Goodnight and Good Luck – Dan Weller-Evans

After two seasons in Bison colours and some able appearances in relief and a championship medal with his hometown team, backup netminder Dan Weller-Evans has opted to leave the Bison to rejoin the Wightlink Raiders.

Whilst Goodnight and Good Luck has something of a usual format, we got a chance to catch up with Dan at his secret island base so the format is going out of the window to bring you this exclusive chat.

Dan Weller-Evans will be heading back to the Isle of Wight for 2016/17. (c) 5 Hole Photography

Dan Weller-Evans will be heading back to the Isle of Wight for 2016/17.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

BOTW: Dan, congratulations on your signing with the Raiders. What led to the move back to the island?

DWE: A few things led to me coming back here, both with hockey and my personal life. Hockey wise, the chance to play more games in the season and compete for ice time was huge for me. I am 22 now and I am at the age where I need to prove to myself I can fight for games and play a consistent string of games. When Jeremy Cornish contacted me about re-joining the Raiders it was an easy decision for me. He is a coach that I love playing for and a good friend away from hockey too. I know what I’m going to get from him and he knows what he will get from me. It doesn’t feel like I’m coming to a new team at all. In my personal life as well the island is a good move for me. My girlfriend is here and a change in our plans away from hockey has also contributed to this. She has travelled up to Basingstoke every week without fail for 2 seasons now and we have seen each other one night a week for 2 years so to have the opportunity to come down here and spend time together properly as well as play hockey was a no brainer for me. Working at Ryde Arena also makes my life easy here. Exciting times are coming for the rink which I’m sure you will all see when we are re-opened.

BOTW: You’re also heading into a new chapter in your personal life as you’re off to uni. Tell us about that.

DWE: I am off to university in Portsmouth to study Criminology, it’s what I have wanted to do when I finish playing and I am in the training stages with Hampshire Constabulary. The course is online and so I can work from home and my lectures are also online. So I can fit it round everything else but get my degree at the same time.

BOTW: What was the moment you’ll remember most from last season?

DWE: Honestly pretty much all of it. There’s a few moments I’d like to forget like the Sheffield game at home (the bench clearing brawl that saw Dan give Steeldogs backupThomas Barkworth a bit of a pasting, Ed.) but I think winning the league is the obvious one for me. I wasn’t even born when the league title was last won in Basingstoke and so to be a part of that success and actually contributing was amazing. I made so many friends in my time in Basingstoke and learned loads. I had Tomas (Hiadlovsky) coaching me last year which was amazing and we became close friends away from hockey. We still speak every day. But I think I will also remember the room and the laughs we all had last year. There are no little groups in the team, they are one big family and I think that’s a huge credit to Doug and a huge reason for our success last year.

BOTW: Have you got any message for the fans as you go on your way?

DWE: Wow, where do I start? I was once a Bison fan watching games every Saturday in the Elite League and even when we would lose every game the fans were still the best but as a player you feel it a whole lot more. You are unbelievable and if I could take your noise with me I would. I want to say thank you for making me feel so welcome from the moment I was announced 2 seasons ago; always cheering me and the boys every week, home and away. You are like an extra player for us and I am so glad I was part of the team who could bring the league title back for you all to enjoy. As I have said before, I love the Bison and I will continue to do so. The team is going places and enjoy it! You deserve it just as much as they do!

Until next time!

DWE #93

Dan played a lot more this season than many expected him too and everyone had a mild heart attack when Tomas Hiadlovsky crumpled to the ice back in November but when he was called upon to step in, he stepped in and gave a good account of himself. As he said above, he’s made the choice to go back to the NIHL to test himself and see whether he can challenge Matt Colclough for game time and starts. That alone is a respectable choice but even more reasonable given the changes in his personal circumstances.

All the best, Dan.


Building the Herd – Kurt Reynolds

#7 Kurt Reynolds

Position: Defence

Born: Basingstoke, Hampshire

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 19th May

(c) 5 Hole Photography

(c) 5 Hole Photography


Building the Herd – Rene Jarolin

#35 Rene Jarolin

Position: Forward

Born: Skalica, Záhorie, Slovakia

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 19th May

After joining midway through the season, the popular Rene Jarolin returns to the Bison for 2016/17. (c) 5 Hole Photography

After joining midway through the season, the popular Rene Jarolin returns to the Bison for 2016/17.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Hot off the heels of the announcement that the EPL has raised its import limit, Bison coach Doug Sheppard announced the second import to for 2016/17 with the return of Rene Jarolin.

The Slovak, who will turn 35 just after the start of the new season, started the 2015/16 campaign with the MK Lightning and was released after an inauspicious start where he scored 5 goals and 22 points in 20 games. With Joe Rand taking a step away from the active roster, Doug Sheppard snapped up the former EIHL top goalscorer and it was an instant hit. Jarolin scored 24 goals and 51 points in 35 games as the Bison secured the league title and Rene was awarded with a spot on the all-star team’s second line.

Making his pro debut in 2000 with Spisska Nova Ves, Jarolin made his Slovak Extraliga debut with hometown side HK 36 Skalica in 2001.

Rene stayed with Skalica until deep into the 2004/05 NHL lockout season that saw Jarolin play with Ziggy Palffy before moving to Zvolen for a run at the playoffs. Jarolin bounced about for a bit between Skalica and Slovan Bratislava before finding a home with SKP Poprad in 2006/07 staying there till 2009. Jarolin went back to Skalica for another two seasons before he got a call to go overseas.

Jarolin accepted the call from Scott Neil to join the Edinburgh Captials in 2011 and proved an instant hit with the Murrayfield fans as he took the EIHL goalscoring crown with 43 goals and 75 points but the Captials missed out on the playoffs. Jarolin stayed for a second season scoring a meagre 31 goals and 71 points as Edinburgh finished 8th and made the playoffs but were dispatched in the quarterfinals.

Jarolin returned home to Slovakia for 2013/14, splitting his time between Dukla Senica in the 2nd tier and Zilina in the Extraliga before moving to Milton Keynes to start the last season. Jarolin has played 478 games in Slovakia’s top tier scoring 321 points and averages over a point per game in the EIHL and EPL.

The best joke of last season, “Thanks Pete”. Rene Jarolin is a good hockey player, Pete Russell is a good hockey coach but it was wrong man in the wrong place in the wrong system. It didn’t make sense for MK to keep him at the time Jarolin was released; the Lightning were third having (and thanks EIHA scheduling for this) played loads more games and whilst they were in a good position, needed a change to effectively push on. They made those changes and one of them was Jarolin leaving.

I shall put on my cape and be Captain Obvious for a moment; Doug Sheppard got a lot right last year but one of the things that he got really right was how he used Rene Jarolin. Where he’s been not been fitted in to a system with the Lightning and hadn’t had a foil to work off, Sheppard put him with Joe Greener and Ciaran Long in his early days with the Bison and he scored with relative ease. Now of course this is the Bison and stuff gets swapped about every 5 minutes but it meant that Jarolin was bedded in and could play anywhere on the roster with anyone because he knew what he needed to do. He clicked, he fitted in and it worked.

At nearly 35, Jarolin is not going to win any speed races any more but he’s that natural sniper who if someone feeds him the puck then he will find a way to put it in. Now given that it seems that Karpov and Long will start the season together and there’s no other centres signed yet, it’s a bit hard to say who lines up alongside him for the coming season. Aaron Connolly is a possibility as a line mate but Connolly would be the guy making space for Jarolin to do his thing rather than the guy feeding him. We’ll need to wait a little while to get the fuller picture but to be able to get an import who scored 73 points in his 55 games last season which is more than Tomas Karpov is a fantastic pull for Doug Sheppard.

Joining a team mid-season sometimes works well, sometimes not. It worked well for Rene Jarolin. The pressure is on in some ways because that first 2/3rds of a season was such a success that it will be really hard to follow up. The season after the double wasn’t a damp squib but it wasn’t as good. There are expectations for someone like Rene Jarolin heading into 2016/17 but given we’ve seen that it can work, there’s no reason to believe that it won’t again.

Welcome back, Rene; bring your mars bars and your smarties.

He scores with his face, he scores with his faaaaaace, Rene Jarolin, he scores with his face.

He scores with his face, he scores with his faaaaaace, Rene Jarolin, he scores with his face.


BOTW Breakdown – the 2016/17 import increase

It was announced across the league today that EPL member clubs have agreed to increase the import limit to 5 non EIHA trained players. Teams will be able to increase the number of imports dressed but must maintain 3 British players on the ice at any one time.

The chance of another Karpov on your roster? The EPL has voted to increase the number of non-EIHA trained players but keeps the rule that 3 Brits must be on the ice. (c) 5 Hole Photography

The chance of another Karpov on your roster? The EPL has voted to increase the number of non-EIHA trained players but keeps the rule that 3 Brits must be on the ice.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

The release on the Basingstoke Bison’s website mentioned that alternative ideas were voted down and sources tell BOTW that one of the other proposals that was voted down was that if a team fielded an import netminder they would have been allowed to dress fewer imports.

The motion brought forward by one of the EPL clubs at the recent owners meeting would have seen import netminders effectively count double; teams fielding an import netminder in a game would have been allowed to dress 4 imports but those dressing a British netminder would be allowed to dress 5 imports.

Before I get into what I think about this, let’s ask the obvious question (and keeping the press release from the league and clubs in mind) of why this vote has passed. There’s a few possible answers and arguments;

The smaller teams were struggling to sign high end Brits so an import that they can get fills out the top end of their roster easier – sounds mad (though it was alluded to partially in the Bison’s press release by John Neville) but it’s a way for teams that won’t be challenging for the title to get some extra high end offence or defence. Ciaran Longs and Danny Meyers and Aaron Nells don’t grow on trees and certain Ben Bowns don’t so to allow teams further down the table to be more competitive, allowing an extra import at any position gives teams that may not be able to afford the wages of a top end Brit the chance to add something they need.

The bigger teams want to add more imports to strengthen their position – whilst there’s all that talk of development and costs bigger sides, knowing that they’re perennial title challengers and keeping crowds and sponsors happy means that you have to do one thing; win hockey games. That means, development league tag or not, getting the best players that you can. There is some top British talent but as the quality of the EPL grows every year but the size of the player poor, particularly for top end players stays the same, how do you keep in the hunt? By finding a way to increase that player pool and find another overseas player. This could be a high end player to get you 70 points or a guy to add some really solid depth and be a role guy. If you can afford a better guy then you get the better guy. Either way, it’s an attractive option for the teams at the top end.

All clubs think that imports will increase the standard – more on that in a bit

All of the above – make your own jokes.

I have made my stance on the raising of import limits clear in private discussions and on social media so I will make it clear here as well. It is not a good answer or a bad answer to any of the ills of British ice hockey at this stage. No, at this stage it is the lazy answer. It is a catch all tactic used in the EIHL and now the EPL not with any finesse or direction but like a man out of ideas shrugging his shoulders when asked what to do.

I don’t deny that the EPIHL has had its problems; as I write this we have 2 clubs as close to the wall as they can be but it was a league that overall was seeing rising attendances and a regular increase in its quality levels. You only needed to watch games in the league on a semi-regular basis to see that. However when you think of all the issues that this league faces from the club finance issues to the lack of consistency of approach to development to treating the EIHL like an awkward relative to the utter inaction of the EIHA in its role as a governing body and the one thing that 100% didn’t need doing in the EPIHL was a raising of the import limit which becomes even more frustrating an answer when you read that 4 imports had been agreed in the first place.

In talking to someone about this change they said to me “you’d have hated the BNL” I responded saying that the BNL had its place within the structure at the time. With an EIHL with 10 or 11 imports, a 6-8 import league had its place. If a move towards clubs forming the BNL 2.0 then announce it! Come together, form a plan allowing those clubs to stay in a 4 import league to do so, work with IHUK and maybe even the EIHL to formalise a structure in some honest collaborative working to benefit the sport but as I’ve said above, there’s nothing of that in this. Many people from fans to players to coaches have spoken of the likely damage this will do to the development of British netminders or the spot lost for a developing player who could be given a chance. I find Ken Taggert’s assertion that the move to 5 imports will “close the gap” to the EIHL when they’ve increased their import limit thereby further limiting the chances for players to step up, borderline absurd in context of the British game today. With no apparent long term strategy for why this is being done announced with the import increase, I struggle to understand how “this change will help to enrich the flow of talent”.

The response of Peterborough to initially start the season with 4 imports right off the bat is an interesting move. A team that defied expectations last season, will have agreed to the change are the first to say that they’re not taking up the option. Whilst this their press release says that they “support the EIHA in their decision” despite the fact it was a decision that their ownership would have voted on, they obviously have faith in the roster they’ve recruited (including James Ferrara and Tom Norton being back for the 2nd year of their two year deals) whilst leaving flexibility to add a 5th import if they can for the run in.  Will any of the others join them in this move?

As ever there are some who will be perfectly fine with this, that’s their right. When I find myself having my 800 millionth discussion about imports, a few EIHL fans always say that the cream will rise to the top which is true in sport but not every player in Britain is a David Clarke or a Ben Bowns. Players need to develop and players develop with hard work on their part but on the part of others. Players need to take a chance on themselves but so do coaches and organisations. Any club, no matter if EIHL or NIHL2 have an obligation to develop players to keep the sport going. NHL clubs, vast billion dollar organisation spent vast chunks of their turnover developing players in the AHL and ECHL and even if it is for their own ends, they’re developing them but we can’t see that in British hockey. Instead we…oh yeah.

That’s not fair to some clubs who are trying to make steps in the right direction but clubs are acting so independently of each other and with no proper structure that allows players a real route upwards that they all might as well be screaming in to the vacuum. Junior and NIHL clubs are doing tons of work and it wouldn’t be beyond the realm of fantasy for them to see this as a bit of a slap in the face.

Ultimately today’s announcement is a symptom of a bigger sickness that we keep seeing time and time again; steps forward get made but it’s a step forward deeper into the molasses. I’m daft enough to believe that hockey, in and of itself, is entertaining. It’s entertaining whether it’s the Basingstoke Buffalo or the Buffalo Sabres so adding another import to the EPIHL might make things more interesting, it might not. I’m sure whatever extra import your team and mine signs will give their all in the shirt. Will it help the long game? I suppose I can only answer in the same way the league is dealing with its many issues by copying today’s attempt at an answer and shrug my shoulders.


Goodnight and Good Luck – Jon Baston

Having tweeted his availability to the world and following the club’s press release late yesterday, it’s been confirmed that netminder Jon Baston will not be returning to the Bison.

Baston moves on; EPL 1st team all-star Jon Baston will not be back for the Bison in 2016/17. (c) 5 Hole Photography

Baston moves on; EPL 1st team all-star Jon Baston will not be back for the Bison in 2016/17.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

What have we lost?

To say that Baston is an unorthodox netminder would be like saying that Ciaran Long likes to dangle in shootouts. Stylistically in some ways, how he plays shouldn’t work; the frantic movements combined with throwing himself around like a child on a bouncy castle should make for a guy that can’t stop anything.

The thing with Baston stylistically was that he has fantastic body control. Being quite a tall guy, he’s not gangly with it. It sounds really simplistic but he’s able to manoeuvre his limbs quite well and that’s important for a goalie. Whilst a lot of his movements were frantic, they were mostly deliberate and intentional rather than random acts of chance.

That said we all know that Baston excelled in those mad moments. When the puck was in front of the net and people were scrambling, he just seemed to find a way to get something in the way and make a save. With that came shutout after shutout. Combined with a quirky personality and a dress sense that rivalled Mindy Kieras, it made him an instant fan favourite.

Where has he gone?

At the moment, nowhere. Baston’s agent tweeted his availability and Baston retweeted it. It’s a likely bet that this forced the Bison’s hand in announcing his departure to stop people asking about it.

Who replaces him?

The chances of the Bison having two import netminders intentionally this season was always was always going to be low. Given you’d assume that Shepard is wanting to keep a title winning netminder, it was either going to be Baston or Hiadlovsky leaving and we’ve seen the answer to that question.

Final thoughts:

There’s a lot to unpack here so stick with me.

Given his popularity with the Bison fans and his performances over the season, there was a lovely symmetry that it was the Finn in net when the Bison secured the title. However the opinion of many was that Tomas Hiadlovsky had taken back control of the number 1 slot in net at the tail end of the season. Following the Slovak’s return from injury in February he lost 2 games; 1 in the league away at Milton Keynes after the title was already won and the playoff semi-final against the Lightning in a shootout. Baston by his own admission had given up soft goals and he regularly made jokes about how big his 5-hole was.

Baston had seemingly been fine with being swapped in and out of the line-up; he would sit in the stands with fans at home and away games to cheer the team on and would make himself visible but then lime green trousers do help that. He joined in the title celebrations. Then he vanished.

After an ill thought out tweet of a picture of the back of his Bison shirt with inverted colours that exclaimed that the name on the back was more important than the name on the front (which was since deleted), Baston was a ghost. He wasn’t at the Coventry weekend as rumours of him being “sacked” for the tweet abounded nor was he at the end of season awards dinner. The Finn had vanished into thin air.

I reached out to Jon for comment over playoff weekend and I did last night as well for this piece which he hasn’t responded to. That is his right and I make no judgement based on that. At times players want to talk, other times they do not. I spoke to a raft of people about the situation; some saying it was just an ill-advised thing he did, others quite cross that a player would say that.

My view is this; at EPIHL level, Jon Baston is a very good netminder capable of playing for any team in this league. He has things that he needs to develop in his playing style and he plays a very high risk game at times but he showed himself at Basingstoke and Hull to be more than capable of handling what is thrown at him.

He’s also just about to turn 22 years old and when I was 22, I did daft things. I can’t speak for the locker room mentality of the Bison nor would I dream of doing so but we do know that they’re close and dedicated to the cause. I can understand entirely why saying something like that in a public sphere would not have gone down well. It wouldn’t be a leap to suppose that this might have crossed a line that couldn’t be returned from. Baston is a very different character from the rest of the Bison line up; maybe it was a case of not quite fitting in combined with this. I can’t say for certain, this is all supposition but for him to just disappear like that speaks to something of magnitude having happened.

He should take the flack for doing something silly however I don’t think it is fair to crucify a young man for one mistake of this magnitude. It was a poor choice of words but making mistakes is how people learn and if this results in Jon Baston being a better person and professional then that’s what we can hope for.

It means that, for now at least, we will not see him back to help defend a title that he played a massive part in the club winning. His form from his arrival to Hiadlovsky’s return won him the 1st line EPL all-star goalie spot. The story of Jon Baston will no doubt continue somewhere else and despite its rather abrupt ending, we did get to see a really exciting part of it.

All the best, Jon; as it was when you joined, the mic is yours should you ever wish to speak about it.


Building the Herd – Ciaran Long

Building the Herd – Ciaran Long

#89 Ciaran Long

Position: Forward

Born: Birmingham, England

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 12th May

Around for a Long time; Ciaran Long will return for the Bison in 2016/17. (c) 5 Hole Photography

Around for a Long time; Ciaran Long will return for the Bison in 2016/17.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Continuing the theme of big name re-signings, Doug Sheppard announced the latest player to return to aid the Bison in their title defence is Ciaran Long. The announcement comes as Long prepares to head to New Zealand to spend the summer playing in the NZIHL with the Canterbury Red Devils alongside James Archer before heading back to Basingstoke for 2016/17.

About to enter his 3rd consecutive season with the Herd, if Long stays fit the self proclaimed “youngest veteran in the EPL” should play his 500th regular season EPL game sometime into 2017.

Having come up and been a stand out in the Swindon junior system, Ciaran made his EPL debut in the 2005/06 season before becoming a more regular member of the Wildcats roster the following season.

After 119 regular season games in Wiltshire, Long moved changed clubs a little as he moved from Slough to Basingstoke to Manchester and the back to Slough. Everywhere he went, Long scored points but never seemed to quite settle for one reason or another. After leaving Manchester in early 2013 to head back to Slough and stayed into the following 2013/14 season.

However Slough were starting to suffer with financial issues. With Michael Wales having already made the move to the Bison, Long followed just before Christmas after being unveiled at the supporters’ club quiz in the worst attempt at disguise ever seen. Camouflage may not have been his forte but Long formed a partnership with Joe Greener that worked wonders for the Bison through the double winning season and into the championship season until Greener’s retirement from playing to move to America. Alongside winning all the EPL’s trophies with the Bison, Long won the playoffs with Slough in 2010, a second team all star in 2015 and a first team all star in 2016.

Out of his 465 games, Long has played 167 games and scored 182 points. He’s also a former GB under 18 and under 20 international winning gold, silver and bronze medals in his time with the u20 side.

The good times keep rolling for Bison fans it seems. 3 popular names back, 3 top points scorers and important pieces in the title defence all announced as returning within the space of the week. In a league where having Brits who can not only play top line minutes but put up big numbers, a 60+ point scorer like Long who was the Bison’s top scoring Brit is an important element to keep.

I am both not surprised and really surprised to see Ciaran Long back with the Bison. I’m not surprised for a variety of reasons; top British point scorer at a team that won the title, works well within the systems used by Doug Sheppard, he’s finally found a team that he can be comfortable with in a group where he’s not just close to people but is part of the core. Of course you’d want to come back to that.

I’m surprised that he’s back because at 25 years old, Ciaran Long is EIHL ready. He was arguably EIHL ready at the start of last season. OK there’s more to it than that but there’s not one of the 10 EIHL coaches that couldn’t find a spot for a point per game EPL Brit who can play on the third line somewhere in their roster? Not that the Bison fan in me is arguing with keeping a player like Long but the analyst in me looks at the long game (pun not intended) and I have to wonder about the possibilities and why they aren’t happening.

However this isn’t a piece about the ills of the EIHL or the EPL but a really good hockey player. I heard people getting frustrated at times with his play when they complain about him waiting too long for the perfect shot or trying to be too fancy but that’s part of the risk/reward with that style of play. Long’s a physical guy, he can throw a hit and even throw down when he needs to but look at the line combinations he was on part of last season. He was either feeding the puck to Jarolin for the snipe or being fed the puck by Karpov to snipe himself. He wasn’t there for brute force but finesse and skill and if you’re going to have a guy play that game then you need to let him express himself. That means taking the moments where he makes Sam Gospel’s water bottle explode with the times that it doesn’t go quite right. I think it’s an acceptable trade off.

Actually, you know what?

Long_bottle_explode

Yes. That’s nice.

Welcome back, Ciaran and enjoy New Zealand.

You can watch Ciaran play for the Canterbury Red Devils in the NZIHL and over 40 games of the 2016 season live and free at www.nzihl.tv


Building the Herd – Tomas Karpov

#44 Tomas Karpov

Position: Forward

Born: Benešov, Středočeský kraj, Česko

Announced as signed: Bison website, 10th May

All smiles; Tomas Karpov returns for his 4th season in Bison colours. (c) 5 Hole Photography

All smiles; Tomas Karpov returns for his 4th season in Bison colours.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

With the announcement that last season’s captain was returning, Doug Sheppard decided to make everyone in Basingstoke a bit happier and moved to confirm the return of last season’s top scorer, Tomas Karpov. 27 year old Karpov enters his 4th season with the Bison, the third of his three year deal as he completes a business management degree at the University of Winchester.

Speaking to Banners On The Wall, Karpov offered the following;

Looking back at my career, I feel like the signing in Basingstoke three years ago was the best decision I have made in my professional ice hockey career. I enjoy being on a winning team that is led by a great coach, has a truly great group of guys and being supported by the best fans in the league.

Also I am very grateful to be able to play the game I love as well as doing my degree at the University of Winchester, which is helping me to develop other areas much needed for life after hockey.

And of course don’t tell the monkey!”

Karpov’s history is well known; a Sparta Prague junior product, after some time in the Western Hockey League with Moose Jaw and Calgary, Karpov returned to his homeland and spent his time mixed between playing for Sparta and being loaned out to Czech 2nd division sides like Berounsti Medvedi and Dukla Jihlava.

After starting the 2012/13 season with Medvedi, Karpov was allowed to leave and headed to Telford in early January 2013. Whilst the Tigers were not the challengers for honours that they are now, Karpov impressed as he notched 38 points in 23 games to close out the season.

That was enough to attract the attention of Doug Sheppard who convinced Karpov and then Tigers team mate Tim Burrows (who is now playing for Cardiff Fire in the NIHL) to sign in Basingstoke. Whilst Burrows moved on to other things, Karpov set the league alight. His partnership with Andy Melachrino paid multiple dividends and when Michael Wales joined from Slough, the combination caused problems for defences across the league. As the Bison ended their silverware drought, Karpov was at the forefront as he finished the campaign as the team’s top scorer as well as a first team all-star and the BOTW player of the year.

Karpov was rewarded that summer with a 3 year contract and, as part of the sponsorship deal with the university, a place at university to go with it. Whilst 2014/15 was an injury hit campaign but saw the Czech forward still go over a point per game. The most recent campaign saw a return to fitness and form as Karpov returned to his position as the team’s top scorer and first team all-star en route to the Bison winning the title whilst passing the 200 point mark for the club in all competitions.

Karpov is also a former Czech under 18 international and is, to my knowledge, the only Bison player to have played at a Spengler Cup.

So, the player we all knew was coming back is back. I don’t begrudge the Bison as an organisation re-announcing Karpov because in the weird and wacky world of British hockey where contracts at times don’t seem to be worth the paper they are written on and where I got asked if Karpov was moving to MK at playoff weekend, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Two re-signings, two absolute no brainers to start off the recruitment announcements from Doug Sheppard. Where Aaron Connolly is the energy and the heart of the Bison line up, Karpov is the creative engine.

The Bison are a team with a lot of emotion, sometimes too much as we’ve seen and all acknowledge but that’s not something I’d attribute to Karpov. That’s not to say that Tomas is some sort of emotionless Ivan Drago like figure who adheres to every 1970s stereotype of an Eastern European person but his hockey brain is his strongest trait. He seems to see the play half a step ahead of everyone else and that’s where he can work his magic. The best example I can immediately think of is his first goal against Swindon in the title clinching game in March; on the puck in front of Stevie Lyle and Ciaran Long in acres of space in the slot screaming for the puck, 99 out of 100 players put that puck on Long’s stick but not Karpov. He knows Lyle has seen Long and is cheating across off his right post to cover. He also knows that his backhand is faster than Lyle’s lateral movement and in the puck goes.

Whilst people will have their favourites, any discussion about the best out and out player in the EPIHL has to include Karpov. Whilst he has never topped the league scoring charts, his sheer consistency and quality instantly put him in the discussion. Many would wonder why a player in his prime years would commit to a second division British hockey team. He’s explained his reasons for signing in his mind but it was also a shrewd signing then and now. Investing in a player and his personal development allowed the club to have a genuine game breaker and headline maker. Even more crazy when you think that at times last season, he was a third line centre! Whilst I’ve made the point about how he uses his head, on the ice and off it, you can tell that when push comes to shove that his heart is in this as well.

Welcome back, Tomas; more of the same please.


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