Running with the Herd – Bison vs Peterborough Phantoms 18/9/21

NIHL Autumn Cup

Basingstoke Bison 6-0 Peterborough Phantoms





Tait pp

Milton pp

Start with a bang: Many of us have been told that it’s important to make a good first impression. The Bison’s pre-season had been an OK attempt to warm up to the new campaign; two industrious 3-2 wins over a physical Raiders side including coming from 2-0 down in Romford certainly gave rise to a general feeling amongst the fanbase that the Herd would be alright. However confronted with an opening game against a Peterborough side that whilst different from what had come before had all the hallmarks of a team that they had struggled with, it led to an opening night of the 21/22 season with a sense of uncertainty. How would it go? Would the Bison fall into the same traps they had before?

The answer was an emphatic no. Whilst the first period was very cagey and was punctuated by some rather frustrating penalty trouble for the Herd, the balance of play swung dramatically in the second and the resistance of the opposition was broken. The game really opened up in the opening stages of the middle frame to the point where in years past you’d have been able to pinpoint the bit where the Bison would score. Instead it was the Herd who took the lead after Brendan Baird set Adam Harding behind the defence and he beat Jordan Marr with a lovely shot that beat the Phantoms goalie down low.

It was the start of a period of just over 5 minutes where the Bison effectively killed off the game. By the 30th minute the hosts were 3-0 to the good and there was no effective answer from the visitors.

The third period continued in a similar vein. The Bison kept control of the game in all facets and, in something of a rare show, actually felt like they stepped on the throats of an opponent. They took advantage of some poor play and poor decision making to give the game a lopsided scoreline but ultimately one that was very much earned. Some will wonder if this was a case of one team being good or one team being bad when it was a case of both happening at the same time.

It wasn’t a perfect performance, rarely do we see such things. The penalty trouble in the first to give up a five on three penalty kill midway through the opening frame was avoidable and whilst the danger was dealt with, against more competent teams they will not be able to get away with such play.

Zack Milton took the man of the match after a much more high profile performance than during the Raiders game a week prior. Against the Raiders, Milton did a lot of the leg work for his line as he created the space for line mates Aidan Doughty and Alex Roberts to work their magic, even if Roberts goal was him literally holding a defender off him with one arm as he slid the puck past Marr with the other. It was less magic and more just sheer size. This week saw Milton be that bit more visible and impactful on the game. He took his goal well on the powerplay to cap off the scoring which was just reward for a solid performance.

It was a night of good individual performances. Alex Mettam’s 25 shot shutout was well taken. The Yorkshireman has looked impressive in his first two outings this season. Whist there was inevitable screaming from the crowd when he left his crease to play the puck, he was well supported by the defence. His positioning and rebound control were spot on and when the Phantoms tried to play the puck down low in and scramble it in, he held firm and didn’t panic. It was an accomplished display from a netminder who has clearly hit the ground running.

After not really getting their just rewards against the Raiders the week before, the line of Adam Harding, George Norcliffe and Alex Sampford all scored on the night. After Harding’s goal, he turned provider as the former BOTW player of the year converted a lovely two on one with a one time blast past a sprawling Marr. Sampford scored from his office on the powerplay; in the dirty area in front converting in close.

Ashley Tait’s powerplay goal was off a well worked pass from Milton that beat Marr’s glove and the Bison got offensive support from their blueliners as Adam Jones ended the night with three assists and Brendan Baird with two.

Not every game this season is going to be like this. The Bison are not going to play this well every game and the opposition won’t struggle in the same way. It was nice to see that some of the rust on display in pre-season is being blown away and that Ashley Tait’s tactics are really taking effect with the team. The newer members of the roster have had an impact as have the returnees. It seems to be working nicely. The start isn’t always indicative of the end but it’s always nice for there to be a bit of promise.

A word on our opponents: We always knew that it was going to be a slightly different Peterborough Phantoms team this season. The change of ownership from the Lanes to a new consortium including head coach Slava Koulikov, a new logo and none of the Ferrara brothers in the line up made for an unusual sight even if many of the familiar names of the core are back.

I have been critical of the tactics of the Phantoms in the past, criticism that as a writer I felt was justified but many Peterborough fans felt was unfair. Tactically on this night it was less frustrating and more just hard to understand what the game plan was from a Peterborough perspective. The book on the Phantoms road game is relatively well established; sit back, clog up the play, wait for the mistake, break with speed and score. They sat back, they certainly broke with speed (more on that in a moment) but they didn’t managed to really disrupt the Bison’s play of offer that much offensively going forward. It was a confusing sight.

Morgan Clarke-Pizzo got man of the match for the visitors for similar reasons to Zack Milton getting it for the Bison. Clarke-Pizzo is fast, frighteningly so and the Bison defenders struggled to contain him as a result but the young man’s range finder was in need of some fine tuning. He would frequently make impressive runs up the wing and leave defenders trailing in is wake but his shots would rarely trouble Alex Mettam. The young man is clearly an exciting prospect and where some of the more established names on the Phantoms roster didn’t offer much, Clarke-Pizzo was at least a constant. This time in Peterborough will hopefully be good seasoning for him. If his accuracy improves then he will be a handful for defences.

Jordan Marr tried and made a string of decent saves. Marr is an established goalie at this level and is very good, there is no denying that, but no netminder is able to do much with minimal support. He got hung out to dry at times, especially in the spell of goals from the Bison in the second. By the time the goals in the third period came around it just felt like the wind was out of the sails of the outskaters in front of him. You can’t give the man of the match to a netminder who ships 6 goals in a game but credit where it was due to the Scot for keeping the scoreline where it was. It genuinely could have been more.

To say it was a tough night at the office for the Phantoms would be an understatement. It’s also inappropriate to write the entire season off after just one game but it was a troubling first impression from a team that the Bison have had issues with in the past. Lacking in size in places, bereft of ideas and established names not performing is not something you want to see in the first game of the season. This is however the Peterborough Phantoms. They usually seem to find a way to grind something out.

Lowlight of the night: The Bison really can’t take penalties like that so early in the game.

Highlight of the night: Norcliffe’s goal was just lovely to watch.

Running with the Herd – Bison vs Raiders IHC 11/9/21

Basingstoke Bison 3-2 Raiders IHC

Doughty x2 (1pp) Connolly

Sampford pp Piatak

Don’t call it a comeback: The issues surrounding the Planet Ice rink in Basingstoke are well known within British ice hockey. The facility remains in a sub-optimal condition with leaning boards, permafrost affecting the level of the ice and variety of other factors meaning that the Bison’s home rink remains to have a cloud hanging over its future.

However to be inside the rink on Saturday evening, the first Bison game since 14th March 2020, was to feel an atmosphere made up of a variety of things. Relief, excitement, contentment; it was a heady mix. Daren “Bavy” Bavister, the Herd’s match night DJ has a habit of walking or in the minds of some, occasionally going over the line however he struck the right chord to start the game as the rink stood for 30 seconds of silence then 30 seconds of applause for those lost during 18 months away.

It felt that people would have been happy to have lost the game 10-0, just to have hockey back in their lives but instead they were treated to a Bison side that looked rusty at points, indecisive and faltering at others but for the majority it was promising. If Bison fans were worried about the club’s return to action after such a long lay off then they need to know that if the team plays like this then they’ll be just fine.

The game plan for the Herd has not really changed. Many wondered with the loss of Norris and Talbot up front whether the attacking bite would still be there but ultimately how the game would be approached made it clear that Ashley Tait’s team are going to play Ashley Tait hockey. There was speed, there was physicality and there was an attempt to balance the lines to try and get the offence going. It was reassuring that the pandemic hasn’t seen a change to the sort of hockey that people want to associate as Bison hockey.

The Herd had to weather the storm of a very aggressive forecheck and game plan from the outset but when they rode out the initial wave and started reciprocating in kind, the game took on a very even feel that made for a really entertaining welcome back to the sport that we love. It was rusty at times; loose passes, drop passes to nowhere with poor puck support, a few waywards shots but this was good fun. This wasn’t just because the home fans were sent home happy, this was genuinely a really good game of hockey.

It was a good all around team performance from the Bison. Brendan Baird looks three times the defender than he was the last time he wore Bison colours as he’s positionally more sound and his vision for the pass on the breakout has vastly improved. Combined with a decent if occasionally brain fart laden performance from the defence that gave up a few odd men rushes, the blue line core was solid. The forwards did what they needed to do and guys who didn’t play through the pandemic looked to have not lost a step. The line of Adam Harding centring George Norcliffe and Alex Sampford is one that when it finds its feet will be a very solid third unit.

The line that had the most impact however is easy to tell from the scoresheet which was the new combination of Alex Roberts alongside Zack Milton and man of the match, Aidan Doughty. The Raiders struggled to handle the speed and skill of this line. Milton was arguably quiet but what wasn’t shown from his 0+1 night was the amount of work off the puck to drawn men as Doughty put himself into positions for Roberts to get him the puck. The Canadian’s reputation from his time at Streatham was that of a sniper but in this game alongside the equally sharp shooting Doughty, Roberts was powering his way past players or just stickhandling past them. He appears to be a more multifaceted threat than first thought. This line will likely be used until it stops working because it was incredibly effective.

The other big factor was the play of Alex Mettam. It’s sometimes easy to praise goalkeepers in a tight game but in a game where his defence and forwards were still warming up to each other in a game situation, he made some very timely saves to bail them out of the situations they placed him in to. Stopping Erik Paitak after a poor turnover from Adam Jones as well as a 2on1 and a 3on1 during the game, Mettam has come into the season on form and focussed. Combined with Dan Weller-Evans’ equally excellent performance in the return game on Sunday, #TeamGoalie as they like to style themselves have not come to mess around to start the season.

Officially it’s a short pre-season for the Herd with just the two actual challenge games. The argument is that the cup campaign will potentially be an extended pre-season for clubs as everyone gets back into the rhythm and routine of ice hockey again but a solid grinding out of a win at home followed by coming from 2-0 down to win 3-2 the following night gives promising signs. The fact we get to have signs at all will do many of us for now.

A word on our opponents: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; I like the Raiders. I like watching them. A team whose gameplan has all the finesse of a brick to the face, the Raiders did exactly the right thing to start the game off on Saturday evening. Having had large swathes of the roster play over the pandemic as well as coming off of two games the weekend before, Sean Easton’s side came racing out at the Bison with real aggression. The one thing that they needed to do was not allow the Herd to settle into the game and get a chance for their line combinations to get any sort of chemistry going. The forecheck across the whole game was decent. The issue was that they didn’t score in that period to really get the Bison on the back foot.

It’s not to say that the Raiders played badly, per what was said above this was a really entertaining encounter. The speed through neutral was terrifying at times and the combination of Aaron Connolly and Erik Piatak might be as potent as we will see on any roster this season. Brad Windebank’s first full game of hockey for quite some time went well. I had to revise my initial assessment of Windebank’s performance because I was initially too harsh when sitting down to write. Ultimately injury and pandemic have seen him play little hockey for a very long time. It was an admirable performance on his return to the ice in such a position.

What cost the Raiders was that little bit of extra something in front of goal and some untimely penalties that cost them momentum and the game. The visitors were rusty themselves too at times summed up by Dan Scott screening his own netminder on the Bison’s second goal. On the basis of this game the two big things for the Raiders will be not taking unnecessary penalties and finding ways to get offence outside of the big two. Whatever happens though, they’ll be fun to watch. I’m sure of that.

Lowlight of the night: The Piatak goal was that sort of late game lapse in concentration that no team needs, even this early.

Highlight of the night: That we even had a night.

Building the Herd – Petts and Sampford complete the Bison roster as the new season looms large

With some teams having started pre-season and the 2021/22 season within touching distance, the Basingstoke Bison have a completed roster and are 6 days away from returning to the ice for the first time since 14th March 2020. Ashley Tait has officially announced his roster complete with the returns of Paul Petts and Alex Sampford.

Paul Petts returns for another season with the Bison. (c) 5 Hole Photography

Gosport born Petts, who turned 24 earlier this year is a product of the Bison junior season who broke into the u16s in 2011. Petts progressed through the junior ranks in Basingstoke, including a year of u16s where he scored 63 points in 18 games, before making his senior debut with the Basingstoke Buffalo in 2014, scoring 3 points from 12 league and playoff games in 2014/15 whilst also being the alternate captain of the Bison u18 side.

The following season Petts made more of an impact on the points scoring charts as he scored 19 points in 10 games for the Bison u20 side and 4 goals and 12 points for the Buffalo in NIHL 2. He also made his NIHL 1 debut with his home town Solent Devils where he added 1 assist in 10 games.

If 3 teams wasn’t enough in 15/16, Petts managed to appear for 4 teams in 16/17 as he captained the Bison u20s, played division 2 with the Buffalo, division 1 with the Devils and made his Bison debut, his loan appearance in the EPIHL before its collapse.

With his junior career finished and the EPL now history, the rosters of clubs needed to find extra British bodies with the drop of imports. Petts found himself onto the Bison roster for the year. Whilst he did make 4 appearances for the Buffalo in NIHL2 that season, Petts had a respectable debut season with the Herd as he scored 7 points (3+4) in 29 games with 26 penalty minutes as the Bison won the NIHL 1 South title on goal difference on the last day of the season. Petts then appeared in all 6 Bison playoff games scoring 1 goal and 2 assists for 3 points as the Bison won the Southern Playoffs and the NIHL National Playoff title.

Whist Doug Sheppard took a large number of players from that title winning side with him to Bracknell, Petts stayed with the Bison for Ashley Tait’s first campaign in Hampshire scoring 4 goals and 6 assists for 10 points with 14 penalty minutes.

With the advent of the NIHL National Division, Petts returned to the Herd but suffered a drop in production as he scored 1 goal and 3 assists for 4 points with 14 penalty minutes.

At junior level, Paul Petts seemed to be able to do a bit of everything and still arguably is. Over his time with the Bison he’s been used nearly everywhere; top line winger, checking line grinder, bottom 6 centre, penalty killer, he’s possibly even worn the mascot head at some stage. The problem for Petts is that nothing seems to have stuck.

I don’t think that for this campaign that it’s a secret that Petts is bottom 6 depth as we head into the campaign but certainly it feels that although Ashley Tait is happy to trust Petts to fill a gap, it feels like at senior hockey that he’s not quite found his niche yet or at least not in a Bison jersey. Elliott Dewey was a bit of a lost soul when he came into senior hockey and turned into a very good stay at home defenceman. Hallam Wilson went from warm body to being a solid grinding forward and agitator. When he first signed on with the Herd, I was told that Petts was a solid two-way centre though arguably neither Sheppard or Tait have given him the chance to do that.

That’s not to say that Paul Petts is a bad hockey player. He’s clearly not. 21 points in 3 years from a depth guy at this level isn’t anything to be sniffed at or even that bad. There’s just something that I’m not sure that anyone has quite managed to put their finger on the best way to use him. He can certainly throw a decent hit, he’s not a shrinking violet and perhaps if he can harness that physicality and up his points production he can force the issue of appearing more on the third line than the fourth.

A former Slough junior, Alex Sampford put up decent numbers with the Junior Jets and made his senior hockey debut with the old Jets NIHL side in 2013 whilst still an under 18. After that summer Sampford swapped Berkshire for Hampshire as he joined the Bison u18 side as well as appearing in 17 games and scoring 7 goals for the Basingstoke Buffalo.

(c) 5 Hole Photography

The following season Sampford’s career mirrored that of Petts as he made a loan appearance for the Herd whilst putting up points with the Buffalo and the Solent Devils where he scored 15 points in 15 games.

For 15/16 Sampford went onto a two-way between the Bison for whom he played 10 times and the Wightlink Raiders. Sampford’s time on the island was productive as he scored 19 goals and 32 points in 36 games.

Sampford returned to the island the following year but the closure of the rink just 4 games into the season saw him follow Jeremy Cornish to Streatham where he went a point per game again. He stayed in Streatham for the following season as the Redhawks’ first venture into the second tier of British hockey for decades. It was a tough year for the side as they struggled at times for results but got a respectable 6th placed finish though Sampford only registered 15 points in 30 games.

The following season saw Ashley Tait sign Sampford back to the Bison and from there, Sampford’s scoring has exploded scoring 75 points in 80 games.

Where there is arguably some confusion about how Paul Petts will be used, it feels like Alex Sampford’s role with the Bison is a bit more clear cut. He scores goals. The difference in standard between the last year of NIHL 1 South and NIHL National was noticeable and for his production to increase really boded well.

The only issue of course is he’s now had a year’s break. It’s not that any of us could have predicted that happening or that Sampford won’t have trained in that time or he’ll actively be changing how he plays but we’ve had a year of nothing.

It leads onto the fact that we have a full Bison roster. 2 netminders, 5 defenceman, 11 forwards and whatever they decide Liam Morris is that week. It looks familiar, it feels familiar and yet it’s almost impossible to know how any roster will do.

For some time now I’ve refused to predict the league table before the season starts because you’re asking for an assertion with no input and I don’t like doing that as a writer. However I’ve seen some predictions from people here and there and I just don’t know how anyone can predict any of this. The streaming series’ rosters were so augmented that there is no way to draw any real conclusions. There’s ideas, of course there’s ideas but I sit and look at this Bison roster and it gives me mixed emotions.

It’s got a nice familiarity to it. There was no reason for Ashley Tait to utterly blow up the roster but there were tweaks to be made. Some guys were announced as leaving already and the team didn’t win any silverware. There were improvements to be made but Tait has kept faith with the core. Admittedly having one of the league’s best defenceman falling into your lap after he’d agreed to go to Scotland was a bit of a surprise but it certainly helps.

The lack of a 6th natural defenceman is a concern, I’ve made no secret of my preference for Morris as a forward, though with the strength of netminding it’s a workable unit for sure.

Ultimately it’s just good to see a roster. After 18 months of nothing or hockey through a TV or laptop screen. Can this Bison roster win stuff? I don’t know. It has the potential to. It’s a good roster and I admit a wry smile as people are writing them off in a few places already. The status of the rink will always be a lingering concern as to what impact the conditions of the facility will play with games. At this stage when you consider our biggest local rivals don’t even have their rink any more, it puts it into context. Hockey is back. We will take whatever we can get. Fortunately it appears that what we’re getting will at least have that style of hockey that Basingstoke fans enjoy. I really hope it is. It’s been a long time coming.

Building the Herd – Morris and Norcliffe become the next piece of the puzzle

With both import slots secured in the last few weeks, Ashley Tait’s announcements from the Basingstoke Bison turned firmly back towards the British players whose ranks have been bolstered by the return of Liam Morris and George Norcliffe.

(c) 5 Hole Photography

26 year old Scottish utility player Morris returns for his 3rd actual campaign in Basingstoke since joining the club in 2018.

The son of former Fife Flyers legend Frank, Morris played hockey in Fife and represented Scotland at junior conference level before he moved back to Canada.

After spending time with the Ontario Hockey Academy u18 AAA level, Morris moved on to play four years in the Greater Metro Hockey League (a junior A league that isn’t affiliated with Hockey Canada) to play for the Toronto Attack. Morris spent 4 years with the Attack, increasing his scoring year on year for the duration of his time with the team. Morris finished his time in junior hockey with 52 goals and 152 points in 143 GMHL games with 423 penalty minutes.

The following season Morris only played 3 games. Taking most of the 2017/18 season off to attend to family matters, Liam did play 3 games in the Federal Hockey League for the Northern Federals. When the Cornwall Nationals of the FHL folded, the Federals were put together by the league to help fill out the schedule of the league’s Watertown Wolves. The Federals lost all three games, scoring 8 goals and conceding 31 in the process. The Wolves won the FHL championship.

In 2018, Morris decided that he wanted to break back into British hockey and accepted the offer from Ashley Tait to join the Bison. After a rollercoaster first season which saw Morris suspended and injured, only playing 25 games, Morris’ second season with the Herd saw him evolve into a more well rounded player. Morris’ numbers read 68 games played with 15 goals and 47 points. He also has played 2 games for the Manchester Storm.

The question I immediately asked of the Bison organisation about Liam Morris’ return was “forward, defence or both?”. The answer came back; “both”.

It is never a bad thing to have a player with flexibility on the roster. Injuries happen in ice hockey and whenever they do it’s important to have someone able to slot in at a moment’s notice. Morris’ skating has been his greatest asset here as he was able to slot onto defence alongside Jay King in 19/20 when it was needed. King was able to be more technically sound where Morris was able to try and take the body and join the rush at speed.

The issue with this? The Bison miss out on a really solid forward. I personally still believe that Morris is better suited to his crashing about game he had when he first came to Britain. His issue when he first ventured into senior hockey here was that he struggled to adapt to the officiating and he made errors that saw him on the wrong side of decisions. However now he’s more adept and adapted to what the referees are likely to call. As a third or second line winger is where Morris’ style would have the most offensive impact but with the roster having 10 forwards and Tait’s usual game plan dictating having four lines, it remains to be seen whether Morris starts the season in the top 9 or as the Herd’s sixth defender.

The return of George Norcliffe to Basingstoke is one that has greatly pleased the fanbase. The 2018/19 BOTW Player of the Year has excelled since joining from Bracknell in 2018.

(c) 5 Hole Photography

The 27 year old former Guildford junior made his senior debut in the 2011/12 season with the Oxford City Stars before finishing up his junior career in Guildford and joining the Solent Devils in 2012.

After four very productive years with the Devils where he tallied 60 goals and 114 points, Norcliffe moved across the Solent to the Isle of Wight for the team to fold in October 2016 when the rink closed. Norcliffe followed Jeremy Cornish back to the mainland and up the A3 to South London and to Streatham where he scored 22 points in 23 games.

Norcliffe accepted then player/coach Scott Spearing’s offer to join the Bracknell Bees for 17/18 where he scored 11 points in 30 games before the great Berkshire/Hampshire swap happened. Norcliffe came to Hampshire with minimal fanfare and has become a popular player in Basingstoke currently tallying 68 games, 29 goals and 49 points for the Herd.

If there was a doubt about what Morris’ role will be, there is much less discussion about what “Gordon” will be doing when the season restarts. Is George Norcliffe the best player in the National Ice Hockey League? No, he isn’t. However what George Norcliffe might be is one of the most fun players to watch. When he cuts in off the wing and drives the net, there’s regularly a sense of anticipation that he’s about to score. Of course it doesn’t work every time, there’s no cheat codes in real life, but hockey is built off of that anticipation of the next great but of action.

As for where Norcliffe himself fits in it’s obvious. He will be within the top 9 forwards to start the season. With Harding back at centre there’s potential for Roberts on one wing and Norcliffe on the other though with both being right shots you’re asking for one to play on their off wing. A third line with Sutton and Doughty or Milton becomes a possibility as well. There remains the question mark of Alex Sampford and whether he’ll return to the ice after the enforced break because that adds another British scoring option to the Herd’s ranks and brings down the likely start points for Norcliffe though he has proven versatile enough to move about the lines if needed. We’ll also likely see Norcliffe return to his position in front of the net on at least one of the powerplay and penalty kill units.

The Herd roster now sits at 5 defencemen, 9 forwards and one Liam Morris floating between the two. Ashley Tait has kept faith with a large number of the players of the last couple of seasons. Where others feel like they’ve made changes, the Herd continue to keep the faith and make tweaks. The imports leaving forced Tait’s hand though the British players seem happy to commit. In Morris and Norcliffe they have two of the more energetic and popular ones returning as hockey finally comes back.

Building the Herd – Filip Martinec

With the 2021/22 NIHL National Division season edging ever closer, the Basingstoke Bison announced a key piece of the roster for the campaign as they announced 28 year old Czech born forward, Filip Martinec.

Martinec joins the Herd having not played during the sparse options to do so in 2020/21 however his last full campaign was in the French 2nd division where he played for the Montpelier Vipers.

Born in Neratovice, a 30 minute drive north of Prague, Martinec played his junior hockey for the Melnik club before making his way to the u20 side in Kladno in 2010. To try and further his career Martinec headed over to America and the Palm Beach Hawks of the Tier 3 junior league, EJHL South based in Florida where he joined late but went over a point per game.

Martinec then headed to the Western States Hockey League, another low tier junior league but one that has had a lot of British players pass through it in its time. Martinec started with the Wichita Jr. Thunder where he scored 59 points in 33 games before being traded late in the season to the Long Beach Bombers. Despite only playing 3/4s of the season, Martinec finished the season as the Thunder’s top scorer.

The following year Martinec continued with Long Beach and scored 46 goals and 109 points in 44 games to see him finish as the league’s top scorer.

After finishing his junior career Martinec has travelled around and hasn’t done what many Czechs or Slovaks do and return home. Instead he headed to Romania and Progym Gheorgheni. It’s uncertain when Martinec appeared there though given he played no playoff games he likely saw minimal action at the end of the campaign. Even so he scored 10 goals and 19 points in 12 games.

The following year he swapped Romania for the Netherlands as he suited up for the Eindhoven Kemphanen. Alongside former Billingham Stars favourite Deniss Baskatovs, Martinec was the forefront of the Kemphanen offence. It was a 6th placed finish for Eindhoven and another season as a top scorer for the Czech forward as his 47 points in 22 games saw him lead the team.

After a year in Eindhoven, Martinec moved across Holland to Den Haag where he would again prove to be a major attacking threat. Finishing as the team’s joint top scorer in the regular season with 43 points in 19 games, Martinec scored 12 points in 9 playoff games as Den Haag made it all the way to the finals before losing out to the Heerenveen Flyers.

After staring in Holland it was a very different challenge that presented itself. Morzine-Avoriaz are a well known name in French hockey but financial issues saw the club relegated from the top division to the French 4th tier. Looking for an immediate move back up the leagues, Martinec was brought in to score points and he repaid his new employers in spades with 33 goals and 66 points in 15 games in the league before 37 points in 7 games as the Penguins got promoted at the first time of asking.

The next season in Division 3 was harder and the returns a little less but Martinec was nonetheless impressive. 16 goals and 28 points in 18 games was an OK return as Morzine-Avoriaz struggled and lost out in the playoff quarterfinals to miss out on promotion.

Whilst the club didn’t move up, Martinec did as he moved on to join the Montpelier Vipers in the French second tier, the same level that the Herd have signed Alex Roberts from. The Vipers did not have a good season, finishing 13th in the 14 team league (Roberts and Mont-Blanc finished 6th) and were playing in the relegation round when COVID-19 struck and saw the season cancelled. Martinec finished the year with 26 points and a goal every second game which was enough for him to be second in team scoring and 21st in overall league scoring on a team that won 5 games all season.

Whenever a team signs a player that is totally new to the country, the scramble immediately begins to find out information. What good footage I’ve found is above. There was also a video of Martinec and one of the other Montpelier imports throwing sweets into cup at Christmas but that didn’t feel as appropriate.

The stats and the footage speak of a man who puts himself in the right place at the right time to put the puck in the net. He has not played at the highest levels of junior hockey or European hockey by any stretch but what he does seem to do is score goals. The French 4th tier stint slants the stats massively but we also see an important trait in Martinec which is growth. He has been a regular and consistent goalscorer year on year in France as he’s moved up the levels. The French second division is arguably a little better than the NIHL National, as a country it’s arguably as close to Britain in terms of standard along with Austria so the NIHL signing guys from this level is reasonable.

What Filip Martinec does do is change things up a bit because I wonder if he now becomes the import to play alongside Ashley Tait up front when the season begins. From what I see of Martinec he appears to be more of a player who needs setting up to score than Roberts, that more classic Canadian style power forward who might be able to create more offence himself or might be better suited to Harding as his centre. The Bison appear to have options on the top two lines now in terms of strategy. You can have a more finesse scoring option and let Martinec lead the way or go a bit more direct and physical and let Roberts lead the way. Flexibility is a good thing.

Of course these are all hypotheses and educated guesses. Martinec might not settle and not be what was expected or he could blow the doors off the league altogether. Some people might feel underwhelmed and given his pedigree I’d understand that but people might need to go back into the annuls of Manchester Phoenix history and remember Michal Satek and what he did in the old EPL or what Dominik Florian did for Telford as they won the title. Sometimes there’s gems to be found and Ashley Tait is hoping that Filip Martinec is one of those.

Building the Herd – Bison continue to build roster with British additions

Ollie Stone
(c) 5 Hole Photography

The Basingstoke Bison’s recent influx of signings had started the forming of a more fleshed out roster. After firing out 6 signings in less than a week, Ashley Tait and the club continued to head towards the new season with the confirmation of Brendan Baird and Aidan Doughty as well as the return to the Herd of Ollie Stone.

25 year old Baird is no stranger to the Herd after a previous campaign with the club in 2014/15. The former Bracknell junior made his senior debut with the Bracknell Hornets in 2012 before graduating to playing for the Bees the following season.

After playing with his brother Joe, in 32 games for one assist under Doug Sheppard, Baird left the Bison. Brendan needed seasoning and the Southampton based youngster headed even further south as he joined the Wightlink Raiders in NIHL 1 South. Under Jeremy Cornish, Baird was paired with another name familiar name to Basingstoke fans in Chris Cooke. It was a very productive partnership and though the Raiders fell short of league and playoff titles, a 15 point season was a marked improvement in his points production.

After the Raiders sadly folded in 2016 when their rink was closed, Baird joined the Oxford City Stars and scored 17 points in 21 games before rejoining Jeremy Cornish and heading to Streatham as the EPL collapsed and 4 EPL sides headed into NIHL 1 South. After one campaign on the High Road, Baird returned to Bracknell under Doug Sheppard where in the last 2 seasons he’s played 81 games and scored 40 points from defence. During the pandemic, Baird agreed to join the Herd but as the club didn’t play he was loaned out to Slough Jets where he won the Ruggedstock Cup.

The Brendan Baird who joins the Bison in 2021 has developed a long way since he left the Herd in 2015. A lot of people familiar with his brother will have made the mistake of expecting one defender to be like the other. Older brother Joe, a veteran of British hockey grafted out a career as a stay at home, no nonsense blueliner but Brendan hasn’t gone the same way. In NIHL 1 (including the years with it as the second tier), Baird is just under a point every second game and in the debut NIHL National season he was 0.55 points per game as a British defenceman. These are not bad numbers. Given the more defensive nature of Dewey and King, albeit King likes to join the rush occasionally, Baird can provide some solid secondary scoring as well as providing some defensive grit.

Another player who joined the Herd in the pandemic and is yet to make his debut is Aidan Doughty. The Ryde born 25 year started out in the Wightlink junior system and scored goals like they were going out of style, in one junior season scoring 61 goals in 17 games. After making his senior hockey debut in 2011/12 where he played for both the Raiders and the Tigers and spending a couple of seasons playing for multiple teams on the Isle of Wight, Doughty spent 3 seasons in the Western States Hockey League playing in Colorado for Boulder and then the Colorado/Superior RoughRiders. Doughty scored 75 points in 110 games in the US before heading back to Britain.

From his return, his career mostly mirrors that of Baird. After returning to the Raiders for the 4 games at the end of their existence, Doughty headed just across the water to Gosport and joined up with the Solent Devils for the season scoring 37 points in 22 games before heading to Streatham. After a 21 point campaign with the Redhawks, Doughty spent the last 2 seasons with Bracknell where he scored 63 points in 82 games including 32 goals in that time.

Back in the early 2010s the former secretary of the Wightlink Raiders, Heather Jepson, first told me about a talented young forward who scored like it was the most natural thing in the world. His time in America set him up well but Doughty has never played outside of the NIHL setup. That happens in British hockey but at this level Doughty has proved himself as a sizeable threat. A regular pointscorer and finishing 2nd and joint 3rd in team goalscoring for the Bees in two seasons of second tier play, Doughty brings a real scorers touch. Where he plays at the moment remains to be seen but the current roster speaks towards Doughty on the wing of the first or second line.

The latest addition early this morning was the return to the Herd of defenceman Ollie Stone. 23 year old Stone came through the junior system at Swindon and the Okanagan Academy at the Link Centre before making his full Wildcats EPL debut in the 2015/16 season. After a couple of years with the Cats, Stone branched out and joined the MK Thunder for the 2018/19 season, the last of the NIHL 1 north/south. The Thunder didn’t have a great time that season but 7 points in 42 games caught the eye of Ashley Tait. Stone played the 2019/20 campaign for the Bison and joined the group that was loaned to Slough during the pandemic.

When Ollie Stone came to Basingstoke, a lot wasn’t expected of him. A defenceman on a team that won 8 games all season didn’t spark tons of interest. However Stone had been developing and sometimes where there’s low expectations there’s little to lose. Stone immediately impressed in Basingstoke. An old fashioned stay at home left shot defenceman who scores minimal points and tries to get in the way, Stone is not a flashy player. If you notice him, it’s because he’s done something wrong. Stone’s addition effectively gives the Bison defence currently a 3-2 split of more naturally defensive guys to guys who can add offence. The question here is who is the 5th man in the rotation if things stay the same or do the Herd get a 6th defender to make three pairs? The second option is more preferable as it allows for a legitimate shutdown pair option but what good depth shutdown defencemen are still on the market at the moment?

Either way Stone’s presence on the back end, albeit he’s not the largest player at 5’10” his positioning is decent enough where he can and will hopefully add consistent depth on the back end for the Bison.

Building the Herd – Bison fully awake from slumber with 6 signings in 4 days

The Basingstoke Bison’s recent addition of Zack Milton, combined with the loss of Sean Norris to the MK Lightning made some people wonder if the Herd would begin to start a run of announcements with the release of the National Division fixture list. The club didn’t disappoint as they fired out 6 player signings in 4 days.

(c) 5 Hole Photography

Thursday arguably saw the biggest shots across the bow of their rivals with the return to Basingstoke of Adam Jones. Regularly one of the top offensive defencemen in the division pre-pandemic, the Birmingham born Jones had initially agreed to go to the Fife Flyers of the Elite League before the world imploded and the 2020/21 season became small tournaments and augmented rosters. The 25 year old appeared for Swindon in the NIHL Spring Cup before being drafted by the Sheffield Steelers for the Elite Series. Regularly rotated in and out of the roster as the spare defenceman, Jones had 1 point from 10 games in the bubble in Nottingham. In his last full season proper, Jones had 38 points in 46 league games with 101 penalty minutes and was a finalist in the media’s selection for defenceman of the year.

That Jones became available for the Bison is a strange one though Ashley Tait will not be one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Used sparingly in the Elite Series for reasons that are Aaron Fox’s alone, at NIHL level Jones is capable of being a number one defenceman on any roster in the division. A top level powerplay quarterback along with being able to contribute to the offence whilst maintaining a real sense of defensive responsibility is why he is held in such a high regard. Circumstances away from hockey reportedly made a move further south than Kirkcaldy a necessity though to see a player too good for this level back in the division rings of Ciaran Long Syndrome for Adam Jones. The Bison however immediately have a top line player and the fans will be happy with that.

Along with Jones, centre Adam Harding was announced last Thursday. After spells with Cardiff, Manchester and Dundee, Harding was in his second spell at Swindon in 2018 when he was released. Ashley Tait snapped up Harding who has remained with the club ever since. A point per game producer ever since his arrival as well as being named alternate captain for his first full year with the club, Harding is capable of being gritty (he does like the occasional scrap) but his real strength is in his passing. Harding is not a natural two-way centre, though he does track back, instead being a much more potent attacking threat for his high level passing and vision. Able to score and not too bad in the faceoff circle, Harding is able to be used across the top 9 of the Bison’s forwards though you’d venture that he’d naturally sit in a second line centre roll with Tait on the top line.

Friday was a day of home grown depth returnees. 23 year old Hallam Wilson has played parts of every season he’s every laced up skates in Basingstoke (even during his one season with Oxford, he appeared for the Bison under 20s). Returning to Basingstoke for Doug Sheppard’s final season in charge of the Herd, Wilson was one of the few winners of the 2018 treble to remain with the club after that summer’s exodus and carved out a niche for himself in the lower order and on the penalty kill. Wilson has developed into a decent agitator on the ice, regularly capable of getting under the skin of opponents. However this shouldn’t detract from his decent skating and a shot that I wish he would use more. Teams needs a mix of players and Wilson offers that. He is certainly a character who can hopefully develop that gritty streak whilst providing some secondary scoring.

After a year away at Bracknell, Ryan Sutton had returned to Basingstoke on a multiyear deal and seemed to be more at peace. Sutton at the Bees had not been bad but something hadn’t seemed quite right. 9 points in 36 games with the Bees was a drop of more than half than the year before. Sutton came back to Basingstoke was used differently, seemed happier and 8 goals and 22 points in 46 games spoke to that. Handy in the faceoff circle and, like Wilson, has an under rated shot. Sutton is an option for the wing though I personally feel that he’s a much better centre due to his passing and face off ability. At 26, Sutton should be entering his prime years. For a Brit at NIHL level to be around the 0.5 point per game range is more than acceptable given the role he is usually asked to fill. Sutton will likely start the season as the Herd’s third or fourth line centre with time on one of the powerplay and penalty kill units.

The following day the Herd added to its defence with the return of fan favourite, Jay King. The former Murrayfield junior has certainly been popular since swapping the defunct Edinburgh Capitals for the Bison in 2018. Not the most attacking minded of defenceman, he averages one goal a season, King is more of a defensive defenceman. You’re not relying on King for points albeit he’s had double figures in both campaigns with the Herd. Physical albeit not the largest of the blueliner so far, Elite Prospects has him registered as a full 10 cm shorter than both Dewey and Jones, King is able to put the body about and just get in the way. He was partnered with Liam Morris for large chunks of the last campaign which worked but I wonder if they see King paired with someone even more of a shutdown player that might allow him to venture forward a bit more. Jones and Dewey will likely be paired together again. It works well and Dewey is no offensive powerhouse. The hope is King gets more of a set role rather than being asked to do too much. For me, he’s the perfect shutdown guy to hang back and allow his partner to join the rush more. King can do this, he’s not bad at it but he occasionally gets caught out of position when he does this.

The last of the Bison’s raft of signings was a man that has waited a long time to make his debut in for the club. Burnaby, British Columbia’s Alex Roberts was initially confirmed by Ashley Tait in the summer of 2020 when it looked like there was a chance of a season however that obviously didn’t come to pass but has agreed to fulfil his initial year with the club when the season starts in September 2021. The 27 year old former Utica College player is no stranger to Bison fans after staring for Streatham in the 2018/19 season. Roberts was the focal point of the Redhawks attack, scoring 32 goals and 59 points in 41 games for the South London side. He moved to Mont Blanc in the French second tier for 2019/20 and finished 5th in team scoring with 15 goals and 19 points in 22 games as his side finished 6th in the regular season before COVID-19 killed the playoffs.

As a quick skim of his stats or any memories of his time with Streatham will tell you, Roberts is a goal scorer. He’s a classic Canadian power forward; 6’3”, 205lbs and he can go to the net but Roberts has a real eye for a snipe with it. A high end shot for this level of hockey, you’d expect Roberts to come in to play on one of Ashley Tait’s wings to start the campaign however this depends on who the Herd sign for their second import slot. There’s some rumour that the Herd have spoken to defencemen for that second slot however with the loss of Norris (and presumably Talbot) it could be reasoned that with already solid netminding and enough decent British defencemen to possibly be added, that a second import forward is the more likely option for Tait. If and when that happens, does Roberts move to a wing with Harding and A.N. Other? This is conjecture but I’d be surprised if this happens. Given that Roberts has the innate ability to shoot accurately on site, it would seem crazy not to put him with Tait to at least try things out.

British hockey during COVID-19 survey results

People felt that the failure of the EIHA to unify with Ice Hockey UK was a bad idea, the EIHL should consider getting a media package like NHL Gamecenter and there was minimal crossing over of fans from different leagues to watch the hockey offered during the pandemic are some of the highlights of the results from the British hockey during COVID-19 survey run by Banners On The Wall.

With 261 responses over the course of two and a half weeks, it is the most extensive survey of its kind in British hockey in recent times and sought to ask questions about the hockey seen in Britain during the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey covered hockey played under the EIHA and EIHL banners.

The survey was split into 6 sections. We’ll break down every section, look at and examine the results for some of the interesting bits that come from the data.

Section 1: The basics

Section one covered some basic questions about the hockey fans that were answering the survey. Respondents were 71% male and 26% female with other responses ranging from non-binary to prefer not to say. The range of ages spanned the gambit with over 60% of those who responded being between 25-54 and having watched hockey for over ten years. A vast majority of people also believed that they understood the rules of the sport as 75% of those who took the survey rated themselves as an 8/10 or above. 5 people rated their understanding of the rules as a 4/10.

Section 2: Your team

This section focussed on the hockey that the respondents watched.

Whilst BOTW has a reputation as a site that covers the NIHL and its environs, the majority of people who took the survey (51%) supported a team in the Elite League. This question on the survey allowed multiple answers due to people attending multiple teams at times with many people choosing combinations of teams in their rink. Of those who selected just a single option, 43% were fans of an EIHL team with 38 supporting an NIHL National team.

58% of people lived within 10 miles of their rink but a sizeable chunk of people who answered the survey (24%) lived over 20 miles away from the rink where they usually watched hockey. There was a 50% split between those who had a season ticket (either full or partial) or didn’t though only 45% of people were certain that they’d purchase a season ticket when hockey returned properly after the pandemic ended.

Section 3: Playing (and not playing) hockey during the pandemic

This section focussed on the sport itself being played

When the pandemic started in March 2020, the last weekend of hockey played in the NIHL was the 14th/15th March 2020. Some teams travelled, Raiders IHC made the trip on the 15th to play Telford which allowed the Tigers to claim the NIHL National Division title by right. Some teams chose not to travel on the Sunday amid concerns with COVID-19 and 61% either agreed or strongly agreed that not travelling should have resulted in a loss on the team’s record in the final standings. With that being the last weekend that hockey was played, 80% of people felt that hockey in Britain was stopped at the right time.

There was no hockey in Britain till the Autumn of 2020 when the MK Lightning, Sheffield Steeldogs and Swindon Wildcats played in the NIHL streaming series. Fans agreed across the board that of the series played should have gone ahead whether the Streaming Series (74%), the NIHL Spring Cups (78%) and the Elite Series (91%).

52% of people who answered the survey had their team play in one of the series played and were happy about it though 16% of fans had their team not play and they were happy about this as well. 59% of fans either agreed or disagreed with the statement “No hockey games should have taken place in Britain without all players and staff being fully vaccinated against COVID-19.”

One question asked about the obtaining of the “elite sports” status from Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for clubs as some teams obtained this and didn’t play. A small majority of 51% feeling that if a team obtained the status that they should have played games.

There was a general consensus, for all of the many criticisms of the fragmented nature of British ice hockey, that the EIHA, EIHL and Ice Hockey UK had all done good work to get the games to go ahead and that both the NIHL and EIHL had played a significant role in getting GB players ready for the 2021 IIHF World Championships.

Section 4: Watching Games

This section dealt with how fans watched and consumed the games.

During the initial NIHL Streaming Series in 2020, 51% of respondents did not watch games in the tournament citing price of the stream as the main reason for their reason followed by lack of interest in the games on offer. Of those who did watch games the biggest reasons for watching were a desire to watch hockey followed by the person’s team playing. The anomaly of the study occurs here as respondents said they felt the stream was the right price for the hockey played despite those who didn’t watch it citing price as the main reason for doing so.

This was a trend that followed throughout the various series with minimal cross over between fans who supported teams in different leagues. The main reason for people to not watch the NIHL Spring Cup and the Elite Series was the price followed by the lack of interest in the hockey being offered.

The NIHL division 1 tournaments were not watched by the highest proportion, 63% of people taking the survey didn’t watch a game. Given the majority of these games were streamed for free (only Slough Jets charged and the price was a factor in people choosing not to watch), the survey asked if the streams being free impacted their choice to watch or not and 63% said no.

Section 5: What was on the streams

This section dealt with the content of the streams themselves.

Whatever the level of hockey being played fans felt that good camera angles, good camera operation and quality of picture were the most important factors for what made a good stream ahead of good commentary and whether the stream was value for money in their eyes.

We looked at who provided the best streaming product as a whole as well as who provided the best commentary.

Sheffield Steeldogs were deemed to offer the best streaming product in the National Division whilst the Nottingham Lions were deemed to provide the best streaming product in NIHL division 1 as well as having the overall best commentary across all NIHL teams.

With one single production entity filming the Elite Series, the question of best streaming product was redundant though Sheffield Steelers were deemed to have best commentary.

Participants also heavily criticised the EIHA’s decision to not livestream the NIHL 1 Cup finals weekend in Sheffield at the start of July. Only 13% felt not showing the finals and only offering social media updates was the correct idea and only 2.4% felt there should have been no coverage on social media or streaming at all to encourage people to attend in person. The vast majority felt the finals should have been streamed with 9% more feeling the stream should have been a pay to view product.

Section 6: Going forward

This section dealt with a few topics as to how the leagues in Britain could go forward with streaming in the minds of the participants as well as general attitudes to some topics within the game.

As was to be expected given the established dedicated nature of British hockey fans, the pandemic had not dented people’s enthusiasm to return to games once the pandemic subsided.

One topic of discussion had been the use of streams and the use of short videos of animations (GIFs) on social media for highlights or updates. BOTW reported during the pandemic that clubs in the National League had asked the EIHA to stop tweeting GIFs of goals from the streams as it discouraged people from buying the streaming product. The major factor was that offering streams made 88% of people likely to purchase them if they were unable to attend games but only 9% said that their club offering them would make them less likely to attend as a result. People also felt that the ability of clubs to update games via social media using tweets or GIFs also had minimal impact on people’s desire to attend games. A sizeable majority also felt that all NIHL National Division teams should stream their games and that £8 and under was a fair price per stream for a game.

In the EIHL it was similarly felt that the league would benefit from all teams streaming their games though the reasonable price was higher at between £9-12 per game. The majority also agreed that the EIHL would benefit from all games being available through a single platform similar to NHL’s Gamecenter with a price of between £51-£100 being the most popular though some said they’d pay more.

Lastly, the majority clearly felt the decision of the EIHA to reject unification with Ice Hockey UK was a mistake, something this site has and still does advocate.

Positives and shortcomings of the survey:

Ultimately a sample size of just over 250 is not a very large survey in the context of British hockey which averages many more fans per week during the season. However this is countered by the fact that none of the governing bodies has undertaken any sort of feedback exercise since the end of the season and neither have any club, bar the Manchester Storm. This survey provides more data to be examined than any other previously.

The survey also had to tailor its questions slightly as the Elite League operated the Elite Series through one streaming provider meaning that the only individual element provided by the teams was the commentary, making a look at the overall product offered by the four EIHL clubs impossible.

In the case of NIHL clubs, especially division one sides who have never streamed before, this allows quantitative, as well as a bit of qualitative, feedback of what many clubs offered for the first time. This could hopefully be used by clubs who didn’t participate during the pandemic if they choose to return and offer streaming of games as an option.

A longer survey would have allowed for more detailed questions and greater data however this could have seen a smaller pool of data with people not wishing to complete such a long survey. The finished article had 49 questions.

Authors’ observations:

These will be my personal opinions on what I take from the data. These are not definitive.

Some of the things mentioned above bare repeating again. Sadly it seems that there was minimal crossover of fans to watching hockey outside of the league that they usually watched. Even though many fans claimed an allegiance to multiple teams, many fans of an NIHL side did not watch the EIHL and vice versa. Price was clearly a factor in this decision for many. BOTW said before, during and after the season that the price of NIHL National and EIHL games individually was too high on the whole for many. The data collected does give conflicting answers about this in terms of the majority though a sizeable minority clearly felt this. However all bar one of the NIHL division one sides offered streams for free and the fact that they weren’t free didn’t influence many people who responded to watch.

It was clear however that fans were really pleased and appreciated the work across the board to put the games on and that they were enjoyed. Some teams did more than others in terms of the product put on and some teams will rightly feel aggrieved by the opinions of the data, particularly some of the NIHL Division One sides who in my personal opinion offered as good as many National Division sides.

Looking forward, the assertion that streaming games affects the live gate takes another knock. This site has long advocated that this was a fallacy and whilst this dataset is not exhaustive it does show that there’s a cohort of people who will not forgo the rink for the sofa given the option. An argument about away fans is one to consider though is it realistic in a league spanning a nation to expect large travelling followings to every game? That feels unrealistic outside of a circumstance like playoffs or a cup final, and even then the later would arguably midweek and hinder the ability of those to travel.

The failure of unification was known to be unpopular with the hockey fanbase in Britain and this is a bit of extra confirmation.

What next?

With hopefully a full season about to begin, this survey will hopefully never need to be run again in this format. However this data is there to be used. We maintain that we will offer this to whoever wants to use it whether club, league, governing body or researcher. Please get in contact via the contact form on the podcast page or via our Twitter account, @BannersOTW

Building the Herd – Zack Milton

The Basingstoke Bison had been under radio silence for quite some time. After a slew of announcements in quick order, the Herd slowed down and then went to a total stop as other teams in the NIHL went on a run of regular announcements. However on the day that England attempt to bring football home, Ashley Tait popped his head above the parapet to make waves in the NIHL National Division with the signing of Zack Milton from Bees IHC.

(c) Dan Blackham

Speaking to BOTW on his signing, Milton said, “I’m really excited to join the Bison this season, after a long time without a full season I look forward to the new opportunities I have to develop my game and to hopefully win some silverware.”

Now 20, Zack played some of his junior hockey in Basingstoke before moving to Slough at a young age. After quick progression through the junior ranks at The Hanger including scoring 40 points in 18 games at u15 level, Milton moved to Bracknell midway through 2016/17 where he scored 9 points in 7 u18 level games to finish the campaign. Milton made his senior hockey debut the following season with the Bracknell Hornets scoring 7 points in 22 games along with going over a point per game at u18 level.

These impressive performances caught the eye of new Bees coach Doug Sheppard who added Milton to the Bees roster alongside his place as captain of the under 18s Bracknell Drones. 34 points in 13 under 18 games is impressive enough but what opened eyes was 11 goals and 18 points in 38 games in his first NIHL 1 season. This was enough to earn Milton a call up to the Bees full time for the inaugural NIHL National Division and returned an impressive 9+30 for 39 points in 44 games with 77 penalty minutes along with a GB u20 call up before the pandemic stopped everything dead in its tracks.

When hockey came back, the Hive had closed but the Bees remained and the club found itself at Slough for the NIHL Spring Cup. Milton returned to action with the club but with a heavily augmented roster and a degree of rust taking an effect on nearly everyone, Milton returned 0 points in 12 games as the Bees finished 4th in the competition.

Whilst some headed to the Elite Series or back into waiting, Milton attempted to rebound. When the Haringey Huskies were a late addition to the NIHL 1 South’s additional competitions, Milton joined the Huskies for the tail end of the season and quickly found his form scoring 7 goals and 12 points in 8 games as the London side fell just short of qualification for the NIHL 1 Cup Finals weekend in Sheffield.

As a signing, this will have taken many people by surprise, this writer included. Milton’s breakthrough with the Bees under Doug Sheppard makes his move away from the team that everyone will call Bracknell (even though they’re not there any more) all the more unusual at first glance. The Bees gave Zack his big chance; he was given big minutes in key situations, scored timely goals and played well. To have him leave after his last full season being so productive and being a fan favourite feels unusual.

If we ignore the really big and obvious truth that people move around in British hockey, the fact that now both Milton brothers have left the Bees (Danny has left to join the Raiders’ NIHL 1 side and the junior Raiders coaching setup) speaks of a real change of direction for both players. This site is not interested in speculation, people will naturally wonder if there’s been a falling out, but ultimately sometimes a change is good. After a frustrating pandemic and then a below par performance in the Spring Cup perhaps Milton just decided that the time was right to move on.

Milton is a superb young prospect. Blessed with a natural amount of talent and energy, he’s able to put the puck in the net as well as have the speed to create the space for others to do the damage. He can also clearly move the puck, 30 assists in a season speaks to that and in a Bees side that had a certain amount of physicality to it, over 70 mins of penalties shows that he’s not afraid to get stuck in.

Where Milton fits into the Bison line-up officially remains a mystery given some players were announced as back but the small matter of a pandemic will change lives and plans. If we take it as read that a vast majority of the squad signed for 20/21 are returning then initially I’d expect Milton in the Bison’s middle six. I don’t think Tait plays alongside him on the top line but maybe alongside a combination of George Norcliffe and Alex Sampford as a third line with grit and scoring ability with time on the second powerplay feels a reasonable start. There’s potential of a line with Milton on a wing of Adam Harding and A.N. Other, arguably Sam Talbot used as a winger or Aidan Doughty as well if everyone is back.

For all the animosity of recent times, Doug Sheppard is a good coach and so is Ashley Tait. Milton has come along really well in a short space of time and even guesting for Coventry in pre-season games not that long ago. There’s a glut of potential there to be harnessed for the Bison. It does feel that everyone will need to be given time to warm back up, even Milton who has had the opportunity to play during this unprecedented time. He’s also leaving his familiar surroundings to try something new. Will he settle? Will it work? These are all important questions that will be answered before too long. One thing that Bison fans can be reassured by is the club’s ability to attract young, exciting talent has not been diminished whether by the uncertainty over the rink or COVID.

British hockey in the COVID-19 Pandemic Survey

After previous surveys about the English Premier League in 2016 and the National Ice Hockey League in 2018, Banners On The Wall had initially planned to return in 2020 to get thoughts on the inaugural NIHL National Division season. This didn’t happen for obvious reasons.

However after a period of time like no other in recent memory, we’ve taken the decision to review what we’ve seen in British hockey. Hockey was postponed, playoffs abandoned, hockey tentatively brought back then a bit more, then a bit more until Great Britain headed to the IIHF World Championships.

The survey will look at the decisions made to bring games back, streaming as a means of watching games through the pandemic, the quality of the streams provided, the consequences of the games being played as well as a brief look forward to what can be done with the lessons learned.

The plan is to leave the survey open for 3 weeks. After that some time will be taken to analyse the results and write up the findings of it.

Ultimately, BOTW has lived and died in the last few years by its analysis. To do this sort of analysis we need some data. What we also want and intend to do is to offer the conclusions and data to Ice Hockey UK, the EIHL, the EIHA and any other organisation that can and wants to make use of it.

Please only fill out the survey once. The more accurate the data collected, the better the results will be. Please make sure to share it far and wide to as many people connected to British hockey as possible.

The survey is embedded below or the direct link is here. The direct link might be the best option if completing on a mobile.