NHL 1 South
Basingstoke Bison 5-0 Milton Keynes Thunder
Jones x2 (2pp)
Funny five: In some ways, fans in the Basingstoke Arena should have known that they were in for an unusual night when faceoff was delayed by a combination of the Thunder’s Ross Green and the Bison’s Scottish combination of Jay King and Liam Morris insisting that they be the last ones off the ice.
The game itself was ended as a contest by the end of the first period and arguably even before the first major altercation which led to the Bison’s fourth goal. The Bison were just too strong in the early going and muscled their way into a commanding lead and at 3-0 that seemed to be the time that the Thunder would send a message. Whilst the Herd did respond, the Thunder were unlikely to be fighting themselves in a mele, they did a very good job of muscling through a feisty second period that could have turned very nasty and getting through a somewhat lifeless third which was capped off by a superb bit of team play that was eventually converted by Alex Sampford.
This game was the perfect antidote to a frustrating home performance last time out against Peterborough but it was by no means perfect. Certainly some will argue that the scoreline flatters the Thunder given the Bison’s dominance for stretches of the game. The third period saw the hosts let the Thunder info the game far more than they had any right to be at that stage which saw Bison assistant coach Tony Redmond call the time out to set the roster straight when they appeared to be easing off.
Alex Mettam will be pleased with his first shutout in Bison colours but whilst this site has never been one for putting all our faith in the shotcount, a 14 shot shutout is probably about as many shots as the Thunder mustered. That said it doesn’t matter how many shots that they have, they all count. With Dan Weller-Evans having been pushing Mettam hard for the net before his injury, any good numbers that the Yorkshireman can put up before his counterpart returns to the ice will be useful for him.
Adam Jones got man of the match for a really good performance and two goals that were as identical as they were unexpected. Jones has been a really solid performer for the Herd since his arrival and he was rewarded in this game with space and on the powerplay to pick the spot to shoot at. Whilst he may not necessarily get that against other teams, it’s nice to see Jones add a bit to the attack this season. The former Telford Tiger has this in his locker but getting to see it from him in a Bison jersey is a pleasant addition.
It was an uneven performance on the whole from the Bison roster but all the constituent parts worked. The third and fourth lines didn’t get scored on and added energy when they out there, the top lines got the passing game going and were physical when they needed to be, they got the goals and won the game.
The rough stuff is part of the game but the Bison need to keep their focus when teams try to rough them up. Yes there are some veterans but this is a young roster and sometimes youthful energy gets misplaced. The Bison don’t want or need to see George Norcliffe throwing fists with people. Fighting has a place in hockey say the players and as long as they think that then it will stay but you still wing games by playing. This team has proven that it can play. It will win more if it tries to play rather than trying to play Rocky.
A word on our opponents: I can’t really spend too much time throwing hate or shade or whatever at the Milton Keynes Thunder. We’re all thoroughly confused as to why Ross Green just couldn’t leave the ice or why Hallden Barnes-Garner decided to punch someone on the Bison bench thenjump Alex Sampford or how Grant McPherson didn’t get third man in on the fracas at the end of the first period. We’re all confused but all they did was try to play the game, sure it was with a bit of gamesmanship into the bargain but it’s nothing that the Bison didn’t respond to in kind. Ross Bowers tries to dump Paul Petts into the bench and what are both players doing as all around them are grabbing at each other? Looking at each other and laughing.
The Thunder didn’t have an answer to the Bison’s skill level but they could have had more out of this game if they’d tried to be a bit more in the Bison’s face in a controlled manner. It worked for the Phantoms to a point but the Thunder weren’t controlled. They went 3-0 behind and lost their head. Somehow McPherson stayed in the game but they lost Rubes who has been one of their better players in recent weeks and their other import Trevor Leblanc didn’t show me enough to make me think that he could make the difference on the back end to step up and add to the offence.
The other names you remember couldn’t make the difference either. Carlon, Line, Bowers, Grinnel-Parke; the effort and intention were there but the execution wasn’t.
Jordan Lawday looked decent; one of the contenders for last season’s NIHL player of the year has 1 more win than he did last season already and made some decent stops in this game as well but he’s one man and one man can only do so much.
The Thunder were under no illusions that this would be a tough season and this was a tough night. Both sides move on.
Lowlight of the night: Some of the general nonsense that just wasn’t needed.
Highlight of the night: Bordowski’s goal was pretty, that or somehow Bavy not getting thrown out of the DJ box.
NIHL Autumn Cup
Basingstoke Bison 6-2 Telford Tigers
Cowley pp Clarkson x2 (1pp)
Pride and power: The Bison needed results to go their way to give them a chance at any progression in the Autumn Cup as well as needing a result in this game. Peterborough’s overtime win against Hull puts the Herd out of the competition but that doesn’t detract from what is a fantastic result in a number of ways.
The big thing that this site has talked about since the start of the season was that it seemed that the team was taking time to click and gel but that it would come. This night was a superb team performance from the Herd. There were some good individual performances too and we’ll get to those but the overall team play was the really big talking point from this match as the new look Bison appear to have found a bit of their mojo.
No Chris Cooke meant an adaptation in defence but it didn’t phase anyone as after an even first period the Bison put their authority on the game; creating more chances and generally being much more of a threat in front of net than their opponents. Defensively there was the odd lapse but nothing major as very little could have been done on either shot that beat the netminder in this instance.
What was also really pleasing from the Herd was that little bit of adaptation that had been missing from games particularly around where the officials were making calls. The Bison took three penalties in the space of 123 seconds towards the end of the first period but then didn’t take another penalty till inside the last 10 minutes. Given the Herd’s penalty minutes had started the season quite high, this will hopefully be the start of a pleasing trend.
No indication was given ahead of the game that Dan Weller-Evans would be given the start but the Welshman took the opportunity with both hands. At times it felt like the Tigers weren’t shooting well at him but at other times they forced him into multiple saves in quick succession. His defence played well in front of him and he gave them the confidence that if the shot came through that he’d save it. Having spoken to him since last night, he’s forgiven me for applauding Telford’s second goal. It was a performance that earned him the man of the match beers as he gave the fanbase and the coach the confidence that he can do the job when called upon.
Whilst we’ll never begrudge anyone getting the beers, you do have to feel a little bad for Richard Bordowski. With the lines now settling and the Czech forward seemingly settling with Russ Cowley and Alex Sampford, that comfort saw him at his playmaking best on this night. 5 assists on 6 goals is impressive enough but the quality of those assists were also impressive especially the one to Sampford for his second which was repaid in kind with a lovely finish.
The defence as a whole played very well. Jay King’s two goals were excellently taken but the overall defensive unit looked sharp and able to counter most threats. The rotation was changed up with the absence of Cooke but in some ways this seemed to benefit Sam Smith who I thought had his best game so far. The other Welshman did make mistakes but learned from them in game so where he’d made a wrong decision before, he didn’t repeat it.
With the Autumn Cup campaign close to being at an end and the trophy being out of reach, this has amounted to an extended pre-season for the Herd. Some of the kinks have been worked out now and with 3 wins in their last three games they also have some momentum. With the league campaign beginning in earnest soon, this is all very crucial. Can this be the start of a real run?
A word on our opponents: This was an unusual performance from the Telford Tigers. Like the Bison, they needed a result and other results to go their way and whilst this was an open game and an entertaining game the approach that the Tigers took was unusual.
With the back up netminder in and a star forward returning to the line up, you’d assume that they’d be peppering the net with shots. I’m unsure how the goal judges made it to 11 shots in the first period for the Tigers but when they started putting more substantive stuff on net, it was almost too late.
There are some very good an attractive bits to the Tigers game. Their breakout and transition through the neutral zone was really good and they were generally very solid in their own end. Despite conceding 6 goals on 32 shots, Denis Bell remains an exciting netminding prospect. Telford will also be buoyed by the return of Doug Clarkson and his two goal return from two very excellent shots that gave Weller-Evans absolutely no chance.
The issue for the Tigers in this game was all the things that didn’t go well added up to an overall poor performance. Allowing two powerplay goals from six penalties is a bad return. They were decent in their own end and getting into the Bison zone but didn’t overly challenge when they got there. There were quiet nights from the top end players and a slightly below par night from their netminder.
The other worrying thing for Telford is that they don’t appear to have learned from their playoff final defeat. Whilst the Bison were a very different outfit then, the Tigers got beaten by a side that kept moving their feet and didn’t give them a chance to settle. The Bison kept putting the puck behind the Tigers then chasing it in. They made the Tigers move and that was a big problem for the visitors on this night.
They will continue to be a force in the league in the north but on this night, it was more sizzle than steak.
Lowlight of the night: Too many penalties in the first leading to the Tigers’ equaliser
Highlight of the night: Sampford’s second goal was so pretty.
NIHL 1 South
Basingstoke Bison 5-2 Romford Raiders
Cowley A. Connolly pp
Morris Sylvester pp
Sampford x2 (1pp)
Why did this take so long? Where is all the other stuff? What about the podcast? Here’s an update
Basingstoke Bison 2-3 Hull Pirates
Evans Chamberlain pp
Brain melter: Having missed last weekend’s action and having had some stuff going on recently that we won’t go into here, this particular writer needed this game to come. What we got was somewhat symptomatic of the new Bison so far.
Whilst at BOTW we rarely feel the need to comment on refereeing decisions but when one has such a dramatic impact on the game in multiple ways, we can’t really avoid it. One of the recent criticisms from fans across the league to start the season has been the lack of consistency week to week in terms of what has been called. In this game with a moving official, some stuff will be called that doesn’t look like it was needed (the first period calls on Dewey and Hewitt for example) and some stuff will be called that arguably shouldn’t be. That’s the joy of officiating and writing in some ways; it’s all about interpretation. However Mr Belfitt managing to find a spear and a spear worthy of a game misconduct to Michal Klejna in a board battle on a Bison penalty kill is an interpretation that, in my opinion, influenced the game where it shouldn’t have. There were hacks, whacks and even a crosscheck in that pile but I would appreciate Mr Belfitt’s time to explain where the spear was in amongst all of that.
With a controversial moment like that, what’s important for a team is how it reacts. If the Bison felt that they’d been shafted by the officiating in the first then they shafted themselves in the second. With already shuffled lines due to the suspension of Liam Morris, the loss of Klejna meant that the Bison’s lines were all lopsided. That in itself wasn’t the biggest issue so much as the Herd lost their heads. Mistakes crept in, they struggled to put two or three passes together. It was one of the worst periods of hockey from a Bison team in some time. The usually solid Jay King looked shaky, Richard Bordowski tried to do everything himself and the ship looked rudderless.
The third period was better and whilst too little, too late it did return us to to our theme at the start of this piece. This Bison side is indisciplined and rough around the edges but there is a ton of potential there. Where the top six was depleted and not finding a way through, the younger players were the ones who sparked the comeback. Oscar Evans’ recent run of form in the under 18s was rewarded with a goal made by the continual excellent forecheck of Danny Ingoldsby. I’d already been asked to present the man of the match awards and was already pretty set on Ingoldsby before that point but never giving up on a puck paid off and Evans steamed in and had a superb finish past Fucik for his first of the season.
Ashley Tait’s goal was almost in slow motion. The winding skate followed by a shot that didn’t seem to have much behind it but somehow found its way through Fucik and into the back of the net. It gave the Bison fans hope but it wasn’t to be.
All in all the easy thing to do here would be to blame the officiating and whilst one controversial call greatly influenced the game, the Bison did not deserve to win this game. The second period alone put pay to that and those in attendance will admit that if they’re being honest about it. However this new roster is still finding its feet. Whilst that might ultimately put pay to the Autumn Trophy dreams these games have been useful to see what things need working on for the, arguably more important, league campaign. The discipline needs to be better (in spite of the fact that the Pirates took more minutes in penalties), the lines need to start clicking but the spark is there. It’s how Coach Tait finds a way to ignite that.
A word on our opponents: Well done to the Hull Pirates on the well earned win in this game. Whilst reading the backs of the jerseys was awkward to do, the hockey was not awkward to watch.
Why did Hull win this game? It was the ideal road game from the visitors. The Bison tried to be too cute on the puck, the Pirates were direct. The Pirates did all the little and easy things right where the Bison did not. That and three very well taken goals meant that they put themselves just out of reach of the hosts. The Pirates didn’t play a perfect game or nor a spectacular game but with an opponent shooting itself in the foot, never stop your enemy making a mistake by pushing things too hard.
I chose Matty Davies as man of the match for two reasons. The first was the fact that he is a constant threat. Whilst reading the back of his shirt was a problem, it’s easy to distinguish him amongst the top line for the Pirates and the fact that he needs to be constantly monitored. Combined with his excellently taken goal, it seemed enough for me.
Much had been made about Tomas Fucik and I was certainly interested to see the young import netminder in action for the Pirates. Hull had a good year last season but inconsistent netminding in their all British squad. So what change did Jason Hewitt make? He went out and got a solid import netminder to compliment what was already there. Fucik looked good on this night rather than great. He wasn’t overly tested at times but made some very impressive stops when called upon. That said once the Bison made him move a bit he did look vulnerable. He will certainly want Tait’s goal back.
The Pirates came very close last season to winning a lot but fell short. It seems that Jason Hewitt has been happy to make what he felt were relevant tweaks but ultimately stay the course with his vision of what Pirates hockey should be. It’s a well rounded roster which will no doubt do well in NIHL 1 North. We wish them well on that endeavour.
Lowlight of the night: The spearing call on Klejna would be easy to say here but the second period was just woeful.
Highlight of the night: Oscar Evans’ goal was just superbly done from build-up to finish.
Milton Keynes Thunder
Home Ice: Milton Keynes Arena (aka The Thunderdome)
Head Coach: Lewis Clifford
Last season: 7th NIHL 1 South, playoff quarter-finalists
Of all the clubs who might have been concerned about the new role of the NIHL within British hockey, you would have allowed the MK Thunder a measure of worry. A stalwart of the ENL and then the NIHL, the Thunder’s position as a stepping stone club for juniors in the MK system towards the Lightning or as a place for guys who didn’t want the EPL schedule was a reasonable one. Never a team that overly challenged for silverware (the highest finish for the Thunder since the ENL rebranded to the NIHL is 6th), the one thing that you could always guarantee from the Thunder if you watched them was a decent game. The voices of doom and gloom felt that the classic NIHL sides would get thumped every week looked at the Thunder and the Cardiff Fire as examples of where the system wouldn’t work.
Was last season a good one for the Thunder? It certainly wasn’t one worthy of a ticker tape parade down Saxon Gate and the later half of the season wasn’t fantastic but again, you could be guaranteed that when you went to Milton Keynes or the Thunder came to town that you’d get a decent game of hockey for your money.
So what about 2018/19? The league in its new format is another year older and teams are another year wiser. Widely respected GM, Dave Fairhurst and coach, Lewis Clifford have some adjustments but also made some compromises. The Thunder agreed to the extra league games as part of the cup schedule this year when in the past they would not have joined such a competition. The team have brought in two imports from overseas rather than finding guys in the country who happen to be able to play.
One change that had some people immediately concerned was the newly minted Thunder Supporters Club setting up a crowd funding website. People immediately feared the worst likening it to a bucket collection that too many hockey clubs are used to seeing from teams in trouble but is it just a club with fewer resources making use of modern means to raise funds? The CBR Brave, newly minted Australian champions only exist after crowdfunding their first season back in 2013. You can make up your own minds on that one.
A few names have disappeared from the roster. The Goode brothers are seemingly gone, Rupert Quiney headed back to Streatham and Ryan Handisides left for Slough.
However biggest news for the Thunder came late in the off season and that was the addition of Jordan Lawday who joins on a two-way from the Cardiff Devils. Clearly one of the best netminding prospects in the country, Lawday is Cardiff’s third keeper and will benefit from the EIHL level training but needs the game time. After getting shelled in Cardiff last season, Lawday will have a better defence in front of him this time out. Combined with Tom Annetts, a player who I am never massively high on but had a solid enough 17/18 and another up and comer in Josh Crane means that the Thunder arguably have one of the better netminding corps in the division.
The defence has some real potential in it. Ollie Stone won two cups with Swindon last season and Ollie Lord is on a two-way with the Coventry Blaze. Russo-Lithuanian Ruslan Cernych joins from Red Eagles Den Bosch has one of the more interesting hockey CVs of recent times. I’m still trying to remember the last player in this league who also played in Spain. The anchor at the back remains the vastly experienced Greg Randall entering his 23rd season of senior hockey.
Up front, the core of the forwards returns from last season. The names that many associate with MK hockey are there; Carlon, McPherson, Bowers, Line (and how is Jamie Line only 28? I swear he’s going to do a Steve Moria and be playing when he’s 50) along with the youth movement that you associate with the Thunder in names like Rio Grinell-Parke, Hallden Barnes-Garner and Michael Stratford and of course, our Victory Hockey UK brother in Gareth O’Flaherty.
The addition up front of Lewis English who returns from playing in Sweden and Czech forward Tomas Rubes who played for Toulouse in the French 3rd tier last season should make for interesting viewing. Rubes in particular should be interesting as the French third tier is a close standard to the NIHL. Rubes went over a point per game there and had excellent points totals in the Western States Hockey League in the US where British players like David Clements also went down well.
The key question with this MK roster; can it make any headway in NIHL 1 South? The short answer is that I’m not sure. I’m not going to say that this team or that team will be rock bottom because that’s impossible to tell but you have to imagine that sadly it won’t be a league title winning season for the Thunder. Where I think they have a chance to spring some surprises is the cup and the playoffs. Over a long season the Thunder roster lacks some of the out and out skill of some of the other teams. Yes, the potential is there but enough of the things in the now to win over a 3 home/3 away season? I don’t think so. However if the Thunder focus in on the cup then use the season to build to the crescendo of the playoffs, then there’s a chance.
Teams should learn from when they play other teams and for the above to have any effect there will have to be a lot of learning done by this Thunder team. They will steal points and wins from teams across the season but it’s the short sharp bursts like the cup and the playoffs where a roster like this can do damage. The side effect of that will be the confidence that can be fed into the current league campaign and beyond.
Basingstoke Bison 2-3 Peterborough Phantoms
Morris (4on4) Norton pp
Ralph pp McEwen pp
A start: I won’t lie, I was just happy to be watching hockey again. I think most Bison fans were. It’s almost becoming cliché to say that the summer in Basingstoke was challenging but at around 6:30pm on Saturday when the puck finally hit the ice again it was a feeling of happiness and relief for many.
If you’ve looked at the scorers above then you’ll notice that none of the goals were scored 5 on 5 and the Bison lost the game on 3 powerplay goals for the visitors and racking up 42 penalty minutes in the first pre-season game and then another 3 powerplay goals and 42 minutes of penalties the following night in the 5-2 loss to Peterborough. At least the Herd were consistent.
Given it’s the first game and it’s pre-season for everyone then it’s worthless slamming the roster for such things as well as the officials. It’s the pre-season for them too but that lack of adaptation to what the officials are doing is not something that can go on for too long. We always knew given the size and make-up of the roster that the team would be physical but the team has to learn where the line is and fast.
There were obvious signs that the Bison were trying to figure out exactly how things are meant to fit together. With one full training session with the entire roster, it’s hard to believe that this was going to be a storming success and lines would immediately gel straight away. The team defence felt chaotic at times as the forwards struggled to remember exactly what the systems were. The defence would try to cover and would get pulled out of position as a result.
However, and this is a big however, there were some really positive signs from this new look Basingstoke Bison.
The team are obviously getting used to each other still but there going forward they looked threatening. Yes, the final touch just didn’t seem to be there at times in front of a scrambling netminder but that’s fine at this point. The concerns that this team would be made up of kids and also-rans were banished quickly in the minds of the crowd. If nothing else, a team that many felt would be a bare bones roster had the ability to scratch both Cameron Buckle and Sam Brooks.
Tom Ralph looked impressive, his powerplay goal and assist along with some good play at both ends of the ice. The first Bison goal in particular should have irritated Slava Koulikov; not so much because Liam Morris scored it but the lack of pressure that allowed Ralph, who is not exactly a speedy guy, to beat the Phantoms defence to his own dump in and then feed it back out in front for Morris to tap in. That sort of effort as well as a lovely blueline drive for his goal earned him the beers.
Morris himself appears to be one of those players that is going to be loved by those who he plays for and hated by those he plays against. A decent and skilful player with a gritty edge, Morris appears to be that sort of player with a similar mentality to many fan favourites of seasons gone by. The young Scotsman’s night was ended with a 2+10 for checking from behind which I felt was the correct call. It was not a malicious hit but Morris did mistime it and whilst I felt a 2+10 was at the top end of the scale of what could be called, it should have been called.
Whilst Michal Klejna had a more “heads down and work” type of evening, Richard Bordowski’s penalty killing exploits and mazy runs up ice were only denied a goal by the smallest of margins. There’s more to come from both import players, that’s for certain.
The two elder statesmen of the team, Ashley Tait and Russ Cowley looked more than capable of performing still. Cowley had 2 assists on the night and didn’t look out of step despite his year away. Tait will be disappointed in his penalty shot miss, his faked slapshot and wrister attempt not getting decent contact, but the legs and the brain are still very much there.
The defence was the one area that many worried about. The youth on the blueline was a question mark for some but again, some real quality appears to have been brought in. Jay King and Adam Jones looked excellent in their first outing for the Herd. Having players like this along with Elliot Dewey and Chris Cooke on the ice, players who are not attacking players per se, allows Ralph that latitude to go forward a bit. Sam Smith had moments where his lack of size and experience let him down but that’s why he’s in Basingstoke; to learn and to get experience and though it wasn’t his best night, the young Welshman seems more than happy to get stuck in and challenge players of all sizes.
How Alex Mettam will sum up the weekend remains to be seen. He will be unhappy at the goals against him but 5 on 5 he managed to hold the team at bay and was beaten by three decent moves for those goals. The Yorkshireman will need time to get used to his defence, as said above it felt a bit chaotic at times, but this will hopefully come.
The 5-2 loss the following night will be read in multiple ways by all sides of the equation but there is a feeling of mild optimism having seen this team. Perhaps the titles of last season won’t be defended. Perhaps it will be a mid-table year. However it seems certain that Ashley Tait has built a roster that will go down swinging, both literally and metaphorically.
A word on our opponents: So Peterborough look alright.
The scoreline across the weekend obviously speaks to that but Peterborough who yes, have had some serious roster changes as well, were seemingly left out of the title discussion for many people that I spoke to but on this showing they’ll be well in the mix come the end of the season. Again, it’s obviously really early but they look alright.
What wasn’t great? Jordan Marr is stylistically one of those goalies that make me nervous to watch because they’re quite frantic in their style. I can always appreciate a goalie who does a grenade dive but hopefully he settles in with the defence. A season of that might cause people a heart condition. I never understand why people get nervous about a goalie coming out to play the puck, give me a goalie who looks like he’s imbibed coffee intravenously to set me on edge every day.
As mentioned above, the first Bison goal was a real brain fart moment that has to be avoided at all costs. No way should the defenceman be allowed to get past the other defencemen and be allowed to then centre the puck.
The other thing that confused me was how quiet Glenn Billing was. You’d hope that one of your top end Brits would be more involved in the game or at least more visible.
Other than that, this was a solid all round performance from the Phantoms to the point that above is pretty close to nitpicking. The powerplay clearly works, and Tom Norton’s goal was really well worked and finished, and they have fantastic speed through the neutral zone. I actually enjoyed watching them in this game.
Lowlight of the night: Harry Ferguson needs to learn to stay on his feet. Kudos for drawing the penalty and all but that was cheap.
Highlight of the night: That we even had a night at all after this nonsense of a summer.
So instead of chopping and changing, British hockey’s Saint and Greavsie help you get back into the swing in style.
The BOTW Podcast in association with Victory Hockey UK; the news, action and views from the NIHL and all levels above, below and in between.