Goodnight and Good Luck – Zach Sullivan

After arguably the finest season of his young career, another player leaves the Bison with the loss to the squad of Zach Sullivan.

Speaking to Banners On The Wall about his departure, Sullivan said, “I’ve enjoyed my time at the Bison and loved every minute playing with the boys. Winning the double makes my time there so much more special and I’ll always hold Basingstoke dear to my heart. I’ve had an opportunity I cannot refuse considering the circumstances and have no choice but to take it and make the most of the chance and further my career.”

(c) 5 Hole Photography

(c) 5 Hole Photography

What have we lost?

With Sullivan’s departure, the Bison lose arguably one of the best British defensive prospects in the country. If 2012/13 was a year where people were impressed with Sullivan, 2013/14 was the season when he broke out. It wasn’t a case of him scoring tons of points (though his haul of 12 last season is a career best in senior hockey) but it was the season where his play stepped up that extra bit so people really saw just how much potential he has.

Having played top line minutes as well as special teams minutes, the Bison now need to find a top 4 defenceman who can play that solid, defensively responsible game that will be required. Sully’s other great skill was making good decisions on the puck. He was a low errors, high efficiency player for the Bison and Coach Sheppard now needs to find someone to fill part of or all of those roles.

Where has he gone?

Zach has signed a two year deal with the Braehead Clan in the Elite League.

http://www.braeheadclan.com/news/340/news-clan-sign-sullivan-on-two-year-deal.html#.U2eBQKIVeSo

Zach follows in the same vein as Ryan Watt and Sam Zajac, both being Bison players who have played in Glasgow.

There is also an audio interview with Craig Anderson of Slapshot Scotland on the Clan’s website. http://www.braeheadclan.com/news/339/news-2nd-player-confirmed.html

Who replaces him?

At the moment, nobody though there’s obviously players that Doug Sheppard will be keeping tabs on.

Final thoughts

Whilst from a Bison perspective this isn’t great news, the fact that an Elite League team has handed out a two year contract to Zach Sullivan is already arguably one of the shrewdest bits of business of the summer.

Arguments about the new EIHL import rules have been fuelling many discussions, especially the assertion that there weren’t enough British players to fill the requisite jobs. The problem, at least from the perspective of this writer, was that there are players like Zach Sullivan and others besides who are coming up through the English Premier League who are ready to make that jump but weren’t being given the chance by Elite League coaches. The business of the EIHL isn’t to develop players ultimately but players who are good enough to make that step up need to develop and grow into the EIHL style of play and that’s one thing that I think EIHL teams seem reluctant to do or even realise in some regards. The players who have been given that chance (Paul Swindlehurst being the well trodden example) are turning out to be great assets to the teams they play for as opposed to those who haven’t been given that chance and are expected to suddenly be instantly amazing like Aaron Nell was in Sheffield.

Sullivan signing for the Clan is a signing that makes sense for both parties. The Clan’s GM Gareth Chalmers gave a very open and reasoned account of the issues the club were facing getting Brits to sign during the import level arguments during the week and securing Sullivan, who will be 20 in July, for 2 years allows the club not only some security as to the services of an up and coming British defenceman but also a chance to develop him and get him used to their style of play. Sullivan steps in to the hole in the Clan roster left with the departure of Sam Zajac to Telford. Whether that’s an upgrade, I’ll leave to Clan supporters to decide.

For Sullivan, it’s job security, such as it is in British hockey along with the chance to test himself regularly at the higher level. Braehead are in the weaker conference of the EIHL but the quality of play is still a good step above what he will see at EPL level. Whilst some might argue that another season at EPL level wouldn’t hurt his development (and I don’t believe it would have), if the chance is there to step up and test yourself then why not do it? Sullivan has been training with the Coventry Blaze during the 2013/14 season so is no stranger to the intensity and expectations placed upon players at that level from a preparation side if nothing else. The next step is to transfer those qualities he has and those learned into regular playing time in Braehead. Doug Sheppard recommended Sullivan to his former team mate, now Clan coach Ryan Finnerty and that recommendation along with those within the GB setup appears to have helped Zach secure this deal. Sheppard wouldn’t have recommended someone he didn’t think was ready, Zach says in his interview with the Clan website that he wanted to give it a go and it’s happened.

The Bison are now left with a large hole to fill in its blueline corps but with some in the league’s top tier doubting the players coming through, many eyes will be on Sullivan to see how his rapid rise from juniors, through NIHL to EPL and now EIHL continues. The prevailing wind from the Bison fans I know shows that many are sad to see him leave but are not surprised this call has come.

All the best Zach and enjoy Glasgow; first battered mars bar is on you and I look forward to your purple mohawk for next year’s playoffs.

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