Building the Herd – Miroslav Vantroba

#18 Miroslav Vantroba

Position: Defence

Born: Spisska Nova Ves, Slovakia

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 14th May

More of Miro; Slovak defenceman Miroslav Vantroba has signed on for 2015/16 in Basingstoke. (c) 5 Hole Photography

More of Miro; Slovak defenceman Miroslav Vantroba has signed on for 2015/16 in Basingstoke.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Basingstoke Bison coach Doug Sheppard continued to show faith in last season’s defence by announcing that import defenceman Miroslav Vantroba would return for 2015/16.

The big Slovakian blueliner will be 36 when his third season in Hampshire starts in September after a successful first 2 campaigns for the Bison. Over 2 seasons, Vantroba has made 102 appearances scoring 17 goals and 63 assists making him the Herd’s highest scoring defenceman last season and one of the highest scoring defenders in the EPIHL.

Vantroba having made his senior debut with his home town team Spisska Nova Ves in 1999. After time with Kosice and a one season stint in the Czech Republic with Karlovy Vary and a return to Kosice, Vantroba had a 3 year stint with MHC Martin where he won the 2008/09 Continental Cup alongside recently announced Dundee Stars netminder Vlastimil Lakosil.

Moves to Banska Bystrica and Zvolen followed before his last season in Slovakia where the split time between Spisska and Nitra. Vantroba’s senior career in Slovakia spans 675 games with 642 in the top flight for a total of 244 points and 709 penalty minutes in the regular season. Vantroba has also made 61 playoff appearances in the Extraliga with 11 points. He also made 4 appearances for his country in international play.

So a 4th member of the 2014/15 defence is back and we’re really starting to get the feeling that any other defensive signing is purely going to be depth at this stage. Reynolds, Balmer and Baird are back and now the return of the big number 18 really means that whatever direction Sheppard chooses to go with the netminding this term, it’s business as usual for the defence and the systems they had in place last year. This is reassuring to a degree. Stability is a good thing as well as in rare supply in British hockey but also over the last 2 seasons, that Bison defence has the second best goals against per game ratio at 3.08. (Unsurprisingly, that best is Telford whose GA per game over the same period is 0.09 better but they only conceded 119 goals in 14/15) When you consider the change from Sullivan to Balmer for year two as well as Selby’s addition then injury and the usage of Michael Wales and Stuart Mogg on defence, for all the criticisms of Sheppard’s development of younger defenders you can’t deny that whatever tactics being used defensively are working. It is that consistency at the back that has kept the Bison as challengers during Sheppard’s tenure as the coach in the EPL and in games when the attack has misfied. That is in no small part to Vantroba who uses his size well, skates well and has really good positional awareness. Having a top 2 of Vantroba and Reynolds who are individually two of the best defenders in the league is a good foundation that Sheppard has kept together for a reason. It’s a signing that has paid large dividends for the Bison which isn’t bad given that when he originally signed Vantroba, Sheppard hadn’t ever seen him play.

When I discuss Vantroba with people, some don’t like him. They feel that he makes too many mistakes, isn’t responsible in his own zone and gets caught high too often. Now Vantroba is guilty of making mistakes and getting caught high but on the whole if he was as bad as his critics claim that he is, those numbers I’ve quoted wouldn’t look like that. The argument that he’s not responsible in his own zone certainly doesn’t hold water with me. Whilst being caught high is a downside to his game given his tendency to join the rush, it’s also partially symptomatic of the Bison’s game plan. The high press the Herd play is a high risk strategy but it’s also high reward and ultimately an argument that it’s causing a major downfall for the Bison over the course of the season isn’t borne out by the numbers. In individual games, yes it has cost them, the playoff quarter final second leg against Manchester is a good example but you can’t shoulder that defeat solely on one man.

I rarely use scoring numbers to justify signing a defenceman, what I’ll call the “Marcel Petran justification” and I won’t do so here. Vantroba’s a defenceman first and the secondary scoring is just that; secondary however his offensive contributions are a definite upside to his game. I was interested to read Sheppard call Vantroba “the first true quarterback of the powerplay I have ever had” in the press release because Greg Chambers was also very good at it but there’s no denying that it’s another of Miro’s strengths. If anything his contribution to quarterbacking the powerplay has become an easier task because of the additional offensive threat on the first powerplay unit by having Greener or Karpov on the half boards or Long at the other point. Obviously it’s no secret that on a good day, Miro will spend the better part of the whole powerplay on the ice and it’s somewhat obvious that he’s probably going to shoot the puck in that time (and let’s face it, most teams in the EPL follow the same pattern) but having someone who runs the powerplay a high standard and can get pucks on net efficiently is a plus.

Getting down to brass tacks, for me Miroslav Vantroba is one of the best defencemen in the league. There’s obviously arguments as to who is the best and there’s an element of subjectivity involved but adding in some of the objective things we can look at like the team’s results and his own numbers show that he is a top tier player in his position in the league. Age isn’t on his side and we don’t know how many years he has left in him but I certainly wouldn’t argue with him spending the majority of those years in a Bison jersey.

Welcome back, Miro.

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