Building the Herd – Michael Wales

#6 Michael Wales

Position: Forward

Born: Gillingham, Kent

Announced as signed: Bison website, 29/5/14

(c) 5 Hole Photography

(c) 5 Hole Photography

Doug Sheppard once again reached into his Thursday signing announcement bag to give the Bison fans the return to Basingstoke of another mid-season acquisition in the form of Michael “Muzzy” Wales.

I have been out of the cast for two weeks now and I am swimming and just starting to ride the bike. I’m also trying to grow the hair back along with my calf muscle that seems to have disappeared.” said Wales when asked as to how his rehab was going. “Unfortunately as I said to Gemma (Michael’s wife) I’m still in rehab so can’t put too much stress on the ankle, things like ironing and washing up are a little further down the rehab process!”

Wales also offered his assessment of the Bison’s 2013/14 campaign; “After joining from slough during the season last year to win 2 trophies and just miss out on the League still hasn’t completely sunk it yet. We had such a great spirit and desire in the team to succeed and this is one of the key factors for me returning. The team we are putting together is one that I know will be battling to defend its trophies and try to secure that league title that got away from us last year.

For me as a player I know I have a lot more to offer offensively compared to last season, moving teams half way through a season with new structures and systems wasn’t the easiest thing to do but I just cant wait to start with the Bison and hit the ground running with the team.

The players that have already been signed are huge for the team, to keep the core of players from last year is vital to our success.

Lastly I’m looking forward to battling it out with Aaron for Movember properly this year, he will not win!”

Wales, who turns 32 in August is a veteran campaigner in the EPL having played part or all of the last 14 seasons with the England u20s, Solihull, Invicta, Slough and most famously with the Milton Keynes Lightning. Wales’ totals alone for the Thunderdome side are impressive enough, with 344 games across 9 seasons and a total of 238 points along with 3 league titles and 4 playoff titles. Muzzy’s contract with the Lightning wasn’t renewed by Nick Poole in the summer of 2012 which saw him move to the Hanger to become the captain of the Slough Jets. After a season and a half with the Jets and financial issues starting to take hold of the Berkshire side, Wales was released and was quickly signed by Doug Sheppard in November. After trying a few combinations to see where he best fitted, Wales was eventually partnered with the free scoring Tomas Karpov and Andy Melachrino and the MKM combination started causing massive issues for the league’s defences. After helping secure the EPL Cup against the Lightning, Wales had his season ended thanks to a broken ankle against Swindon at the Link Centre meaning he missed the playoff run. This didn’t stop Wales being present on the bench to encourage the team on to the double.

The first thing about this signing is this; luckily Muzzy appears to be overcoming his injury and both he and Doug Sheppard believe he will be fit for the upcoming season. Aside from the fact he will be playing for “my team”, it’s good to hear that he’s looking to be back for 2014/15 season.

When he joined in November, I made the point that playing against Muzzy makes you hate him and having him play for you means that you love him but Michael is a player who you appreciate whatever side of the equation you are on.

When he eventually settled and that place for him was found alongside Melachrino and Karpov, it was like they’d played together forever. It’s a really simple combination that works really well. Karpov in particular is never given enough quality for his grit but alongside two more quote unquote skill players, Wales made that top line for the Bison much better rounded. He would create that space required, he would park himself in front of the net and he’d do some of the dirty work that allowed Andy and Tomas to concentrate on more of what they’re better at. It seems in some ways like an easy job, he’s there to get in the way, but it’s not an easy job and it’s a vitally important one.

Wales’ other great strength is that veteran leadership he adds to the roster. Whilst he was captain at Slough, again like Reynolds I don’t think Wales needs a letter on his jersey to be a leader on this team. Muzzy’s a warhorse in many ways; he’s not the flash player and won’t score you 100 points a season but he’s respected for the job he does and he does that job well. You only had to watch the Bison bench at times last season to see the familiar faces who would talk but on of the more frequent talkers in good or bad situations (along with Connolly obviously) was Wales.

How Muzzy gets used this season remains to be seen because, as yet, we don’t know the whereabouts of his two linemates from last season. Wales mentioned above about how he knows he has more to contribute offensively to the team and if there’s a knock to be had on his performance last season then his points would be it but the role he ends up filling will play massively into that. He will score more points on a line with Karpov and Melachrino over the season that he would on a grinding line or if something happened and he had to play a substantial number of games on defence. You can’t expect 30 points out of a guy who is not playing in a role to score them.

The most important thing at the moment for Muzzy however is to get fit whilst not overdoing it on his rehab ahead of opening night. The Bison will benefit much more from a fully fit Wales starting a week late than one who has pushed too hard and come back too soon.

Welcome back Muzzy, I await your Movember efforts with anticipation.

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