Goodnight and Good Luck – Matt Towalski

(c) 5 Hole Photography

It’s been a bit of a mad week this week. Unless you’ve been living in a hole or just insanely busy, you’ll have noticed that British hockey has started spiralling out of control. I’ve put publishing this piece back twice already and when I sat down to try and write it properly, I just could bash out the same thing that I usually do. However a player with a long and storied career deserves the same treatment that we’ve given every other player to leave the Bison organisation since 2011 so we’re just going to go a bit more freestyle in this piece.

Perhaps Matt Towalski knew something that we didn’t. From a personal perspective, it was somewhat disconcerting to sit down and look at Matt’s statistics and read he was retiring. Matt Towalski is a couple of months older than me so to read of anyone around my age retiring was a bit of a shock to the system. Does this mean that I’m old now?

From a hockey perspective it makes a ton of sense. Matt Towalski has played a high energy, really hard nosed game for a very long time. You didn’t sign Matt Towalski to score tons of points (his EPL best totals for a season was 34 points back in 2008/09) but he was a grinder, an agitator, a salt of the earth middle to lower order forward who would go and do anything you wanted him to.

From Slough to 7 seasons at MK with one playoff and one league title to his name before a more storied end to his career where he went to Slough whose star in the EPIHL was fading to Bracknell who just ran out of resources to joining the Herd midway through last season and ending up with a league winners medal and creating space for Tomas Karpov and Alan Lack.

We all have our traits that make someone our favourite players whether they be flashy or skilful but one of the best traits that any hockey player can have is consistency. It’s something that the writing here across the last few years at BOTW has made a point of it. When players are consistent, when teams are consistent, they win and the 2015/16 Bison team were perfect evidence of that as were this season’s Telford side. The Bison won 14 games out of 17 down the stretch to the point where they won the title. Telford didn’t lose a league game after early February. That talent for a player to play to the best of their ability as much as they can is what won Dan Davies this site’s player of the season.

However if we track back to the start of the campaign when the Bison weren’t consistent as a unit there were two players who maintained that level that was needed. One was Shaun Thompson who left as he felt he needed to play more of “his game”. The other was Matt Towalski. Where others were looking lost, he made things happen.

As the season went on and the rest of the roster warmed up and settled down, you started noticing Towalski less apart from the odd spectacular goal (he had deceptively good hands). He and others might argue that was somewhat the point, that he’s a depth guy but it’s that depth that has made the Bison so good over the last few years. Yes, Tomas Karpov or Ciaran Long or Rene Jarolin get the plaudits but the title win wouldn’t have happened without Thompson, Towalski, Lack and Lackey to provide that support. Those MK teams in the mid to late 2000’s had spectacular imports but what would they have been without Towalski, Wales, McPherson and Jamieson running about?

Whatever bizarre future lies ahead for the Bison is very much up in the air, the Bison have joined other clubs in applying for the NIHL 1 South along with others according to the club, and if we’re honest we can sign guys to be depth guys. What needs to go on record though is that you can put anyone in the shirt but the quality and capability will always differ. You knew what you got with Matt Towalski; he’d tug at your shirt, he’d hack you, whack you, maybe give you a little dig in the ribs, you could almost set your watch by the holding penalty he’d get but it’s that effort, that consistency that you can never fault.

The future of many clubs appears to be up in the air but Towalski has chosen his and with all this uncertainty, others may well follow. Greg Wood already has citing the recent chaos as part of the reason. What we can celebrate is a guy who gave everything he had for the clubs that he turned out for.

Congratulations Matt on the career and all the best for what comes next.


The State of our Game – Doug Clarkson’s letter to British Hockey

Former Cardiff, Dundee and Telford forward Doug Clarkson recently retired from hockey after the end of the 2016/17 season. Doug recently announced that he wanted to publish an open letter to those who run British hockey about his thoughts on how things are run. He asked BOTW to help out, we accepted and we present this to you now, without editing on our part.  They are Doug’s thoughts, rather than those of BOTW but we feel that it was in everyone’s interests to publish this given recent events.

 

Dear Sirs

(c) 5 Hole Photography

Having now retired from the game I love, I am writing this letter in the hope that the people following in my footsteps by playing hockey professionally will be ensured of the best possible experience. A career as a professional sportsperson is short, and can pass by without you ever realising what opportunities you might have missed, or how things could have been improved.

I want to start by saying that the time I spent in the UK was, hands down, the most fun and rewarding time I have ever had playing hockey. It was an amazing experience both on and off the ice. I played for great teams, met amazing players and people, and was lucky enough to leave the game on my own terms, and on the back of my career season!

As hockey players, we are used to being liked and disliked, jeered and praised in equal measure. It comes with the job, and most of us embrace it. But, in all of that madness of a game, weekend or season, the fans always deserved our best. They are the ones parting with their money to watch us play, and to pay our wages. I prided myself in always giving my best, every game and every season. From my experience of hockey in the UK, most other players took the same approach.

Sadly, however, the unwavering support of the fans, and the efforts of the players, is not enough to help hockey grow and thrive in the UK. Great games and strong attendances are an important first step, but they are arguably just papering over the cracks in the system. As a league and sporting governing body, I believe that the fans and players are being let down, and that the situation will not change any time soon unless action is taken.

My first issue is with the league structure itself. Hockey in the UK is not a mainstream sport – I do not think it has the resources or the capabilities to operate with a number of different leagues run by separate, independent governing bodies. As I understand it, the EIHL, SNL and EPIHL are operated and governed by separate organisations, with what appears to be little (if any) cohesion between them.

Why is there not one governing body, with a system in place where player development is a priority? You can still have the high quality hockey by having teams operate with a ‘farm system’, which will only help young players to develop and play, to the point where the leagues can start lowering the import levels but without compromising the quality of the on-ice product. It might even be possible to get help from the IIHF, which has helped other countries grow and sustain local, home-grown talent.

For a sport that is still trying to develop, I cannot see how the current approach is beneficial in the long run. I would like to see a more central governing body – an overarching board that has ultimate responsibility for the development of the game in the UK. Is this something that is being considered?

The issue of the GB National team still confuses me. Whilst, as a dual national player, I would have been honoured to represent GB, I am concerned that the home-grown talent will never thrive whilst that is still permitted.

The GB team looks strong at the moment, and some of the more recently eligible inclusions have added a great deal of skill to the squad. However, this has clearly been at the expense of British talent. Two excellent players have recently been cut from the GB squad, arguably at the expense of dual nationals. I feel strongly that this is not the message that GB ice hockey should be sending.

This decision, when combined with the EIHL increasing import levels in a short amount of time, is only going to hinder the longer-term development of British players. The current system feels short-sighted to me.

If the British players don’t play, either at club or international level, they don’t develop, and the next generation of young kids will shy away from making a career out of hockey. I understand that coaches are answerable in the ‘here and now’, and that that results in a moral conflict of sorts. I get why they would not want to sacrifice short-term results (against which they are judged) for a longer-term and more sustainable program.

I would argue that the GB team at the moment will be the best it will be for a while. When the Mark Richardsons and Jon Weavers are done playing, the gap left will be huge. I would like to see this reviewed to ensure that GB hockey has a bright long-term future, and would welcome clarification on what steps (other than limiting EIHL team to the number of Brits over the age of 23) are being taken to nurture young GB talent..

My final concern surrounds the image and reputation of hockey in the UK, both domestically and internationally. Sadly, there are people involved in the game, some of whom are ‘high ranking officials’ at clubs or in the league, who have no background in playing or managing hockey, and who offer little else to compensate. Others lack the professionalism to be in a position to influence the league in a positive way.

Whilst I appreciate that you don’t need to be a player to understand and love the game, I strongly feel that clubs should be led by people who understand both the game and the need to be commercially minded and professional.

I think it is really important that clubs engage with, and employ fans, particularly as there is no substitute for passion. That said, senior officials of large sports clubs are not brought it because they are fans. Chief Executives of large corporates or charities are not there because they like the brand or the cause their organisation is promoting. They are there because of their commercial skills, and the value they can add.

Until clubs, and the league, realise that they need shrewd business people (with a love of hockey, of course) at the helm to be able to grow this league, I fear that any progress made will be minimal.

Take the new Cardiff ownership for example. They come across to me as passionate hockey fans, which is great! But they are, first and foremost, successful business people, each and every one of them, and the team is doing well as a result of this combination. In contrast, one of the larger clubs continues to employ an individual in a key role whose inappropriate actions and comments appear to be constantly swept under the carpet.

If you were to review the forums, or ask the fans whether their conversations focus more around the commercial success of Cardiff, or the inappropriate actions of this individual, I am confident it would be the latter. Players, coaches and owners hear of these situations, which cannot be good for the league. It was not long ago that a well-known, former NHL player described the EIHL as a ‘beer league’ – this reputation will not disappear, and the league will not grow whilst unacceptable incidents continue to be tolerated. I would be interested to know what steps are being taken by the league to hold club officials to a particular standard, rather than relying on the clubs to take the correct action.

As I mentioned above, I am retired now, and am excited to be starting a career in coaching young hockey plays. The changes I am proposing have no bearing on me in any way, and I hope people realise that the purpose of this letter is not to criticise for the sake of it, but to ask for clarification and to try and raise awareness of what I believe is holding back hockey in the UK. It is terrible to see the wasted potential.

As I said above, I loved my time in the UK and I think the British born players and the fans deserve to have a league that is progressive, exciting and effectively operated. I feel strongly that the image of the league needs to be one of developing British talent, together with other young players just starting out. This will raise the standard at grass-roots level, and will hopefully ensure that hockey in the UK becomes a reputable and appealing alternative to the AHL and the other European leagues.

In short, I believe that better development, a more professional and structured approach, and the right people making decisions will only result in positive changes.

I look forward to your response.

Doug Clarkson


Curtain Down 2016/17

Banners On The Wall officially closes the book on it’s 2016/17 season and all its generalised insanity. This is Curtain Down.

Playoffs: A thank you to Ben Norris for the travel and the company as well as Becky, Paul and Sam Shipman for their hospitality again. It says something about how well brought up a small child is when they sit you down to pick out toys that you might find useful for your child. Same goes to Isaac Coles who continues to be equal parts of his parents, Stu and Kerry.

The weekend had some unusually un-hockey-like fan behaviour at the weekend but featured some very good hockey. Whilst the Bison result was not the one we wanted, it was an entertaining one and arguably the best for its quality since I’ve started going to finals weekends. Any side that can score 15 goals in two high pressure games like that deserves to win the trophy so congratulations to Milton Keynes on their success and all the best to them and Guildford going forward into the Elite League for next season.

It was a strange experience not being involved in the podcast stuff this year following the demise of the Manchester Phoenix though the fans still travelled and their chant of “we’ve got no team but we’re still here” was a lovely and poignant moment of the weekend.

If nothing else, I ate so well this weekend. The recommendation is Nashaa’s curry house and Wagamama’s were so late getting me my food that I got a chicken katsu curry for free!

The season: As I mentioned above, this season has been wacky and that’s been on both a micro and macro scale. That said we’ll try and focus on the Bison themselves as we’ve talked on here a fair bit about the rest of it.

On the ice, the season gets a B- as a grade. The title wasn’t successfully defended, no semi finals of the cup but a really good and productive second half of the season combined with a really good charge into the playoff weekend. For the most part this season the Bison have played hard, physical hockey hand in hand with skilful hockey. On their day they were unbeatable and played a brand of hockey that was entertaining and value for the money that people paid.

Tactically at times and with the recruitment, Doug Sheppard had issues this year. The near revolving door of import defencemen in the first half of the season before the return of Joe Rand and the addition of Dan Scott on the back end but Sheppard has shown again that when he gets it right that the Bison on the ice that they will (and did for the most part) challenge for titles.

This is of course coupled with the fact that the facility that the team currently play in is substandard. I mentioned at Christmas that the Bison offer entertaining hockey in spite of their facility than in conjunction with it. Planet Ice as an organisation need to improve the situation for players and fans in the Basingstoke Arena as a matter of urgency though I think they do know that. The issue is that everyone involved needs to see some action irrespective of any potential new development at Leisure Park and I would encourage Planet Ice to make a statement as to what will be happening with the rink over the summer to improve things ahead of 2017/18.

Thank you: This will always start one way; thank you Emily for always supporting me in this. Here’s hoping the little one likes the ice rink because I don’t think they really have a choice, do they?

A thanks again goes to Grant King of 5 Hole Photography for allowing me to use his photos on here. Grant genuinely has become one of the best hockey photographers in the country on a par with anyone British hockey can offer. Please remember to always credit him if you tweet or share an image.

John Neville and Graham Bell continually allow me to get on with this without seeing BOTW as a threat to the Bison organisation but as someone holding up the mirror to it to try and help it get better in ways. I make no bones about the fact that I love the club and as a hockey fan I support the Bison at heart and I think they realise that. Hopefully it comes through in the writing.

The members of the British hockey blogger and podcast union deserve their thanks for their continued support over this past season and a massive thank you to all who appeared on the podcast this season.

My other friends at rinks across the country are wonderful but a special mention must go to those that I see every week in Basingstoke. They put up with my ranting, my raving, my yelling at clouds (thanks Eleanor) with good grace and continue to keep me honest. May we have many more days together sat in the sunshine, laughing together.

BOTW going forward: So, for those who don’t know or didn’t get it from what was written above, I’m due to become a dad in July. It’s exciting and terrifying in equal measure. The plan for BOTW is to keep going. Hockey writing remains my release so I want to keep going. I realise that this means I have to adapt on the fly as my priorities in life change however BOTW retains a place of being known for producing quality content within British hockey and if I can then I want to keep that going. There’s also hopefully some exciting podcast news coming soon as well.

When news comes, it’ll be here.

Keep safe,

Anthony


Running with the Herd – Bison vs Telford Tigers 8/4/17

EPIHL Playoff Semi Final

Basingstoke Bison 2-3 Telford Tigers

Roehl pp ………………….Clarkson x 2 (1pp)

Jarolin ……………………..Jones

Out of gas:

Banners On The Wall has always tried to be a place where the analysis is fair but make no mistake, this place has always been partisan. When asked in the run up to this game how I thought it would go, I tried to be rational and sensible. I tried to call it down the middle and was accepting of the fact that there were ways that the Bison could lose this game. Then Saturday evening rolled around, the nerves kicked in and I was shouting with the rest of them. I was also disappointed when it was done.

However, done it is and ultimately it was simply the fact that the team gave everything and ran out of energy. In what was a really evenly matched and tightly fought contest, the massive 5 minute penalty kill from the Aaron Connolly game penalty for boarding emptied the tank. The Bison ran out of steam and ran out of ideas. There’s no shame in that. The Bison needed a big final 20 minutes, gave everything they had and sadly came up short. That’s hockey.

On the BOTW Podcast I said that the one thing that the Bison needed to do was be good defensively and keep their discipline. The moments that didn’t cost them. The one massive penalty yielded the game winning goal and the two of the other three defensive lapses saw goals scored but actually the defensive corps had a good game I thought. Tomas Hiadlovsky will likely want the first and third goals back but made a string of decent saves and recovered well from being run by Jason Silverthorn in the early stages of the game, a penalty that led to Roehl’s goal.

With regards to Roehl, whilst he had a good game I feel that Vanya Antonov was robbed of man of the match. All of the Bison’s best work came through the line of Antonov, Rene Jarolin and Joe Miller. They were a constant threat and the Tigers struggled to deal with that combination all night. Jarolin’s goal in particular was a thing of beauty; a tic, tac toe manoeuvre that put the Slovakian behind the Tigers defence where he proceeded to remove Jon Baston from his shorts.

The issue for the Bison going forward was that the other lines just never really quite found their stride during even handed play. Connolly’s penalty meant that the lines had to be shuffled and they still just couldn’t find a way through against a well drilled Tigers side who did a good job off running out the clock.

The fairy tale ending was in sight when the Bison got a late powerplay but sadly the powerplay that has been the failing of the Herd on occasions just couldn’t lift itself. The tank was empty and the season was done. We’ll obviously go into the season in greater depth in Curtain Down but there was no reason for the Bison to be ashamed of that performance. It was effort every shift and played in the right spirit, it was Bison hockey.

A word on our opponents:

This was a good and a bad match for the Telford Tigers. It was good because they played well, played their systems to perfection and saw the game out once the had the lead. The bad comes from the fact that they had to work so hard to achieve that win that it no doubt played into the fact that Milton Keynes thumped them the following day. However we’ll cover that later this week.

This particular game was one where you saw why Telford won the league; they found the ways to make breakthroughs where others don’t. They went 1-0 and 2-1 down but found ways to get back into the tie. Whatever feelings you have about the off ice antics in Telford, the team on the ice on Saturday found those margins needed. They found those gaps that they needed. Sadly one of them was through Tomas Hiadlovsky.

Doug Clarkson got man of the match and this was actually spot on for me. Clarkson did his job to perfection on the night. He was a physical threat when needed, he was a scoring threat when needed. The game winning goal was the sort of goal that the Canadian has scored all season which was a nice one timer from the hashmarks that managed to make it through the 5 hole of Hiadlovsky. From there all he had to do was help get in the way. I can’t always say I liked the way Clarkson played, even in this game, but credit where it’s due to a man who played with a smile on his face. I wish him the best in retirement.

Jon Baston would come back to haunt the Bison in this one. Having had something of a slow start with the Tigers, Baston certainly found his stride on Saturday night where he made save after save in the clutch. In the last minute with the game on Derek Roehl’s stick, Jon Baston took it away and saw Telford into the playoff final.

Obviously this report is written after the final and what happened there. However as for Saturday night, we have to tip our hat to them. Much like when the Tigers beat the Bison 4-2 in Basingstoke, they found a way to outlast the Herd over the course of 60 minutes. The other discussions surrounding the Tigers are not for here. This one is about the game. They won it, more power to them.

Lowlight of the night: Jason Silverthorn is the best player in the EPL this season, there was no reason to run the goalie in the first few minutes of the game.

Highlight of the night: Jarolin’s goal, it was better than Bakrlik’s for me.


The BOTW Podcast – episode 54

Here we are, the final weekend of the season for most of us in British hockey.

We look briefly at the EIHL playoff weekend and the NIHL 1 South all star team before giving you an in depth look at the EPIHL playoff weekend at the Coventry Skydome.  The teams, the records, the keys to the game and more.  Also Anthony throws out his all-star selections.

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 Milton Keynes Lightning 01/04/17

EPIHL Playoff Group B

Basingstoke Bison 3-2 Milton Keynes Lightning

Miller x2 …………………..Emersic

Rand ……………………….Hölli pp

Punch the ticket:

Bison fans were treated to the rarity of all rarities at home in this game; a full roster. Grant Rounding iced in a full face guard after his hit from Frankie Bakrlik last Saturday in Milton Keynes.

I’m not one for throwing clichés around if I can help it but the idea of a cliché is that there’s a lack of original thought behind it but this was the archetype of a playoff game. It was tense, it was exciting, the hockey was edgy and nervous and both sets of fans lifted their respective rosters.

Hockey is a game of three periods and it really was a game of three for the Bison as the game had three very distinctive phases. In the first, the Bison gave what might be deemed their usual first period; a high energy approach where they threw the kitchen sink at the Lightning, forced many rebounds out of the opposition netminder which they didn’t follow up then in true Bison fashion got stung on the counter. The second period saw the Bison regroup and play a bit smarter. They did get fortunate, certainly on the second goal, that Przemyslaw Odrobny doesn’t seem massively keen on holding tight to the post but they rode that good fortune as well as manage to get their system set up and the two goal lead was established going into the third. The third period then was the attempt at Doug Sheppard shutdown hockey which worked for the most part bar the powerplay goal.

The one issue in the third for the Bison was they started to lose their cool a bit in the third. As is the way with games between these two teams, it was niggly with lots of off the play little hooks, grabs and whacks at each other. Whilst I think that Mikolaj Lopuski was fortunate to not take a penalty at the same time as Dan Scott to then have Derek Roehl take a penalty on the same powerplay as the Lightning scored could have made things a lot harder than they needed to be.

To Roehl’s credit, whilst he didn’t score, this was one of his better recent games. There’s something to be said about the way that British hockey values the league more than the playoffs but Roehl (and Rand for that matter) have the idea of playoffs hard-wired into them. Roehl was throwing himself in front of every shot, trying to do everything he could. He was arguably a man of the match candidate as a result.

The actual man of the match, Joe Miller, took both his goals very well. The first was thanks to the work of Vanya Antonov as he went on one of his mazy runs that drew the defender and allowed Miller the space to take the pass and fire home. The second was as a result of the above but also relied on the fact that Miller saw the chance and gave it a go. You may insert your own Gretzky quote here.

For those wondering about the remonstrations from Tomas Hiadlovsky on the first Lightning goal, the argument was to do with where Hiadlvosky was. The Slovak felt that he had been taken out by one of the Lightning forwards and impeded from making the save and that as he was in his goal crease that it was goaltender interference. Mr Matthews determined that the Bison netminder was outside of the crease and thus that call couldn’t be given. To be fair to Mr Matthews and irrespective of Hiadlovsky’s positioning, I don’t think the official can be blamed for not seeing exactly where the crease exactly began or ended. It should actually be noted though that the Lightning goal was a cracking shot from Blaz Emersic.

There was a job to be done and in the end, the Bison got it done. It was a real teamwork effort from the Herd who took a setback in conceding despite having had lots of pressure to turn the game in their favour and hold on. With Swindon unable to get more than 6 points, it meant that the Bison confirmed their spot at the Coventry weekend for the 4th time in the last 5 seasons. The Herd also currently lead the playoff group going into tonight’s game with Swindon. With the tiebreakers between the Bison and MK completely level, the Herd’s superior goal difference overall sees them lead the group. MK need to better the Bison’s result by 3 goals to win the group.

A word on our opponents:

So that was the last time for the foreseeable future that we will see the Milton Keynes Lightning in a competitive game in Basingstoke. Games between the good side have always been physical and bar a couple of incidents have always been played in the right spirit which will be missed. A slight boo to the folks who thought it was a good idea to stick an MKL flag on to some of the title banners and over the Bison logo. A slight cheer to those who encouraged them to move it to a more suitable location.

With Frankie Bakrlik rested, the Lightning were otherwise at full strength and it showed; they’re a very good EPIHL side. I think there’s an argument that they underachieved having finished as far behind Telford as they did but the quality that they possess as a unit is undeniable.

The Lightning played a very similar style to the Bison; a mix of mostly dump and chase with the odd charge up the middle or wings which trying to establish physical dominance. The other thing that the Lightning are very good at (and having a good netminder helps) is they are really good at weathering spells of pressure from their opponents. Given that this is essentially the Bison’s MO where they charge in and almost fire shots and let the law of probability dictate that something will eventually go in, it’s actually quite a useful ability to be able to have. Whether Nick Poole or Pete Russell has been the head coach, that defensive assuredness has been a hallmark of Lightning hockey.

Przemyslaw Odrobny got man of the match for a 21 save performance and he made some very good saves though he also had some awkward moments. His rebound control at times, especially in the first, was not brilliant and it seemed to catch his defence on the foot. That’s not to say Odrobny is a bad netminder and he certainly wouldn’t be the first netminder to struggle to get to grips with the angles in Basingstoke as older Bison fans will remember Jody Lehman never really got settled whether playing for Coventry or Sheffield. What will be interesting to watch will be Odrobny on that “bigger” ice (I say “bigger” because the dimensions at Coventry aren’t significantly bigger than either MK or Basingstoke) with that much more open venue. The Polish international is clearly very good but I don’t venture the Barmy Army want the heart attack moments next weekend.

The other player who really stood out was unsurprisingly, Antti Hölli. The Finnish forward is clearly a step above the EPL with a shot that will trouble most netminders. I’d be interested to see if he’s offered a contract for the Lightning’s step up to the EIHL. Given he’s just about to turn 30, he’s certainly in a place to be able to do it and has experience in EIHL calibre and better leagues.

Milton Keynes didn’t win in Basingstoke this season nor did the Bison win at the Thunderdome this year. The record in the playoffs is level as well. These two could contest the final if results go their way and if this is the basis then it will be a very good final.

Lowlight of the night: There wasn’t actually that much, this was a great game but the hit from James Griffin on Dan Davies as well as Joe Baird’s boarding of Milan Baranyk were two unnecessary hits.

Highlight of the night: The Bison’s first goal coupled with the fact that we’re off to Coventry again. See you there, everyone!


The BOTW Player of the Year 2016/17

Following our usual rigorous nomination process which yielded six candidates, the expert panel held their yearly meeting to weigh up those nominated and a decision has been reached. For the 5th time in its history and as BOTW celebrates its 6th birthday we have a winner for the most drinkable prize in sports, the “Edjis Brahmanis Trophy”.

Banners On The Wall Player of the Year 2016/17: #47 Dan Davies

(c) 5 Hole Photography

British forward Davies becomes the 5th player to win this blog’s player of the year and the third British player in succession following wins for Kurt Reynolds and Aaron Connolly. A capture during last summer from Telford, 27 year old Davies was added to the roster to help mount a defence of the EPL title. Whilst the Bison could not retain the league championship, Davies has become a popular player amongst the fanbase for his excellent two way play and industrious nature on the ice.

Award judge and Bison superfan Nigel Simmonds said that Davies “goes about his business without much fuss & for some reason goes under the man of the match award most weekends. Seriously doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. A very important cog in this teams wheel.”

Fellow judge and Bison off ice official Hannah Driver characterised Davies by calling him “a good all rounder that is often overlooked” though hopefully this accolade puts pay to that. Davies also received the most nominations from the public.

Other nominees:

#19 Vanya Antonov

One of the most talked about signings of the summer when he joined the Herd from Bracknell, the Russo-British forward was talked about by fans for all the right reasons on the ice with his excellent skating and great puck control. Award judge and club photographer Grant King commented that Vanya “has really upped his game since joining us his puck control is beyond his years. I think if we can retain his services next season we could see another jump in his evolution as a player.”

#53 Tomas Hiadlovsky

Award judge Jamie Walker felt that the Slovak netminder has been “solid all season long for the team who conceded the least amount of goals, says it all right there” when asked for comment. Hiadlovsky has taken some criticism for his puck playing style (a style that I personally love) but Hiadlovsky finished the regular season with a .915 save percentage and a 2.20 goals against average which is the best of any keeper to play more than 20 games.

#35 Rene Jarolin

Whilst he’s one of the team’s elder statesmen in terms of age, Jarolin arguably still has better vision and hands than players than anyone else in the team. A seemingly effortless skater Jarolin, who neglected to score with his face so far this season, has continued to be one of the better import centres in the league with a habit of scoring at moments when it seems almost impossible to do so.

#89 Ciaran Long

For me”, said Jamie Walker, “(Long) has been the most consistent player night in and night out right from the start. This guy sees the game as well as any import I think I’ve seen skate in Basingstoke, scores big goals, makes big plays, tracks back, steps back into D when asked to without question”. I don’t think there’s much more to add.

There was one more nominee. Whilst the BOTW Player of the Year is Bison specific, anyone can nominate and a few people decided to have a little joke. Here at BOTW, we’re able to laugh at ourselves a bit so this nominee got an award all their own;

The Mike Olynyk Award for “services to having a go”

#81 Jakub Barton

Jakub Barton was sadly just the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. Brought in after Miroslav Vantroba announced his intention not to return, Barton never really settled into the Bison line up and was quickly released after 5 games. After leaving Basingstoke, Barton signed for French 2nd tier side Dunkerque in November 2016 and scored 6 points as he helped Les Corsaires stave off relegation.

A massive thank you must go once again to Hannah Driver, Grant King, Nigel Simmonds and Jamie Walker for being part of the judging panel once again as well as a thank you to everyone who nominated their favourite player. Congratulations go to Dan who we will endeavour to get the trophy to this weekend after the final home game of the season against Milton Keynes.