Goodnight and Good Luck – Tomas Fojtik

Just over a year to the day when Steve Moria released Marek Dubec, Bison player/coach Doug Sheppard moved to improve the Bison squad with the announcement of the release of Czech defenceman Tomas Fojtik.


What have we lost?

It depends who you ask. Some (and it must be said they are in the minority from the reactions I have read) felt he was an average or below average defender who didn’t use his size very well. The majority felt he was a hard hitting defenceman who was a decent stay at home presence. Many people warmed to his style of play because he would just crush people and would make a move to dispossess the onrushing attacker. He wasn’t high scoring but many argued that he didn’t need to be given the quality of forwards that we have.


Where has he gone?

Tomas has been announced by the Telford Tigers in what almost looks like an NHL style trade in the EPL. It’s not actually that, that’s just the way it’s worked out.


Who replaces him?

In what is proving one of the more controversial moves of the season, former Bees and Wildcats forward Jaroslav Cesky joins the Herd. The likely change is Tony Redmond moves to defence to cover with, I’m guessing, the odd occasional appearance for Greg Chambers in certain formations where we’re putting out a lot of firepower.


Final words:

On the surface, this makes no sense. I’ll admit when I first heard the rumours (and we all heard the rumours) that I couldn’t make sense of it. I couldn’t fathom what I was hearing because mostly you’re right; to make changes when you’re doing well makes no sense. At least one person tweeted me today saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and I don’t blame people for agreeing with that assessment. In a conversation with a well respected member of the Basingstoke hockey community, my initial plan for discussing this was to write nothing at all but have a 15 second video where all I did was look at the camera and say “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

The more I think about it though, the more I understand why the decision was taken to release Tomas. Notice I said understand, not agree. I’ll elaborate on that in a bit.

There are two possible reasons why this has happened; one is purely conjecture whereas the other one is more visible in the numbers. We’ll start with the numbers. It’s not a secret that we have a decent defence this season, mainly because of the heroics of Stevie Lyle. The format has been simple; let Lyle see the shot because if he sees the shot he will save it. We’ve conceded the fewest goals in the league even with shipping 6 in Guildford and Lyle’s numbers are insane. The numbers on offence though aren’t quite as stellar.

The Bison are doing well, very well however we’re not scoring as much as the coach would probably like. Someone tweeted me about issues with the third line, that’s not it I think. We’re not doing this for defensive purposes. With the signing of Cesky we will be massively adding to our firepower and with the ability to move someone like Redmond back onto defence, allows us to spread the scoring power of 4 import forwards across the three lines. It adds a new dimension to the team not seen in the EPL since Slough did it in 2008/09. Even then the EPL is a very different place from the league of 3 to 4 years ago.

Then we have the conjecture; that Fojtek didn’t fit in with either his team mates or his coach. Many people did comment to me that Tomas sat by himself at the end of the bench and didn’t seem to interact with the rest of the team during games. I didn’t think much of it at the time but you can see why, with the benefit of hindsight, people think that might be a factor. Rumblings did reach me of problems in the dressing room with Fojtik but as I said, that’s only conjecture. None of us are inside the dressing room. (Unless some of the players are reading this and they won’t tell us anyway, nor should we expect them to.)

Fojtik himself responded to the situation in reply to a post on the Bison facebook page saying “Thanks guys, I really enjoyed the time in Bisons! But I think some other team will maybe appreciate my work more then bisons did.” It doesn’t take a genius from reading that either a. something was awry, b. he’s unhappy at being released when he thought he was playing well or c. both.

I know a lot of people are not pleased about this move. The coach has released a player who was very popular with a fanbase who were really warming to him at a time when the team are doing much better than in previous years. It also means the Bison have an all British defensive and netminding corps which is nearly unprecedented in the EPL but we, the fans who are outsiders to the process also need to remember one crucial thing; Doug Sheppard does know what he is doing and will have thought this all through. I said that in the piece welcoming Chambers back to Basingstoke and I believe most of us think that’s been a good call so far. Whether that earns Sheppard another roll of the dice in that regard is your own decision.

If you take the above factors into account then you can see why Sheppard is taking this gamble. That’s why I said “understand” rather than “agree” because the proof of this decision by Sheppard really will be in the pudding and we’re going out of the realm of experience for many of us. I don’t think I can fully agree whether this is a good idea or not until I get the chance to see the team playing together. Someone out of that very good top 6 set of forwards is now effectively a third line forward and I want to see how this team does against Slough before I can fully say whether I agree with this or not. To change up a defensive unit that has conceded the fewest goals in the league seems crazy but we’re always told the line between madness and genius is thin. Time and accumulation of silverware will prove Coach Sheppard either the genius or the fool.

Whatever is said and done, Tomas was a well liked member of the Herd however short his time was here and all the best to him with the Tigers.


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