Building the Herd – Dan Weller-Evans

#93 Dan Weller-Evans

Position: Netminder

Born: Pen-y-bont ar Ogwr, Cymru

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 11th August

Photo thumbnail copyright of 5 Hole Photography

The BOTW Podcast extra – Stevie Lyle

(c) 5 Hole Photography

(c) 5 Hole Photography

Bonus podcast fun!

Long time GB international netminder and current Swindon Wildcats backstop Stevie Lyle talks to BOTW about the upcoming season in Wiltshire, his hand in helping set up the games between Cardiff Devils and KHL side Medvescak Zagreb and what would happen if the KHL does actually come to London?

Remember to subscribe to The BOTW Podcast on iTunes HERE (go on, leave us 5 stars) and make sure you let us know what you like on Twitter or the BOTW Facebook page once you’ve listened.

The BOTW Podcast; the news, action and views from the EPIHL and all levels above, below and in between.

The BOTW Podcast – episode 38

It’s a double interview guest special on this month’s off season special as we look at British hockey and some good news stories about how it presents itself.

First, we speak to newly retired defenceman Dave Carr about Streatham and how the club has handled its change of name.

Then we speak to the EIHA’s new media and communication’s officer, Craig Simpson about his role and the challenges that he will face.

Remember to subscribe to The BOTW Podcast on iTunes HERE (go on, leave us 5 stars) and make sure you let us know what you like on Twitter or the BOTW Facebook page once you’ve listened.

The BOTW Podcast; the news, action and views from the EPIHL and all levels above, below and in between.

Building the Herd – Shaun Thompson

#13 Shaun Thompson

Position: Forward

Born: Slough, Berkshire

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 28th July

(c) 5 Hole Photography

(c) 5 Hole Photography

Building the Herd – Matt Towalski

#21 Matt Towalski

Position: Forward

Born: Stafford, Staffordshire

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 21st July

Matt Towalski was a Christmas present for the Bison in 2015. He's back for a full year in 2016/17. (c) 5 Hole Photography

Matt Towalski was a Christmas present for the Bison in 2015. He’s back for a full year in 2016/17.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

With the Bison roster nearing completion, Doug Sheppard announced the return to the club of experienced forward Matt Towalski.

Whilst relatively new to the Bison, having joined the club just before Christmas 2015 when Grant Rounding was lost to injury, Towalski is a veteran of the EPL with over 650 league and playoff games under his belt as he enters his 17th season in the league.

A product of Slough’s junior system, Towalski’s first forays in to senior hockey came with the Jets in the BNL whilst playing juniors for the Slough Comets as well as making appearances for the then England u20s side that played in the EPL just after the turn of the millennium.

After 3 solid years establishing himself with the Jets and earning 14 Great Britain junior caps, Towalski moved from Berkshire to Milton Keynes for the 2005/06 season and the move paid instant dividends as the Lightning finished the season with the playoff title. In all, Towalski would spend 7 seasons with the Lightning totalling 325 regular season and 36 playoff games for the Buckinghamshire side, winning the league title in 2010. Statistically, 2008/09 was his best year as he scored 12 goals and 34 points in 53 league games.

At the end of a lack lustre 2011/12 season for the Lightning, then coach Nick Poole had a bit of clearout of the roster, fan favourite Towalski moved back to Slough along with Michael Wales. The first campaign in Slough went OK but the Jets well publicised issues made 2013/14 a long season at The Hanger. While some like Michael Wales and Ciaran Long left, Towalski stayed and battled it out with the Jets for the duration as he played the full 54 game campaign.

With the Jets withdrawal from the EPL, Towalski remained in Berkshire and moved to Bracknell to provide veteran presence for the Bees. His first season in black and gold saw a productive 17 points in 48 games but the 2015/16 season was, again one to forget for hockey in the royal county. Finance issues at the Bees saw Towalski and others leave the club, with Matt being announced by the Herd on Christmas Eve 2015. Towalski scored 7 points in 29 games en route to his second league title as a player.

Anyone notice that Matt Towalski’s got a half decent shot? Just thought I’d throw that out there. He only scored 4 goals in the regular season for the Bison but a couple of them were really nice shots.

If you go back to Christmas time and check back on what I said about Matt when he joined, I was actually right for the most part. He didn’t set the world on fire but contributed a few points, was much needed depth on the roster and did whatever was asked of him. It worked. Matt Towalski joining the Bison did exactly what it was meant to do; the signing filled in a hole and a need we had in the roster that we had at the time, he came in, did his job and was part of the success.

What I personaly enjoy about us signing players like Matt Towalski who have been around a while is we get to watch them much more. If you’re new to Bison hockey then this is all new and great so we get to learn this together. Matt will be honest enough to admit that he’s been around the block a few times and those of us who have been around British hockey a bit will be familiar with him but we’ve had that chance to watch him week in, week out so I’ve really enjoyed getting to see how his mechanics work. It’s like what I’d mentioned above; I’d never really taken the time to notice that he’s got that a decent shot before but Sheppard signing him allows us to get more familiar with these kind of players. Maybe that’s the nerd in me coming out but hey, this is my blog so if I can’t geek out here then where can I?

We’ve talked before about how the Bison have role players and versatile players and Towalski will be the later; he is a veteran presence on what remains a mostly young team. He will be the calm head along with Baird and Vantroba. He will be shuffled around the lines when needed and the special teams as well. Being able to do that is what brought him to the Bison and it’s why he’s back. That and the fact he’s had a bit of chemistry on a line with Vanya Antonov won’t hurt.

Welcome back, Matt.

And now, my favourite GIF from last season.

Matt Towalski sees you

Matt Towalski sees you

Building the Herd – Lewis Turner

#?? Lewis Turner

Position: Defence

Born: Woking, Surrey, England

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 14th July

Lewis Turner (#5 in black) crosses the border and joins the Bison for 2016/17. (c) 5 Hole Photography

Lewis Turner (#5 in black) crosses the border and joins the Bison for 2016/17.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

With the Bison roster already nearing completion, Doug Sheppard has moved to strengthen his defensive unit with the addition of Lewis Turner from the Bracknell Bees.

23 year old Turner started his hockey career in the Guildford junior system starting with the u16 Firestars in 2007 and carrying on through to the well-respected under 18 Phoenix side.

Turner started the 2009/10 season in Guildford but swapped Surrey for Berkshire as he moved across to Bracknell. Lewis made his senior debut in the old ENL as he split time between the Hornets and the u18 Drones. He carried on between u18 and ENL hockey the next season, scoring an impressive 15 points in 16 games for the Drones.

When his time in junior hockey came to an end to start 2011/12, Turner continued to split his time but that campaign it was between ENL and EPL as he was called into the Bracknell senior side for the first time. Lewis appeared in 31 EPL games and 23 ENL games in yellow and black as his first full campaign as a senior saw him establish himself as an EPL player.

2011/12 was Turner’s last season in the ENL as he stepped up full time to the Bees for 2012/13 and enjoyed an impressive campaign. Whilst Bracknell didn’t soar very high, Turner’s stock rose. He appeared in 50 games and earned a call up to the GB under 20s side, appearing in all 5 games for the national side.

After another impressive campaign with Bracknell in 2013/14 where Turner made 52 appearances, he returned to Bracknell with the added bonus of being on a two way contract with Cardiff Devils, making 2 appearances for the South Wales side.

Turner has made 222 appearances for the Bees across the last 5 seasons, scoring 19 points and tallying 228 penalty minutes.

So I think it’s safe to say that the defence is finished and this is a really handy addition to round out the blueline corps. Whilst nobody who played for Bracknell is going to remember last season with a great amount of fondness, it wasn’t for the want of some decent performances by individuals and both recent Bison signees are in that category.

Turner is a really solid, stay at home defenceman with a physical edge. Have you noticed much of him during Bison games against the Bees? No? Then that probably means he’s been doing his job for the most part. He’s one of those defencemen. What I really liked from the article in today’s Gazette was Lewis’ quote where he said “I enjoy the physical side of the game and stopping players scoring.” Yes, excellent, that’s what you want from a physical defenceman. The last thing any team needs is to sign a guy to be that stay at home guy but then find they like to wander off and be bad positionally. That’s not saying we don’t want defencemen jumping into the play if the chance appears but Turner’s there to shut things down.

If nothing else, given the style that the Bison play, he should fit right in to things. We’re all used to that Bison game plan where they get the lead then shut things down so having 6 guys involved rather than 5 not only helps when injuries hit but makes things really solid to start with.

Where does Turner fit in to the line up? I have him forming a traditional shut down pairing with Joe Baird. Yes it’s 2 right handed shot players together but the Bison only have two left shot defencemen in Reynolds (who I have staying partnering Mogg) and Balmer (who I have partnering Vantroba) but Turner and Baird together is a good mix of youth and experience and some good old fashioned grit. Some will argue that they might be susceptible to taking penalties but we need to keep the jokes about the Bison being goons alive somehow. (15/7/16 – well this is daft of me. Elite Prospects has Reynolds as a leftie. He’s actually a right handed shot. Sorry Kurt. What does it change? Not much really I don’t think. My prediction still stands though we know the pairings will be rotated.

Welcome to Basingstoke, Lewis.

Building the Herd – Miroslav Vantroba

#18 Miroslav Vantroba

Position: Defence

Born: Spisska Nova Ves, Slovakia

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 7th July

Miroslav Vantroba decides on another year in Basingstoke. (c) 5 Hole Photography

Miroslav Vantroba decides on another year in Basingstoke.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

As the Bison roster races towards completion before the summer has seemingly began, Doug Sheppard announced the final of the club’s 5 imports for the new campaign with the return of Slovak defenceman, Miroslav Vantroba.

37 year old Vantroba enters his 4th season with the Bison after 3 very successful campaigns with the Herd. Having moved to England in 2013, Vantroba has 105 points in 157 regular season games along with the full set of EPL trophies as a league, cup and playoff winner.

Vantroba’s career started with his home town Spisska Nova Ves before moving to Kosice where he would spend the next 3 seasons tallying 59 points in 162 games. Vantroba moved to the Czech Extraliga where he played 48 times for Karlovy Vary before retuning to Kosice in 2004.

Vantroba was with Kosice for another year and a half before he moved to MHC Martin proving to be a popular player with Martin fans, spending 3 and a half years with Martin. Vantroba’s performances earned him a call up to the Slovak national team, making 4 appearances and scoring 0 points.

After his time with MHC Martin finished in 2009, Miro moved on to Banska Bystrica making 100 appearances in 2 seasons before moving to Zvolen for 2011/12 for a single season.

For 2012/13 Vantroba started the year back with his home town Spisska Nova Ves in the second tier before moving back to the Extraliga with HK Nitra to see out the year. After some discussions reportedly with Edinburgh, Vantroba chose to accept Doug Sheppard’s offer to move to Hampshire.

This signing shouldn’t really be a surprise to anyone. Anyone who has watched the Bison for more than a couple of years will be starting to see the pattern; given the Bison are generally there or thereabouts in terms of competing, Sheppard does not blow the roster up and start again. He maintains a core of players. If he needs to upgrade or sees the chance to, then he will but he won’t do it for the sake of doing it. Given that Vantroba has been at the heart of the most successful Bison team of recent times, the fact that Sheppard has brought Vantroba back shouldn’t shock anyone in broad terms.

Having been one of the higher scoring defenceman in the EPL for the last couple of seasons (the highest in 2014/15) Vantroba is generally a really solid, all around defenceman. He is generally positionally sound, he’s not afraid to take the body, he is always looking for that pass to start the breakout, he can add secondary offence and his big shot is always useful. If you sit back and examine the other import defenders that have come into the league during the time that Miro has been here, how many are still here? How many have genuinely been that massive step above him in terms of quality? Yes, people will have their favourites and there’s certainly arguments to be made that there are better defenders in the league than Vantroba but that much better?

I have no issue with the signing at all though over the last season, I spoke to people who at times were losing patience with Vantroba. The two main criticisms of him were that he got caught out of position and that he gave away the puck too much.

I’d say over the course of last season that they are valid criticisms of him having watched a lot of his game. When someone is drawn out of position, Vantroba tried to cover all the bases at once which stretched him and the team on the ice. Against some teams you’ll get away with that, against others, not so much. The turnovers get noticed a lot but were a mixture of things from the Bison’s high press and pressure on the powerplay to the fact that at 37, Vantroba just isn’t as fast as he once was.

The questions that we need to ask ourselves are 1. whether the risks of Vantroba’s game are worth the reward and 2. could Sheppard find anyone better either here or elsewhere to replace him. Sheppard has obviously made his decision on that question. I’d also argue that Sheppard’s recent record means his decision making on players is worthy of getting the benefit of the doubt. The analyst in any of us can generally rectify ourselves to any player recruitment decision at EPL level with enough time. Swapping my analyst hat for the fan hat with Bison horns, I really like Vantroba as player so I’m really pleased to see him back. If he was going to be replaced then that’s a big step for Sheppard to have to take given that the defence is a relatively stable unit and again conceded the fewest number of goals in the league. Yes, Vantroba makes mistakes but so does everyone. Do we replace Reynolds or Mogg or the netminder for x number of mistakes over the season when those mistakes are not numerous and the end goal keeps getting achieved?

The discussions will rumble across the season no doubt and there will be Miro quietly pocketing another 20-30 point season from the blueline while the rest of the team rushes around beside him. He is not immune to criticism, especially justified ones but I do think he’s earned the right to be given another year in the jersey. The blueline corps is strong. The blueline corps works. The day is coming when it will need to be changed but I don’t think right now is that day.

Welcome back, Miro.


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