Building the Herd – Tomas Karpov

#44 Tomas Karpov

Position: Forward

Born: Benešov, Středočeský kraj, Česká Republika

Announced as signed: Bison season ticket night, 4th June

(c) 5 Hole Photography

(c) 5 Hole Photography

Whilst being the first announced on the night, we’re getting to him last. Doug Sheppard made the evening’s of most Bison fans with the announcement that the club had re-signed EPL first team all star forward Tomas Karpov to a 3 year deal. Karpov’s contract sees a renewal of the club’s partnership with the University of Winchester as Karpov will spend the three years studying Business Management in the city.

Speaking to Banners On The Wall, Karpov said “I loved playing for Basingstoke and people around the club. The team was almost a family so I did not even think about changing anything and when I got this uni deal on top I couldnt be more happy now. I very much appreciate all the work Doug put in behind the scenes to make it happen.”

The 25 year old Karpov is a graduate of the Sparta Prague youth system, having been part of the club from the age of 12. After impressing at the World under 18 championships in 2007, Tomas was drafted by the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL in Canada and moved out to Canada where he played alongside players like current Maple Leafs’ forward Frazer McLaren.

Midway through his second season in Moose Jaw with the Warriors near the bottom of the standings, Karpov was traded to the Calgary Hitmen who were one of the best teams in the league and were top of the regular season standings. Karpov and the Hitmen went all the way to the WHL finals before being beaten out by a Kelowna Rockets team featuring Jamie Benn, Tyler Myers and Mikael Backlund.

After two years in Canada, Karpov moved back to his homeland where he rejoined Sparta. He played parts of two seasons in the Czech Extraliga but spent a lot of time between 2009 and 2012 being loaned out to clubs in the Czech second tier. After starting the 2012/13 season with Berounsti Medvedi, Karpov decided the time had come to leave the Czech Republic and signed on with Tom Watkins’ Telford Tigers. An instant hit on the ice, Karpov scored 38 points in 23 games on a Tigers’ side that is a far cry from the one now causing waves in the EPL.

The performances for Telford however impressed Doug Sheppard who managed to persuade Tomas to come to Basingstoke. It’s fair to say that his first season with the Bison was a successful one; the team’s top goal scorer, second in assists, team’s top points scorer, the EPL Cup, the EPL playoff title, game winning goal in the playoff final, man of the match in the playoff final, Coach’s player of the season, Supporters’ player of the season, Banners On The Wall’s player of the season and first team EPL all star. We can neither confirm nor deny if he’s bought a lottery ticket.

(c) 5 Hole Photography

(c) 5 Hole Photography

I’ve sat here trying to mull over all the all the things that are wrapped up in this signing for a while. There’s a bunch of stuff that needs to be examined in terms of the club and the league in a wider context. However we’ll start with the obvious thing first; this is an excellent bit of news.

It’s an obvious thing to do to try and get the team’s top scorer, creative engine and fan favourite re-signed. When that’s coupled with the trophies won by last season’s squad and Sheppard making a very obvious effort to keep as much of last season’s squad together as possible to try and maintain that spirit, not having to go out and find a new top level to buy into the systems and fits in so well is an added bonus.

Karpov’s link up with Andy Melachrino is well talked about and we’ve all sung the praises of the MKM enough already in the last 12 months. What he rarely gets credit for is his strength on and off the puck. Karpov is hard to dispossess and a lot of the time it’s because of his stickhandling but he’s no wallflower and can quite as easily hold his man at bay with his strength. He’s also not shy to play the body when he needs to. OK he’s not there to check a guy through the boards but he doesn’t shirk his forechecking and defensive responsibilities which is massively important. Our best attacking forward having a good two way game is a good thing. We now get that player for 3 years in the prime of his hockey playing life. He’s a player who can break a game wide open or do that one thing that will win a club the game. If nothing else, the overtime goal in the Spectrum against Guildford and his Hulk Hogan style celebration will long live in the memory.

The work done behind the scenes to get a three year deal signed with a 25 year old player of this quality needs praising as well.

When Karpov enrolls at Winchester in 2014, it will herald a new era of the deal between us, with the Bison offering Winchester students the opportunity to develop their skills as part of their courses.” Bison press release, 7/6/14

The renewal of this link up with the University of Winchester serves many purposes; aside from helping secure Karpov’s services, it might in the future help us secure other players of a high calibre. Having education as part of the package to attract players is nothing new to British hockey but not many teams in the EPL have it as an option (to my mind, Manchester are the only other team with a link up) and it’s a great weapon to have in the locker.

The addition of students from the university in a variety of functions is also a good thing for all concerned. In the past it gave us the lads who became Bolt Action Media who used to do the highlights packages before the current Bison TV as well as the club’s media man, Graham Bell who graduated from Winchester. Now, alongside the variety of media bits we may well see, students get a chance at first hand experience in a variety of areas and the club get access to extra facilities that might otherwise not be on offer to the club with the resources soley at its disposal from ownership.

There was one line that also really grabbed me in the release about the link up; “Winchester students will also be running events at the Basingstoke Arena on match-nights and throughout the season as we look to increase our corporate and community responsibilities. The boldings are mine and the choice of language is interesting. At the season ticket night, it was mentioned the club are trying to be more professional in its operations. This sort of language speaks to that also and we await that being put into place but the club needs to make sure it gets the balance between corporate and community right. The club as a whole benefits when there’s a strong and boundaried but ultimately not overbearing relationship with the fanbase. The club wanting to respond to sponsors comments about professionalism is fair enough and ultimately sensible; more sponsors means more income for the club but they need to be careful that they don’t go the other way and make the fans feel like they’re being shut out in favour of the sponsors.

The other issue that this signing throws up is how this fits in with the current consultation going on regarding the EIHA’s development plan. The section on the EPL talks about it being a “development league” where players aren’t full time professionals with multiyear contracts and a stronger focus on the development of British players. How does giving a 3 year contract with a massive incentive (a univeristy degree) to an import that the club will actively build the roster around play into this?

The club has reportedly taken some flack for this signing in light of this and from an objective standpoint you can see why. Here’s the issue; realisitically where we are in the summer of 2014, the clubs in the EPL and arguably the league management have long since abandoned the notion that it’s a development league in the agreed sense of the word. That said, even if the EPL was a development league of some real stripe this signing is entirely justifiable despite what the document says. The team will always have a British core and if the development is happening properly and players are moving onwards and upwards then that core will always be fluid and changing. Having a high quality import contracted to the team for a couple of years will add to the team’s stability as well as ultimately helping the players around them. I said yesterday that Karpov wasn’t the sole reason for the good season of Andy Melachrino and that’s true but playing alongside him certainly helped.

We’ve drifted a bit from Karpov the man in this piece because this signing is in some ways about more than just him. It’s been tied up in the resources and the direction that the club will take for the next 3 seasons which is a long time in hockey, especially British hockey which seems to change almost weekly.

The player himself however, having spoken to Tomas on a few occasions, won’t be fussed about such things. He wants to play hockey and ultimately that’s what he’s here to do. The Basingstoke Bison have rightly put a decent amount of stock in one of the league’s best players and have made him part of the furniture for the next 3 campaigns and want him as one of the focal points of the roster. It’s an entirely sensible thing to do; likeable and talented, Karpov is an easy man to put at the forefront of the on ice and marketing activities. Karpov himself will likely shrug it all off, he will just want to play and good on him. We’re all incredibly lucky that it’s here that he wants to play.

Welcome back, Tomas; as you can see from my writing, you probably shouldn’t ask me for essay writing tips.

Student off the ice, master on the ice yet can't put his helmet on properly... (c) 5 Hole Photography

Student off the ice, master on the ice yet can’t put his helmet on properly…
(c) 5 Hole Photography

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