Building the Herd – Alex Sampford

#?? Alexander Sampford

Position: Forward

Born: Basingstoke, Hampshire

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 14th June

Alex Sampford returns to Basingstoke after seasons at the Isle of Wight and Streatham.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

With Ashley Tait still building his squad for 2018/19, the new Bison coach added to the forward ranks this week with the return of former Bison junior, Alex Sampford after spending the majority of the last two seasons with Streatham.

Basingstoke born Sampford, 21, started his hockey journey in Basingstoke before heading to Slough at under 16 level. Sampford progressed well through the junior system at The Hanger as he moved to the u18 Comets and made his senior debut for the old Jets NIHL2 side during 2012/13.

For 2013/14, Sampford came back to Basingstoke as he split his time between the under 18 Bison and the Buffalo scoring 8 points in 17 NIHL 2 games that season. With Sampford getting more eyes on him, 2014/15 was a year of movement and change for the young man. After starting the season with the Buffalo and making his first Bison appearance, Sampford moved to the Solent Devils in NIHL 1 to finish the season, scoring 15 points in 15 games and 3 points in 2 playoff games.

It was that performance with the Devils that caught the eye of Jeremy Cornish and Sampford was convinced to join the Wightlink Raiders. Whilst he was also training and making sporadic Bison appearances to gain experience, Sampford thrived at Ryde scoring 32 points and helping the Raiders make the playoff final in his first full season on an NIHL roster.

It had gone so well that Sampford was convinced to return to the island for 2016/17 and then the doors at Ryde were locked. The dispute between Ryde Community Trust and the landlords, AEW saw the club forced to fold and along with Jeremy Cornish and what seemed like half the Raiders roster, Alex migrated north to Streatham.

It was a mixed first season for the Redhawks as they adjusted to a poor start to the season and the coaching and playing style change. Streatham stuck with Sampford for the altered NIHL in the season just gone and Sampford provided a useful asset for the team scoring 15 points in 30 league games as well as going a point per game in the NIHL cup.

Again, not another title grabbing signing for the Bison but one that provides discussion. Why has Sampford come back to Basingstoke after such a productive time in South London? It’s a question that only Sampford himself can really answer but the Alex Sampford that we’ll see in a Bison jersey this time is a different one from the one that we’ll see in 2018/19.

Sampford has developed from the wide eyed junior into a useful secondary scorer who plays with a bit of an edge. He’s a decent sized player who can skate well and put the puck in the net. The Bison need that at the moment with the gaps that they have on the roster. It’s been the strength of recent Bison sides; go back through last season and see how many games they had where there were multiple scorers.

Is Alex Sampford a top line player? At this level and at this moment, probably not but he is capable of filling a gap on the second line even if he is more suited to a traditional third line role at the moment. However this is also what we’ve seen out of young players at this club. When there’s a chance to step up, someone steps up. If Sampford develops well over the season then there’s no reason why he can’t earn the shot at more ice time. I’m not resting the entire scoring hopes of the team on the solicitor firm sounding duo of Tait and Sampford as the coach no doubt has some ideas of who he wants on that top line but you’d want Sampford to be aiming to better his 22 points in league and cup from last season and especially if he has increased ice time to do so.

Welcome back home, Alex.


Goodnight and Good Luck – Roman Malinik

(c) 5 Hole Photography

As another player leaves the Bison even this writer, someone that tries to always maintain an optimistic outlook on things, has to take a deep sigh and scratch his head about what is happening at the moment.

As an individual story, Roman Malinik leaving the Bison is sad but not earth shattering. British hockey has had import players since its inception and won an Olympic gold medal with a lot of Canadian ex-pats and hockey fans in Hampshire are used to players leaving, especially imports.

Malinik will be a loss to the Bison, there’s no doubt of that. At times single handily trying to take the side kicking and screaming towards its goals last season, he’s a player that will maybe score 50 points rather than 60 or 70 and on the surface you wonder why. It’s when you stop and look at the wider game that he plays that you realise just how much he does. If nothing else, how entertaining was it to watch Malinik drive to the net, holding off defenders like he was made of Teflon.

Getting an import forward of Malinik’s quality will be tough but again, there’s not a shortage of good eligible players who want to play in Britain. If the Bison are operating under the same budget or even slightly less, there’s a guy that we can get that will do the job. Whether they do the job as well remains to be seen until they are on the ice. We couldn’t even be sure that Malinik would until we saw him.

I don’t think anyone can blame Malinik for going to Bracknell and it’s likely for the same reasons that a lot of Bison players have gone there; Sheppard is an excellent coach at this level, he plays well and had success in his systems and the uncertainty over the rink situation.

I mentioned in our welcome piece for the 5 returnees yesterday that I understood why Planet Ice announced them when they did, doing so as a means to say “look, some guys are coming back” however whether this was the correct strategy was a question that was also asked. If the Bison had big guns in their arsenal to announce then arguably get them out early and often to get people onside and squash some of the nonsense doing the rounds. It’s not a slight on the players that have come back; it’s good that players have returned and it’s good that young guys think that they can still develop in Basingstoke under Ashley Tait. The concern is that not everyone will give the fair shake that we try to do on here. There’s no news on season tickets for example and even MK Thunder have their season ticket news out when they’ve never offered season tickets before!

Perhaps as a hockey fan, I’m fatigued by all the doom and gloom. Even I have my limits. Coupled with the news about the Basingstoke Bison Ladies folding and moving to Slough and the absurd things said and the infighting that caused inside the Basingstoke hockey community, I have hit the wall.

Tomorrow is another day and this roster is not complete yet. This is just another goodbye as the circle of minor league hockey goes ever onwards. We’ve lost a superb player but if we truly are hitting the reset button then this day and others were inevitable. It doesn’t detract from what a good player he is and he deserves that respect for coming into this roster when it needed a jumpstart and being a driving force in pushing it towards three trophies. On its own, it’s manageable. The bigger picture is worrying but not all black, yet.

Thanks for everything Roman, go well.

Building the Herd – 5 youngsters added in June

Building the Herd – Dan Weller-Evans

#93 Dan Weller-Evans

Position: Netminder

Born: Pen-y-bont ar Ogwr, Morgannwg, Cymru

Announced as signed: Bison website, 1st June

(c) 5 Hole Photography

My first thought is that it’s incredibly windy. However a fraction of a second later I realise why; “of course it’s windy, he’s by the water.” Dan Weller-Evans has just picked up the phone to me and it sounds like he’s standing next to a very powerful fan but it’s the noise of the sea breeze.

I first met the now 24 year old Weller-Evans when he was about 15 or 16 and a steward on Bison match nights during the club’s eventful stay in the Elite League. A friendly and somewhat gangly young man, he was playing in the Bison’s junior system as a goalie. As with many juniors the goal was the senior Bison jersey, however far off that seemed in the EIHL era for the club when British goalies were little more than bench warmers occasionally thrown to the wolves when the game was well beyond doubt.

His journey from that point to now has been a long one in terms of work, if not in distance. With opportunities to get game time in Basingstoke at under 18 level limited for him, Weller-Evans swapped Basingstoke for the Isle of Wight. Then Wightlink Raiders coach, Jeremy Cornish brought Weller-Evans into the fold to get the chance to develop with the under 18s as well as back up the Raiders in what was the English National League, now the NIHL.

It was a productive period for Weller-Evans albeit one where he didn’t see tons of ice time. He played occasional games for the old second team on the island, the Wightlink Tigers but otherwise spent a lot of time as the Raiders’ second goalie. Liam McAllistair, Colin McGill and Matt Colclough all got their chance as starter for the Raiders as Weller-Evans bided his time. He did get his chances including splitting cup games one year with Colclough which saw him record his first ever senior shutout in a 2-0 win away at Streatham before the London side got their new rink and their new name.

When Connor Standing left the Bison after the double winning 2013/14 season, Doug Sheppard gave Weller-Evans a call and the Bridgend born backstop has been the number two goalie at the Herd ever since.

Weller-Evans clearly retains an affinity for his former base. Having met his fiancé during his time at Ryde, he regularly hops backwards and forwards between home in Basingstoke and the island. He has a family celebration to attend (“we should probably chat before that starts, not sure I’ll be allowed to duck out, ha ha”) but he has wanted to have a chat to me since before the announcement of his re-signing with the Bison.

We speak about his recent frustrations. He recently broke the golden rule of social media about posting in anger, tweeting about the expectations of some given recent events at the club and whilst not necessarily apologetic, he’s conciliatory. “I think I let it affect me more than it should have done but we’re going to be alright and have a competitive team. Maybe we won’t win everything but we’re going to have guys on the roster that want to be here, who will have a point to prove.”

He seems like a genuine guy” he says about new Bison coach, Ashley Tait. “Our paths haven’t crossed before but we had a good conversation. He’s going to have some great contacts so it should be interesting who we get to play for us.”

Shock and surprise have reigned since Doug Sheppard’s departure to Bracknell with a substantial number of the Bison’s treble winning side. Weller-Evans is very conscious of the feeling amongst the fanbase; “Yeah it’s sad when so many guys leave but that’s hockey. There are no hard feelings about it. For me, I love being here and if the club will have me then I’ll stay.” I mention how it’ll feel playing against some of the guys he enjoyed success with and the conversation immediately turns to Stuart Mogg, Weller-Evans’ best friend and one of the many recent Bison to move to Sheppard’s new order at The Hive. “I still speak to Moggy every day and we’ve been friends since we were 4 years old. If anything I’m chirping him even more now. It’s already started. If he scores on me though, we’re done” he says, laughing.

British hockey is a small world, let alone the scene in the south of England and even if you’re not childhood friends, everybody knows everybody to a degree. “I know Metts (new Bison signing, Alex Mettam) and we’ve been speaking a bit since we both knew we’d be playing together as we haven’t before. The organisation wants me to play a bit more this year so I’m looking forward to the challenge and working with him.”

We chat for a few more minutes about general stuff and the goings on in the rumour mill across the country. I’m always struck during our conversations how laid back Dan is. It’s a useful trait for a netminder to have at the best of times but as a backup being relaxed and chilled out is arguably a necessity. You have to be prepared and patient all at once so having a good temperament is vital in his role. The chance will come when it comes and the young Welshman seemed prepared to wait and make his count.

I hang up and disaster; my recorder hasn’t encoded the file properly and the call is unusable as an audio file to put on the site. I send Dan a message to tell him that I’ll try and cobble something together out of the last 20 minutes.

I’ll work it out” I tell him. The reply comes back, “Don’t doubt that”. I pause and think back on our conversation and what the young man and the club will be up against in the new season. “Touché”, I tell myself.

Building the Herd – Alex Mettam

#?? Alex Mettam

Position: Netminder

Born: Sheffield, People’s Republic of Yorkshire

Announced as signed: Bison website, 1/6/18

After 5 years as a Bee, Alex Mettam heads down the M3 and joins the Basingstoke Bison
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Bison coach Ashley Tait has announced the Herd’s netminding duo for 2018/19 including one returnee and the signing of Alex Mettam. 30 year old Mettam joins after 5 seasons as the starting netminder for the Bracknell Bees.

A product of the Sheffield junior system, Mettam worked his way through the junior system in the steel city; from Greyhounds to Steelhawks to Scorpions as a junior, Mettam produced decent numbers including an impressive 2005/06 with the Steelhawks at u19 level where he had a 1.22 GAA and a .940 save percentage in 11 games.

The junior system led to the senior teams as Mettam iced for the Sheffield Spartans in the old ENL as well as making sporadic appearances for the Sheffield Scimitars (the precursor to the Steeldogs) in the EPIHL.

In 2007, Mettam took himself a long way from home to begin a two year stint with the Guildford Flames backing up Joe Watkins. Mettam didn’t see tons of ice time, appearing in only 15 games across the two seasons but learning a lot alongside a top tier netminder in Watkins and earning an EPL winner’s medal along the way.

After two seasons in Surrey, Mettam was signed by Nick Poole in 2009 to be part of the MK Lightning as part of the netminding team alongside Barry Hollyhead where he would stay for 4 seasons. It was a good partnership and a sensible idea; Hollyhead, the elder statesman nearer towards the end of his career than the start would play more at the start and work with Mettam, the up and comer who needed a bit of refining so that when the older one stopped there was tailor made replacement ready to go. Mettam earned his second EPL title whilst at MK.

Mettam would give a lot of good performances in a Lightning jersey but with a changing of the guard and in an attempt to freshen things up, the Yorkshireman was released in 2013 where he made his way to Bracknell to join the Bees. Sticking with the Berkshire side through what were some lean years, Mettam joins Basingstoke having played 189 times for the Bees with a .883 save percentage across the 5 years he was in Bracknell.

Context is key, we know this and we say it a lot on BOTW and we’ll get to it but let’s step away from all that for a moment. Ignoring all the insane goings on around the club at the moment, it’s hard to see this as a bad pick-up. Regularly playing for a side that was big on heart and hustle but maybe lacking in talent, I genuinely do not think that Mettam’s numbers do him justice. People will say “look at the numbers of Skinns compared to Mettam over the same time, one is clearly better than the other” and the response would be “look at the team he was playing with.”

It’s not a disservice to anyone to say for the last few years that the Bracknell Bees were not as good as the Basingstoke Bison in terms of it’s defensive unit or team defence. Mettam remains a good keeper and we saw that in many instances in games in Basingstoke but he arguably had a defence that whilst working hard for him was not as good as the one that was afforded to Dean Skinns. The only issue is that we keep stats for goalies on shots saved and goals against and goals against for the team only rarely come into play. Yes, when they do it’s generally very important (hello, league title trophy) but focussing purely on stats and not enough on play doesn’t do Alex Mettam justice on the balance of many of us watching him play.

Putting everything back into context, Mettam agreeing to join the Bison is a really good and important signing. With everything going on in both Basingstoke and Bracknell, Mettam suddenly found himself without a team and the Bison without a goalie. Mettam likely had offers from elsewhere but with the Bison in the middle of a rebuild, this is a chance for Alex to try somewhere different. Change of coach or not, 5 tough years at a team that’s been through the ringer is a lot for any player and he’s been afforded a chance to step into a title winning organisation and take the reigns; that doesn’t sound like a bad deal. Yes, the state of the rink is a big issue longevity wise, but making hay whilst the sun shines career wise is important for all players and with a headline grabbing new coach in place and Mettam needing a roster spot, why not take the risk?

Ultimately we still have no idea what we’re in for. Mettam and his netminding partner are the only two players on the roster defensively so what is being built remains to be seen. The hope has to be that in his recruiting process, as rushed as it’s going to have to be, that Tait tries to build and coach this defence around his very capable netminder and not the other way around.

Welcome to Basingstoke, Alex.

Building the Herd – Ashley Tait

#?? Ashley Tait

Position: Forward

Born: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Announced as signed: Bison website, 23rd May

With morale amongst the fanbase at a worrying low following recent announcement and the departure of a popular coach and 8 of the Herd’s treble winning squad, the NIHL was given a shot across its bow. Club owners Planet Ice announced on Wednesday that former Great Britain international, Ashley Tait would replace Doug Sheppard as Director of Hockey Operations for the Basingstoke Bison along with being the team’s new player/head coach.

42 year old Tait comes to North Hampshire with one of the most colourful CVs in British hockey. After coming through the Nottingham junior system and making his senior debut in 1990 for the Panthers, Tait became a fan favourite for the Panthers in the late days of the old British Hockey League and into the early days of the Superleague before departing for a two season stint in the British National League for the Kingston Hawks.

After returning to the Panthers in 1999, Tait remained in Nottingham for 3 more seasons before swapping one side of the midlands for the other as he left to join the Coventry Blaze.

Tait’s association with the Blaze between 2002 and 2007 is one that would help define Tait’s career. Captaining the Skydome side for the duration of that spell, he would become talismanic for the Blaze as well as captaining the club to a grand slam in 2004/05 with Tait famously scoring the playoff winning goal in overtime of the playoff final at the National Ice Centre against the Panthers.

In 2007 Tait made the somewhat controversial move of leaving Warwickshire for Yorkshire and joined the Sheffield Steelers. With a 1 year gap in 2009/10 to play in Italy for Ritten, Tait would remain with the Steelers until 2013 during which time he would also spend a season as player/assistant coach.

A return to old pastures beckoned as Tait headed back to Coventry and back into the captain’s role for the Blaze in 2013 which he would hold for the next 3 seasons. Tait would remain with the Blaze for his final year with the club in 2016/17 but would relinquish the C. 2017/18 saw Tait start the season without a club before stepping in to provide injury cover for the Milton Keynes Lightning and the Belfast Giants across the campaign.

In his playing career across the 4 different British leagues he’s played in and Serie A in Italy, Tait has accrued 5 league titles, 7 cups and 5 playoff winner’s medals along with 2 all-star selections and twice was the highest goalscoring British player in the EIHL. In league, cup and playoffs he totals 795 games with 699 points with 254 goals. As a senior player, Tait has played 1476 in all competitions.

Tait’s playing accomplishments extend into his 115 cap international career for Great Britain which includes 17 World Championship campaigns with 3 silvers and a bronze to his name along with appearing in 4 Olympic qualifying campaigns.

To give some of our fans who do not remember Tait from the battles against the Bison from the EIHL days, we turned to Stuart Coles, colour analyst for the Coventry Blaze webcast team to give us some insight into sort of guy that the team are getting.

(Tait is) super motivated and keeps himself in great shape. Do not be fooled by his age, he’ll be able to keep up and likely excel at NIHL level. He’s very much a leader and has coaching experience so should be a good fit in that regard. Not the most vocal, more of a let me lead you by example kind of guy, which works as a player/coach. Smart, tactically aware, he has a decent shot but transitioned more to a playmaker/defensive role in his second spell with us. Also – he’s a sports business lecturer and has worked for the Blaze on the commercial side. That can’t be underestimated as part of the signing.”

This is the change and it’s one that will garner some opinions. A large swathe of Bison fans will not remember seeing Tait play in Basingstoke against the Bison but a great deal will hopefully be aware of him. If they weren’t before then they’ll get a chance to find out now.

The later part of what Stuart Coles has said about Tait’s sports business acumen cannot be understated here. Being director of hockey operations means being the guy; it’s houses for the team, meeting with sponsors, organising nearly everything as well as signing and coaching the team. Combining that with playing is not going to be an easy task for anyone even if the level of hockey is below what Tait is used to playing. However having that part of the club’s portfolio in the hands of someone with those skills is encouraging.

In terms of playing, we know the sort of player that we are getting. Whilst at EIHL level he has swapped to a more defensive style, Tait as a two way player is going to be huge in the NIHL. It’s obviously impossible to know exactly how he will fit into the lines as he’s the only signed player on the roster but you have to imagine that he’ll be playing top six minutes and on the powerplay.

The one question mark in all of this is the coaching. Tait has coaching experience, his ability to do that is not questioned but for the first time it is all on him. Despite what some may say about the gap in quality in all sectors between the EIHL and NIHL, it doesn’t detract from the fact that it’s now all his systems and all his ideas. Tait has worked under some very good coaches, notably Paul Thompson so there’s contacts for ideas as well as talent into the bargain.

The potential is there for this appointment to be massive for the Bison but at the moment, that’s all we have; potential. Seemingly the roster needs to be rebuilt from scratch and Tait will need to dig into his book of contacts and his use his nous to get a team together. With word that a fair chunk of last season’s roster have gone, it’s a fair bet that people will want to play for Ashley Tait but who is available?

In 2012, this was Doug Sheppard. In 2018 it is now Ashley Tait however the new man to head the Herd finds the club in a very different position that Sheppard found it. There’s a legacy to live up to but this is a different man with his own ideas. There may not be instant gratification and fans need to accept that. Then again, we saw what happened when the last guy got given a chance and some time.

Welcome to Basingstoke, Ashley.

Goodnight and Good Luck – The May 2018 Mass Exodus

The Basingstoke Bison took the unusual step of announcing the departure of 6 players all at once earlier this week, with all of them announced as having decided to “ply their trade elsewhere in the NIHL next season”. Following a poll on the BOTW twitter account, the majority wanted a single piece covering all the departures.

Dean Skinns:

(c) 5 Hole Photography

When Dean Skinns was announced as returning to the Basingstoke Bison, the general fan reaction was muted. The dying embers of the EPL had seen Skinns go from being shelled at MK to being a back-up at Guildford to now back in Basingstoke and stepping into the skates of the very popular Tomas Hiadlovsky.

Whilst the end result was superb, that wasn’t to say that Skinns’ season wasn’t without its extremes. At times letting in some very soft goals and having the occasional poor game, Skinns comfortably overtook Curtis Cruickshank as the club’s leader for total number of shutouts as well as conceded only 8 goals in 8 total playoff games including shutouts against Invicta and London in the regional rounds and shutting Telford out in the national final. Whether you’re a Skinns fan or not, that’s an impressive run and that resulted in two of the three trophies.

Many make the point that Skinns benefited from having such a good defence in front of him but the good defence was similar to the one that Hiadlovsky had and that Skinns had in his previous spell. Having a good roster balance is part of good coaching. Irrespective of that, it’s not the defenders stopping the pucks that do get through. Skinns made the saves even if you wish to make the argument that shutouts are really a team stat as opposed to an individual one. With another good defence in front of him, Skinns can likely do the same again.

Vanya Antonov:

(c) 5 Hole Photography

At the time of writing, Antonov is the only player whose location is 100% confirmed with the news that he has returned to Bracknell to once again link up with Doug Sheppard.

Whilst I’m not surprised, I am slightly disappointed that an EIHL side hasn’t taken a chance on Antonov though this might be down to his desire to keep a focus on his university studies rather than it being a sidearm to his hockey playing. Whilst it took Ciaran Long a long while to make his way to the EIHL, this writer believes that Antonov will see an EIHL roster permanently sooner rather than later.

The man with (seemingly) the longest stick in British hockey returning to the club where he came through the juniors is no real surprise given the uncertainty of the situation in Basingstoke. Some may wonder why Antonov didn’t score astronomical numbers in the NIHL but that’s the structure of Sheppard’s brand of hockey. What always shone through from the young Russo-Brit is the skill level. That’s never been just a case of doing flashy moves, though he possesses lots of those, but his ability to hold players off, steal the puck and work in corners rarely gets the plaudits that it deserves.

Josh Smith:

(c) 5 Hole Photography

As a watcher of hockey, I really enjoyed Josh Smith. It wasn’t just his terrible dancing or the fact that his massive beard did nothing to make him look any older than his 19 years but he’s just one of those players you have to respect for how they play. Smith does everything he’s asked to with minimal fuss. Asked to play on the top line with Karpov and Antonov to make some space; he does it. Asked to crash and bang on the third line; does it with a smile on his face. Asked to play on the powerplay or penalty kill; goes out and gets on with it. With an underrated shot, Smith is not someone who is going to score 40-50 points at the moment but he’ll get the odd pretty goal and a ton of gritty ones if given the opportunities.

Ryan Sutton:

(c) 5 Hole Photography

It’s no secret that the Ryan Sutton that came back from Canada was a lot better than the one that went to Canada but at the start of the season when the Bison’s form was a real issue, this site questioned whether Sutton was ready to be a second line centre. With the Bison in flux, Sheppard made some roster decisions and didn’t replace like for like. The departure of Ashley Jackson left a hole in the lines and Sutton had an opportunity. It was time for the former Bison junior to stand up and be counted and he made it count. He upped his game and made his chances count.

He’s not the finished the finished product at this stage by any stretch and I still think that Sutton needs to really find his niche in British hockey but he certainly has the tools to do it. Another player, like Smith, who was asked to do a bunch of stuff and did it with minimal fuss, Sutton surprised other teams and most of the Bison fans with his wrist shot and 14 goals in league and cup is not a bad return. If Shaun Thompson’s overtime goal against Swindon in 2016 was a fulcrum towards the EPL title then Sutton’s away at London to steal the points was arguably the one towards the NIHL South 1 league crown.

Stuart Mogg:

(c) 5 Hole Photography

The young man who went from spare forward to all-star defenceman to the scorer of the NIHL 1 South championship winning goal is off. Very little in British hockey should surprise anyone but that Mogg is leaving Basingstoke arguably feels unusual than most given how much he’s been around the club.

With the reasons given above for others leaving obviously a contributing factor, it goes without saying that a defenceman of Mogg’s qualities would obviously be in demand. There were some brief rumblings given his brief guest appearance for the Coventry Blaze in the last pre-season whether he’d be trying his luck at a higher level but it seems that the NIHL remains Mogg’s destination.

Mogg is never going to win any awards for the hardest hitting defenceman or hardest slapshot but if you had 6 defencemen who did just that then you’d be caught out very easily. A more than solid skater and useful with the active stick, Mogg is a defenceman who gets in your way rather than levelling you at centre ice but that works for him and for teams. Never afraid to jump into the play when required, he’s probably not as the quarterback of a powerplay but certainly able to contribute 5on5 or on special teams.

Tomas Karpov:

(c) 5 Hole Photography

Having headed back to the Czech Republic recently, Karpov spoke to BOTW from his Prague home late on Tuesday evening. I asked him his reasons for leaving. I asked him “why now?”

I’ve been in Basingstoke for 5 years. I’ve had a lot of success and met a lot of great people but within myself I think I need a change. It’s a great place to be but my studies (at Winchester University) are finished and I just feel that I want to change my environment.

In some ways it’s impossible to blame Tomas for any of that. Given the changes going on and the end of his formal education, it’s as good as a time for a change as any and whilst we might not like that, we should respect that. Karpov had worried whether everyone would understand his rationale. I took a moment to retort that this is sad but it’s one of hockey’s comings and goings, “it is what it is”. There’s a pause on the line then finally a noise of agreement then another pause; “yeah, it is what it is”.

The focal point of a large chunk of the Bison’s offence is now missing and that will arguably be the hardest bit to replace for the Bison. Similar to Antonov, it wasn’t just the goal scoring but all the bits that came with it. A natural centre, Karpov’s playmaking ability was second to none at this level and that’s what the Bison will miss most going forward.

Karpov once told me that he overthinks things on the ice and I think that’s probably a fair assessment. Sometimes he does try to do too much himself but that’s the reserve of players in his position; when you are the go-to guy and the team need you, you have to do something. Thankfully for the Bison, more often than not it was the right thing. When you consider that bar Mogg’s mention above, Karpov has the winning goal on every other trophy of the Sheppard era, the Bison lose more than goals and playmaking here.

Final thoughts:

People in Basingstoke were prepared for change but given that so much has come at once, it seems a tough pill for many to swallow. Newer fans won’t remember the move from EIHL to EPL when only 1 member of the roster (Kurt Reynolds) remained with the club. Whether we see such a drastic roster shift will depend on the plans and persuasive skills of our new coach.

Whilst the ownership make it clear that they wanted to get the right man, some sort of break down has resulted in a trophy a year winning coach leaving. Planet Ice need to accept that the state and longevity of the arena has likely played part in that and that it’s also likely part of the reason for these 6 departures.

I don’t think anyone reasonable blames the players for going. People are upset, naturally. We also have to accept that with Sheppard going that a large chunk of the roster was going to go as well and, as said in the pieces on the departure of Connolly and Scott, this is the time for a reset if the man steering the ship is leaving. The nature of it though feels brutal and that’s what strikes fans in North Hampshire. Whilst I won’t share the ferocity of Dan Scott’s social media post, more surely needs to be said for 6 guys, let alone when one is arguably one of the club’s finest netminders and one, one of the most successful players in a Bison shirt in recent memory.

We’re heading into No Man’s Land where reasonable analysis is going to be tricky. The hope is that the ownership have appointed the right man and not just an available man or a popular man to help calm the disquiet. They got it right with Doug Sheppard. Tomorrow, we examine their latest selection.

Thank you gentleman for all you did in this jersey. Go well and (just for Tomas), don’t tell the monkey.