Building the Herd – Michael Wales

#6 Michael Wales

Born: Gillingham, Kent

Position: Forward

Announced as signed: Bison website/Gazette, 21/11/13

Fans of the Herd were greeted to a surprise this Thursday morning with the announcement that Doug Sheppard had won the race to sign free agent British forward Michael ‘Muzzy’ Wales.

Wales, 31 was in his second season with the Slough Jets and had been named club captain for the 2013/14 campaign but was announced as having been released by the Berkshire club on Saturday ahead of the Jets’ weekend fixtures due to financial constraints. Wales’ last appearance for Slough was Sunday’s 2-0 loss to the Bison in Basingstoke.

Speaking to Banners On The Wall today, Wales was in good spirits ahead of his debut on Saturday against the Peterborough Phantoms.

The deal came about quite quickly it seemed.

Well Doug and I spoke in the summer, we’ve spoken the last couple of summers but once the situation (at Slough) became clear I spoke to a couple of teams but yeah, glad to be here. I’m excited. I like the team, I like their attitude and I’m ready to get going.

You’ve played against the Bison this season; given what you’ve seen and know, what do you add to the mix?

Well there’s already enough goalscorers and playmakers in the team, guys like (Tomas) Karpov who is a great player and I’ll just add a bit more grit. I play a similar game to Aaron (Connolly) who I played with last year at Slough and he’s played really well. We might get paired up together, we’ll wait and see.

Fans and guys you play with love you, those you play against hate you. Is that a conscious part of your game? Do you actively try to be that agitator is that just part of your game that evolved?

I always knew as a junior that I was never going to the most (pauses to think of the word) flash player but I wanted to go out there play 110% and give my all every shift. I doing that and finishing my checks ruffles a few feathers then so be it and the time comes when you have to back that up and that’s fine.

In the Gazette, Doug Sheppard said he hated playing against you. Who do you hate playing against? (You can say Chinny if you want)

I actually really like playing against players who play like me. I love playing against Chinny and then we’ll have a laugh about it in the bar. Nobody really, there’s no one particular player I could name. What I don’t like are players who go around doing stuff that won’t then back it up.

Any final message for the fans?

I’m really looking forward to it. It’ll be good to put the Bison shirt back on. I’ve spoken to Doug about what’s expected and what the plans are. The team is hungry to win, they’re hungry to win silverware and I’m here to help them do that.

Wales’ senior hockey career does date back to 1996/97 when he appeared in 3 games for his local Medway Bears (a precursor to today’s Invicta Dynamos) but he made his real break into senior hockey in 2000 with the Milton Keynes Kings, making 28 appearances for them in the BNL scoring 2 goals whilst also playing 4 times for the England u20 side that played in the EPL.

Wales moved to Solihull Barons, then in the EPL in 2001/02 and has played in the league in some capacity ever since. Muzzy scored 21 points in 19 contests with the Hobbs Moat Road side.

After returning to Kent in 2002 for one season with Invicta Dynamos (39 games, 32 points) 2003 saw Wales move to the club he’s most commonly associated with, the Milton Keynes Lightning.

Wales had a 9 season association with the Thunderdome side and to say he was a firm fan favourite is something of an understatement. Across 9 campaigns, he iced 344 times in the regular season scoring 88 goals and 214 assists for 302 points winning league and playoff doubles in 2004 and 2005, the playoffs in 2006 and another EPL title in 2010. During that time Wales did see EIHL action as well. Between 2003 and 2006, Wales played on two-way contracts with the Bison making 20 appearances and scoring 6 points. He also started the 2006/07 season as a full time member of the Coventry Blaze, tallying 1 assist in 21 games but returned to the Lightning for more ice time.

Wales’ time at MK came to an end after not being re-signed by Nick Poole and he was quickly snapped up by Slava Koulikov at Slough along with team mate Matt Towalski. Wales was quickly named captain and in his first season played the full 54 game season scoring an impressive 39 points. This season he had 4 goals and 3 assists for 7 points in his 17 games with the Jets ahead of his release.

Muzzy also iced in two World Junior championships (division 2) with Great Britain. Bar injury, suspension and my maths being wrong, Wales will make his 500th career EPL appearance when the Bison take on the MK Lightning in Basingstoke on Saturday 1st February 2014.

From Hanger to Herd - in his last game as captain of Slough, Michael Wales embraces his friend and new captain, Nicky Chinn (c) 5 Hole Photography

From Hanger to Herd – in his last game as captain of Slough, Michael Wales embraces his friend and new captain, Nicky Chinn
(c) 5 Hole Photography

 

Given the last piece on the blog, this is rather interesting timing. For those of you who weren’t at Sunday’s game against Slough, Michael Wales was the model professional for the Jets. His line was Slough’s best line as he, Matt Towalski and Alan Lack went out as a traditional grinding third line and they were very good at it. Some players sometimes when they’re about to leave look disinterested, some just do odd things (anyone else remember Tomas Fojtik’s sudden Mindy Kieras impression) and the good ones go out, play 60 minutes and give their all ala Marek Dubec. Ala Michael Wales.

It will surprise nobody (and probably least of all Muzzy himself) to learn that the fan in me at times hated watching us play against Wales, he’s just one of those players that engenders you to boo if he’s on the other team. When you take a step back and just watch him play though it’s not hard to see what he adds.

The problem from the writer’s perspective is that Muzzy is a player that throws up a lot of hockey clichés; he’s gritty, he goes into the dirty areas, he’s an agitator, he’s chippy. I suppose the argument is this, “is it a cliché if it’s actually true?”

Wales’ game has evolved as he’s gotten older but it hasn’t changed. You know what you’re getting every time. The bigger shock to some people is probably his scoring return. The numbers show whilst a lot of hockey fans up and down the country have been jeering at him, across his EPL career he’s a 0.7 point per game Brit. Those aren’t numbers to be sniffed at.

What Wales also adds is that more traditional grinding forward to the side that the Bison haven’t had under Sheppard. We have good power forwards of different moulds (Greener, Rand) and we have plenty of players that are happy to take the body and go into the corners but any “checking” line we’ve had has been players with speed and a bit of physical edge rather than someone who is more specialised in that area like Wales. It adds some interesting breadth to the Bison line up. As Muzzy said, we have enough goal scorers and playmakers. Factor in as well that Wales is more than happy to drop the gloves on occasion then it’s certainly a positive move.

This does offer up the question as to whether anyone leaves. The Bison now have 13 forwards under contract, does this mean someone is out the door? It’s tough to say and expect rumours to start flying around because, well this is British hockey. Some things are kept quiet but the other 99% of stuff has a habit of making its way out.

NEWSFLASH: All of about 10 minutes after we posted this, the club announced that Tim Burrows is leaving with immediate effect and Joe Miller will be leaving on 1st January 2014 having been “approached by another club whilst under contract with Basingstoke”.  BOTW will be doing a Goodnight and Good Luck for Tim over the weekend and for Joe when he eventually leaves.  There has already been a tweet from Planet Ice head honcho John Neville claiming “1 EPL club has no respect 4 (sic) the league it plays in”.

The signing of Wales is somewhat thrown into sharp relief as a result of this but this piece is about Muzzy so we’ll look at this in greater detail at another time.

Whatever happens, the Bison have picked up a player that will not back down and not give up. If this really is the year for a trophy to finally make its way to Hampshire, we’re going to need players like this.

Welcome back Muzzy, onwards and upwards.

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