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Last season: NIHL 2 South West winners, playoff semi-finalists, cup finalists
A change of league and a change of format for Standing in the Way for Banners On The Wall’s first full season of covering NIHL 1 South. We start in South Wales with the Cardiff Fire.
Last season, NIHL 2 South was split into western and eastern conferences. Along with the Basingstoke Buffalo, the Cardiff Fire were in the western conference. The Buffalo had a modest season with 3 wins, 2 draws and 9 defeats in their 14 games. The Cardiff Fire on the other hand subsequently won all of their 14 games; a perfect record that was added to with a +67 goal difference.
However the dominance in league play sadly didn’t quite translate into more trophies. The Fire lost the NIHL 2 South cup final to the Peterborough Islanders and then were knocked out in the playoffs by Chelmsford Warriors.
How they got here:
With all the changes, the Fire applied for promotion to division 1 and were accepted which has allowed the club to add a second team into the new, single division NIHL 2 South. The club also announced a formal linking up with the Cardiff Devils, guaranteeing a pathway for young hockey players in Cardiff from u10s through juniors to NIHL and into the EIHL. Defenceman Callum Buglass will be on a two way deal with the Devils this season.
Hungarian born forward Tamás Éliás, trained in both the Swindon and Cardiff junior systems and has been an industrious scorer wherever he’s played. A low penalty minutes, low maintenance forward, Éliás scored at an impressive goal per game rate in the Fire’s dominant season last year on his way to 23 points in 14 games. A player I’ve never seen before, there’s a chance for Éliás to really break out this year if given the opportunity to put the puck on net. He’s up against superior netminders and defencemen this time out so there’s a real sink or swim element to how his season will run. At 21 years old and suddenly thrust into the second tier, I’m intrigued to see how Fire coach Mark Cuddihy plans to use the Miskolc born forward.
The new boy:
This is a total cheat because he’s not really new to Cardiff or any of us but he is new to the Fire. After a brief spell coaching Streatham before finishing last season coaching the MK Thunder, 2016/17 was an eventful year for Nicky Chinn. It certainly wasn’t the most productive for him on the scoreboard and at 45 he will readily admit that he is no spring chicken.
The advantage of Nicky Chinn is adding a hockey brain that is arguably unsurpassable. It’s a big step for the Fire to go from a 14 game season to suddenly playing sides that last year were playing EPIHL hockey and a player of Chinn’s stature, experience and savvy will be invaluable whoever he plays with.
How will it go?
I won’t lie; I stuck the names in a hat and picked out who I would do first. I pulled out Cardiff which was nice because I’ve quietly been appreciating what the Fire have been doing as an organisation for a while. I then realised that on Elite Prospects they’ve only announced 6 forwards, 2 defenceman and one goalie to the roster and the website hasn’t been updated. However I decided to stick to my own rules because even with that minimally announced roster, we can make an attempt as the start is there.
It’s a bare bones roster at the moment but the Fire coach Mark Cuddihy will generally go down the line of getting local players (read Cardiff juniors and extending to Swindon if needed) though he’s shown a talent of drawing those players who have left to come back to their home ice. Alex Symonds is back into the sport and when fit can be a massive asset on the back end. A couple of years ago is was Sam Smith, a former Devils, Blaze and Wildcats forward whom work took the UAE. (Smith also played for the fantastically named Dubai Mighty Camels) He’s now convinced Nicky Chinn to have one more go around the block. Couple this with the depth of talent in the Cardiff junior system and whilst it might not be a roster of blockbuster names, it will be a team with work ethic and determination.
At the moment, with so few players announced, it is somewhat difficult to see where the real attacking threats will be up front. The addition of Brad Watchorn after an on/off ice hockey and MMA career in recent years is an interesting signing to say the least. I expect Watchorn to be more of a grinder and physical threat than an out and out scorer of points.
Ultimately I’ve fallen victim to my own rules of writing this year, though it’s no harder than trying to preview the Phoenix’s roster last year. We know that the Fire will announce more players and many of last year’s roster may well reappear to have a crack at NIHL 1.
I don’t envisage the Cardiff Fire making a huge dent in the league title race. Some will arguably say that they are likely wooden spoon contenders and might be wondering why they didn’t stay in division 2 to chase a third back to back title. However if you’re going to have a go at playing, play at the highest level that you can should be the motto of the best sportsmen and organisations. The Fire are well structured and organised and if they believe they can make a crack at this then let’s allow them to step up to the table and try. In years gone by it was the Bison and the Devils going to battle at the old WNIR and now it’ll be down in Cardiff Bay with the Fire. Let’s hope these games are played in the same spirit.
#?? Joshua Smith
Born: Frimley, Surrey
Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 17th August
Basingstoke Bison head coach Doug Sheppard has sealed the deal and completed the 2017/18 roster with the capture of forward Joshua Smith from the Bracknell Bees.
19 year old Smith is a product of the ever prevalent Bracknell junior system and 2017/18 will be his first season of hockey away from the Hive.
After appearing for England in the Quebec International Peewee Tournament, Smith started with the under 16 Stingers in 2011/12 scoring 14 points in 9 games. It was the start of a very prolific scoring career in junior hockey for Smith as for the rest of his junior career he would regularly play for at least two teams within the Bracknell system.
The following season Smith split time between the under Stingers where he scored 52 points in 19 games and making his debut for the under 18 Drones where he tallied 13 goals and 23 points in 15 games.
The following year 2013/14 saw Smith ice for three Bracknell sides in the one campaign; he had another 50 point year with the Stingers, a 33 point campaign with the Drones as well as the national title and made his senior hockey debut for the Hornets scoring a goal and an assist in 8 games.
The following year saw another three team split as Smith was named alternate captain of the Drones with 21 points in 12 games which he combined with a double foray into senior hockey. Smith played 22 games each for the Hornets and Bees with 21 points at NIHL level and 1 goal and 1 assist in the EPL.
Those efforts were enough to earn Smith a full time Bees contract the last two seasons. Whilst financially the Bees have struggled and not challenged at the top half of the table, Smith carved himself a niche as a productive third line forward with 8 goals and 16 points in 15/16 and 6 goals and 12 points in 16/17 in a season where he was limited to 39 games.
Last season saw Josh appear for GB under 20s tallying 0 points and 2 penalty minutes in the 5 games.
So, it is done. The roster for the Bison’s assault on the NIHL is complete. Some people will ponder this as a last signing and wonder why the Bison didn’t arguably go out with a bigger bang but this is a very Doug Sheppard signing; a somewhat understated announcement of a hard working forward. The “big name” returnees were already announced and the Bison are never generally ones to hold onto big names they have signed for very long.
Instead the final member of the roster really does smack of the sort of side that Doug Sheppard tries to build. It’s a team that’s meant to be more than the sum of its parts. Sheppard signs guys to fit the style he wants the team to play, that will work with the group and will ultimately achieve the goals of winning silverware. Remember when Sheppard chose to sign Rene Jarolin over Frankie Bakrlik when both were on the market?
Josh Smith is a hard worker with a bit of attacking upside and for me, slips nicely onto the Bison’s 3rd line to start the campaign. I’ve already tried knocking together some basic line combinations on the backs of envelopes (jokes about line shuffling not withstanding) and at the moment I envisage on the wing of a third line with Dan Lackey clearing the way on the other wing and Jaroslav Cesky being the setup man. That requires both Smith and Lackey to have decent two way game because with all the will in the world, Jaroslav Cesky isn’t known for his two way play.
The other option on the wings is to stick Smith on a wing with Grant Rounding and a centre like Tomas Karpov for a real speed and scoring attacking threat. I lean towards the former of those predictions but Smith certainly has value in a variety of positions. I expect to see the odd bit of penalty killing from him as well.
The hope is that Smith finds someone who he can work with and add a bit of that scoring touch that he had in juniors to his game at a senior level. One thing that Doug Sheppard has always been good at is giving younger players a chance and responsibility. It’s happened more and more with Basingstoke trained youngsters but he’s never been afraid to look to players elsewhere to give that chance. We don’t need to rattle off the names again, they’re well known. Smith has an opportunity to be one of those players and to make his mark in a title challenging team. Now we know he’s the last addition, it’s time to get really excited.
Welcome to the Herd, Josh. Also thanks for being the token ginger now Ciaran has left.
BOTW Podcast welcomes Victory Hockey UK as title sponsor
The BOTW Podcast is proud to announce that British hockey lifestyle clothing provider, Victory Hockey UK will become the title sponsor of the podcast for the 2017/18 season. The show will become “The BOTW Podcast, in association with Victory Hockey UK” for the duration of this coming British hockey campaign.
“I’d had Mike from Victory on the podcast as a guest a while ago where he talked about why he’d gotten into producing clothing for hockey fans. He’d been an interesting guest and we’d kept loose contact from that point onwards” said Anthony Russell, host of The BOTW Podcast.
“I’d always been open to having a sponsor for the show but wanted someone or something that shared some of my ethos not just about ice hockey but about how we go about running our respective ships. It’s about being independent and doing things in our own way in our own style. I like to think that Banners On The Wall, whether in its writing guise or via the Podcast has a reputation in British hockey for not just going with the flow but being its own thing. When Mike got in touch about wanting to sponsor the show we had a chat and realised that I’d found that element we could attach to the show that would benefit both parties.”
“I’ve listened to the BOTW podcast for some time now and I love the coverage Anthony provides on UK hockey across all leagues.” said Mike Newton from Victory Hockey UK. “Our vision for Victory is to develop a clothing brand with a touch of British pride that can eventually feed back into the sport at grass roots levels. After speaking with my partner Pete, we felt that aligning ourselves with Banners On The Wall would be a great step forward for us. We feel that we share the same core values and ultimately what we both want is to represent and grow the game in this country.”
As part of the agreement, Victory Hockey UK will not just have its branding on the podcast as well as on BannersOnTheWall.wordpress.com but there will be competitions on the show to win Victory Hockey UK gear.
Victory Hockey UK has also agreed to a donation to Parkinson’s UK. “With my dad suffering from early onset Parkinson’s, I also said that I wanted any sponsorship agreement to contribute towards a cause that will make headway on helping sufferers of this disease like my dad whilst edging towards finding a cure. With Victory making a percentage of their profits available to charity anyway, this seemed a good way to seal the deal” said Anthony.
The BOTW Podcast has been bringing fans the news, action and views on the second tier of British hockey as well as all levels above, below and in between since 2014. Born out of popular hockey blog, Banners On The Wall which started in 2011, the podcast has strived to cover news in the old English Premier League and has refocussed onto the newly structured NIHL for 2017/18. The podcast is available on iTunes, RSS and Spreaker. Further details can be found at https://bannersonthewall.wordpress.com/podcast @BannersOTW or Facebook.com/BannersOnTheWall. The brand new podcast logo has been provided again by Zooey Perry of ZP Stitching
Victory Hockey UK is a new hockey lifestyle apparel company started by Mike Newton & Pete Hagan. Both hockey obsessed they have worked in and around the sport as everything from coaches to announcers and even mascots. “The idea is to create a brand that we’d be proud to wear whilst championing the sport in this country and in turn helping to develop it.” You can find out more on their website – www.wearevhuk.com or on social media @WeAreVHUK. Victory Hockey are due to launch on Friday 25th August, sign up to their website to receive updates and a 10% discount on launch day.
#39 Jaroslav Cesky
Born: Praha, Czechia
Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 10th August
Every now and then, Doug Sheppard throws a curveball into the mix when signing a Bison roster. With 2 players left to sign, Sheppard has announced that the second import on the team will see the return to Basingstoke of veteran Czech forward, Jaroslav Cesky.
39 year old Cesky is a veteran of British hockey having played in Britain since 2009 and has played EIHL, EPL and NIHL in his time in this country.
After a season in the American based USHL with the Dubuque Fighting Saints, Cesky won a scholarship in 2000 to Augsburg College in Minnesota, an NCAA division 3 hockey programme where he was one of the team’s star players. Cesky, who was made the captain in his final season with the Auggies, scored 140 points in 102 games and was the team’s leading scorer as captain in 2002/03.
After finishing his time at university, Cesky headed into the professional ranks in North America. After a season with Adirondack in the old United Hockey League, Cesky moved to the Central Hockey League and spent 2 and a half successful seasons with the Tulsa Oilers tallying over 120 points before a deadline deal trade to the Oklahoma City Blazers for a deep playoff run that sadly fell short. Cesky finished his CHL time with 161 points in 179 games.
After his run in Oklahoma was done, Cesky played his last season in North America with the Flint Generals of the IHL before moving back to Europe and Chamonix in France for the 2008/09 campaign.
It was in France that Cesky met fellow Czech national, Michal Pinc. The two signed for the Bracknell for 2009/10 and proceeded to set the EPIHL on fire. Cesky tallied 119 points and was the EPL player of the year whilst Pinc finished with 109 points.
Cesky and Pinc, along with linemate Nicky Watt, returned to Bracknell for a second season where Cesky scored 81 points before the trio moved en masse to Swindon where Cesky scored 64 points for the Wildcats.
Cesky moved alone to Shropshire to start 2012/13 to play for Telford but after 10 games in Shropshire he moved to Basingstoke in a straight swap for defenceman Tomas Fojtek. Cesky scored 48 points in 41 games for the Herd and helped the team to their first ever Coventry playoff weekend.
2013/14 was a mixed year for Cesky. He played the first half of the season in Peterborough, scoring 34 points in 29 games before being released. A brief spell in Manchester with the Phoenix then saw him spend 15 games in Edinburgh before finishing out the season with 12 games in Cardiff with the Devils.
With him being based in the south of England, Cesky stepped into the NIHL for the first time in 2014 as he joined Jeremy Cornish and the Wightlink Raiders. A popular player with the Ryde faithful, Cesky posted back to back 60 plus point seasons with the Raiders as well as winning the playoffs in 2015 and was a 2016 first team NIHL 1 South all-star.
Cesky returned to the Raiders to start last season but with the untimely demise of the Isle of Wight team, Cesky moved to the Oxford City Stars where he posted 31 points in 21 games to finish out the year.
In 2002 whilst back home in Prague, Cesky played a part in the apprehension of an individual in the Prague subway system who had killed one police officer and had injured another as well as a 74 year old bystander. Cesky was awarded the Czech Republic’s Medal for Heroism for his actions.
It’s easy to look at this signing and see what we think is Jaroslav Cesky. When people think of Jaroslav Cesky the hockey player, they only see the player who tore the league apart at Bracknell and Swindon. He’s the former EPIHL player of the year with a 119 point season. There seems to be no accounting for time or adaptation or slowing down and the part that they play in a hockey career.
The Bison have never been an old team in terms of age. There have always been experienced players but adding a 39 year old forward heading towards the end of his playing career seems an odd choice for Doug Sheppard.
However to do that is to not see the player or this roster in context. Jaroslav Cesky is no longer that player that you remember. He is half an inch slower, he isn’t the same as he was a decade ago. However the hockey brain is still there. It was a trait that Sheppard banked on with Rene Jarolin and he’s banking on it again in 2017/18.
Cesky has a lot of good qualities; a natural playmaker, with the right wingers around him he should prove a potent attacking force in terms of setup play and the occasional goal. What he doesn’t need to be that was expected of him at other clubs is that go-to guy. He doesn’t need to be the focal point of the attack any more.
That’s not to say that Cesky can coast in any way, Doug Sheppard won’t allow that, but what it means is that he can play a bit of hockey and not need to be the guy. He doesn’t need to be playing 20-30 minutes a night and on all the powerplays and penalty kills. The British depth (and still one British forward to come remember) and Tomas Karpov allows Cesky to be a role player rather than being one of those players that needs to be used in every situation. He can an experienced hand, he can be that guy that younger players play with for a bit of guidance.
Many people are quick to turn their noses up at this signing by saying that Cesky’s old (he is for a hockey player), that he’s past it (still over a point per game for the most part) and that this is a desperation signing from the Bison.
The Herd have signed an experienced import with a proven track record for scoring that is based locally so they don’t have to house him and will be crucial depth rather than the spearhead of the scoring. I’m not sure what’s the problem with that given the makeup of this roster and the depth of talent and role players it has.
Welcome back, Jaro.
#9 Dan Lackey
Position: Utility (normally forward)
Born: Basingstoke, Hampshire
Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 3rd August
As soon as we were caught up from our paternity leave, Thursday rolled around and Bison coach Doug Sheppard added to the roster for the 2017/18 season by announcing the return of Dan Lackey.
27 year old Lackey played his first full season for the Bison in 2016/17 after a storied career in junior and NIHL 2 hockey in his home town. Lackey played in 50 games scoring 2 goals and 4 assists for 6 points. He is also the reason that Sam Godfrey (then of Guildford) still has a headache.
Lackey is a true product of the Basingstoke system. His official stats on Elite Prospects go back to the NHL lockout season of 2004/05 when he split his time between the Bison u16s and u19s before progressing to playing under 19s (as it was then) full time in 2006/07.
After 06/07 there was a reorganising of the age groups under the EIHA structure and the under 19s became the under 18s for 2007/08. Lackey had a productive year with 7 goals and 12 points in 17 games at under 18 level as well as making his senior hockey debut in the old ENL with the Basingstoke Buffalo.
After those initial 11 games, Lackey was a stalwart of the Buffalo lineup. Usually playing on defence for the Blue Herd but able to play up front as well, Lackey was routinely in the scoring numbers for the Buffalo. Dan took the 2013/14 season out of hockey to travel but returned back and slotted straight back into the Buffalo line up including guesting for Solent Devils, his only game for a senior team outside of Basingstoke.
Lackey has a total of 160 games in all competitions for the Buffalo with a total of 162 points with the Buffalo making him one of the Blue Herd’s most productive players. His final season with the Buffalo in 2015/16 say him score 22 points in 9 games.
Lackey’s history with the Bison was sporadic until the last season. He made his debit for the Herd under Steve Moria in the 2009/10 season and returned the next year for 13 more games before then not appearing for the Herd till 2015/16 under Doug Sheppard. He tallied 3 assists in 16 games before earning a contract for the duration of the last campaign.
The other side that Lackey has appeared for regularly is the Southampton Spitfires university side for whom he played 6 seasons as student and alumni.
I had to have a wry chuckle when the Gazette mentioned adding more firepower when we added Dan Lackey. That’s not to disrespect Dan in any way but since his permanent addition to the Bison roster, Dan Lackey’s not been signed for his goalscoring prowess. He even admits in the Gazette piece that he’s not the most skilful of players but isn’t afraid to get into the corners and do the dirty work that others won’t or can’t do.
What we have to remember is that the dynamics have changed. It’s really easy (and I’m totally blaming baby brain for this even though I wasn’t the one giving birth) to forget that we’re not in the EPL any more. We’re in a 2 import NIHL where British guys who got a few minutes now have a chance to be playing big minutes.
I don’t think there’s any massive secret to how Dan Lackey will be used and it won’t be as Vanya Antonov’s wing man. What I really want to see is Dan Lackey really embrace the sort of role that Alan Lack and Joe Rand used to fill for the Herd. Yes, Lackey can shoot but he has the size and he has the strength. Park him in front of the net on as many set plays and powerplays as we possibly can. There are not many defencemen in the NIHL north or south that are going to easily move Dan Lackey if he’s on his game. That needs to be used. With the loss of Ciaran Long and Declan Balmer, that big shot to cause some havoc on the powerplay for Lackey to mop up but Antonov, Davies and Dan Scott will do an admirable job. We also learned from the Gazette piece that there’s one more British forward and one more import forward so if one of those has a cannon of a shot then that solves that issue.
Less flash, more crash; that’s probably the best way to describe what the Bison will get out of Dan Lackey. That’s what we need him for. Look at the forwards already signed, the Bison don’t massively need another flashy, skill guy but there was that slot still available for gritty depth who will do that bit of standing up for his team mates if required. The shift of leagues sees Dan have a real chance to carve out more of a niche for himself. I’m intrigued to see how this pans out.
Welcome back, Dan.
#94 Stuart Mogg
Born: Basingstoke Hampshire
Announced as signed: Season Ticket Night, 20th July
#7 Kurt Reynolds
Born: Basingstoke Hampshire
Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 20th July
#?? Dean Skinns
Born: Basingstoke Hampshire
Announced as signed: Season Ticket Night, 20th July
That’s right, we’re totally cheating on this one.
After two days of signings and given that the move was (finally) made official, it’s time to bid farewell to Joe Miller.
What have we lost?
On his day, Miller remains one of the premier Brits outside of the EIHL. Able to score, able to grind, able to play the two way game, able to play powerplay and penalty kill; Joe Miller has the talent to do it all.
The Bison lose that forward with the ability to play across all the lines and do whatever’s required of them. That sort of versatile player with that high end talent is going to be vital not only in the NIHL 1 South but in those cup games and the business end during any national playoff scenario with a team from the north.
There is a difference between intent and end product and we’ll get to that in a bit but when Miller was on, then Miller was really on.
Where has he gone?
Miller has signed on to return to Telford Tigers in NIHL 1 North for next season.
Who replaces him?
In true Doug Sheppard fashion, I don’t think that there’s a direct like for like replacement for Miller but I think people cover some his functions. Of the players that are on the roster in the forward ranks I think Ashley Jackson covers some of the desired offensive output in the first instance and Grant Rounding covers some of the grind line/secondary scoring desires that Sheppard will have but there’s some unknown factors still at play. Whilst officially the Bison have 9 forwards on the roster at the moment, two of them are Hallam Wilson and Paul Petts who we know are not going to be playing every game so that’s 7 forwards in actuality to work with. I don’t believe that the Bison will head into the season with 9 forwards (I reckon 10, 11 at a push) so we might see someone come in who is a more natural fit.
It is not hyperbole to say that Joe Miller didn’t have a great 2016/17 season. Injured during his time in Telford so he was limited to just 4 points in 16 games followed by the money issues for the Tigers which led to his move back to Hampshire. When he arrived, there were injury issues again which gave 8 points in 17 games before a really good run in the playoffs. Last season was the lowest number of games that Miller has ever played in a season and his lowest ever EPIHL points total. The only time he got fewer points in a season was playing on Manchester Phoenix’s 3rd line in the Elite League and I’ll let you make your own jokes about Tony Hand’s usage of his third line.
This happens to the best players. They have periods of injury and it affects their stats. Miller, now 32, feels like he’s been around forever and probability dictated that he’d have at least one really injury affected season. Sadly this one saw it rain then pour unfortunate issues for him.
This doesn’t take away from the fact that Joe Miller is still a really good hockey player when he’s fit; a quick squint at Elite Prospects or just watching him will tell you that. If Miller finds fitness this summer and is paired with suitable linemates then Telford will be a force to be reckoned with in the new NIHL 1 North.
We could have the last word but Joe himself sent us a brief statement that he wanted included so we’ll leave it to him.
“Firstly, I would like to thank the fans for all the support on and off the ice during both spells at Basingstoke. Also to the players and staff last season for making me so welcome half way through the year. Basingstoke was a special place to play for me and where I met my wife Jaime and a great friend in Harry Robinson. Thank you to those for their private messages of support and I’m sure we’ll see you at the business end of the year! Goodnight and good luck.”