Building the Herd – Ralfs Circenis

#33 Ralfs Circenis

Position: Forward

Born: Latvia (seriously, that’s all we know)

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 16th July

With the Bison squad for 2015/16 taking shape, Doug Sheppard has added depth to the side with the capture of Ralfs Circenis from Solent Devils of NIHL1 South.

17 year old Circenis, who turns 18 in September was born in Latvia and represented his native land at under 18 level during the 2014/15 season but having played junior hockey in England since 2010 he will not count against the Bison’s import quota.

Circenis had his first taste of under 16s hockey at the Gosport Arena with Solent’s under 16 side, the Cruisers in the 2010/11 season going a point per game.

After a brief spell with the Bison’s under 16s in 2011, Circenis moved up to Surrey and started a very productive time in the Guildford junior system finishing 2011/12 with 15 points from 14 games with the the Firestars.

2012/13 saw Circenis register almost insane numbers as he scored 27 goals and 65 points in just 20 games at under 16. Circenis also played up to under 18s level with the Guildford Phoenix, going a point per game there.

Moving to under 18s full time for 2013/14 saw another mammoth points total with 41 points in 16 games but also his first taste of senior action as he made he debut for the Devils at the end of the season. Ralfs registered 2 goals and an assist in 4 regular season games as well as a goal in 2 playoff games.

2014/15 saw a more permanent move into senior hockey for Circenis as he was dual registered for Guildford’s under 18s and the Devils alongside netminder Sam Calder and defenceman Monty Gailer. 18 points in 13 under 18s games for the Phoenix came alongside an impressive return for a first full season in seniors with 27 points in 28 games with 98 PIMs and 1 assist in 2 games as the Devils bowed out in the playoff quarter finals to Invicta Dynamos.

This is a bit of a different signing but one that certainly brings a degree of intrigue with it and it’s certainly peaked my interest when it was rumoured a couple of weeks ago. The numbers tell an instant story; this lad appears to be well acquainted with the location of the net. An international under 18s call up for a nation a fair sight better at hockey than our own shows that this lad is on the radars of some influential people.

Circenis looks to be a very exciting player; a natural goal scorer who plays with an edge was the initial scouting report that I had on him from folks within NIHL circles. People have called his style of play somewhere between Ciaran Long and Joe Greener in the sense that he likes to score and he’s not afraid to throw some hands if the situation calls for it with his scrap early in last season with former Bison defender, Elliott Dewey as proof.

The key question of course is does all the talk and high numbers in lower tiers translate to the EPL? Circenis has ripped junior leagues apart and has made a rather decent stab at NIHL 1 South. He was just under a point per game last season at 17. The face cage comes off for the start of his first EPIHL campaign and Circenis’ skill set will be used in a much more focussed and high pressure environment (and one slightly bigger) than usually seen at the Gosport Ice Arena.

One word that comes up a lot when you speak to people about Circenis is “attitude”. Now attitude has negative and positive connotations in hockey depending on what way you spin it; it can be the difference between confidence and arrogance on the ice. Bison hockey under Doug Sheppard has never been short of playing with an edge, the Herd have never been afraid to be physical with their opponents. They won a playoff semi final and final in 2014 by doing so but it’s that controlled aggression that will be key if Circenis is going to hang with the bigger boys here. Solent Devils are known for their tenacity more than their skill level so an average of around 3-4 PIMs a game last season shouldn’t be a big surprise to anyone. Whilst critics accused Circenis of hiding behind his face cage at times last season, he won’t have that luxury this season and will find many more willing dance partners than he would normally find in the third tier. Then again, the lad is 17 going on 18. Why are surprised that he’s ready for a scrap and full of youthful exuberance? This is Basingstoke after all, remember how much many enjoyed Matt Selby and Declan Balmer fighting? It’s not like they are grizzled veterans.

At times, especially in junior games, Circenis was also accused of trying to do too much on his own; Viktor Kubenko Syndrome as we know it here at BOTW. This is one of the things that will probably be reigned in faster than the others for the very simple reason that Circenis isn’t going to be expected to carry the team. He’s a depth forward for the Bison, here to improve and learn alongside some very good forwards. Might be break out in a similar way to Ivan Antonov? Maybe, hopefully and Doug Sheppard’s record for getting the best out of young forwards is a good one but it’s not necessary for him to come in and go a point per game right off the bat in his first season at this level. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t argue with it if he does but if the Bison intend to run 4 lines then we can’t expect Ralfs however promising he may be to go a point per game from the third or fourth line.

Where Circenis’ signing leaves Cameron Wynn remains to be seen but if this does indeed end up being a swap, then a junior international for a junior international is not a bad swap by any means. It’s a young player joining a roster that will challenge that Circenis can hopefully integrate himself into quickly. Whether he breaks out or remains part of the supporting cast to the more established stars, the opportunity is there for the young man to really push on in his hockey career.

Welcome aboard, Ralfs.

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