Curtain Down 2015/16

With the season now at an end, it’s time for Banners On The Wall to round out the 2015/16 campaign in its traditional fashion. This is Curtain Down.

Playoffs: So yes, the hockey didn’t provide the right result and none of the games were massively entertaining bar Billingham and Guildford’s under 20s sides forgetting how to defend but all in all it was another great weekend.

My thanks as ever go to Paul, Becky and Sam Shipman for allowing me into their home for the duration and my travelling companions for the weekend in Dave Oddy, Keith Johnson and Victor the rat.

Playoff weekends are what you make of them; if your team isn’t there you get the end of season blow out to welcome in the summer. If your team is there then you get the entire previous sentence combined with all of the nerves. I have to confess to being relatively sanguine about the Bison’s defeat. In the moment I was gutted because losing sucks but it was OK. Aside from the fact that you genuinely can’t win them all, it’s not like the Bison’s season is a let-down as a result.

A lot of fun was had at the Playoffs Live podcasts at The Windmill, hosted as always by Ben Knight and the Phoenix Podcast crew. Whatever you think of him or my inane prattlings, I particularly recommend listening to Sunday’s interview with Phoenix owner Neil Morris. It was certainly an interesting thing to be a part of sat in the room. I can’t say it changed my feelings on him but sitting next to him give answers to questions including one slightly provocative one from myself did change my perspective on him. If nothing else, skip through both shows to find the glory that is Zamsport.

I find it very easy to be reflective at the Coventry weekend, likely due to the fact it gives the season a definitive ending but I always take a minute to walk around the Skydome and just try and appreciate what’s going on. There’s a ton of good reasons for not going to playoffs but if one of those for you is “my team isn’t there” or “I just don’t fancy it” then I’d say you’re missing out on a very worthwhile experience. Coventry isn’t Monte Carlo but there’s so much to be gained in fun and friendship that it’s nearly unmissable now for me.

The season: Cup semi-finalists, playoff semi-finalists, league champions for the first time in 23 years; if you can honestly say as a Bison fan that you wouldn’t have taken that had it been offered to you in September then you’re a liar.

The thing I found about watching the Bison this season was they were a lot of fun and they seemed to be having a lot of fun. There were changes, some things didn’t work and things got shuffled around but the core of the group always seemed to be focussed and enjoying themselves.

I will answer two sets of points with one answer; what grade do I give the season and were the Bison too physical/goons/thugs (delete as applicable).

40 wins out of 54 in the league, 24-3 at home in the league, 1 home defeat before Christmas, 3rd in team goals scored, 1st in goals against, 3rd in penalty minutes, 4 first team all stars, 2 second team all stars and league champions. For some reason a lot of people have chosen to focus on one of those 9 things than the other eight and it belies an old truth in hockey that being too tough gets you nowhere. The Bison’s season gets an A grade from me because they got the balance right over the course of the season. Were there games when they were too physical? Unquestionably but accusations that the Bison were/are a “goon squad” is laughable nonsense. They quite simply wouldn’t be league champions if they were. What the Bison were was consistent; consistent in managing to apply their game plan, consistent in their team toughness, consistent in their skills and consistent in finding ways to win. Champions do that.

Also congratulations to Guildford on their cup and playoff double.

Thank you: As is tradition, the first thank you goes to my wife Emily. As I said in the 5th birthday piece, she understood why I needed to start BOTW and knows why I need to keep doing it. Thank you, hun.

The other person who gives me more help with BOTW on a regular basis is Grant King of 5 Hole Photography. Grant never ceases to amaze me with how good his eye for the shot is. Hockey is not an easy sport to watch at the best of times so I’m regularly impressed with the quality of his images. I spend inordinately too much time choosing between his photos for pieces. It is my sincere hope that one day he will be able to give up his regular job and be able to be a photographer as his paid work. He deserves it.

A thank you as ever to John Neville and Graham Bell at the Bison for their support and acceptance of BOTW’s place in the world of the Bison. It’s a niche market, they don’t need to do anything but I’m always appreciative of the fact that they are happy to let me do my thing without the need to really feel they have to cramp my style.

The British Hockey Podcast Union is growing slowly but ever improving in its quality. There’s some really good people out there who do a vast array of good work. I’ll also use this section to thank all my guests on the last season’s worth of the BOTW Podcast, especially Stephen Wall who has announced his retirement. Wally has never been one to do lots of media or interviews so I am honoured that one of the last ones he did before retiring was on the podcast.

My goal with the podcast is to make it as good as the others out there whilst maintaining its identity as a place with an EPL focus that’s not afraid to look outside of that.

I have to say thank you to my hockey friends who week in, week out help my maintain my sanity. Hockey is my escape and the lot of you should know that on a Saturday night when we’re in the bar that whatever the result, you lot make the whole thing worthwhile. I said last year we’d see the good times again and we did. We’re top of the heap.

As always, I finish with Doug and the boys; outstanding work and thank you.

(c) 5 Hole Photography

(c) 5 Hole Photography

BOTW going forward: I’ve had the weird thing this year of people coming up to me telling me that they like what they read and hear on the blog. I’m not entirely sure the blog deserves me that sort of treatment where people are stopping me at the rink to say things like that but it’s a motivator to not be complacent about what the site puts out and to keep finding ways to make this better. It’s about consistently good coverage of the Bison week in, week out. It’s about finding ways to make the podcast better. Please do make suggestions, stuff here will only get better with reasonable and constructive feedback. I love doing this and I’ll keep doing it. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Join us back here tomorrow, it’s time to say another goodbye.

Be happy, be safe.

Anthony

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