The BOTW Podcast – episode 53

(c) 5 Hole Photography

The playoffs are here and BOTW gets in the spirit with some chat about the EPL playoffs, the race for 8th in the EIHL and where you can find other playoff hockey to watch.

We also have a great interview; the season has ended for the Bracknell Bees but long time EPL player Shaun Thompson joins us to talk about coming back to the Hive, his career and he gives us his thoughts on the playoffs.

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

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


Running with the Herd – Bison vs Hull Pirates 22/3/17

EPIHL 2017 Playoffs Group B

Basingstoke Bison 7-0 Hull Pirates

Connolly x 3 (1pp)

Scott

Miller sh

Sound the cannon, we’re off and running!

It seemed that last night was a night for wacky playoff result and this was certainly one of them but I don’t think any Bison fan is going to argue with how this one worked out.

The start of the game was what you’d expect any playoff game to be; nervy, edgy, both teams engaging in a feeling out process but once the Bison found the breakthrough they didn’t look like losing and put the Pirates to the sword.

The Bison played archetypical playoff hockey in this game and the officiating allowed them to do so for the most part though Joe Rand was unlucky to be called for landing hits that seemed to be unpunished elsewhere in the encounter. The Bison were physical, took the body, pressed high and the visitors didn’t really have much of an answer for long stretches of the game.

The lines were characteristically juggled by Doug Sheppard at times to match the opponents and the Herd became even more North American in their attacking approach. If the space wasn’t there to skate into, the puck would be dumped in to set up the cycle and taking the body at every opportunity to rattle the Pirates and it worked. The traditional Bison high pressing forecheck helped win board battles and on the defensive side helped stifle the Pirates breakout.

Aaron Connolly’s man of the match was a relatively easy decision as soon as his hattrick goal went in. In many ways this was a performance, like Grant Rounding’s last Saturday in Swindon, where the sheer amount of effort that the player puts in finally comes good. Even at 5-0 up starting the third period Connolly, the team’s most vocal communicator, was screaming at his team mates that they needed to finish the job. Connolly’s tenure as captain has been defined by his effort and his enthusiasm and this was a captain’s performance where he took all three of his goals well combined with his usual tearing around the ice.

The only person who was arguably going to come close to that was Dan Scott. Before his signing, Doug Sheppard had reportedly been chasing Scott for a number of seasons and the performances since his arrival have been testament as to why. Arguably with something of a chip on his shoulder after the last game in Basingstoke against the Pirates where Scott was concussed by an elbow from Ugnius Cizas (great job on that by the way EIHA), the Chatham born defender responded by being a defensive rock all evening coupled with what available stats tell me were his first two playoff goals.

Otherwise it was a complete team performance; the Bison played well and the Pirates did not over the course of 60 minutes and it allowed Tomas Hiadlovsky to tie the club record for shutouts having only faced a shot every 4 and a bit minutes. Playoff hockey is engrained in their mentality so Derek Roehl and Joe Rand are in something of their element where they get to go out and check everything in sight. The one player whose two way game last night was also much more noticeable was Rene Jarolin who blocked far more shots than I normally notice him doing.

The Bison should feel positive about this result as it sets the stall out about the quality of this side at this, the business end of the season. The game was played with intensity and purpose and this is exactly what is needed. The Bison will face sterner tests going forward than they did last night, even from Hull who are a different animal at home (16 of Hull’s 20 league wins this season were at home including 3 against the Bison) and it’s easy to get ahead of ourselves but this is a very promising start. It’s now about keeping that momentum going into the weekend’s games starting with a tricky trip to MK where the Bison haven’t won this season either.

A word on our opponents:

This was not a good night at the office for the Hull Pirates. The Bison did play well and for the first half of the first period, the visitors kept pace with their hosts but once Aaron Connolly’s goal went in, it just never seemed like a comeback was on the cards. It was an inauspicious start to the Pirates’ first playoff campaign.

The problem wasn’t so much that Hull lost, teams lose hockey games, but it was the manner of the defeat. After going a goal down, all the energy seemed to go out of the Pirates and in the second they had no answer to the Bison’s offensive flurry as the defence constantly kept giving the Herd too much space to be able to work in.

Vlastimil Lakosil, who has been something of a scapegoat for the Pirates’ defensive struggles, made a variety of decent saves but will want a good few of the goals back especially Joe Miller’s shorthanded effort which went right through the five hole. On a night they needed him to have a good game, he didn’t. Ultimately the defence needs to find a way to provide him some more support if the Pirates want to win games in this group.

Jon Kirk got man of the match which was fair enough as he certainly tried. Actually a good few players tried but the depth of quality ultimately failed them. Lakosil had a bad night, the defence didn’t give him the requite support, the attack lacked any sort of bite and the team with the league’s top goalscorer managed 14 shots. It’s not a recipe for success.

The defeat should provide a wakeup call for the Pirates as to how they approach this weekend’s games with Swindon and Milton Keynes. Out of the three teams that the Pirates play in a group, the Bison are arguably the team with the least amount of speed and they got burned by giving the Bison too much space to work in. The Pirates tried to clog the neutral zone and couldn’t. They need to not give Swindon and MK an inch to work with. If the Pirates want to win a game in the playoffs then they are not going to win pretty on the whole. It’s got to be ugly, drawn out wins where they find ways to get service to Themar and their better scorers. If they play like they did last night, it will be a long playoffs for all the wrong reasons.

Lowlight of the night: Themar’s hit on Baird at the end of the first wasn’t necessary.

Highlight of the night: Dan Scott’s second goal was pretty


Running with the Herd – Bison vs Swindon Wildcats 19/3/17

EPIHL

Basingstoke Bison 4-2 Swindon Wildcats

Connolly                         Birbraer x2

Rand

Long pp

Roehl eng


BOTW Player of the Year 2016/17 – nominations open

As the regular season draws to a close this coming Sunday, nominations are now open for the 2016/17 BOTW Player of the Year.

The BOTW Player of the Year award goes to the Bison player deemed “the best” by whatever metric you decide that means. Here’s how it works;

Starting 18:00 on Monday 13th March till 18:00 Monday 20th March, nominations for the award will be open. You pick the ONE Bison player that you think is deserving of the title “player of the year”. You can choose them for any reason you see fit. Every fan gets one vote only.

You can vote in a variety of ways:

  • As a comment on this post

The player has to have played in a competitive fixture for the Bison in the 2016/17 season so pre-season and the NIHL Selects game do not count. You do not have to be a Bison fan to vote. Players that receive 3 votes are eligible for the final round.

On Monday 20th March after voting closes, the BOTW Expert Panel will convene and will pick a winner from those eligible after the voting. The one chosen worthy is the BOTW Player of the Year and wins the most drinkable trophy in sports, the “Edijs Brahmanis Trophy” which will be awarded once the panel makes its decision.

Last season, captain Aaron Connolly took home the prize as he followed in the footsteps of Joe Rand, Tomas Karpov and Kurt Reynolds. Who will be the winner for 2016/17? Make sure your player is in the final discussion by voting!


The BOTW Podcast – episode 52

Boy has it been a mad fortnight in British hockey.

We let Zooey Perry, who designed the podcast logo, have her say on the recent homophobia storm in Sheffield whilst Anthony chats to Rob Scott from the Nottingham Panthers Supporters Trust and goes through the impending changes to the EPIHL.

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

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


Running with the Herd – Bison vs Guildford Flames 04/03/17

EPIHL

Basingstoke Bison 4-2 Guildford Flames

Rand x2 (1pp)              Satek sh

Connolly                       Eriksson pp

Davies pp

Kurt Reynolds (right) and Flames forward Tuomas Santavuori battle in front of the Bison net in the Herd’s 4-2 win.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

The fire is out:

So that was it; the last league fixture for the foreseeable future against the Guildford Flames. For a game that I saw one fan report they didn’t attend as it was “meaningless”, the two teams didn’t play it like it was such. The game ended up being a very entertaining contest with a physical edge that grew throughout the contest and exploded at the end.

Minus Dan Scott (who took the warm-up then wasn’t risked) and Joe Baird (who didn’t) meant that the Bison played Ciaran Long on defence. I understand why this was done but I am unsure why given Derek Roehl has more experience playing than Long who is the team’s top scorer. However Long plays on the point on the first powerplay unit as a nominal defenceman so in a pinch, why not get one of the team’s more talented players to help out. The Bison have a depth of scorers when on form so someone needed to be sacrificed to play on defence and why not Long who is arguably the team’s best player at the moment.

The big talking point of the game, other than the fights will have been Tomas Hiadlovsky as the discussion of his puck playing reared its head again. Hiadlovsky attempted an overly complicated pass rather than the short pass up the wall to Derek Roehl which lead to Michal Satek firing into an empty net. This led to people yelling for Hiadlovsky to stay in his net and generally being a bit down on him.

Aside from the fact that Hiadlovsky is a puck playing goalie and that’s not going to change, in the first 25-30 minutes it was Hiadlovsky keeping the Bison in the game. We’ve talked before that Hiadlovsky’s strategy is at times high risk/high reward but the Bison have benefitted more than they have lost from Hiadlovsky being prepared to come out of his net. Should he have done better with the pass? Yes. Should he have had more help from his defence? I’d argue yes as well. It’s not like they didn’t know he was going to come out and try to play the puck. They’ve played with him for two years yet at times everyone seems to be shocked that he’s doing it. On this night, with something of a makeshift defence in front of him, he stopped all the major 5on5 chances that the Flames had. Hiadlovsky should be the first team all-star netminder this season for the fact he’s arguably been the best netminder in the league and for the number of times that he’s bailed the Bison out and won them games. He won’t be because IHJUK members don’t watch enough EPL and just read the numbers off of a page but again, I seem to be in the minority on the Slovak.

Otherwise this was a really well done, ground out team win. The Bison were being just as physical on and off the puck (and boy howdy was there a lot off the puck in all directions in this game) but for the first time at home in a while against the Flames, they just seemed to have their number.

Joe Rand got man of the match for his best performance since his return scoring two stereotypical Joe Rand goals; one a charge to the net and the other a deflection off the shot on the powerplay to put the game beyond doubt. With an impending drop to three imports for next season, if Rand is to continue as a Bison than this element of needed to come back into his game though clearly his directions in recent weeks have been to crash and bang.

With the Bison suddenly 2-1 down after a horrible turnover and a powerplay goal (off of a rather soft call I thought), Aaron Connolly scored a really good goal. Everyone in the rink including Dean Skinns was convinced he would pass so he went “bar dizzle” as Aaron likes to say and restored parity to the scoreline. This was coupled with another really good game from Dan Davies who over the last couple of months has really shown what his game is about. He owes Kevin Phillips a beer for the turnover for his goal but I’ve warmed to what he brings to the roster.

The fights at the end were what they were. The game had been getting chippier and chippier. I believe the situation and some stronger calls earlier in the game would have avoided it but if the incident between Maslonka and Roehl got tempers up then the hit on Rounding was bound to set someone off. The only chief lesson learned was that Dan Lackey is not a man to trade hands with.

The season series against the Flames was already lost however I can take the fact we’ll finish above them. Importantly, coupled with the 3-0 win over Sheffield, the recent form is improving. Two games against Swindon and then playoff hockey is upon us. This is boding well.

You can’t leave for the Elite League without giving me a cuddle first!
(c) 5 Hole Photography

A word on our opponents:

Guildford will be Guildford. They did all the things that the Flames usually do. Their passing was great, they attacked with purpose, they transitioned quickly through the neutral zone and yet for some reason they didn’t win this game. A chunk of that was down to Hiadlovsky, a chunk was down I think to their defence not performing terrible well. I thought Danny Meyers had a good game but I was less than enamoured with the rest of the blueline corps on the night. Kevin Phillips’ massive turnover allowed a goal, Jez Lundin and David Savage were uninspiring and Dean Skinns gave up a couple of goals that he will want back.

Going forward is where the Flames were sharp on the night. They have this quality about their powerplay puck movement that is very reminiscent of Telford in terms of its accuracy and quality. Michal Satek has to be high on the list of best mid-season acquisitions during the Flames time in the EPIHL and Jens Eriksson might be one of the better players they’ve had full stop. Marek Maslonka also had a decent game and looked threatening when he wasn’t having a hack and slash contest with Derek Roehl.

I won’t get into how the Flames will do next season, that’s for another piece. How will the Flames do in the playoffs however we can touch on. One loss does little to impact the Flames in many ways. The quality in this roster is there to turn it on and run the table but the issue this season has been that consistency for the Flames. They managed it last season, can they do it again?

Lowlight of the night: The hit on Rounding. Utterly unnecessary

Highlight of the night: Davies’ goal; very well taken in the circumstances.


BOTW Breakdown – The EPIHL becomes the PIHL February 2017

With Guildford and Milton Keynes confirmed for the 2017/18 Elite League season and the Manchester Phoenix folding, the remaining owners of EPL clubs had to react. After a league meeting on Sunday morning, we have an announcement from the owners so BOTW is here to break down what has been revealed today.

With the MK Lightning and Guildford leaving for the EIHL, the remaining owners in the EPL have acted to try and protect the future. (c) 5 Hole Photography

With the MK Lightning and Guildford leaving for the EIHL, the remaining owners in the EPL have acted to try and protect the future.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

The owners of the current EPL teams met on Sunday. From the outset it is important to understand that all of the owners, as a collective, are driven to ensure that the league works as a viable competition for the long term future of the sport, that it has stability and also develops as an on ice product, providing a place to truly develop the best of British talent. This was the basis which shaped the meeting on Sunday and it was the shared vision of all of the owners which helped it to be such a productive morning.

Well that’s reassuring to hear though I venture that the last part of this is somewhat creative license. They’ll be agreement that something needs to be done so we should be thankful for that at least.

The key points to come out of the meeting are:

1. 7 teams have committed to participating next season, ensuring the future of the league.

This is a start, albeit an inauspicious one. Telford, who could have justifiably decided to walk after the unilateral action taken against them at the last meeting, appear to at least have agreed to remain in the fold for the time being. Then again with the financial difficulties they had this season running a 5 import side, the only option for Telford would have been down to the NIHL rather than up.

2. There will be a name change to “Premier Ice Hockey League” to reflect a new beginning and growing opportunities for participation.

Aside from the fact that the acronym PIHL could also stand for the Planet Ice Hockey League (make your own jokes), I don’t particularly like the name. It just sounds a bit flat. It’s not the hardest conclusion to jump to that the name change might be to try and encourage teams from outside of England to join the league be it Cardiff Fire who are quietly making waves in the new National Ice Arena in Cardiff Bay in terms of player development or Solway Sharks in Dumfries who are arguably the best coached and professionally run organisation in the NIHL structure.

3. The non-British trained player level will drop to three, giving British talent the chance to develop, as well as trying to bring financial stability to the league.

This has been rumoured for a few weeks. Part of this plays into a larger point that I’ll make in a bit but on the surface, this is a cost cutting measure from the remaining sides as well as a carrot to tempt other sides to come up. 5 imports clearly hasn’t been sustainable and many of the top end NIHL sides baulked at having 4 imports due to costs, let alone five. It’s a half way house to try and please everyone. It will, in the immediacy, arguably push up the cost of top end British players but it remains to be seen what happens to the glut of British players left jobless by the loss of the Phoenix and those who do not step up to the EIHL with the Flames and Lightning. If the league somehow starts with 10 teams then there could be an issue. It’s less of an issue if there’s only 8 teams with a large group of decent British players becoming available in the south of the country.

4. In the season 2019-20 no non-British trained goalies can be signed, only British trained goalies will be allowed.

If the import level drop is the one thing to grab the attention first then this will be second. British hockey at all levels has kicked the can of British netminder development down the road further and further for a long time now and whilst the date is a bit arbitrary, it’s a line in the sand that teams need to start engaging properly in netminder development. It’s also an incentive to start looking and working towards getting better British netminders now so as to not be left behind in the summer of 2019 whether it be link ups with lower tier sides or extra work in the junior clubs.

5. The bankruptcy ruling agreed at the last meeting will form part of the rules of competition from season 2017 / 18.

That was never going to be allowed to go away. The owners have learned their lesson on this one.

What can be instantly seen is the commitment to the league and a commitment to longevity which will, hopefully, develop an exciting breed of talented young players.

Will get to this one in a bit.

The structure of the league and cup competitions will largely remain the same, although there are some finer details to be worked out, and the owners will meet again at the end of March to finalise these. Following this meeting there is a desire to have everything in place, and announced, by the Playoff Finals weekend so that owners, players, sponsors and fans have full confidence in the league as a viable and successful model.

Hopefully the owners stick to this. They do point themselves into a corner in terms of getting teams to join if they’re wanting to announce such details. They could have done with being more pointed as to what it coming in March and April rather than this which hog ties them a bit.

This is an exciting time for the Premier Ice Hockey League, and the sport within the UK, after what has been a challenging year. There has been a recognition that our outlook has to evolve in order for our game to evolve, the only way to do this is to invest in our British players and provide them with the best environment in which to thrive and develop.

That’s actually an alarmingly decent assessment; it’s been a tough year, the outlook did need to evolve. The shame in some ways is that it took the house of cards nearly collapsing in spectacular fashion for them to see this. The proof of all the talk of development and how committed the clubs are to it will be in the pudding.

We are actively looking to expand as a league and are hoping that the changes, and commitments made, will encourage other clubs and teams to join us in providing a stable and exciting future.

Hopefully so as a 7 team league won’t do very well for very long. Fans might stick with it for 1 season but beyond that I personally think there will be issues.I doubt that Planet Ice will want to immediately put another team into this new structure given all the recent upheaval with the argument that this isn’t the EPIHL.

 

We, as a league, are fully committed to making this a reality, we are driven to succeed and ask fans across the country to join and support us in our vision.

I get a feeling that this wasn’t written by the people who wrote the last press release…

The immediate glaring omission from this press release is the lack of any mention or connection to the ongoing plans of a new governing structure under Ice Hockey UK (thankfully it seems that the EPL teams have softened in their stance towards such things) or in fact who the governing body will be at all. Initially that might not sound like a massive issue but it will have a massive say on the future of the league.

If the league ends up under the EIHA then nothing really changes and one assumes given no word on the matter that the status quo remains. If the league ends up under IHUK then there’s a chance that it’s the end of European only imports for the league as leagues under IHUK (like the Elite League) can get players who require work permits. The argument could be that if teams are wanting to develop British players then you get the best imports possible to play alongside them. There’s cost issues involved with work permits, just as there are with ITC cards but if it becomes an available option then you have to believe that some teams will take it. From a question asked at the Swindon fans forum this evening, the plan is for it to remain under the EIHA for the time being and no interest in work permits but we obviously need to see what happens with the EIHA potentially joining any IHUK structure.

When we get down to brass tacks (and I said I’d get to it) the owners have now made a “commitment to longevity which will, hopefully, develop an exciting breed of talented young players” and they need to be held with that.” The English Premier Ice Hockey League has been a development league in name only for quite some time. Development has almost been a side effect rather than a goal of the play of clubs and it’s widely acknowledged that more needs to be done. For this new structure to do that, the Elite League needs to engage as does the NIHL but if this league is actually going to develop players then they need to do it. The way to prove that commitment is to either engage with the IHUK plans or publish their own. If British netminders need to be used by 2019/20 then why not propose a home grown players target or u20s minimum or the like?

There are two final questions that will concern people. The first is the quality of hockey that will be on offer given that there’s a drop of two imports for next season. For me as an observer, the increase from four to five imports has not seen a dramatic increase in the quality but the drop from five to three will see a marked change and it’s one that some will not want to pay for that because they feel that a drop in imports means a drop in quality. For me, aside from the fact we need to see what the product on the ice actually is, there’s a legitimate argument that there has to be a step in any direction to make things more sustainable. Whether reducing import levels is the way that works remains to be seen.

The other question; will it work? Time will tell.