“With smiles on our faces” – Talking with the Basingstoke Bison Ladies

A quick look at the league table of the second tier of hockey in this country tells us that the Bison are currently sitting in second place with a 75% winning record and an average of 1 goal conceded a game, only being denied top spot by virtue of having played more games. They have the joint second top goalscorer in the league and on the whole are looking forward to the rest of the season and a shot at the playoff title. However this isn’t the English Premier League side we’re talking about but the Basingstoke Bison Ladies of Women’s South Division 1.

 

After a disastrous season in the Women’s Premier Division last season, the Bison Ladies have dropped down in Division 1 South where they have regrouped, added depth to the roster and are getting back to what they do best, having fun playing hockey.

 

Banners On The Wall sat down with left winger Julia Burns and utility player Hannah Driver after their male counterparts’ recent penalty shot loss to Telford Tigers.

 

NOTE: What Julia and Hannah said has been cleaned up a bit to make sense and the ums and ahs have been removed) but otherwise the conversation is unedited. Julia is listed as JB, Hannah as HD.

 

We’ll start with the obvious question; for those who won’t know, what are the main differences between men’s and women’s hockey?

HD: Non-contact. Well, it’s non checking/incidental contact. We can lean in but we can’t make a full on check.

JB: We’re not paid.

HD: We’re not paid, no. We pay to play.

JB: We get the crappy ice time

HD: And it’s a lot, lot slower.

 

Just going back to the non checking, when people think of hockey they generally think of the physicality, would you like to be able to check or is it not important?

HD: I don’t think it’s that important to me because you can still get involved and be physical without having to check them and it does make it a little bit more skilful because you have to play the puck you can’t just play the player all the time.

JB: It’s not necessary. It’s not played in Olympic hockey, it’s not played in any of women’s hockey although some checking does go on obviously and in women’s Premier it’s a lot more physical than what we play. In Div. 1 you have varying degrees of talent and to have checking at that level is probably not a good idea because you have some wobblers who are not used to it. You have a breed of youngsters coming through who played boys hockey up to 16 and they are far more physical and if you have one of them taking on someone who started to play at 40 say, it’s just not a good idea.

 

Can we get a potted history of the Bison ladies?

HD: I can tell you since I’ve been there since day 1. We started life as the Basingstoke Panthers, a bunch of girls that watched the Beavers as they were back then and decided they wanted to play hockey so 11:30 on a Friday night we started to train and this is back in 1989/90 sometime. We entered the league about a year later in Div. 1 south, played there till 98 when we won the league and went up to Premier for 2 seasons, played there for 2 seasons, came back down to Div. 1 for 2 seasons, back to Premier for 2 seasons, back down again then played Premier last season in 2010/11 and we’re back in Div. 1 this season.

 

I was going to very briefly mention last season as it didn’t go too well did it…

HD: It was awful. The players who had scored most of the goals the season before promised to play for us that season and changed their minds at the last minute so we were left short of players. We had a couple of injuries that happened and so, bless the Basingstoke Bears who stepped in at the last minute. Some of their players stepped up and played for us at the last minute otherwise we wouldn’t have finished the season.

 

I’d not looked at the stats for a while and you Julia ended up as 2nd top goal scorer for the season.

JB: Possibly. I had 2 goals in one game against Swindon and then in the last 2 games of the season I found my form and got one that was nearly shorthanded all the way down the ice but it wasn’t but I possibly scored 3 or 4.

 

You scored three so were joint 2nd.

JB: Well considering I had 3 months off then we didn’t do too badly. We had a very close game in Swindon that we lost 5-4.

HD: We nearly won! We were 4-2 up at one point.

JB: It was a hard season. We had a lot of players who for whatever personal reasons or financial reasons decided not to come back and join other teams or maybe not even join other teams or decided to stay down a league or whatever. We rallied together.

HD: It was a case of gritting our teeth and getting through it.

JB: With some help from the EIHA as well. They were quite kind to us as well.

HD: Geoff Hemmerman (EIHA non executive director and Woman’s League Chairman) gave us dispensation for practically every single game.

JB: It didn’t help as we were put up into Premier, we had someone lined up to coach for us who dropped out the week before the season started. We got shoved back, because of the stick and puck session, to 11pm and girls who were coming from Kent and the Isle of Wight were sort of like “um, well, maybe not now because it’s just too late”. We had injuries and it’s a big step up to Premier and it hit us hard but we went out there. We played with 9 people in Sheffield and their coach was still putting out his top line consisting of several GB players against us. We held our heads high.

 

So back in South 1 now, more the right level.

HD: We’re sitting pretty at 2nd in the league at the moment and we’re only down in 2nd because we’ve played more games than the other team.

 

Having looked at the results I suppose my question would be, what happens if you win the league and the playoffs? Do you go up? Do you stay down? Is this something you decide when you get to the end of the year?

HD: If it all works out we have to playoff against the time at the top of Div. 1 north then the winner of that game plays off against the team at the bottom of Premier and whoever wins that game is in Premier. There’s a lot of games to play before we get there.

 

So it really is just make that decision if we get to it.

HD: Yeah and to be honest I don’t think we’ll win the league this year.

JB: The league is very strong this year.

HD: We have to get ourselves back together, get back to winning ways which we’re starting to do but when you’ve got people that have two teams in their club who can ice Premier level players in their Div. 1 team just to beat other teams.

 

*Cough* Bracknell

Both: Swindon

HD: Swindon too but Bracknell are just a class outfit anyway.

 

In terms of players quite a few players have come into the side this year like Jodie Attrill who was quite a high scorer last year for Gosport but you’ve had a lot of the Basingstoke Bears come in as well. Now the Bears have gone completely, is that correct?

HD: Yep, they folded at the end of last season.

 

Obviously that’s added some needed depth but in a way are you kind of sad that the Bears have gone because whilst you’ve said Div. 1 south level is strong this year, would it have been nice to have that inter-rink rivalry?

HD: Unfortunately for them, the Bears were a much weaker team than us. They were much more a development side. Some of the weaker players have just given up hockey now as they can’t really compete in the other teams that play locally at our level.

JB: That is a shame because anybody who had just started playing or come up from the stick and puck would have had an opportunity there to join a team. They wouldn’t have been at our level and wouldn’t have got into the squad and we’re fairly fully funded with players but there was an outlet there for them to at least go out and have a game and have a try.

 

Will some lean towards rec hockey do you think?

JB: Some may have, I don’t know. There are other teams within the vicinity. If they’re prepared to travel there’s Bracknell, Oxford, Swindon I suppose.

HD: A lot of the Bears went to Oxford.

JB: A lot of the Bears haven’t just disappeared, they are in other teams.

 

This may sound a bit of a pithy question; how many people do you get at your home games?

JB: 30-40 if we’re lucky.

HD: The most we’ve played against…probably when we played Romford and we needed a point from the game in 2001ish season as I was captain and got interviewed for Meridian so it was put out on television and we did a lot of advertising so we got about 300 but that was the most we’ve played in front of.

JB: That was a really tense game and we tied it with about 2 or 3 seconds to go. We needed a point to win the league, we pulled the goalie and Emma Toose who is now our captain tied it with seconds on the clock. It was pretty intense.

HD: It’s usually boyfriends, girlfriends, mums and dads and the odd straggler.

JB: On game days we do struggle to find helpers. We’re very grateful to Keith Hope who runs our clock and we have a lot of people who are Bison fans who do come and help us for which we’re eternally grateful but otherwise you run around trying to grab someone’s mum or someone to do the gamesheet. It’s lovely that we do have such supportive help from people.

 

As you mentioned you pay to play and you play because you love the sport. Would it be nice to have more people in?

HD: Yeah, of course it would.

JB: Yeah, we don’t charge. Everyone’s welcome to come along and watch and cheer.

HD: Graham Merry always puts things in the Gazette when he’s doing his write ups, we get it up on the Bison forum, we get it out on Facebook so it is advertised but people don’t really want to come and watch women’s hockey.

 

Is that because it’s something of the unknown or because they don’t like women’s hockey or both?

HD: They might come to a game expecting it to be like the men’s and it’s not. If you take it at face value for what it is, it’s really, really good. If you come up with the expectation of an EPL or Elite league standard, it’s not that. You might get that at Sheffield vs Bracknell Queen Bees or Slough, the real top teams.

JB: Some of the Premier teams are worth watching, definitely. They have some very good players, some that have played abroad and have come back like Nat Aldridge or Katie Henry. They are really good players. There’s some really good hockey out there.

 

Favourite on ice moment for each of you?

HD: Mine I must say was when we won the league in my first season as captain. We won the league and it was very emotional as I was really proud. I got to lift the trophy.

JB: I’d say scoring my first Bison ladies goal as I started out playing rec for a couple of years. I’d also say playing for the South of England.

HD: I can’t remember my first goal, it was a little while ago. I still get excited every time I score as it doesn’t happen very often.

 

Aren’t you a defender Hannah?

HD: No, I’m a centre this year. I played d for 10 years and now I’m a centre.

 

The website says you are!

JB: I’ve not been sent a form telling me she’s a forward!

HD: I’m a washing machine player, a utility player. I’ll play anywhere except in goal. 2 weeks ago in Gosport I started at centre, then I was on the wing on a different line and then I was in d and finished the game on d as we had so many penalties.

 

I’ve asked this of a few people we’ve interviewed and they’ve all been men so now I’ll get the female perspective; what needs to be done to improve the sport of ice hockey in Great Britain? What needs to be changed?

JB: More money, better rinks, more coverage, start academies.

HD: For women’s hockey there needs to be an interim league between Div. 1 and Premier. At the moment the jump is too great. Like us, we’re a bit of a yo-yo team, we’re a touch too good to be in Div. 1 but not good enough to be in Premier. We need better coverage whether that be just locally or nationally. There’s not enough press about ice hockey and it is quite a big sport. We’re always being told it’s the most watched sport in Basingstoke yet Basingstoke Town are going for a £10million stadium development. For men’s hockey, I actually want to go back to the Heineken League days, promotion and relegation. If there were 2 leagues, even if it took the Elite League/EPL format, if there were two leagues where you could actually get somewhere and you could be promoted or relegated I just think that would be more positive. I do like the idea of limiting the imports though and I much prefer EPL. I could watch that every day of the week.

JB: As a whole, you need to get them young. You need paid coaches. People coach kids and it’s all voluntary but you need to get them early and you need better structure in clubs and support for clubs in their quest to make things better within the clubs. We just don’t have that over here. Kids get up for their trials at 6am to get down to Cardiff or get their for 11pm and how is a 10 year old ever going to show their best skills at that hour of the night to get into the south west (conference) team? Better ice time for everybody, you need dedicated rinks just for hockey. You go to places and you’ve got 3 rinks. One’s not touched, that’s for the pro team, ones for the peewees and one’s for something else. They need structure and they need money. There’s volunteers, it’s voluntary and the club structure isn’t in place. Then you have Bracknell who have endless club structure with every age group, 2 women’s teams, an under 16 girl’s team. The talent tends to gravitate towards those places.

 

You both watch a fair bit of men’s hockey. If you’re watching a Bison game on a Saturday or things on TV, do you ever see something happen and go “no! I can do better than that!”?

HD: Every week when the Bison don’t pick the rebounds up. There’s no way a semi-pro team shouldn’t be taking those chances every time and going in for every puck.

JB: Having been a player and a coach it’s hard now to just be a spectator. You watch every play and my husband will say “did it? I didn’t notice that” or I’ll say to my friend “did you see so and so when he passed that off?” and they’ll say no. They’ll say “you must see a completely different side of the game to me” and you do. You can’t switch off from that.

HD: Also as a player and as a coach you also recognise when the other team do something good. You’re not just subjective towards your own team because, take one of those goals tonight. There was nobody on him in the high slot and he could pick where to shoot. You never switch off as you’re always looking for the brilliant thing or the rubbish that you’re trained to do as a player or a coach.

 

One question for you Hannah that came through on Twitter from Mark Taylor who asked “why do you have so much trouble with the blue line?”

HD: He’s never seen me play! I don’t have any trouble with the blue line. I scored a very nice goal from the blue line last weekend thank you very much and I’ve not fallen over it for many, many years. Last time I did it was in our old shirts, that’s how long ago it was. I will not take that thank you very much and I might have to beat him to death with my hockey stick.

JB: If he cares to come on the ice with the ladies we’ll start playing contact hockey!

 

We’ll finish with you guys, sell to us Bison ladies hockey. Why should we come and watch?

HD: Because we’re brilliant…and we’re hot women!

*Laugher all round*

JB: You might be surprised!

HD: You’ll get a largely competitive game depending on who you see us play against. If you can take it at face value and you’re not expecting an Elite level or EPL level game, half of us are well over 30.

JB: Some of us are over 40.

HD: The fact we’re still playing competitive hockey at our age and winning games …it’s a bit of fun and we’re enjoying ourselves.

JB: That’s the important thing, you’ll see we do have fun playing it and we play for the love of the sport as we pay to play and that shows in our game.

HD: And you will see us playing usually, unless we’re losing, with smiles on our faces.

JB: Having a laugh, we’ve got a good bunch of girls this year. We’ve got a mix of abilities and mix of ages from 17 to (unintelligible number). We enjoy it, we have good fun, we’re a good bunch, we’re all supporting one another, mixed abilities and we enjoy it. People will be surprised if they come down to watch.

HD: Hot women and it’s free!

JB: You’re really selling this!

HD: They’re going to turn up expecting us to be looking great and we’ll be all sweaty and horrible.

 

In face cages as well most of you?

HD: Some of us don’t have to wear them. We are allowed to wear the half visors and there are a couple who are free to choose in the same way Nicky Chinn’s free to choose but we all choose to wear them as we don’t want to ruin our pretty faces.

JD: It’s not advisable to not wear one.

HD: Because there is such a mix of abilities sometimes you get sticks in the face. That happens in the pro game so at our level it’s a lot more dangerous.

 

Thanks very much ladies.

 

The Basingstoke Bison ladies website can be found on the right hand side of every page of the blog.

Their next home game is Saturday 10th March at the Basingstoke Arena, 6:45pm faceoff. Entrance is free. Get on down!

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