Building the Herd – Shaun Thompson

#13 Shaun Thompson

Position: Forward

Born: Slough, Berkshire

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 23rd April

So good, he's back for more; Shaun Thompson is the first new face on the Bison roster for 2015/16. (c) 5 Hole Photography

So good, he’s come back for more; Shaun Thompson is the first new face on the Bison roster for 2015/16.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Off the back of a couple of departures from the club, coach Doug Sheppard announced the first new addition to the Bison roster for 2015/16 with the return to Basingstoke of Shaun Thompson.

27 year old Thompson spent 2014/15 with the Manchester Phoenix tallying 19 goals and 25 assists for 44 points from 46 games with the Phoenix as they made the cup final and playoff final with Thompson staring in Manchester’s semi final win over Milton Keynes with two goals.

The former Slough junior first appeared in a Bison jersey in 2003 whilst still playing for Slough’s under 19 team as he went 2 points per game whilst earning his way in the EIHL Bison side under Steve Moria and Mark Bernard. Thompson started the 2005/06 season with the Bison but after 5 points in 17 games moved to Bracknell where he quickly rocketed up the scoring charts.

The following season, 2006/07 was a banner year for Thompson and Bracknell as the Bees won the league and the playoffs with Shaun at the forefront of the scoring being 4th on the team and scoring 8 points in 6 playoff games.

Shaun remained with Bracknell until 2008, guesting for the Bison and the Nottingham Panthers during his time at The Hive before he returned to the Bison during club’s final EIHL season in 2008/09. What started as a season of promise for the Bison quickly deteriorated and Thompson, who started the season on the 3rd line, was thrust onto the top line and 1st unit powerplay as the Bison roster dwindled and lost game after game.

As the Bison dropped to the EPL, Thompson remained in the EIHL as he signed with Hull but would move back to Basingstoke just before the signing deadline and he has remained in the EPL ever since.

After a year at Slough in 2010/11, Shaun spent another 3 seasons with Bracknell before bizarrely being released amidst somewhat controversial circumstances at the end of 2013/14 where the club claimed it was moving in a different direction and Shaun claimed that the club pulled a contract offer when he asked for time to consider it. Bracknell’s loss was Manchester’s game and Thompson proved a popular player in Lancashire with his hard working style.

In some ways this isn’t to be expected; the locally based player who ended up playing miles away from home moves back to be closer to home whilst the team miles from his base and his job experience something of a crisis. This also needs coupling with the fact that Shaun Thompson is exactly the kind of player the Bison need given the two forwards that have been confirmed as leaving in the last couple of weeks.

His passing and scoring abilities are such that he can be used in a variety of different situations but where are we likely to see him? Given his ability to play as a centre, it is likely that Thompson gets used on the second or third line in the middle. His passing and puck distribution is very good for EPIHL level and with the loss of Nicky Chinn, the Bison are in need of a really good transitional, puck moving centre. Thompson has the ability to be that guy.

However let’s not forget that in his EPL career, Thompson is a point per game British player. When I say he might be used as a third line player, don’t get it twisted; Doug Sheppard is not going to hide him away and give him five minutes a night. Sheppard’s coaching over his tenure in Basingstoke has tended more towards running 4 lines more in the last couple of years but also wanting grit and offence across all the lines, especially the top three. If you weren’t privy to Thompson’s performance in this year’s playoff semi final for Manchester against Milton Keynes, he scored two goals and checked everyone in sight. Yes, I’ve also said that game was an awful game to watch but Thompson was certainly a bright spot in it. Imagine that sort of game replicated for us across the season.

Shaun’s obviously a bit more advanced in years since he was last here, he’s more set into what his game is and Sheppard is going to want to play him to his strengths to benefit the team rather than asking him to radically change his style (though if you want to be the team’s token forward that plays on defence for a few games, knock yourself out).

The big thing that the Bison will want from Thompson is to maintain his consistency. Since 2010, Thompson has missed 5 regular season games and not scored less than 40 points in a season. Whilst the Bison under Sheppard aren’t ones for blowing teams out there are currently 4 forwards confirmed as playing next season in Greener, Karpov, Long and Thompson who between them scored 100 goals in 2014/15. Add that into him being pretty good in the faceoff dot and I’d say we’re into something of a winner.

Shaun’s no stranger to playing in what Bavy calls “our humble little palace”. He knows what the fans are like and what they’ll expect though the club has had something of a culture change since the last time he was here. There’s more an element of expectation to compete and be near the top of things and challenging. Having just spent a year with Manchester, I think this slightly modified experience back down south won’t faze him a bit. Hopefully he has more games like that semi final for us.

Welcome back Shaun, no more #73 for you.


Goodnight and Good Luck – Brendan Baird

Buried at the bottom of the press release about Michael Wales was one line that sees the roster’s youngest member leave the Herd so we wish Brendan Baird well on his way.

Bye bye Brendan; Baird the younger won't be a Bison for 2015/16. (c) 5 Hole Photography

Bye bye Brendan; Baird the younger won’t be a Bison for 2015/16.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

What have we lost?

The Bison lose its depth defenceman, there’s no other way to really paint that. Unfortunately for Brendan he was used sparingly during the league campaign, only really when games were long decided or when injuries were really mounting and even then he was injured for a large chunk of the season. He did get his chance to log some massive minutes (mainly alongside his brother as a defensive pairing) in the cup games against NIHL opposition. In the games that I saw he looked comfortable and capable on the puck. There were some moments of nerves but I suppose that’s to be expected from a young defenceman not getting a lot of time.

Where has he gone?

At the moment, we don’t know the answer to that. I have to think that maybe he’ll follow the same path that Elliott Dewey did. Dewey spent this season with Invicta logging decent minutes in NIHL 1 South and the Dynamos came away with 2nd in the league, runners up in the playoffs and winners of the cup. I have to imagine that Brendan will follow a similar route.

Who replaces him?

At the moment that’s also unknown though rumours are that Wightlink Raiders defenceman and former GB u18 international Simon Hobbis will finally make the step up to the EPL and join the Bison. Hobbis has been on a two way contract and training with the Bison at times during this past season and is held in high regard at NIHL level. At 19, now is the ideal time for him to make the jump to the higher level.

Final thoughts:

I’m a bit sad that all that was managed for Brendan Baird’s departure was one line at the bottom of the press release telling us about Michael Wales. I always feel that one line releases are for people released mid-season for massive infractions of club discipline rather than fringe squad players who contributed. Baird tried, he just arguably wasn’t ready or Sheppard didn’t feel that he was ready enough to justify giving him more minutes than he got. Along with being injured for a decent portion of the season, it wasn’t a recipe for success.

Ultimately given his age, Baird has a choice of either continuing to sit on the Bison bench or finding a roster spot elsewhere where he can get ice time, continue developing and work his way into a full time EPL roster spot at some stage.

From what I saw of Baird, the potential is there. The skills are there but they need refining and that refining can’t be done in training, it must be done in game. It’s facing decisions in real time, it’s being under pressure in real time. If he’s not going to get those minutes here, then going elsewhere to get them is only sensible.

All the best, Brendan. I’m sure we’ll see you again.


Goodnight and Good Luck – Michael Wales

An unusual Tuesday announcement from the Bison to confirm the second confirmed member of the roster leaving Basingstoke in the form of Mr “Do Everything” Michael Wales

Muzz away; Michael Wales won't be returning to the Bison for 2015/16. (c) 5 Hole Photography

Muzz away; Michael Wales won’t be returning to the Bison for 2015/16.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

What have we lost?

Whilst Wales carved out his career as a grinding forward, his time at Basingstoke has seen the popular former MK forward literally do a bit of everything. There were of course moments where he took on what is seen as his more traditional role, that of an energy forward crashing and banging around but Muzzy has also seen time as the space making forward on the top line with Karpov and Melachrino, occasional enforcer (and why he fought Chris Wiggins I’ll never know), defenceman, penalty kill forward whilst playing games as defenceman and he probably made a few cups of tea whilst he was there.

Whilst Muzzy didn’t put up massive points, his versatility for the Bison has been his biggest asset. Able to competently do anything asked of him meant there was always something for him to do. Injuries will always come, it’s ice hockey and arguably one of the most physical sports on Earth, so someone with the aptitude to be able to do multiple jobs and not be a liability when playing out of his regular comfort zone was vital for the Herd across Wales’ 18 months in Basingstoke.

Where has he gone?

We don’t actually know. Whatever the opportunity is, it was enough to take Wales away from Basingstoke. Sure something will come out in time.

Who replaces him?

Hard to say at the minute because so few people are currently signed. That said you have to think that a signing announcement is probably incoming on Thursday as a result of someone leaving today.

Final thoughts:

When Wales first joined the Bison, I arranged to interview him in a break during our respective work days. I called Muzzy up and as soon as we got pleasantries out of the way, my work’s fire alarm went off. Muzzy’s reaction to it was as it is to many things; he laughed it off and kept going.

I tell that story of Michael Wales the person because it’s somewhat indicative of Michael Wales, the hockey player. It doesn’t matter what got thrown at him, he just kept going and going. It’s easily observable from the last couple of years. Released by the MK Lightning, a club he’d given many years to? He found a place at Slough. Slough start having issues and Wales is told he can leave? He finds his way to Basingstoke. Breaks his ankle, has surgery and misses the playoffs? He rehabs during the summer and just misses the start of the season when he arguably should have been out longer. It’s fair to say resiliency is firmly part of his vocabulary.

In some ways 2014/15 wasn’t really a year to judge the points contribution of Wales; starting the season on the injured list then getting up to fitness then being slotted into which role suited him best then being forced to play on the blueline regardless. Re-signing Wales would have been interesting because really, we’d have no idea where he would have ended up anyway. He could have been announced as 6th defenceman and ended up on a line with Joe Greener and Ciaran Long.

It’s still early doors for the Bison in terms of its squad building (certainly the announcements) for 2015/16 so how the loss of Wales will affect the squad is still a long way off but lose him we must.

All the best, Muzzy; go hard and go well.


Building the Herd – Tomas Karpov

#44 Tomas Karpov

Position: Forward

Born: Benešov, Středočeský kraj, Česká Republika

Announced as signed: Year 2 of 3 year contract confirmed, Basingstoke Gazette, 16th April

He's back! Tomas Karpov's time in Basingstoke will continue. (c) 5 Hole Photography

He’s back! Tomas Karpov’s time in Basingstoke will continue.
(c) 5 Hole Photography


Building the Herd – Kurt Reynolds

#7 Kurt Reynolds

Position: Defence

Born: Basingstoke, Hampshire

Announced as signed: Year 2 of 2 year deal confirmed, Basingstoke Gazette, 16th April

Here he goes again; Kurt Reynolds returns for the 2nd year of his deal. (c) 5 Hole Photography

Here he goes again; Kurt Reynolds returns for the 2nd year of his deal.
(c) 5 Hole Photography


Goodnight and Good Luck – Nicky Chinn

Whilst the man himself mentioned this after the Bison’s playoff quarter final exit, I’ve waited till the end of the season proper and the club’s official word on the matter for this one. Chinndros heads off into the sunset so it’s only fitting that we give him a proper goodbye BOTW style.

Bison captain Nicky Chinn has announced he is retiring from hockey (c) 5 Hole Photography

Bison captain Nicky Chinn has announced he is retiring from hockey
(c) 5 Hole Photography

What have we lost?

We lose the very definition of a wily veteran. After 27 years in the sport, Chinn has seen and done pretty much everything. The Nicky Chinn we’ve seen during the EPL years of the Bison has not been the “rock’em, sock’em” Chinn of his youth but the mouthpiece of the team, the gritty forward who could pass the puck onto a sixpence, the leader.

Chinn’s contribution this season was a mixed one but ultimately since he came back to the Bison with all that shock and disappointment after that spell at Milton Keynes, Sheppard has used him wisely. He’s not been asked to carry the load on the ice; he’s been part of the supporting cast which is ultimately what he was needed for. The Bison didn’t need Chinn for his playing ability, they needed him for his hockey sense and his leadership. Did he get it right 100% of the time? No, waffling Jacob Corson-Heron in the first leg of the playoff game with Manchester being a prime example but we can’t argue that on his day he did all that was asked of him and more.

Where has he gone?

Make your own jokes on that one though I hope coaching is on his radar in some capacity.

Who replaces him?

In terms of the playing ability from last season, getting a really good passer and checking forward is in some ways a relatively simple task but as we’ve established it’s all the other attributes that Chinn brings that will be hard to replace.

When Chinn re-signed it was just after the furore surrounding the release of Tony Redmond and I commented that if the club weren’t re-signing #20 then Chinn was an able replacement for a variety of reasons. Now we find ourselves needing to replace Chinn, which way does Sheppard go?

He could go out and sign a veteran presence; David Longstaff has been released by the Flames and wouldn’t go amiss in the Bison’s top order. Matt Towalski or Matt Foord of Bracknell, both of whom shouldered a lot of leadership responsibilities on that poor Bees side last term could be used effectively on the third line to boot. Maybe see if Lee Richardson could be tempted away from Swindon? There are options down this route.

The other option in terms of leaders on this team is to just look and build from within. Joe Baird and Aaron Connolly have been more than able alternates, Joe Rand or Michael Wales are experienced guys who are more than capable or do you go down the route I’ve felt has never been needed and give Kurt Reynolds the captaincy. I’ve always been of the opinion that Kurt should just be left to play and doesn’t need a letter to lead the team as such but with Chinn going, I understand the argument that it might be the time to put Reynolds at the head of the team.

It’s a thorny issue for Sheppard to address and I’m interested to see how he does with it.

Final thoughts:

I didn’t watch hockey during the days when Nicky Chinn was causing chaos across the leagues. As we all know from here, and I’ve told the story many times, my first memory of Chinn was Mark Desantis punching him in the face in a pre-season game with Slough in 2007. It wasn’t the most auspicious way to be introduced to the man who would captain the club to the end of its title drought.

As I said above, the Nicky Chinn we’ve seen since the inception of Banners On The Wall has been a different one from his younger days. He wasn’t as fast or arguably as physical at times as he once was but boy, could you see the quality in him. His hockey brain is still second none and whilst at times the body doesn’t always follow the head, like the other great older masters of British hockey they never lost the knack for being in the right place at the right time.

One thing I’ve said in the last couple of Building the Herd pieces about Nicky is that he would always know when it was time to go. He’s a man very aware of his legacy in the sport, what he’s done and what he could do. He wouldn’t have held on any longer than he thought he could have done so and he has apparently chosen this time as the time to say goodbye.

Chinn has always been an interesting Bison captain for me. He’s not very vocal or visible outside of the rink bar the occasional Twitter outburst but on the ice you can see why he’s in charge. In some ways, his retirement was indicative of that; no big fanfare of the kind Hand or Moria rightly got but when the job was finished, he simply said it was the end and headed off into the sunset. There’s very little pretence about Nicky and I’ll admit I like that about him.

That being said, we should rightly make a fuss of him. Whilst 2013/14 will always be the crowning point of his years in a Bison jersey, for any player to play 27 years in the sport he loves at a decent level where he regularly contributes is simply outstanding. There have been years better than others, I’m sure Nicky will admit that, but overall when people look back at the career of Nicky Chinn it will generate discussion, memories and I’ll pull out the 2014 EPL Playoff semi-final DVD to show any child I have what I simply refer to as “that goal”.

There’s an argument that from a playing standpoint we could replace Nicky Chinn but there will never really be another like him for a variety of reasons. From young upstart tussling with all and sundry to points scoring machine to elder statesman and entertainer, they just don’t make them like Chinny anymore.

Wherever you go and whatever you do Skipper, you go with the gratitude of all of us who watched you play and played with you. Don’t be a stranger.

So long, farewell... (c) 5 Hole Photography

So long, farewell…
(c) 5 Hole Photography


Curtain Down 2014/15

It is done. The 2014/15 EPIHL campaign is over, the trophies and medals are handed out which means it’s time to rock and roll with wrapping all this up. This is Curtain Down.

The playoff weekend:

It was another superb weekend in terms of my enjoyment of the 2015 EPL finals weekend. Phil and Debi Perry are absolute saints for getting me from Basingstoke to Coventry. I hope the travel snacks were of suitable quality. Paul, Becky and Sam Shipman did a fantastic job of looking after me, feeding me absurdly well and helping me process what I had seen across the weekend. Between them as well as seeing the entire Coles family of Stu, Kerry, Isaac and Madeleine, the enjoyment that they’ll all get from the Blaze winning the EIHL playoffs is something I’m delighted to see.

The hockey over the weekend was interesting to see the least;

The first semi final was an entertaining game that, aside from solidifying why Slava Koulikov was coach of the season, just hammered home a variety of hockey clichés about how working hard beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. Phantoms closed off the passing lanes and if Telford had a plan b then they didn’t use it. Most of their players who made the all star teams didn’t show up and a bunch of depth guys for the Phantoms like Scott Robson stepped up, Cam McGiffin had the game of his life and Janis Auzins had his eye in.

The second semi final was rubbish. It was an awful game of hockey, it just was. The quote I used was “it was two teams with an alphabet of 25 letters because there was no D anywhere”. Neither keeper had a particularly good Manchester were the better side and won.

The final was somewhere between the two; it wasn’t an outstanding game but it certainly wasn’t as bad as the second semi final. Ultimately it was the right result because Peterborough were the best team across the weekend and the best British player to ever play the sport went out with the rapturous reception he deserved. Certainly if you’d told me after that opening night brawl that Auzins started that Peterborough would win the playoffs I would have been sceptical. Congratulations to the Phantoms on their win.

The season:

We all knew it was likely to not be as good as the season before. It wasn’t. No trophies, didn’t make the semi finals of the cup let alone defend it and out at the quarter final stage of the playoffs. Easy to be down about it all but ultimately the Bison had to contend with a different beast this season; the cup competition massively altered, a 9 team league with one team turned up to 11 in terms of the quality of players on them and the sheer number of them and others racing to keep up with them.

The Bison were the first team to beat Telford across the season, had the second highest British points scorer in the league in Ciaran Long who along with Joe Greener was in the top 20. We got to see some different faces in the form of the NIHL sides and got to see the Bison play a very solid, competitive game. A third placed finish in this league is nothing that I’m going to sniff at.

I’m giving the season a middle B. I think that’s fair based on the overall results, the quality of what I’ve seen and the final outcomes for everything. There’s tweaks to be made, at least one face we know that won’t be coming back (more on that soon) and what promises to be the most active and interesting off season we’ve seen for quite a while. The Bison as a club will emerge the other side of it and we await to see what we are left with when the dust settles.

The thank yous:

I start as I always should do with my wife Emily; she is my constant supporter in all my writing and podcasting endeavours. There’s never a complaint or anger about anything I try to do with this crazy hobby of mine, just love and understanding. Thanks hun.

Once again Grant King’s photographs from everything at 5 Hole Photography have made the pieces on this blog sing time and again. Aside from being one of the best as what he does, Grant is just a stand up guy within the hockey community in Basingstoke so this is going to be in capital letters; SUPPORT WHAT HE DOES. Don’t knick his stuff, buy it and support him. We’re lucky to have him.

A thanks as always to those within the Bison like John Neville and Graham Bell who are supportive of what I do here without seeking once to change what I say or interfere. Other people at other clubs aren’t as lucky so whilst I’m outside of the organisation’s influence here, the working relationship between BOTW and the Bison is a good one. I appreciate that greatly.

A massive thanks to any and all my friends at the rink for as always doing the most important of jobs; telling me when I am wrong. No matter where you sit at Basingstoke, the chatter, the friendship even when I’m being an idiot is appreciated and important. Remember last April, those days will be ours again.

Thanks too the the slowly growing EPL bloggers and podcasters union. There’s stuff getting out there providing good insightful content on our league and elsewhere. Do you like what you read or hear or is it rubbish? Say something constructive because we’ll only get better with feedback.

Lastly, Doug and the boys; there’s nothing to write about without them.

Going forward:

Banners On The Wall is arguably the best read blog on anything in the EPIHL, one of the better read ones in British hockey as a whole and The BOTW Podcast has had a decent first season. So what is going to happen? Keep moving forward.

An increasing level of quality coverage and getting the podcast more better from a technical standpoint are my goals for the year. It’s a hard job to do in some ways, this is all a hobby but I’ll invest time and try. Thank you for 4 seasons of sticking by this and what I try to do.

There’s obviously news to come but first we say goodbye to a British hockey legend of our own.

Catch you soon,

Anthony


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