Building the Herd – Doug Sheppard

Building the Herd – Doug Sheppard

After the Bison’s 2-0 win in the first leg of the playoffs last night, the club announced that after leading the Herd to two consecutive second place finishes in the EPL and the 2013/14 EPL Cup that Doug Sheppard had signed a “multiyear” deal to return to the Herd.

#28 Doug Sheppard
Position: Forward
Born: Georgetown, Ontario, Canada
Announced as signed: Bison twitter, 29th March

Doug Sheppard (centre) is back as coach of the Bison on a new "multiyear" deal. (c) 5 Hole Photography

Doug Sheppard (centre) is back as coach of the Bison on a new “multiyear” deal.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Sheppard first came to British shores in 2004 with the Bison when they were under the stewardship of Mark Bernard, now a Stanley Cup winner and director of minor league operations for the Chicago Blackhawks. Bar a brief soujourn in Australia with the Sydney Bears, Sheppard has played all of the last 10 years in Britain joining the Bison from the Oklahoma City Blazers. Sheppard’s numbers in the British game make impressive reading; having played for the Bison in the EIHL and EPL, Sheffield Steelers and Slough Jets, Sheppard has played 527 regular season games scoring 236 goals and 333 assists for 569 points. He averaged a point per game in the EIHL and 1.2 points per game since coming to the EPL in 2010. Were Sheppard to play every game of the 2014/15 campaign, the final game of the season would be his 300th regular season Bison appearance.
In post season play since coming to Britain, Sheppard scored 13 points in 18 EIHL playoff games and 6 points in 10 EPL playoff games. The 37 year old won 1 league and two playoff titles with the Steelers and a cup and playoff title with Slough before ending the Bison’s 14 year trophy wait with this season’s EPL Cup win over the Milton Keynes Lightning.
This might have been the easiest organisational decision for the Bison in quite a few years. As a coach he’s been responsible for our best EIHL and EPL finishes, the first appearance at a playoff finals weekend since the start of the Elite League and our first trophy since the B&H Plate (which for those of you who don’t remember it, we still hold. The Bison were the final winners). Off the ice, the press release credits Sheppard with “spearheading the club’s drive in the local community, helping to rebuild our corporate brand and bringing record attendances into the Arena this season”. Why wouldn’t you bring that guy back?
Sheppard the coach is a very obvious choice for John Neville and Planet Ice. The Moria years brought stability back to the Bison; competitive teams and decent attendences after nearly seeing the club go out of existence. The Sheppard years so far have built on that foundation and given Bison fans something to really cheer about again.
This hasn’t been without its questions of his coaching decisions; the release of Tomas Fojtik for Jaroslav Cesky, the signing of Joe Rand, bringing back Dean Skinns, not re-signing Tony Redmond and some of these have worked and some haven’t. Sheppard will chop and change lines, shorten the bench and all sorts but it all generally seems to come good more often than it doesn’t.
One of the reasons for that is Sheppard is, at this level at any rate, a pretty decent recruiter. Yes Planet Ice have given him a decent budget to work with (and before anyone says “it’s not as big as everyone thinks”, it’s not like Shep’s having to pay the entire roster on good will and biscuits) but for 2013/14 Sheppard’s roster has been incredibly well rounded and successful as a result. The 2012/13 roster was good and a few key pieces fell into his lap with Stevie Lyle and Greg Owen wanting to be near home but this season’s team with arguably less star power has a bit more of everything that was needed and has been more effective as a result. Even when changes were forced upon him, he reacted well and made some very effective pickups in Wales and Long who have added to the lineup. Sheppard as well as always tried to bring through younger players. We all look to Ingoldsby, Mogg and Wynn but this Bison roster has 9 players aged 21 and under. Melachrino, Sullivan, Connolly; all under 21 and all playing signifficant minutes in signifficant situations. It’s a development league, right?
The discussion over Sheppard the player is more interesting and complex. It feels weird to mention his age, the team’s captain is 4 years old than Sheppard and his predecessor retired at 51 but for some players, 37 is an age to think about calling time. As a player, Sheppard is coming off his worst season statistically in Britain having scored half of last season’s points total and had a long period where he didn’t score a point from December into the new year. He kept putting himself out in situations when his play probably meant he should have sent someone else out and his faceoff percentage was lower than a student’s bank balance.
The good thing was that Sheppard noticed. He rejigged the lines (I know, shocker) and found a combination that worked well combining himself with Joe Rand and Aaron Connolly to have a line that could serve two purposes depending on the game situation. It’s a line with offensive capabilities as well as the skillset to be a more run of the mill 3rd line crash and bang outfit. Sheppard had two line mates that allowed him to play more of his natural two way game whilst having arguably two more out and out scoring lines to provide different options.
I think the approach to Sheppard playing taken by the club is sensible. Sheppard gives it a year and sees how he does and if that’s it and he wants to move permanently to the bench then so be it. The notion that the Bison could feasibly be moving towards having a full time bench coach in the EPL is an interesting given the cost saving measure that having a player/coach provides but ultimately it’s the better thing to have someone focussed on coaching rather than coaching and playing.
There is only one question I have; what does “multiyear” constitute? Is it 2 years, 3 years, 30 years? That was the only thing that stuck out for me. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good deal for the Bison but it would be nice to know what time frame Sheppard has to work with. We all knew Moria had 3 years, how long does Sheppard have to work with?
This remains the only question over the new deal for #28. If you’re genuinely wondering why he’s been re-signed. I refer you back to the picture at the top of the page. I’m not sure management could have asked for any more.
Welcome back, Shep, same again please.

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