Where did the BOTW Podcast go?
Are we getting a new national 2nd tier league?
Are we getting a new governing body?
Where will the league titles end up in the NIHL?
We attempt to answer most of those questions and a few more in the new BOTW Podcast.
The BOTW Podcast in association with Victory Hockey UK; the news, action and views from the NIHL and all levels above, below and in between.
NIHL 1 South
Basingstoke Bison 2-3 Peterborough Phantoms after penalty shots
Cowley x2 (1pp) Padelek x2
Penalty shots: (Phantoms shot first through 3 shooters then reversed)
Klejna saved – Susters scores
Harding scores – Billing saved
Cowley saved – Padelek saved
Harding misses – McEwen misses
Klejna misses – Susters misses
Sampford misses – Padelek scores
A step off: People have often bemoaned the shootout since it’s introduction to hockey in 1992. Whilst the discussion around playoffs and tournament finals always sees players generally prefer an everlasting amount of overtime, given that draws have been done away with in the sport for the most part the shootout is seen sometimes as a bit of a skills contest that isn’t really needed, not a view that I share. Given this game was pretty much an even split between which side was on top some might argue that a draw might have been apt because this result was not idea for either side in some ways. The Bison got something but lost, the Phantoms won but the Bison got something from the game.
Missing Richard Bordowski (injury) and Oscar Evans (playing for the Buffalo in Lee Valley with Sam Brooks and Cam Buckle) meant a shuffling of the forward lines again. The Bison reverted to an all-Brit top line of Russ Cowley centring George Norcliffe and Alex Sampford with Paul Petts stepping up to join Ashley Tait and Michal Klejna. This saw Danny Ingoldbsy and Hallam Wilson rotate in and out on the wing of the Adam Harding/Liam Morris combination as a third line.
It felt at times that the Bison lacked any real attacking penetration in this game as it felt like a set of forward lines made for passing and finesse against a team playing its all to familiar disruption and frustration game. We’ll go into that more in a bit when we talk about the Phantoms but the Bison really missed Bordowski’s physicality in this game. They needed someone a bit more prepared to go through people rather than try to speed around them. Liam Morris tried and I wonder how he might have fared moved onto the Tait/Klejna combination but given how well his partnership with Adam Harding is going perhaps that was felt to be an adjustment too far. Petts, who is a decent two-way player, is a good defensive anchor when needed between Tait and Klejna who are arguably the two highest skilled players on the roster.
The one thing the forwards did do was score albeit the first was in rather controversial fashion. Bavy referenced that this site would make reference to a Steve Moria penalty shot and we will briefly. In a game during his tenure as player/coach of the Bison, Moria scored a wonderful penalty shot in a shootout that went through Guildford netminder Gregg Rockman’s 5 hole and through the net. The referee on the night, Joy Totman famously said the shot had missed. Think the opposite of that. To be honest, I am entirely unsure when the puck entered the net for the Bison’s first goal. Play stopped and Ashley Tait and Michal Klejna were insistently pointing to the net for someone. No goal light went on but after an earnest consultation with his linesman, Mr Evans gave the goal.
The second saw no controversy at all as a shot forced Marr into kicking the save into an opportune place for Russ Cowley to tap in.
Whilst the team didn’t have its best night up front it was another solid defensive effort and none more so than from the Bison’s man of the match. When overtime finished Adam Jones looked physically and emotionally spent which given the effort he exerted seemed reasonable. The Bison as a group had looked tired at times but Jones had literally left everything on the ice. Defending is a tiring job and being the team’s number one defender sees Jones playing a sizeable chunk of minutes but on top of that he was continually trying to spark offence for a team that was struggling to do so especially in the later half of the game. Where Russ Cowley has arguably been the team’s most consistent forward, Jones is the team’s most consistent defenceman by some considerable distance. Whether this was Jones’ best game for the Herd will be questioned but this was arguably the one where he had the most impact.
Ultimately the Bison had a good first half of this game and a harder second half of it. However, because this team are determined to give everyone a heart attack, they left it late again and the game will be seen as a point gained rather than a point dropped. Whilst I don’t necessarily hold with the view that the shootout is a skills contest, I do find it hard to be relaxed about its outcome. It just didn’t fall the Bison’s way on this occasion. However a point combined with the Herd’s win in Milton Keynes and the Phantoms’ loss to Swindon sees the Herd leave the weekend in no worse place than they entered it. It’s not the optimal result but it is an acceptable one.
A word on our opponents: If you can go away, get outshot and win then it’s generally a decent night (just ask Invicta). However part of me wonders if the Peterborough Phantoms will be disappointed with this result in the long run. Perhaps this is experience tempering my pondering but goal difference cost them last season and has letting in that last minute goal to give the Bison a point will haunt things later on.
That pontification aside the Phantoms were poor in the first half of the game and really good for the rest of it up until Jordan Marr punted the puck right to Russ Cowley. The Phantoms had their gameplan and most people will know what they tried to do because Slava Koulikov has them do it every time that they play in Basingstoke.
However the real addition here was watching a team effectively and clinically strangle the life out of the Bison and the game. It was structured, it was energy efficient, it was calm, it was controlled. It was still not an entertaining watch but the road side doesn’t owe anybody any entertainment. Coming in and trying to play fast flowing hockey sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t; Swindon and Bracknell are good examples of that. Coming in and trying to clog the passing lanes sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t but Peterborough have that bit of an extra skill element to their game that other sides haven’t had when they come to Hampshire and whilst it’s not going to produce many highlights you do have to appreciate it.
It should also be said that Ales Padelek was outstanding on this night. Shootout winner aside he took both goals extremely well and his second in particular is a good team example of how you best work out the Bison. Make them press high, force them into pressing too much and then pounce. Without wanting to do too much disservice to the pass of Callum Buglass, any pass to Padelek in that sort of space would have been fine given the calibre of shot that went with it. Alex Mettam had no chance. The goals were an exclamation point on what was a very good all around performance.
It was also a good performance from Jordan Marr. The Scot had a solid evening and made a string of good saves including a superb stop on Michal Klejna in the shootout where it looked like the Slovak had sent Marr all sorts of the wrong way only to be denied by a superb save.
The Phantoms will kick themselves for not getting out of the game with the hosts getting nothing and probably more so for the loss the following night to Swindon but they rightly remain in the title picture.
We also would like to offer our congratulations to James Ferrara on his 600th appearance for the Phantoms in this game. Whatever opinions we have on Peterborough hockey, James has been a fantastic servant of it and has been a superb servant of the game in this country.
Lowlight of the night: Lack of attacking creativity going forward at times
Highlight of the night: Aside from assists for the invisible man, the performance of Adam Jones. If Ashley Tait coming back was important then getting Jones to come back has to be high on the to-do list for the Bison’s coach.
NIHL Southern Cup Semi-Final 2nd Leg
Basingstoke Bison 5-5 Swindon Wildcats
Harding Birbraer sh
Tait x2 Höög
Please excuse our tardiness on this one, work got in the way so here’s some chat about the game and the news that Ashley Tait will return to lead the Bison into 2019/20
NIHL 1 South
Basingstoke Bison 4-3 Streatham IHC “Redhawks” after OT
Tait Roberts 5on3pp
Work hard for the money: It’s nice sometimes to come out of the rink knowing you’ve watched a decent game of hockey. Whilst the officiating in this encounter was baffling at points it was a game played with an edge but in the right spirit. The Herd were made to work for the win but ultimately edged the play and were deserving of getting the extra point.
The issue that the Herd suffered from in the early going was a lack of clinical finishing. It’s been a criticism of this Bison side during this campaign in that they sometimes over egg the pudding. At times rather than doing the simple thing, they seem to try and do the fancy thing and against a team playing the disrupting road game it was easy at times to nullify when combined with a netminder playing well.
However what the Bison do well this season is respond to adversity and adapt. With the game being made scrappy by shorter benched side, the Herd had to be patient and take the chances when they came. Norcliffe’s goal; a turnover and an inch of space for the former Streatham forward to go upstairs. Tait’s goal, wins a board battle then uses what little space he’s given to carve out the chance to get the backhand shot away. Klejna’s goal came as everyone was standing around waiting for a penalty call that never came. The game winner came because of a defensive mistake that saw Russ Cowley given an acre of space. This is sensible play; try to do what you want and when you can’t have a back up. Hockey very often turns on errors. We talk about goals being scored but what the other team does plays massively into it. The trick is taking advantage of those errors.
It’s worth noting in this game that the Bison did make most of the running and as a roster were the more skilled team and whilst that was fine for how Streatham approached the game (we’ll get to that in a minute), ultimately it was that bit of extra skill that saw the Herd over the line.
Liam Morris got the man of the match for the second game in a row in a game where I saw him frustrated multiple times. After a hattick performance against MK where he had an almost free run of the ice, he was obviously less effective on the scoreboard in this game but it’s the effort level that won Morris the man of the match honours here. He had chances, chances that he put away the week before that he didn’t here but he never stops trying. Ashley Tait’s perseverance with the Harding, Ingoldsby and Morris combination is slowly starting to pay off. It’s not a line that’s going to score every shift but the potential is there. Ultimately if they’re playing in the opposition’s zone, the Bison aren’t getting scored on. As we edge closer to the playoffs I expect the physicality from this line to be ratcheted up. They’ll skirt close to the line penalty wise but it’ll be a third line combination that can neutralise and score on first and second lines.
Whilst this game wasn’t Alex Mettam’s finest night (the 87.5% save percentage for example) the performance of the defence overall continues to bode very well as the team head towards the crunch. Minus Sam Smith this meant increased ice time for everyone and nobody really missed a step. Three goals were conceded but one on the powerplay and one just after the powerplay expired where the team were stretched are forgiveable to a point and everyone has been going about their business well. The growing in confidence of Josh Kelly in particular has been exciting to watch.
Bar Richard Bordowski losing his head on a couple of occasions, it was a decent team performance from the Herd. It’s easy to look at the scoreline and think that the Bison made a meal of this but that wouldn’t be the case. As with many things this game had a lot of nuance to it. It takes two to tango, fortunately it was Ashely Tait’s side who had the better steps.
A word on our opponents: 8 regular forwards, a defenceman playing up front and being instructed where to go from the bench nearly every shift, no backup goalie; it’s normally a recipe for disaster. However whilst I don’t think that Streatham did enough to win this game, this is one where you can look at the outcome where they came away with a point and think “yeah, that’s acceptable. They deserved something from this.”
I’ve made it no secret over the years that I enjoy how Jeremy Cornish sides play. There was an added challenge in this game though as no Tom Soar and no Adam Wood meant a really short bench of forwards and the rather unusual sight (for this writer at least) of Rupert Quiney icing up front. Whilst he’s definitely not the best positional forward of all time, Quiney did very well for Streatham here. He also took his goal very well and that bit of flexibility from an unexpected source is a useful thing for Streatham going forward.
With all due respect to Thomas “Ziggy” Beesley’s industrious performance, I’m unsure why he was selected for the man of the match honours. Leigh Jamieson is a frustrating player when your team plays against him but he had the primary assist on all three of Streatham’s goals. The game plan from Cornish was very much about the collective effort but for all the ribs and chirps that he’ll have gotten over the years, I’d thought on the night that the old campaigner had done well and that was confirmed when I remembered to look at the scoresheet.
All three Streatham goals were taken well. Whilst Quiney streaking through centre ice and scoring 5 hole on Alex Mettam was as surprise, it was a nice shot as was the powerplay goal from Alex Roberts. Ryan Webb’s was not pretty but as long as it goes in, it doesn’t really matter. Aesthetics aren’t the concern when you’re 3-2 down and equalise.
Streatham came into Basingstoke and played a really solid road game. They knew what they had to do to neutralise the Bison’s high paced, passing attack and it worked for large stretches. Jacob Ranson irked Richard Bordowski to distraction, Damien King played superbly and made string of good saves, Andreas Siagris drew a penalty out of Ashley Tait like an old pro. The signs were there but it was that little bit of nous lacking from Streatham’s game that ultimately cost them. The overtime winner was symptomatic of that. Why, when two of the Bison’s top line are on the ice, is one of your guys cheating across to try and help out the man near the boards? For all the saves that King made in this game he was never going to stop Russ Cowley’s one time shot.
Hopefully for Streatham’s sake they get some more bodies back or the run in will be a hard ask for them. It seems that 5th is the ceiling for them at the moment. The tweaks that can be made could see them over that line if they get a run together.
Lowlight of the night: The leak in the roof and the third Streatham goal. Too much last gasp defending never bodes well.
Highlight of the night: Norcliffe’s opener for the Bison was a superb shot but it has to go to The Doctor, what a finish!
NIHL 1 South
Basingstoke Bison 7-2 Milton Keynes Thunder
Morris x3 Stone
The calm before the storm: Given all the nonsense of the last week, many would be forgiven for looking further towards Sunday night’s game in Berkshire than this one and at times in the early going it felt like the Basingstoke Bison were doing the same thing.
Make no mistake, the scoreline is a more than fair reflection of the overall game and in spite of taking an early lead, the Bison did not start this game looking like title challengers. The passing wasn’t crisp, there were turnovers galore and a defensive lapse that led to the first Thunder goal had many of the crowd in attendance scratching their heads.
What was encouraging was that the Bison didn’t overreact, stuck to their guns of their plan which included extended ice time for the bottom 6 forwards and and it came right in the end. In the end, one goal came from the top two lines and no points from any of the top 4 points scorers on the roster (Klejna, Tait, Bordowski or Cowley. Sampford is 5th) and whilst the opposition were a very different prospect from some of the other teams they will face in the title run in, the fact that this team can get goals from the bottom 6 is important. We bang on at this site about the importance of depth. We’re into the run in now, depth is massive. The old adage is that offence wins games and defence wins championships but in hockey, depth wins championships. It’s the ability to have a roster that can perform whether the guy plays 20 minutes or 10. This Bison roster has 7 defencemen, some get more icetime than others but the role they’re filling in that rotation is important.
After what I thought wasn’t his best game against Bracknell, Liam Morris responded this game with a hattrick and and an assist. Spending two periods of the games paying with Harding and Petts before a juggling of lines later in the game, Morris looked more like himself in this encounter. At times towards the end he did seem like he wanted to try every fancy spin move and no look pass he could (but that far ahead, why not I suppose) but the thing that has rightly earned Morris the plaudits when he’s played is his directness. Where the at times it feels like some players over-egg the pudding and look for too perfect a pass Morris, who surely benefited from this in his time in North America, takes the shortest route to the net and it’s that sort of old fashioned power forward play that has always appealed to Basingstoke hockey fans. What’s helpful is that whilst at times he is guilty of an easy giveaway, he never blows up the systems to drive the net “just because”. The combination with Harding and Petts was more than happy to work the cycle and then when the moment is right one of them would drive the net. That’s sensible play and that sort of structure was good to see in a game that could have gotten very scrappy.
Given that Morris was a lock for the beers once he scored his third, there was little much anyone else could have done but there were a number of good performances. Adam Harding added a neat powerplay goal to round out the scoring after an industrious performance. Harding seems to be taking his time to settle into things having played across the lines since joining from Swindon. Ashley Tait seems happy to keep tinkering to fit Harding properly into the line up though this weekend’s performance alongside Morris was more effective than last week’s for me.
In the last couple of weeks Paul Petts has started looked more and more threatening going forward whilst not losing his edge as a two way player. Oscar Evans took his goal very well, tipping a Jay King point shot home in front of Tom Annetts from just below the crossbar and Hallam Wilson finally scored at home for the first time since the home Autumn Cup game against Sheffield on 15th September last year.
The defence and Alex Mettam again continue to look like a well worked unit. They are not without their eccentricities and moments of madness but this group appear to have found a way to work with each other. What I’m also enjoying is that none of the defensive corps are being asked to be too rigid. They’re being allowed to play their game and it’s paying dividends. Tom Ralph is allowed to venture forward, Josh Kelly is being allowed to step in and make hits, Adam Jones is allowed to do pretty much whatever he wants but as the team’s number one defenceman that’s fine by me. Given how young they are, this group have taken massive strides this season together and that’s a real encouragement.
Albeit they weren’t playing well when they scored it, once the third Bison goal went in the game was never in doubt. Things even wound down in the third as Tait, Klejna and Cowley were all removed from the bench and even more icetime was given to the lower line guys. The Bison needed to be professional and were. This was handy given what’s coming.
A word on our opponents: I was pleasantly surprised by the Milton Keynes Thunder in this game. Short bench, poor form but game racing out of the gate. Lewis Clifford had the right idea from behind the bench; no point sitting back, run at them and surprise them. It worked for the most part and had some of their earlier chances gone in (they outshot the Bison in the first period) then it would have been a very different game. 11 outskaters (along with their financial issues, the Thunder treatment table is a full place at the moment) never bodes well against a team running 4 lines so the Thunder tried to hit the Bison hard and early. With the Bison seemingly stumbling through the opening exchanges, it worked for a bit then the Bison wrestled control of the game back and it was sadly beyond the power of the Thunder to get back into it.
Missing players like Jamie Line, Grant McPherson and Michael Stratford was always going to be a task but, and we’ve sung his praises on here before, the Thunder have a real gem of a prospect in Rio Grinnel-Parke. The obvious choice for the visitor’s man of the match, Grinnel-Parke will be a must sign for any coach in the NIHL next season. Perhaps lacking some size for EIHL coaches, he will be on the radar of coaches across the country. Able to play top six minutes (not that you do anything but in an 11 skater team) or a more traditional checking line role, Grinnel-Parke is very similar to Liam Morris in a lot of ways. It’s a pleasure to watch the young man play.
As I’m writing this, I see that the Thunder have sign Joe Edwards from Oxford to supplement their lines heading into the rest of the season. Edwards is a good performer at NIHL 2 level so we’re pleased to see him getting the chance but not even Edwards at his best would have helped this game. The Thunder were second best throughout and were beaten. It’s the way of things. This doesn’t stop them being an entertaining watch into the bargain.
Lowlight of the night: The first Thunder goal was poor team defence.
Highlight of the night: Hallam Wilson scoring at home is just reward for a young man who puts the effort in night after night. Delighted for him.
NIHL 1 South
Basingstoke Bison 6-2 Bracknell Bees
Cowley x3 (1sh) Z Milton
Norcliffe pp Malinik
Back to it: After a bit of a writing break from us, we’re back to what we do best and timing appears to be key here as this was a thoroughly entertaining encounter, certainly more than the win the previous week against Invicta.
There appears to be a switch in the head of the current Basingstoke Bison roster that gets flicked when it comes to games against Bracknell. Perhaps it’s just the strength of character in the group or perhaps it’s the roster picking up on the energy of the fans but something seems to switch in them. Arguably this is how derby games should be; the emotion is there so it means more and you’d be forgiven for thinking that this means that the games get too emotional or scrappy, tense affairs because winning takes precedence over winning with any style but this was a win with a bit of style if we ignore the first 150 seconds of the second period.
On occasion during this season the Bison have been accused of playing up or down to their opponents and that was arguably the case there. Faced with a team trying to play expansive, passing hockey they seemingly wanted to do the same but when it also appeared that the opposition had not learned anything from the previous encounter, it meant that they had the opportunity to re-execute that game plan and it worked again. Ultimately the Bison were well worth the win as a result; they shut down the space of the Bees top line for the majority of the game and nullified the Bees’ 2nd and 3rd lines to the point where they were largely ineffective whilst managing to get good penetration through an underperforming Bees defence.
A lot will be made of the character of the roster but the somewhat worrying trend of having these nightmare moments in games where they concede multiple goals in short order is a concern that needs to be addressed. It’s a case of focus more than of anything else for the Bison as on other occasions during the game with Swindon, Invicta and Bracknell they were more than able to shut the offence down by following their systems but when they have a blank moment, they really go blank. Leaving players like Roman Malinik alone in space in the slot when Vanya Antonov has the puck below the red line is never a good idea (especially frustrating when Jay King kept Antonov in his pocket most of the night) and leaving Alex Mettam with no support when he gives up a rebound for a tap are bad enough but within 34 seconds of each other. If the Bison want to win games and potentially win trophies then they will give up goals, that’s inevitable, but they can’t allow extended moments where their concentration lapses.
What this roster do very well is they put the effort in but also they attack very well as a team. The Bison don’t always have the most attractive breakout in British hockey but they transition well and now have on form scoring depth across the lines. If Adam Harding and Liam Morris can get up to speed working together then the Herd might well concede 2 or 3 goals a game but they will score 4 or 5 as a result. The change up in lines with the return of Morris to the line up seemed to benefit a couple of people but not Morris himself who doesn’t appear to have quite clicked in combination with Harding and Hallam Wilson just yet. With the extra forwards and the recent goalscoring prowess of George Norcliffe, rightly moved onto the second line, it meant that there would be some shuffling of the bottom six. That will take time to come.
We’d also be remiss not to mention the man of the match performance of Russ Cowley. His combination with Richard Bordowski has yielded a number of benefits for the Bison. Two veterans of the sport have a lot to teach the younger members of the team but it’s that high quality connection and performance that just make these two so much fun to watch. When on another night it would be Bordowski, it was Cowley (who remember, didn’t play at all last season) looking like he was rolling back the years to when many of us watched him for Coventry in the EIHL. At 34, he has plenty of hockey left in him but even we must acknowledge he’s nearer the end of the his career than the start of it. That said, we’re benefiting off of what he can do now and Cowley is clearly leading from the front. This was a real captain’s performance.
With only one game this weekend, it was a chance for them to empty the tank in a big game. Yes, it’s only worth two points but any local derby should be a big game as I’ve welcomed the reigniting of the rivalry between the two sides. The fans have bought in, the players seemingly have as well. Results and performances like this are a happy bonus.
A word on our opponents: A few weeks ago this site published a piece that was entirely pictures as I was fed up of writing similar reports from whenever the Bison played the Peterborough Phantoms. Given how this particular game went, there’s some argument that this would be a re-hash of the last Bees match report. Discipline issues through the first period where they took too many penalties, tried to play expansively but got shut down too much and seemed devoid of ideas as they tried to up their physicality.
It’s worth noting that this Bees side clearly have some good elements to them. They’re not a bad hockey team but apart from a really short spell, this was a bad night for them. Apart from a couple of players, this was a game where they suffered from a Bees side that played hard but didn’t play smart. There was no adaptation; it was Plan A and when that didn’t work they tried Plan A some more.
Along with many other people in attendance, I was somewhat surprised that Dean Skinns got the Bees man of the match as I didn’t believe that this was his best night. Whilst at times he wasn’t helped by some lacklustre defending, Skinns looked shaky at times.
If I was handing out the beers, I would have handed them to Zack Milton. Milton, who was effectively a walk-on to the Bees roster from the Bracknell system, impressed Doug Sheppard to the point kept him with the Bees, scored one goal and was a constant threat. Where other Bees players seemed to be short of intent in their play, Milton went 100% towards the goal for the duration. A lot of the dangerous Bees play went through Antonov and Malinik but once the Bison shut them down it was up to the others to find a way to do something and make a difference. In the opinion of this writer, only Milton felt like he did something of impact.
If I’m a Bees fan I’m pleased with the effort but not the execution. For some reason the Bees have fallen into the same trap twice in Basingstoke and it’s up to Doug Sheppard to find a way out of that. The Bees will be a different prospect at home, everyone knows that but there has to be an alternative approach or the same thing will happen at the Hive.
Lowlight of the night: The first 3 minutes of the second period.
Highlight of the night: Sam Smith scoring for two reasons; Sam Smith scoring and the look on Bordowksi and Cowley’s faces when they figured out that neither of them had gotten a deflection.
NIHL 1 South
Basingstoke Bison 4-3 Peterborough Phantoms after penalty shots
Norcliffe Stepanek pp
Cowley pp Pollard
Shootout: Bison shoot first
Bordowski saved Stepanek saved
Klejna goal Padelek miss
Words fail us:
End of First period
End of Second period
End of Third period