Building the Herd – JJ Pitchley

#?? Jake James (JJ) Pitchley

Position: Forward

Born: Romford, Essex

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 18th June

Off the back of 3 British returnees to the club, Doug Sheppard released a new British name to join the Herd for the 2015/16 campaign in the form of 21 year old, JJ Pitchley who spent last season split between the Bracknell Bees and Hornets.

Romford born Pitchley began his hockey career in the town of his birth and was well established in under 16s hockey in his early teens, going over a point per game before leaving for Bracknell in 2009.

2009/10 saw Pitchley split his time between the under 16s where he scored an insane 47 points in 18 games and the under 18s where he scored 13 points in 10 games. Staying at Bracknell, Pitchley made his senior hockey debut for the Hornets the following season with 10 points in 27 games alongside a monstrous season for the under18s where he bettered his under 16s totals with 47 points in only 16 games.

For 2011/12, JJ headed back to Romford where he spent the majority of his time with the Romford Raiders in the ENL, tallying 11 points in 32 contests. He also played 9 times for Romford’s ENL2 side at the time, the Fury scoring 15 points in 9 games. The impressive last few seasons earned Pitchley a GB under18s call up for the division 2A world championships, earning 5 appearances.

Eyes were on Pitchley and he made the most of an opportunity that came his way as he traded Essex for Texas, joining the Dallas Snipers of the Western States Hockey League for 2012/13. Pitchley finished joint 2nd scorer on the Snipers with 32 points as the team finished 3rd in their division which saw them qualify for the playoffs. Unfortunately the best of 3 series didn’t go the Snipers way, seeing them lose the series 2-0 and ship 25 goals in those 2 games.

After his season in America, Pitchley returned to Britain and had a busy 2013/14 season. Starting off with Romford, Pitchley scored 12 points in 16 games for the Raiders before the crisis at Slough saw coach Craig Moran make use of his services. Pitchley scored 2 points in 29 games but was highly regarded for his physical style as he was used in a checking rather role than a scoring one.

Last season saw Pitchley return to Bracknell where he signed with the Hornets. Playing on a line with former Bison, Danny Ingoldsby, Pitchley was the Hornets’ top scorer as he had a career year with 54 points in 36 games. Pitchley was also called into the Bees line-up 13 times scoring 2 goals and 5 assists in that time.

This has been a signing that has been bubbling under the surface for a while. With Stuart Mogg moving to defence, Grant Rounding likely to miss the start of the season and with no news on a return or a departure of Andy Melachrino or Cameron Wynn just yet, the move to sign JJ Pitchley fills in something of a hole that kept cropping up whenever I tried to guess at Doug Sheppard’s line combinations for opening night.

At NIHL level, Pitchley has been highly regarded for a while. Impressive performances for Slough and Romford combined with last season’s free scoring performances with the Hornets have meant that EPL coaches have been keeping tabs on JJ.

I grabbed a few words from Danny Ingoldsby on the sort of player and person Pitchley is. The response was encouraging if somewhat humour laced; “He’s a good guy, a real hard worker! His scoring ability makes up for his looks. He never fails to rack up points, likes to chisel assists and has a good eye for the goal.”

Pitchley has a lot of the tools; he is a very fast and natural skater, he has good hands, he has a good level of physicality that he (normally) uses in a controlled manner, he passes well, he scores goals. The goal now for Pitchley is refinement at EPL level. He got some good ice time for the Bees last season; whilst Bracknell were not very good last season (and that’s being polite, thankfully the injection of monies from Red Hockey will hopefully rectify that), what it did give was young British players like Pitchley the chance at EPL level ice time. Credit where it’s due to Lukas Smital as a coach; he could have just shortened the bench and let these young guys play bit parts but instead he threw them in the deep end. It obviously didn’t help them reach the playoffs but Bracknell as a hockey town has always been about the bigger picture for the most part.

Pitchley is going to be a depth player in the main; I don’t think there’s much debate about that. He’s going to be asked to be physical and use his speed to chip in points where and when he can. The way he plays however does allow some flexibility and if there are injuries to any of the other wingers then expect him to be moved up the lines to fill a gap. Somebody with his speed will be a natural foil for naturally good passers like Karpov, Rand and Thompson. He is a natural scorer, you can see that in the other levels he’s played at but he is not going to have to shoulder the weight of the point scoring which is the right position for him to be in given the other names on the roster.

I’ve watched JJ Pitchley here and there over the last few years on my excursions to NIHL games, mainly on the island. His name has had that buzz to it (pardon the pun) for a while. I’m personally excited to get the chance to watch his game close up for longer. Given the talent this young man has, we should all be excited. If he clicks, we could be in for some fun.

Welcome aboard, JJ.

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