Curtain Down – 2011/12

I did this sort of thing last season, a slightly less structured thought splurge as the Bison season comes to an end where we look at the playoffs and the season as a whole. It’ll be partially analytical, partly ranty, partly looking forward. It may lack coherence but I beg your indulgence. This is Curtain Down.

 

Playoffs vs Sheffield Steeldogs:

 

My friend Ray, mentioned in the player review tweeted the following after the end of Sunday, “Congrats to the Steeldogs though. It would have been unfair to deny you your rightful place in Coventry. But damn did I still want us to.” I don’t think you can say much fairer than that. After the season that Sheffield have had, who would honestly deny them a place in Coventry? Now Sheffield are not popular for how they play the game, it’s a very tough and in your face style of hockey that irks some. A lot of people have been complaining saying that the Steeldogs are cheaters or that they’re a disgrace because of their physical hockey. Here’s the issue though, whilst that hockey is infuriating to watch from the other side that hockey plus their coaching got them 3rd in the league and they have the player of the year, coach of the year and 1st team EPL all star goalie. There really is no shame in losing to that on paper.

Me? Well I had to sit on my in-laws’ sofa in Cornwall for two nights looking at Twitter, Facebook and whatever else I could find. Let me tell you it is the most frustrating way to follow a hockey game ever. I honestly believe that over 2 games, the Bison were good enough to have beaten Sheffield. It wasn’t to be and when it comes down to it, the Steeldogs have had the season where they honestly deserved their place at the EPL’s showcase event. Congratulations to them.

 

Season as a whole:

 

I’m accused by some of being too optimistic when it comes to the Bison. I’d agree that if I’m guilty of anything, being optimistic is likely very high on the list of things. It’s part of how I am wired, I look for the best in things. Bare that in mind while I lay out my thoughts on this season.

I think we saw some good performances from this team but they were few and far between. I also think we signed some really good players. Kurt Reynolds and Joe Miller are the obvious success stories but I think Dan Harris, Jacob Heron, Liam Chong and Cameron Wynn had impressive “first” seasons in the EPL. For Harris and Chong it was their first full season at this level and they accounted themselves very well and didn’t look out of place. Chong could potentially be a real star in this league if he finds his role that suits him best whereas Harris is a solid and dedicated 3rd, 4th or 5th defenceman. For Heron he got a full season of regular ice time and established himself in Basingstoke when Nick Poole didn’t see fit to give him a regular shift. More fool him for that. Wynn is a little story all himself and I’d expect to see him eased into more games over the next season whoever the coach is. There have been signs of potential being there. As a team there were games when it looked like they could beat anyone who dared set foot in front of them. Who can forget the first time Petran let loose that slapshot or when Volrab and Miller first got put together and walked over teams with their skill and passing? What about that penalty shot from Moria? All moments that brought a smile to our faces, I think we can agree on that.

That said, I need to be honest about the last 8 months and what I’ve seen.

When it comes to this season I look at it and I give it a low C minus. I think the team signed, on paper looked decent at the start of the year. We’d signed imports that looked like they could be useful at EPL level, some established names from last season and brought on a few new talents. Going by last season in the EPL, the Bison appeared to have signed a team that whilst it didn’t look like it would lift the title would at least be in the mix and finally break the duck and get to Coventry. Sadly the league moved on in terms of tactics and quality. The Bison made a sideways step and signed a roster of similar talent to last season to take on last season’s EPL but the league moved forward and as a result, we got left behind. Guildford signed better players and got the title. Sheffield signed players to fit Payette’s system and rocketed up the table. The Bison lacked consistency across the season, the killer edge when goals were needed and real direction when behind. That’s not to say the players didn’t try hard, they did. You could see it in their faces that they were trying but sometimes just trying isn’t enough, just ask Telford.

It’s frustrating for someone like me, the perennial optimist because ultimately I want to believe the best in my team. However as I go back over my reports that I’ve written for Running with the Herd, too many of them are filled with my reaction of rolling my eyes to the ceiling and wondering what should have been because the game was thrown away or when the team needed to go gung ho for the net, it didn’t happen. It does lead to a serious question that we have to face; what is the goal of the team?

Now we get competitive hockey in Basingstoke every week, I don’t think we’ll deny that. The club has moved away from that awful final couple of years in the Elite League and no matter who comes into the Basingstoke Arena every week there’s a chance we’ll win. On a simple level you can’t argue with that. You pay your money and you’re going in genuinely not knowing what the result will be. When you consider that in the last EIHL season it was more guessing how many we’d lose by I can accept that. The problem is that it’s hard to label this season anything but a backwards step from 2010/11.

Yes there were injuries, a lot of key injuries at the wrong time that maybe could have seen us finish with a better record. We also saw a couple of guys like Oli Bronnimann have off years and injuries just to add to the misery. These things have an impact but injuries and off years are a small part of a bigger story and average is really the best word to sum up the 2011/12 season.

It makes me wonder where the club goes from here. Are we simply existing to play competitive games or are we developing players for the EIHL or to win trophies? I honestly don’t know. Many don’t know and that’s likely the problem.

This is not me throwing my toys out of the pram but me asking a genuine question about the team I love. I want to know what our goals are as an organisation and what the focus is for 2012/13. Is it to compete and be in the mix or is it to simply survive? Some may argue that Bison fans have an inflated sense of importance about our club, some probably do but I don’t think it’s too much for the fanbase, those that pay their money for season tickets, cup tickets, 50/50 tickets, shirt of the players back tickets, hotdogs and pints in the bar to know where we’re going. A statement of intent is needed.

Now I’m just an interested fan and it’s Planet Ice’s decision at the end of the day. They have the experience of running a hockey club, not me. I can only hope that next season the Bison take the step forward this club needs to avoid perceived stagnation. They are and will always be my team but sadly I don’t think 2011/12 will go down as our finest hour.

What about Moria? Does he stay or does he go? Judging by some of the tweets flying around after the loss, this may well be the end of one of the finest careers in the history of British ice hockey. As a coach I don’t think he ever got to the heights he did as a player but if this is “the end” of his playing career then it was an honour to watch a bit of it, even if it was the end. I don’t think Moria stays as just a coach is the only thing but maybe a change is what the Bison need. That said nothing is official on Moria, there will be more comment once something is confirmed.

 

So Coventry next weekend which will get the Banners On The Wall treatment with added views from the Coventry Blaze fans who are joining the Herd for the finals. Also over the summer we’ll be lining up interviews as well as going over all the signings with a fine tooth comb in Building the Herd. See you all at the Skydome!

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