned by our friends in Braehead that he will occasionally try to do everything himself (what Basingstoke fans who remember him call Kubenko Syndrome) and there were some flashes of that last night but his infectious energy is something that the Herd have not had this season before his arrival. It seems that within a Doug Sheppard system that the Bison need that Joe Greener/Joe Rand style player and Roehl appears to be that.

Not wanting to harp on too much about one player or players, it’s worth mentioning that again Shaun Thompson and Matt Towalski continue their recent run of exceptional form. With Lack stepping away, it’s meant that the lines have been shuffled again and it’s seen two of the early season’s standout players given a chance again at more ice time and more chances in key situations. The thing of course is that nobody can say that they haven’t earned it and whilst his goal was also down to the Phantoms defence opening up a massive hole for him to skate in to, Towalski’s goal was not only timely but very well taken. I have to keep reminding myself that Towalski has that shot in his locker. Either way, in a team with those big scoring names, that secondary scoring from two veteran British players is going to keep proving vital.

Bizarreness surrounding the game or not, it’s a very solid win for the Bison and one that they should be happy with. They were forced away from playing a lot of their game but worked through it and managed to find the win despite arguably putting in a performance that wasn’t as good as the one that saw them lose on penalties three weeks ago. The team played well as a whole, allowed very few shots and moved to a 5 game winning streak. Yes the table doesn’t make outstanding reading, particularly the lack of of goals scored (34 goals in 11 games has the Bison 7th in overall scoring) however the Bison continue to have the lowest goals against and are now the form team in the league heading into the game against Manchester on Sunday. The team appears to have found its feet and it’s time for them to press on.

A word on our opponents:

Just when I thought that my writing and thought processes regarding the Peterborough Phantoms couldn’t get any more confused, they come and play that game. From an aesthetic standpoint I’m quite glad about it and given the circumstances they found themselves in, you can understand the change in tactics.

The injury to Janis Auzins, one of the league’s premier netminders forced the hand of Slava Koulikov to start Adam Long. I will say right now that Adam Long had a really good game; he looks comfortable, assured but not a carbon copy of Auzins. He clearly has picked up some of Auzins’ traits like his willingness to play the puck but he looks and plays like his own man which is good. He clearly can be relied on to fill a gap when Auzins is unable to play.

That of course means that the standard road game tactics for the Phantoms of playing on the counter and allowing Auzins to see the shots goes out the window. Instead we saw a high tempo, high forecheck, quick passing game that for the majority of the first period seemed to throw the Bison for something of a loop. Whilst the Bison goal was at a time when they were wrestling a bit of the momentum their way, if the Phantoms had gone into the first break ahead then it would have been hard to argue.

The only problem with their overall game plan in that sense was that they didn’t get enough shots on target. That’s not to say that Tomas Hiadlovsky didn’t ride his luck at times, what good goalie doesn’t, but when they had that much of the possession and were playing that forcefully to only manage 18 shots on net and including they had that much powerplay time as well does speak to the Bison’s defence but also a bit to something of the recent slump in form and how it might be affecting the offence. Also given they were an import down, what did Wehebe Darge do to not ice for long stretches? If he’s injured then apologies as that news hasn’t reached me but I didn’t see the Australian for long parts of the game post the first period.

James Ferrara got man of the match for something of an archetypical industrious performance from the Phantoms stalwart. If I’d been awarding the beers then I think I would have gone more toward Ales Padelek for his goal and all around good play or even to Long whose 34 saves certainly kept the Phantoms in the running when they were under pressure, especially in the second where they gave up 3 powerplays in the first 10 minutes of the frame but managed to come out of that spell having only conceded once and having scored a nice goal through Padelek.

1 win in the last 5 and 12 goals in that spell is a bit of a worrying sign for the Phantoms and many people will be lazy in their analysis and point straight towards Auzins not being there. For me, that’s not fair to Long who has performed admirably recently and again last night and more to the fact that the attack just isn’t firing on all cylinders. With a game against a decent performing Swindon side upcoming followed by tough games against Hull and Telford, you have to wonder that if favourable results don’t start to come then changes might be afoot in Ghost Town.

Lowlight of the night: I think everyone was left bemused by a couple of the penalty calls last night but otherwise there wasn’t a ton to really call a lowlight.

Highlight of the night: Whilst Roehl’s goal was beautiful, have to give it to Towalski’s goal for how clutch it was and how pretty the shot was.

An open letter to AEW Europe (BOTW responds to the closure of Ryde Arena)

Southampton, 9th October 2016

To: Rachel McIsaac

Head of Asset Management


33 Jermyn Street



Dear Ms McIsaac,

I trust that you will forgive my letter intruding upon your day but as your employers have suddenly had a very large impact on a great number of my friends and acquaintances, I felt that I should take a moment to write to you. I address the letter to you because you were brave enough to poke your head above the parapet but I’d like to think this is addressed to all of your senior managers.

I have to confess to not being very hot on things like asset management or investment management so I took a moment to look at who AEW were and what they do. To the credit of the company, they appear to be very good at what they do. AEW Europe’s website quotes the company as being responsible for €18.5 billion of a global asset base of €48.1 billion. There are 300 employees across the continent and even a bit of basic searching through Google shows that the firm is really highly respected in your field. The firm is in the field of and helping its clients gain wealth from its investments.

The reason that AEW have suddenly come to my attention is because of its involvement with the suddenly breaking case regarding the Ryde Arena, an ice rink in the largest town on the Isle of Wight and its recent operators, the Ryde Arena Trust whose lease you recently revoked and have now ceased operations.

For the sake of full disclosure, I love the sport of ice hockey. I have written for various websites and club official media across the country as well as running my own blog and podcast on British ice hockey. From the first live game I watched in 2004, the sport has captured my imagination and for the last decade I have spent Saturday nights for 6 months of the year in the ice rink in Basingstoke. I won’t sit here and say I owe everything to the sport but the sport’s impact on my life is relatively profound. I have made friends around the world on 3 continents because of ice hockey but one of the places that is closest to my heart is Ryde.

In the spring of 2015, when the former operators pulled out of running the arena, all the various bits of the ice sports community on the Isle of Wight immediately pulled together to try and keep the rink going and thought that they had a solution to that with the Ryde Arena Trust. We currently find ourselves at something of a score draw in your favour where AEW are accused of not fulfilling their obligations as landlords and the trust are accused of not fulfilling their obligations as tenants which led you to instruct bailiffs to repossess the building, change the locks and declare the lease forfeit. This action has understandably led to a large amount of backlash at AEW, some of which I am sure you will feel is unjustified.

The one thing that occurred to me was this; for a company that deals in asset management, AEW has a really narrow and rigid idea of what constitutes an asset. I would put it to you and your colleagues that whilst asset is numbers on a spreadsheet or a return in investment for someone in your professional context, you have forgotten to look at what the word asset means in a much wider sense.

The one thing as an ice hockey fan that I learned very quickly about any ice rink is that ice hockey is just one part of what there. Hockey teams, ice skaters, team ice skating, public skating sessions, ice skating discos on a Friday night, skating lessons, hockey fans, Christmas ice dancing shows; every rink has a larger community that is connected to it and the different parts will overlap and interlock. On a place like the Isle of Wight, that community is a very close knit one and I’ve been lucky to see it in effect before and during the issues that the ice rink has suffered over the last year or so.

Those people bound together because the Ryde Arena, like all good leisure facilities, develop a sense of community. It’s bigger than a cost of paying admission to a game or to skate for an hour. It’s the friends made in childhood that last into adulthood, it’s life skills learned through years of training during early mornings and late nights.

As a result of the rink, the Isle of Wight has been responsible for the development of a variety of excellent athletes who have performed at a national and international level. It’s people like my friend of 9 years Lita-Lee Jarold who was the first woman to play in the semi professional English Premier Ice Hockey League as a teenager. She did that as a netminder, arguably the most high pressure position in all of sports. It’s people like the Wight Jewels ice dancing team who have skated in competitions at home and aboard to great success and when the arena was closed due to weather damage found any ice time they could on the mainland to keep training. It’s Archie Bicknell who started ice skating and playing ice hockey at Ryde and now is a star of Disney on Ice. They are some examples of the thousands of adults and young people for who that place changed their lives.

You might say that I am being overly emotional or irrational but for me, the above makes that rink something you should be interested in. It makes it an asset. When a place encourages people of all ages to exercise when obesity is at record levels, that’s an asset. When a child sees Olympic ice dancing on the television and they are encouraged to try working with a qualified coach to chase their dream and they have a facility to start that in, that place is an asset. When a family have a place to go and watch an ice hockey game where they can have an affordable night out in a family friendly atmosphere, that place is an asset.

When it comes down to brass tacks, the questions that I would ask of AWE as a company is “did you do all you could do to avoid this situation and can you prove it to the world?” Was it really at the point of no return where AWE felt the need to close a leisure facility in a small community? Was it really at the point of no return where AWE felt that it was necessary to reduce the definition of what makes an asset down to numbers on a spreadsheet?

I have what some people think is a positive trait, some a negative one; I am an eternal optimist. I believe that there is way for you as owners and the rink users to find a way to resolve the situation. I don’t pretend that this will be a straightforward process but for the good of a community and a lot of very good people, there has to be a way to do this. If AWE choose to walk away, to ignore this asset then for a company that specialises in making money for investors, you will be shown to have forgotten what true wealth really is.

Yours sincerely,

Anthony Russell

Banners On The Wall

The BOTW Podcast – episode 41

(c) 5 Hole Photography

(c) 5 Hole Photography

It’s a slightly shorter show this time out but we still have a great interview guest You what? No, he’s Watt. Ryan Watt to be exact as the EPL veteran and current Hull Pirates forward joins the show.

Ryan has a chat to Anthony about the Pirates’ great start to the season, his career so far, what the best chirp he’s had from a fan is and more.

Remember to subscribe to The BOTW Podcast on iTunes HERE (go on, leave us 5 stars) and make sure you let us know what you like on Twitter or the BOTW Facebook page once you’ve listened.

The BOTW Podcast; the news, action and views from the EPIHL and all levels above, below and in between.

Running with the Herd – Bison vs Sheffield Steeldogs 01/10/16

Immediate impact:

With the Bison’s poor start having backed Doug Sheppard into a corner, the one thing that the Herd’s coach really needed was his two new signings to start paying dividends immediately for them on the ice and what he got was immediate production.

With a much more direct and physical style, Derek Roehl quickly ingratiated himself to the Bison fans as he went close on the first two chances on the first shift of the game. Another shuffle of the lines saw Roehl on a new look top line alongside Rene Jarolin and Vanya Antonov and the general reaction from those in attendance was that this line is going to be a lot of fun to watch. Ultimately the line did its job within 6 minutes as with the help of Kurt Reynolds they created a very well worked goal that saw Jarolin tip the puck then pick up his own rebound off of the save by James Hadfield.

Two training sessions into their new partnership, the line is not quite clicking 100% yet and you could see it in the way certain things didn’t come off; the odd errant movement here or off line pass there but it’s clear that the combination is well on it’s way to firing on all cylinders. The wildcard on the line isn’t really Roehl himself by Vanya Antonov. The young Russo-Brit is used to playing with players a bit old and more experienced than himself but I felt at times last night he was working very hard but not very smart at times. Ultimately this new world of being away from Bracknell, without Lukas Smital as his linemate is still a learning experience for him. Experienced veterans like Jarolin and Roehl are a bit more savy to such things where Antonov isn’t just yet but if this new line lasts then he has two decent veterans to learn such things from.

I said on his farewell piece that Jakub Barton was the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time for the Bison and he will go down as a rare recruiting misstep from Doug Sheppard. He appears to have done a bit better with Jan Jarabek.

Jarabek’s style on defence is nothing particularly revolutionary for the EPL but this game was a good way to get him up to speed with how the Bison play as they were faced with a short benched opponent playing a very stand off style for the duration of the game. Jarabek had time of the puck, time to make the passes and used his space well. He looked for the correct outlet pass rather than the quick one or the 100% perfect one. Whilst it’s unfair in some ways to compare the two, he seems much more of a Vantroba like player than Barton was and that’s really what the Bison needed. He also was generally used on the ice with the correct player; he was occasionally on the ice with Mogg and Reynolds but was generally out there with Baird and Balmer who would hang back and allow him to venture forward a bit more. The extra space he found himself being given also allowed his team mates to set him up for his shot which won’t break any speed records but is certainly big and on target. The Connolly goal was a good example as Jarolin fed it into his compatriot’s wheelhouse and an excellent tip by the Bison captain put it past Hadfield just a moment too late to be credited as a powerplay marker. One game in, Jarabek looks like he will be alright.

Yes and No:

In a lot of ways, the misfortune that the Steeldogs are suffering off the back of injuries and suspensions coming into this game is exactly what the Bison needed however it’s a case of tempering our expectations and not getting too excited. We can be happy with a touch of realism attached to it.

It would be a hard position to take to say that the Bison are fully back to their old ways after a controlled and relatively low energy win over a side playing only two imports against five but as mentioned above, that allowed the Bison to be able to try things and test things. It allowed them to try and settle the Roehl line, it allowed them to ease Jarabek into the defensive rotation.

One of the bigger things it allowed was extra ice time in the third period for the grind line of Lackey, Thompson and Towalski which continued its industrious performances which have become a hallmark of their play in the early part of the season. They also got their just reward as Towalski netted his second of the season as the puck pinged around in front of Hadfield late on.

The Bison appear to have their top line set (Antonov, Jarolin and Roehl) as well as their 4th line set as above so the question became what happens with the middle six at the moment. Connolly, Karpov and Lack were one combination with Davies, Long and Rounding the other which all had their moments but again, need to find time to train and play together more if they’re going to work long term. There were swaps around of course during the game and you get the feeling that those two “middle” lines will be very fluid over the course of the season. Ultimately if the LTT combination continues playing as well as they have been, do they start chipping away at the ice time of the other lines down the road? The likely answer is no because of the role that they’re playing but having players on that bit of an edge and being able to earn more ice time by playing well is a good incentive.

I would also be loath as well to not mention the shutout from Tomas Hiadlovsky. With only 15 shots, it might be one of the lowest totals he will face for a shutout but again, it serves many masters. It’s confidence building for Hiadlovsky whose stat line took a bit of a beating during the early games as well as the defence which looks immediately improved with the early addition because yes, the opposition was depleted but you can only beat what’s put in front of you and they did that handily. The 2015/16 EPL player of the year was kept to a 0 point night despite the Steeldogs trying to feed him the puck near constantly when they got the chance. The team defence was very good on the night against some decent offensive players like Hirst, Wood, Charnock and Kirk and the Bison can take that confidence into tonight’s game in Sheffield.

A word on our opponents:

It’s always disappointing to lose, and not that I’ve seen any of it, but it would be unfair to slam the Steeldogs for the loss. 3 imports and more players down by a virtue of injury and suspension and it showed really as the Steeldogs stripped back their game plan to try and contain the Bison. It was probably the wrong game plan on the night as a singular incident but the right game plan over the course of the weekend.

The Steeldogs played no forecheck, backed off and clogged the neutral zone at every opportunity which wasn’t ideal in the course of Saturday night. It gave the Bison space and the one thing that it’s generally a bad idea to give a team that thrives on quick passing, is space. A lot of people on the night (me included) said that the Steeldogs parked the bus early, hoped not to concede loads and try to counter on the break but the last part didn’t really happen. There were a couple of hairy moments but even so, the Steeldogs didn’t really offer a great amount going forward bar Bosas and Hiadlovsky was equal to that task.

That’s not to say that the performance was all bad from the Steeldogs. There was a lot of effort and in spite of a couple of wobbly moments James Hadfield had a very good game in a game where he got peppered from start to finish.

For all the jokes you might want to make, Greg Wood is not stupid. Presented with a set of circumstances, he’s made some decisions as to how to play when. Steeldogs should have one of their imports back for Sunday’s game at home with Basingstoke which will change the outlook of the game a bit. It’s not that Wood came in to the game accepting a loss was inevitable, any team of Greg Wood’s will be expected to give 100% effort but this game in Basingstoke was I’d venture that in front of their own fans and on their own ice that the Steeldogs will adopt something of their more traditional, physical approach and certainly a more high tempo game with the crowd behind them. That’s just smart coaching. The question for the Steeldogs will be whether they can also do a better job of reigning the Bison in.

Lowlight of the night: The highstick in the first couple of minutes to Ciaran Long was pretty nasty.

Highlight of the night: The slightly comedic moment where Derek Roehl checked Tim Smith to the ice, fell through the bench door, stayed on his feet, got caught by a member of the bench staff then ran back on to the ice to continue his shift.