Building the Herd – Declan Balmer

#24 Declan Balmer

Position: Defence

Born: Kingston upon Hull, Humberside

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 3rd July

Declan Balmer (left) is the newest member of the Basingstoke Bison (c) 5 Hole Photography

Declan Balmer (left) is the newest member of the Basingstoke Bison
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Bison coach Doug Sheppard finalised the defence in Basingstoke for the 2014/15 season with the signing of Declan Balmer from league rivals, the Peterborough Phantoms.

Recently turned 19, Hull born Balmer will be entering his second full season in the EPL after 18 months in Cambridgeshire.

Balmer started his junior hockey in his home town playing 2 years of under 16s with the Kingston Crunch before heading to Bradford to start the 2010/11 season splitting his time that campaign between the under 16s and under 18s.

2011/12 saw Declan make his debut in senior hockey as he was drafted into the Bulldogs ENL campaign making 24 appearances and scoring 15 points. He also had an impressive season with the under 18s in Bradford scoring 40 points in 11 games.

His performances caught the eye of a couple of coaches and found himself on a two way contract for 2012/13. Balmer played for the Solway Sharks in the NIHL 1 North scoring 3 points in 25 games as part of the Sharks’ league winning side as well as scoring 2 assists for the Phantoms in 22 EPL games as Balmer graced the top level of EIHA play for the first time.

His performances for the Phantoms saw him earn a full contact for the 2013/14 season. In what was a challenging season for the Phantoms, Declan played 50 games games where he tallied 7 assists and 72 PIMs.

Declan is also a Great Britain junior international having represented his country at under 18 level 10 times tallying 1 assist and 10 appearances for the under 20s including last year’s World u20 division 1B championships held at Solway where he plied his trade with the Sharks.

So the first section of the Bison roster is now complete as the 6th and final member is announced in Declan and I’ll tell you what; I like this signing.

A few people might be apprehensive of signing a defenceman from a team that missed the playoffs to essentially replace an EPL all star in Zach Sullivan. It’s an obvious concern to have. With Brendan Baird occupying the 6th defenceman role akin to Carl Graham at the end of last season and Matt Selby now into the lineup full time, a lot of scrutiny suddenly falls on Balmer to be a like for like replacement but Declan’s game is not really that of Zach’s.

Balmer is 15lbs heavier and 5 inches taller. At 6’2 and nearly 200lbs he is a more imposing figure than Sullivan is and is a more physical player though the nature of their games is relatively similar. Low errors, low scoring stay at home defencemen who make the good first pass are a needed commodity on all teams. Now Declan’s PIMs are higher, that’s a by-product of a more physical nature of his play but ultimately they are different kinds of defenceman so whilst in terms of names on a roster sheet, it now reads Declan Balmer instead of Zach Sullivan. We don’t need him to be Zach Sullivan, we need him to be Declan Balmer.

So what does the Bison defence look like now with Balmer in it? The overall size is increased with his addition and given he’s likely to be 3rd or 4th defenceman the second pairing will likely see Declan with Matt Selby is now a much more old school shutdown pairing that will go out and wallop people. That’s two young defenceman, both 19, with a lot of responsibility on their shoulders in 5 on 5 play as special teams (though more likely penalty kill than powerplay in Balmer’s case). There are some who would be unnerved by that and I think that’s excusable but in true BOTW style, I’m rather looking forward to it.

The blueline corps has skill, size, physicality, youth, experience and depth going into the defence of the Bison’s two trophies. The one thing that the defence doesn’t appear to have is a massive amount of points production but, and this somewhat adds into the discussion I had with a few EPL fans at the end of the 2013/14 season over whether Marcel Petran should have been an EPL all star; you don’t sign defenceman to score but to defend. Having a defenceman scoring 60 points means little if you lose 2/3rds of your games and given the needs in the Bison defence in response to the players that left, a positionally responsible hard hitting defender is a much more sensible and necessary pick up than a free scoring offensive defenceman.

Welcome to Basingstoke, Declan. We’re all looking forward to it.

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