Building the Herd – The August 4

#26 Michal Klejna

Position: Forward

Born: Skalica, Slovakia

Announced as signed: Bison website, 10th August

#74 Liam Morris

Position: Forward

Born: Glenrothes, Scotland

Announced as signed: Bison website, 11th August

#86 Sam Brooks

Position: Forward

Born: Basingstoke, Hampshire, England (because Elite Prospects doesn’t actually say so we’re claiming him)

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 9th August

#95 Rhys McCormick

Position: Forward

Born: Southampton, Hampshire

Announced as signed: 2-way contract with Solent Devils (NIHL 2 South) confirmed by Devils on 1st August


NIHL 1 Fan Survey – The Results

(c) 5 Hole Photography

Fans of NIHL 1 South clubs pay more than fans feel the hockey is worth whereas fans of North 1 clubs generally pay the correct amount is the biggest headline from Banners On The Wall’s first NIHL 1 fan survey.

Responses to the survey felt that the optimum price for a single adult ticket in NIHL division 1 was between £8-£10 which sees all but one NIHL 1 South club’s fans, those of the MK Thunder paying over the odds according those surveyed whereas only 1 team in the NIHL 1 North charges above £10, which is Telford Tigers.

The cost of hockey for fans is always a tricky question to properly cover given the cost of living in the south of the country is higher than that in the north. People’s views on what constitutes good hockey is also possibly tempered by the fact that a survey of this type will always appeal more to fans who have been watching hockey than newer fans. Nearly half of those who responded (41%) had been watching hockey for 20 years or more who will have seen a broader range of quality.

Another somewhat concerning result for the EIHA was that despite the success of a playoff weekend amongst some fans, over 70% of responders did not attend the 2018 Coventry weekend with the majority citing the lack of participation of their team as the primary reason behind the decision. Fans were split as to how to improve the playoffs for the league with 29.4% liking the format and 27.5% feeling that the regional finals, kept as a nod to previous NIHL seasons, should be scrapped to allow there to be one playoff winner for the whole of division one.

This is coupled with fans being asked how finals weekend could be improved with a split across the options. The most popular response (18.9%) was that another location for the finals weekend, 18.1% said scrap the NIHL 2 game on the Sunday, 17.1% wanted earlier faceoff times.

However many felt that the 2017/18 season had been a success with many rating the entertainment value of the league between 7-10/10 on a scale with the quality being rated between 6-8 by the majority of respondents. 50% felt that more imports would improve the quality of the hockey but when asked it was a split 40-37% that it would make the league more entertaining.

When offered a choice as to future options for NIHL 1, many felt that the former EPL sides should return to a national league all its own as well as wanting fewer cup competitions.

Fans also expressed their views on wanting the EIHA to merge into IHUK which follows with the recent announcements of both bodies to work towards merging and forming a new governing organisation for ice hockey in Great Britain.

Fans also commented on a mandated number of under 21s on a team’s roster as well as clubs should not be forced to play midweek games and that the champions of NIHL 2 should only be promoted if it works for them and not be promoted automatically. When asked questions about the Elite League, a clear majority agree that it is the EIHL’s responsibility to develop players and a smaller majority feel that the reason there are so few Brits in the EIHL is not down to the NIHL clubs’ ability to develop them.

One result of interest to this site was that 49.4% feel the points system for leagues should stay as it is. BOTW will continue to advocate for the 2nd popular option (40.6%) and move to 3 points for a win in regulation, 2 for a win in OT/on pens. This site still believes that incentivising winning within 60 minutes is the correct course for the sport. It would also bring the NIHL in line with many other European leagues and provides a better and more natureal tie breaker scenario than we saw to end NIHL 1 South in 17/18.

Facts about the survey:

After the successful 2016 EPIHL fan survey, the upheaval with the collapse of the league in 2017 saw Banners On The Wall delay collating data till this summer and the first ever survey of its kind for the National Ice Hockey League. Both Northern and Southern section meetings received an update on the ongoing results as they were held before the survey’s closure.

The survey collected responses during the month of May and received 578 responses, more than the EPL survey in 2016 and also at least one fan from every NIHL 1 club responded. There were also responses from EIHL, NIHL 2, SNL and overseas fans.

Some questions allowed multiple responses and write in responses which we accept has caused some confusion for those answering questions however an interrogation of the raw data has allowed us to draw our conclusions made here.

This survey is not scientific and we accept that there are flaws in how some questions are worded and also the range of questions. It also only focusses on NIHL 1 whereas the NIHL has 2 divisions in the north and the south.

All parts of this research are copyright of Banners On The Wall. We remain committed to making the raw data (i.e. the individual responses of each respondent) available to individuals who wish to make use of it in a personal capacity for free. Clubs or organisations wishing to make use of the raw data for commercial use should contact BOTW via our social media pages in the first instance.

Full survey results can be seen here.

What do you think of the results?

As is the way on Banners On The Wall’s way, we invite you to draw your own conclusions and to share them with us on Twitter @BannersOTW or on the Facebook page.

Building the Herd – Richard Bordowski

#8 Richard Bordowski

Position: Forward

Born: Třinec, Moravskoslezský kraj, Czechia

Announced as signed: Bison season ticket night, 27th July

With most of the Bison roster standing on the smallish stage in the rink bar, Ashley Tait announced that the newest import to wear Bison colours would be 36 year old Czech forward, Richard Bordowski.

Bordowski came through the junior system of his hometown HC Třinec, playing regularly for the under 20 side until making his senior debut when he was loaned to Czech third division side HC Novy Jicin in 2001/02.

Bordowski returned to Třinec the following season where he split time between the under 20s, Třinec’s first team and some time spent loaned out to Slezan Opava.

In 2003, Bordowski played his one season solely as a part of the Třinec senior size in the Czech Extraliga. After that Bordowski’s career followed the similar path of many a Czech player where he remained part of the Extraliga roster at home as he was loaned out to a variety of sides including Jestřábi Prostějov, Havirov and Olomouc.

In 2006, Bordowski transferred permanently to Olomouc spending the next 4 seasons as a part of the 2nd tier side’s roster playing 135 games and scoring 40 points in that time. He also had loan appearances in the Czech 3rd tier with LHK Jestřábi Prostějov and in the Extraliga with Orli Znojmo before the Eagles transferred from the Czech leagues to the Erste Bank Liga.

In 2010, it was time for a change. Bordowski moved to Southern Poland and the town of Jastrzębie-Zdrój, a former health resort turned coal mining town during Poland’s communist days. The town’s hockey team, JKH GKS Jastrzębie proved a good home for Bordowski who was known as “Bordzio” by the fans. In his 6 consecutive seasons Bordowski scored 182 points in 212 games as Jastrzębie got one bronze medal, lost two finals series and won the Polish Cup in 2013.

After 6 years, Bordowski moved to Polonia Bytom in 2016/17 where he scored 27 points in 40 games and he’d earn another bronze medal. He would sign on another season in Bytom but would leave 11 games into the season to return to Jastrzębie along with former Telford netminder, Ondrej Raszka. Bordowski would score 10 points in 20 games and 4 points in 7 playoff games to finish the season as Jastrzębie were knocked out in the quarter finals.

In 283 games in the Polish league, Bordowski scored 230 points and totalled 305 penalty minutes. He scored 40 points in 83 post season encounters with 78 penalty minutes.

Whilst all of the British signings have been somewhat recognisable faces whether new or old, Ashley Tait’s first import signing was always going to be a key part of the roster. We have Richard Bordowski; clearly closer to the end of the career than the start of it but a player that we can get an idea of, we’ve never seen.

A CV that’s not uncommon of many players from Czechia or Slovakia (look at Karpov or Jarolin’s Elite Prospects pages for comparison), the interesting system in his home country that sees players’ playing rights held on to for a large chunk of time and multiple loans is not uncommon. The low scoring is also not something that should alarm fans as the Czech leagues are not infamous for producing 40-50 point seasons from players.

It’s Bordowski’s time in Poland that makes interesting reading and not just because he could feasibly have still lived in his own country to commute to work. Whilst the shortish spell with Bytom breaks up the reading slightly, his time in Jastrzębie; that long term productive stay with one club where his return was just under a point per game makes for productive reading.

At the season ticket night, Ashley Tait mentioned about him having a bit of a temper and research and pigeon Polish plus Google Translate shows that Bordowski has a reputation for being a battler and a guy not afraid to mix things up and sit in the penalty box. Given the sometimes highly criticised officiating in the NIHL, will this prove to be an issue for the Bison if one of the imports spends more time in the box than on the ice?

The flip side of that equation seems to be his points return. The Polish Superleague is better than the NIHL and for a player to average 0.8 points per game over a sustained period is a promising return. The usual caveats about him settling and finding the right line mates obviously stands but the initial signs are promising.

The question of line mates comes up. Does he go with Tait or with Cowley given we’re led to believe that the two top end Brits won’t play together? Until we see the other import forward (the Bison are meant to be favouring this route to an import defenceman) then it’s hard to tell. The fans just need to decide if they’re going to stick with Bordzio as a nickname.

Vítejte na palubě, Richard.

Building the Herd – Chris Cooke

#9 Chris Cooke

Position: Defence

Born: Guildford, Surrey, England

Announced as signed: Bison Season Ticket Night, 27th July

Chris Cooke (far left in red) swaps South London for North Hampshire and joins the Bison for 2018/19. (c) 5 Hole Photography

An impressive attendance in the rink bar on a Friday night saw the fans of the Basingstoke Bison greeted with two new players for the 2018/19 season. The first that head coach, Ashley Tait introduced was that defenceman Chris Cooke was added to the Herd’s blueline corps.

23 year old Cooke is a product of the Guildford junior system having come through the u16 Firestars and the u18 Phoenix rosters, captaining the under 18s in his final year of junior eligibility.

Cooke made his senior debut with the Flames during the 2011/12 season as the Flames completed the EPL league and cup double. Cooke appeared for the Flames through till 2014, getting an irregular rotation onto the ice but picking up another league and cup double in 2012/13.

During his last season with the Flames, Cooke went on a two-way contract and made his first foray into the NIHL with Invicta scoring 2 goals and 10 points.

Cooke moved full time to the Dynamos to start 2014/15 but his stay was brief as after only four games he left to join the Wightlink Raiders. Forming a productive partnership with former Bison defenceman, Brendan Baird, Cooke tallied 11 regular season points and the Raiders won the NIHL 1 South playoff crown.

That was enough of an incentive to get Cooke to sign back at Ryde for 2015/16 as well as 16/17 but in October 2016 came disaster. With the Raiders locked out of their rink, the team folded and along with his coach and many team mates, Cooke transferred to Streatham and has been part of the Redhawks defence since then through the end of the NIHL’s third tier status and through its first season as the new second tier of the sport in Britain.

In the NIHL, Cooke has 9 goals and 39 points in 146 regular season games with 8 points in 22 post season appearances. Cooke has also played for Great Britain in the Universiade.

On a personal note I am pleased about this signing. Cooke has long been on the list of players that I’ve wanted to play in Basingstoke. He showed potential when at Guildford and whilst I didn’t get to see him at Invicta, his performances for the Isle of Wight and Streatham have long seen him on the list of players that I think can and would do well in a Bison jersey. Not the most attacking of players, Cooke uses his size well and the sort of positionally sound defensive player that seem to be popular with nobody except myself. Yes, the attacking defencemen in the Dan Scott style are important (and I have to confess to wondering who that is on the Bison roster at the moment) but the long held position here is that a defender needs to be able to defend first and foremost. That is Chris Cooke.

The average age of the Bison defence at the moment is 22 and a half years old; let that sink in for a moment. As mentioned above it feels like there’s a bit of offence lacking on the back end but there’s a lot of size around the net for Alex Mettam and Dan Weller-Evans as well as a decent amount of physicality with it. Whilst Dewey is the only returnee (and as mentioned before, one that this writer feels was over criticised last season), this new look defensive unit is going to be very different stylistically from the one last season. Although not confirmed, the rumoured retirement of Kurt Reynolds leaves the Bison defence lacking that bit of veteran presence. Ralph likes to get forward, Jones looks like he’ll be the outlet guy though who is the natural leader there? That’s for Tait to work out. That said, with one or perhaps two more (not including Cowley’s flexibility) the picture is not yet complete.

Welcome aboard, Cookie.

The BOTW Podcast – episode 75

Summer rumbles on. We catch up on the signings in the NIHL and speak to Russ Cowley as the Coventry legend comes out of retirement to join Basingstoke. Anthony chats to Russ about retirement, getting his PhD and the upcoming season.

We also do our annual check on the AIHL. Burnie Mac, host of The AIHL Podcast joins the show to chat through hockey down under as we wait for the British season to begin.

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 in association with Victory Hockey UK; the news, action and views from the NIHL and all levels above, below and in between.

Building the Herd – Russ Cowley

#?? Russell Cowley

Position: Forward

Born: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Announced as signed: Bison website, 18th July

Bison head coach Ashley Tait pulled out one of the more shocking signings of the summer when he announced a reunion with former Coventry Blaze and GB team mate, Russ Cowley.

Cowley 34, spoke to BOTW for an upcoming episode of The BOTW Podcast where he laid out his reasons for signing in Basingstoke.

I’m very familiar with the rink and the fans. In doing my homework with some players who have played there in more recent times, they’ve had nothing but good things to say about the fans. At the same time Ash (Bison coach Ashley Tait) being coach and knowing what his vision is…I feel it’s a good opportunity for me.”

Cowley initially retired from hockey in 2017, his final game coming as GB secured the gold medal at the Division 1B world championships in Belfast. Apart from one season with Cardiff in 2006/07, the Edmonton born forward is known for his long term stint with the Coventry Blaze. Cowley is the record appearance holder for the Blaze in all competitions whilst sitting 4th on their all time scorers list and is second all time in the EIHL for appearances. Cowley’s #17 jersey was retired by Coventry in early 2018.

Cowley retired from the ice to focus on his academic career, recently achieving a PhD at Coventry University. “During (last season) I had 3 opportunities to play with three different teams and at that time I was handing my PhD in. Hockey wasn’t something I could put any focus towards.”

Cowley is naturally a left winger and the Bison have listed Cowley as a forward for the upcoming season though is open to reverting to the utility role he played in the EIHL. “My preference is a forward but at the same time I’ve said to Ash I’ll do whatever it takes for us to win games. Probably the last 5 years of my career in Coventry I signed as a forward and then played 80% of games on the back end.”

When asked for his expectations of the upcoming campaign, Cowley was honest. “It’s tough for me to give you an answer as only half the team has been built. Ashley knows the game so well and has a lot of coaching experience at the Elite League level. He’s smart and he’s going to implement a system to cater for the team he gets as a final product. He’ll be great for the young guys and developing them as hockey players. He will have us playing the right way and have the fans enjoying the product.”

The signing of Russ Cowley is an interesting shot across the bows of teams in the NIHL. Some will wonder about signing a guy who has spent a year off of the ice but let’s be honest here; Russ Cowley is a cut above some of the other players on this team and in this league.

Whilst the final few years of his Coventry tenure saw them not being the powerhouse that they once had been, Cowley is a winner. The resume that he comes into Basingstoke with is one that in this new NIHL era is nothing to be sniffed at. You do not get multiple medals on the international stage or be part of a genuine Grand Slam winning team by not being a bit decent.

There are two other big things that Cowley brings to the roster. The first is the element of flexibility. Being able to play forward as competently as you can on defence is a massive asset on a team with a lot of developing players as well as being able to be an asset in a variety of situations. Cowley’s last few seasons have been on defence but in the mid 2000s when he was a forward he was getting 40-50 points a season at EIHL level. If allowed to be a point scoring forward in the NIHL then you’d assume that at 34 he should be able to cause some havoc against opposition defences.

The other key intangible that Cowley brings is that element of experience. This is (so far) a young Bison roster with 3 players of 14 announced as over the age of 24. Having someone not just with experience but that experience of key situations, of crunch situations, of winning is massively important to a coach putting together a new team. It’s someone with a sensible head to try and settle things down as well as being a role model to the newer players.

I don’t think that Cowley plays the entire year as a forward. Aside from injuries, he’s also too good a defenceman to not utilise at crucial moments. For example; I venture that Cowley plays defence on the top powerplay unit alongside Tait given that the recent article in the Basingstoke Gazette said that the two won’t play together regularly for 5 on 5 play.

The Bison roster is still lacking some key parts and at least two permanent defenceman but this certainly gives that edge that not even some of the doom mongers about this season’s Bison roster can question. If nothing else, the Bison will be selling a few tickets to Blaze fans.

Welcome aboard, Russ.

For the full interview with Russ Cowley, tune in to this Friday’s new episode of The BOTW Podcast.

Building the Herd – Tom Ralph

#?? Tom Ralph

Position: Defence

Born: Kingston upon Hull, East Riding of the People’s Republic of Yorkshire

Announced as signed: Bison website 13th July

Time to Wreck it, Ralph! Tom Ralph (centre, in blue) battles with Aaron Connolly during last season. This coming season Connolly will be with the London Raiders and Ralph is the newest member of the Basingstoke Bison.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

The Basingstoke Bison rarely do much on a Friday so they kept people on their toes with the signing announcement of Tom Ralph from the Invicta Dynamos.

Ralph, 24, is a product of the junior system at the world’s most versatile arena having progressed through the Kingston youth system from the under 16 Crunch to the under 18 Predators team and onto the old ENL setup with the Kingston Jets making his senior hockey debut in the 2009/10 season in the old ENL North.

In 2011, Ralph moved to what was the Hull Stingrays second team, spending a year and a half there before moving back to Whitley Bay for the end of 2012/13.

His working hard in the lower levels paid off as Ralph got the call to the Elite League and spent the season with the Hull Stingrays. Whilst he didn’t get masses of ice time, Ralph was getting time at the top level in the country and the Stingrays made a shocking appearance at the playoff weekend as they made the semi finals.

Ralph originally signed for the following campaign with the then playoff champions, Coventry Blaze but after one game he returned back to Hull. The Stingrays had sadly folded so Ralph found himself in green and black as part of the Hull Pirates for the remainder of 2015/16.

The Pirates’ first year of existence was an odd one as they lurched from big losses to exciting wins. Ralph stuck with it then left abruptly with one weekend of the season to go. (He would later say in an interview with 482 Days it was some of the least fun he had playing hockey.)

Ralph reappeared the following season in a somewhat unlikely location; Kent. At 22, he left Yorkshire and moved to Silverblades Gillingham and the Invicta Dynamos where he’s spent the last two seasons. It has been a tail of two seasons for Ralph; his first season saw him score 9 points and win a playoff title. His second saw Invicta near the bottom of the table but he scored 24 points in 30 games from the blueline.

Given that some of the reaction to the signing of his new team mates has been somewhat more moot, the response to Ralph’s joining so far has been much more enthusiastic. That’s understandable to a degree. Whilst some of the announced Bison players so far have arguably not had quite the same impact as signing a nearly legendary British hockey talent as your head coach, Ralph comes with a bit more of a reputation behind him.

Critics of Ralph have sometimes felt that he’s flattered to device with arguably his best season coming when he was a spare player on the roster seeing minimal ice time and scoring zero points but his time outside of the EIHL shows that at this level, Ralph can definitely play. Having come from a decent junior programme the Bison now have a player who has got decent size, he uses it well whilst not taking tons of penalty minutes which is what you generally want from a defenceman.

The outlier season isn’t so much the season in the EIHL but last season where, out of nowhere, Ralph suddenly started scoring more points than he ever had before. The obvious explanation for that is that in the great shake up that followed the collapse of the EPIHL, Invicta were arguably one of the biggest losers. Kev Parrish used his resources to build a roster to defend Invicta’s playoff title. Then the changes happened and where others tinkered or moved to other clubs, Invicta found themselves either priced out of the market or just not as attractive a proposal. However they did have some decent players last season like the Webster brothers and Scott Bailey and Tom Ralph. Ralph was being used more and with more ice time and more responsibility comes more points.

So the Bison’s new order has managed to tempt across a player that is defensively responsible who is also able to contribute a few points from the back end. This is good.

I was asked shortly after the signing what I thought and I was honest in that I think it’s a good signing but that I generally, as a writer, approach forward signings differently from a defensive one in that I normally want to see the whole defensive unit before I believe I can fully judge them where I find it sometimes easier to gauge how a forward will be used. I look at the three signed defencemen and the two netminders and it’s still an incomplete picture at the moment. At present the Bison blueline looks to have good size and physicality but arguably lacks a bit of mobility. However given the club are not going to be heading into the season with only three defencemen, it’s a concern to be filed till the roster is complete.

What Ralph adds is more than what he might possibly subtract. People will wonder who is the Dan Scott replacement (though that is arguably Adam Jones given their stylistic similarities) and who is the Mogg replacement and so on but the problems with that is that not only have the players changed but the systems have changed. This has to be the reminder to the Bison fanbase that whilst this is still Bison hockey, it’s not the exact same Bison hockey. Ralph is nobody’s replacement, he’s Tom Ralph. He’ll be part of a puzzle that Tait is building. How well it fits together remains to be seen.

Welcome aboard, Tommy.