So the off season is here and there’s lots of talk about the players and off ice stuff but let’s look a bit deeper. Here at Banners On The Wall we’ve developed a survey to see what you, the fans think about the EPIHL.This is not intended to be some hugely scientific look at anything but a simple way to gauge some fan opinions on the league and what the fans get from it.
Fill it in below, we’ll update you with the results in a month or so.
The season is done…sort of. With the EPL season having finished, Anthony goes over the comings and goings from EPL sides as well as the all-star teams.
Then we have a preview of the NIHL1 South playoff final. Will the dominant Chelmsford finish off their clean sweap or will the Wightlink Raiders send coach Jeremy Cornish into his playing retirement with one last flourish?
The BOTW Podcast; the news, action and views from the EPIHL and all levels above, below and in between.
As promised now the season has ended, given the news that he and his family will be leaving for America, it’s time for us to bid farewell to Joe Greener.
What have we lost?
I’ve long said, and evidence of playoff weekend has done nothing to change this, that Joe Greener is the best power forward in the EPIHL. A fantastic blend of toughness, strength and skill, there are fewer people that did that role in this league better than Greener. Combined in league and playoffs over his EPL tenure, Greener had over 400 games, over 500 points and over 900 penalty minutes.
In a league that is very Eastern European in a lot of its ways, thanks in no small part to his junior hockey in the NAHL, Greener was a very North American style player. He put up points, he landed big hits and he threw the fists when it was felt to be needed. The Bison lose a massive piece at the heart of their title winning jigsaw as they need to replace someone who not only was a big part of the points production but also an emotional leader and in some ways its policeman. Combine that with his habit of always being in the right place at the right time, it’s a huge hole to fill.
Where has he gone?
Joe and family are relocating to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan where he will become one of the coaches of the Soo Indians Midget AAA club.
Who replaces him?
Given the only confirmed player for next season is Tomas Karpov on the third year of his deal at the moment (and I sure don’t want Karpov trying to do Joe Greener’s job), nobody. Rumours abound about all sorts of players but nothing is currently confirmed.
I booed. I booed and I booed and I booed, I think we all did at least once. Any time we seemed to have an issue with the Slough Jets on the ice, Joe Greener was in the middle of it. The discussions amongst the committee whenever Joe was nominated for the blog’s player of the year always saw it mentioned at least once; that if your team was playing against him, you hated Joe Greener.
When Jeremy Cornish signed for the Bison there were a few sceptics but a Sheffield supporting friend of mine rang me and said “you’ll love watching him week in, week out” and we did. When the Bison signed Joe Greener, many weren’t sure they could cheer for him. Years later as over a thousand fans chanted his name at his final league game and hundreds in attendance at the Skydome last Saturday, I think it’s safe to say that people came around.
There’s a load of reasons why the Bison have done so well over the last couple of years but a big one of them has been the fact that we had top level game breakers at EPL level; the sort of player who could have those moments of magic. They come in many forms too. Kurt Reynolds is a defensive game breaker because in a tight spot, he will twist and turn a forward inside out and be able to clear the danger. Tomas Karpov and Ciaran Long are skilled game breakers because all of a sudden, they will pull something out of their back pocket and score a wonder goal. Joe Greener was an old fashioned game breaker and a game changer. When you needed someone to go through a wall, through the wall he would go. He would always be lurking at the side of the crease in “his office” or be charging to the net and just be a general menace. When the Bison needed someone in overtime to score to take them to Coventry for the first time, it was Greener camped at the side of the net that lifted the puck over Dean Skinns’ pad. With seconds to go in the league title winning game, who chased down on the forecheck to make sure that Swindon couldn’t set up again in the dying moments? Even last Saturday; yes we lost but when we couldn’t find a way through and we needed a dirty goal, who was there on the doorstep?
All this would make you think someone would be much more vocal, have a bit more swagger about things but when the Bison won the league all he had to say to Bison TV was, “speechless, happy for the boys.” Greener actively seemed to shun the limelight, just happy to be one of the guys and hope the end result came. As his EPL career ends with 3 playoffs, 2 cups and 1 league title, that seems a safe bet.
On Sunday in Coventry whilst I was doing the Playoffs Live podcast, one of the contributors very graciously made a point of wishing Joe well as he moves to a life beyond playing. I was off mic at the time and a fan of another club behind me said “I won’t miss him”. I smirked and said “you lot would have killed for a player like Joe Greener and you’d have loved him as well.” The person made a face and said, “No I wouldn’t”. With the greatest of respect to that person, I didn’t believe them then and I don’t think I ever will.
All the best, Joe to you and the family; I don’t make a habit of trying to speak for everyone but I think I am on safe ground when I say that all of us wish you every success in the next chapter.
With the season now at an end, it’s time for Banners On The Wall to round out the 2015/16 campaign in its traditional fashion. This is Curtain Down.
Playoffs: So yes, the hockey didn’t provide the right result and none of the games were massively entertaining bar Billingham and Guildford’s under 20s sides forgetting how to defend but all in all it was another great weekend.
My thanks as ever go to Paul, Becky and Sam Shipman for allowing me into their home for the duration and my travelling companions for the weekend in Dave Oddy, Keith Johnson and Victor the rat.
Playoff weekends are what you make of them; if your team isn’t there you get the end of season blow out to welcome in the summer. If your team is there then you get the entire previous sentence combined with all of the nerves. I have to confess to being relatively sanguine about the Bison’s defeat. In the moment I was gutted because losing sucks but it was OK. Aside from the fact that you genuinely can’t win them all, it’s not like the Bison’s season is a let-down as a result.
A lot of fun was had at the Playoffs Live podcasts at The Windmill, hosted as always by Ben Knight and the Phoenix Podcast crew. Whatever you think of him or my inane prattlings, I particularly recommend listening to Sunday’s interview with Phoenix owner Neil Morris. It was certainly an interesting thing to be a part of sat in the room. I can’t say it changed my feelings on him but sitting next to him give answers to questions including one slightly provocative one from myself did change my perspective on him. If nothing else, skip through both shows to find the glory that is Zamsport.
I find it very easy to be reflective at the Coventry weekend, likely due to the fact it gives the season a definitive ending but I always take a minute to walk around the Skydome and just try and appreciate what’s going on. There’s a ton of good reasons for not going to playoffs but if one of those for you is “my team isn’t there” or “I just don’t fancy it” then I’d say you’re missing out on a very worthwhile experience. Coventry isn’t Monte Carlo but there’s so much to be gained in fun and friendship that it’s nearly unmissable now for me.
The season: Cup semi-finalists, playoff semi-finalists, league champions for the first time in 23 years; if you can honestly say as a Bison fan that you wouldn’t have taken that had it been offered to you in September then you’re a liar.
The thing I found about watching the Bison this season was they were a lot of fun and they seemed to be having a lot of fun. There were changes, some things didn’t work and things got shuffled around but the core of the group always seemed to be focussed and enjoying themselves.
I will answer two sets of points with one answer; what grade do I give the season and were the Bison too physical/goons/thugs (delete as applicable).
40 wins out of 54 in the league, 24-3 at home in the league, 1 home defeat before Christmas, 3rd in team goals scored, 1st in goals against, 3rd in penalty minutes, 4 first team all stars, 2 second team all stars and league champions. For some reason a lot of people have chosen to focus on one of those 9 things than the other eight and it belies an old truth in hockey that being too tough gets you nowhere. The Bison’s season gets an A grade from me because they got the balance right over the course of the season. Were there games when they were too physical? Unquestionably but accusations that the Bison were/are a “goon squad” is laughable nonsense. They quite simply wouldn’t be league champions if they were. What the Bison were was consistent; consistent in managing to apply their game plan, consistent in their team toughness, consistent in their skills and consistent in finding ways to win. Champions do that.
Also congratulations to Guildford on their cup and playoff double.
Thank you: As is tradition, the first thank you goes to my wife Emily. As I said in the 5th birthday piece, she understood why I needed to start BOTW and knows why I need to keep doing it. Thank you, hun.
The other person who gives me more help with BOTW on a regular basis is Grant King of 5 Hole Photography. Grant never ceases to amaze me with how good his eye for the shot is. Hockey is not an easy sport to watch at the best of times so I’m regularly impressed with the quality of his images. I spend inordinately too much time choosing between his photos for pieces. It is my sincere hope that one day he will be able to give up his regular job and be able to be a photographer as his paid work. He deserves it.
A thank you as ever to John Neville and Graham Bell at the Bison for their support and acceptance of BOTW’s place in the world of the Bison. It’s a niche market, they don’t need to do anything but I’m always appreciative of the fact that they are happy to let me do my thing without the need to really feel they have to cramp my style.
The British Hockey Podcast Union is growing slowly but ever improving in its quality. There’s some really good people out there who do a vast array of good work. I’ll also use this section to thank all my guests on the last season’s worth of the BOTW Podcast, especially Stephen Wall who has announced his retirement. Wally has never been one to do lots of media or interviews so I am honoured that one of the last ones he did before retiring was on the podcast.
My goal with the podcast is to make it as good as the others out there whilst maintaining its identity as a place with an EPL focus that’s not afraid to look outside of that.
I have to say thank you to my hockey friends who week in, week out help my maintain my sanity. Hockey is my escape and the lot of you should know that on a Saturday night when we’re in the bar that whatever the result, you lot make the whole thing worthwhile. I said last year we’d see the good times again and we did. We’re top of the heap.
As always, I finish with Doug and the boys; outstanding work and thank you.
BOTW going forward: I’ve had the weird thing this year of people coming up to me telling me that they like what they read and hear on the blog. I’m not entirely sure the blog deserves me that sort of treatment where people are stopping me at the rink to say things like that but it’s a motivator to not be complacent about what the site puts out and to keep finding ways to make this better. It’s about consistently good coverage of the Bison week in, week out. It’s about finding ways to make the podcast better. Please do make suggestions, stuff here will only get better with reasonable and constructive feedback. I love doing this and I’ll keep doing it. Thanks for coming along for the ride.
Join us back here tomorrow, it’s time to say another goodbye.
Be happy, be safe.
EPL Playoff semi-final
Basingstoke Bison 1-2 Milton Keynes Lightning (after penalty shots)
Shootout (MK shoot first)
Jarolin miss ……………..Emersic miss
Long saved ……………..Carr save
Greener saved …………Chamberlain score
And done: The Bison headed into the game minus most of their regular absentees with Doug Sheppard keeping with Tomas Hiadlovsky in net over first team all star Jon Baston. The Lightning were only missing Edward Knaggs and Jack Watkins with former playoff winning Bison netminder Dean Skinns between the pipes.
The teams traded a couple of early chances before Michael Farn tried to step in to Stuart Mogg and was called for kneeing. The Bison had a few chances on the powerplay through Jarolin and Karpov but nearly got stung; a shorthanded chance from Lewis Hook zipping wide of Hiadlovsky’s net.
Neither team appeared to be overly settled in the opening couple of minutes but it was the Lightning who took the initiative in the game as they had the better of the pressure. Frantisek Bakrlik came close twice in a short spell, the second coming particularly close but Declan Balmer cleared the puck off of the line to spare his netminder’s blushes. The shots kept coming from MK but Hiadlovsky kept finding a way to get to them as Emersic and Christie were also turned away. This was not to say that the Bison weren’t having chances themselves; Rene Jarolin and Alan Lack both had chances that were turned away by Dean Skinns.
The first moment of real discussion saw a rather nasty looking hit from Leigh Jamieson slam Tomas Karpov into the boards which drew a bit of a crowd. Jamieson was given two minutes for boarding but the Bison fans were swimming in the realms of incredulity when Ciaran Long was also called for roughing in the aftermath to leave the sides playing 4 on4. Karpov was OK and managed to continue with the game but neither side could take advantage of the extra ice allowed to take the lead.
The first period wound to a close minutes later with the Lightning arguably edging the period but the scoreline firmly rooted at 0-0.
The start of the second mirrored the start of the first as the teams traded chances before one team took a penalty. This time it was the Bison who would be shorthanded as Joe Greener was called for tripping on a rather innocuous nudge on Bakrlik. However MK could do nothing with the powerplay and Bison were back to full strength with minimal damage.
The Bison then had a period of pressure where they had real chances to go ahead. A Joe Greener shot wasn’t held by Dean Skinns but Grant Rounding’s shot hit the side netting. Shaun Thompson crafted a chance with a sticklift of the defender in the slot but couldn’t find a way past Skinns.
The Bison got another powerplay when Tähtinen was called for crosschecking but the best chance went the other way as a shorthanded breakout saw Hook shoot, Hiadlovsky save and a certain goal for Blaz Emersic was only denied by a great stick lift on the MK forward by Ciaran Long.
The teams then returned to trading chances before the second period ended with an odd game of hockey still sat at 0-0.
A game that is 0-0 through 40 minutes these days is certainly unusual though not unheard of. That said, given how on edge both teams had been, it wasn’t a big surprise. The teams opened up the final period again poking and probing the defence of the other. Bakrlik, Farn, Greener; all went close but nothing was doing.
It was a game waiting for one side to blink and eventually someone did blink. With the Lightning on the attack, a stick into the play saw the puck loose in the slot. Falling to his knees, Leigh Jamieson had the puck on his stick and fired up as Hiadlovsky was collapsing into the butterfly, the shot seeing the puck slam into the top of the net at 46:56 to give MK the lead.
In the weeks leading up to the playoffs, the Bison had made a habit of quickly answering when conceding. It seemed a powerplay was coming when Frankie Bakrlik landed a horrible hit on Alan Lack but no penalty came. However a crosschecking call to the goalscorer, Jamieson gave the Bison another chance. A Ciaran Long shot was held by Skinns as Joe Greener came rushing in but a repeat shot from Long saw Dean Skinns scuff the catch and the puck fell onto Greener’s stick at the top of the crease to bring the Bison level at 49:30.
Both teams needed to exert their dominance on the game but this wasn’t best served by Bakrlik whose night ended when he landed another horrible looking hit, this time to Kurt Reynolds that saw legendary EPL enforcer (possible exaggeration) Grant Rounding step in. Bakrlik earned 14 minutes of penalties whilst Rounding got a roughing call for his trouble. The Bison had the powerplay and got close through Shaun Thompson but couldn’t take the lead.
The Bison got another penalty when Lewis Hook was called for holding on to Tomas Karpov but again there just seemed to be no way past Dean Skinns in net. Both teams just pressing away as time ran down but there was no way through for anyone. 60 minutes came and went. Overtime called.
The watching crowd of fans had their hearts in their mouths as the Bison and the Lightning went into the first ever 3 on 3 playoff overtime. 2 on 1 breaks, both Skinns and Hiadlovsky were constantly called into action as chance after chance rained down upon the netminders. Nets came off but goals were not scored and the shootout was going to be needed.
Emersic hit the bar as Jarolin fired wide. Carr missed the net as Long’s signature move was seen and stopped by Skinns. Bobby Chamberlain raced in and beat Hiadlovsky under the arm and up stepped Joe Greener. The Bison forward skated in and tried to beat Skinns’ right pad but he couldn’t. The playing career of Joe Greener had ended and so had the Bison’s season.
A step too far: Late on Saturday, Tomas Karpov tweeted out the following
Now whilst nobody who has watched the Bison this season will doubt that sentiment, it wasn’t a game where the Bison looked at their best. The Herd looked uncharacteristically nervous at times and seemed to be playing not to make a mistake rather than take chances. It was a very un-Bison like performance in some ways despite the tenacity and heart shining through. Part of that was due to how MK set themselves up for the game but part of it just seemed to be that the team looked really tired. I wondered whether having to get themselves up for a series of highs from winning the league to getting the trophy to the Manchester series to this ultimately burned the Bison out a bit coming into the game but that wasn’t the only factor that affected the result. Sometimes you can put a ton of effort in and it just doesn’t come off. The Bison were quite solid at the back, Hiadlovsky made some good stops (though I don’t think he was overly tested) but you can’t win all the games you play.
Joe Greener got man of the match which was probably fair on balance of play. I don’t think many of the forwards had the game of their lives but Greener was playing with the fact that there was possibly no tomorrow and seemed to want to drag the team with him. The fact that he scored the goal and that goal was scored by the fact he was there on the door step to shovel in a loose puck is certainly a Joe Greener way to do things.
Focussing on this game as an individual event (we’ll get into its place in the season later this week), it wasn’t a good game to watch as a fan or a neutral, the result didn’t go the way I would have wanted it to, I roll my eyes at the whole “skills contest” argument about shootouts and we move on. The season was ended a day too soon and a couple of kilograms of silver down. Hockey is as cruel as it is kind on occasions. On this day it was arguably cruel but the effort was here. There’s no shame to be had in the way it ended.
A word on our opponents: I can’t really argue the result. The first semi-final of the 2016 EPL playoff weekend was not a classic for the ages in any aspect but Milton Keynes won it and well done to them for it. It came down to penalty shots, Bobby Chamberlain’s best beat Tomas Hiadlovsky’s best in the moment and the Lightning won. That said, I think Blaz Emersic is still skating in for his shot.
I thought the Lightning had more jump than the Bison. That’s not to say that I thought they played better or deserved it more but they certainly seemed more up for the occasion.
This is written in context of the Lightning’s loss in the final to the Guildford Flames the day after this but the signs for that loss were there. Despite Leigh Jamieson’s superbly taken goal, the Lightning lots of shots on Hiadlovsky but not many of real quality. They clogged the passing lanes and loaded the neutral zone to take away the Bison’s main game plan but lacked much of a killer touch in the final third. They tried to step up a gear the next day and couldn’t.
Whilst I praised his goal above and with all due respect to Leigh Jamieson, how Dean Skinns didn’t get man of the match was a mystery to me. Skinns was the best player on the ice across both teams on the day and yeah, scoring a goal from your knees is pretty but compared to what Skinns did at the other end, I think the incorrect decision was made. The only other player who came close to Skinns in the game was the EPL’s newest pantomime villain Martti Järventie. The Finn was booed at every touch of the puck by Bison fans across the weekend but his performance in the semi-final shows why he’s been so good for MK this season.
It wasn’t the Lightning’s weekend once the end of Sunday rolled around but as I walked out of the rink on Saturday afternoon, I couldn’t begrudge them the win. I wish you all the best for the summer, MK fans.
Lowlight of the night: As ever, I hate having to mention it but I must; this game was not well officiated in any direction. Thankfully it didn’t impact the result in any way.
Highlight of the night: Apart from the look on the face of a well lubricated Stuart Mogg trying to fathom how he’d made the all-star team in the bar afterwards, it has to be Joe Greener’s goal doesn’t it; doing what he was best at for us, one last time.