Building the Herd – Declan Balmer

#24 Declan Balmer

Position: Defence

Born: Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 9th June

Hit the dec; Declan Balmer returns for another season in Basingstoke. (c) 5 Hole Photography

Hit the dec; Declan Balmer returns for another season in Basingstoke.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

After last week’s bumper block of signings, Doug Sheppard decided to go easy on the fans this week (and this writer) by announcing only one signing, the return to the Bison of defenceman, Declan Balmer.

Despite lots of rumours about a return to his home city, 21 year old Balmer enters his third season with the Herd coming off the best campaign of his young career. 7 goals and 20 assists saw the Yorkshireman finish as the Herd’s highest scoring defenceman alongside a career high 88 penalty minutes.

Balmer started playing hockey in his home town of Hull at the world’s most versatile arena, making his under 16s debut for the Kingston Crunch in 2008/09. After an impressive 2009/10 season where Balmer went over a point per game, he moved across Yorkshire in 2010 to join the Bradford Bulldogs system, playing under 16s and under 18s.

The 2011/12 season saw Balmer make his debut in senior hockey as he played for the Bulldogs in the old ENL2 scoring 15 points in 24 appearances as well as scoring an impressive 23 goals and 40 points for the under 18 side.

In 2012, Balmer continued his progression to ENL1 as he signed on with the Solway Sharks, generally a powerhouse in the northern section of the third tier. Balmer scored 3 points in 25 games but got the call from Peterborough and swapped Dumfries for Bretton and joined the Phantoms for the back half of the season, making 22 appearances.

Balmer returned to the Phantoms for 2013/14, scoring 7 points in 50 games before answering a call from Doug Sheppard after the departure of Zach Sullivan. Balmer’s first season with the Herd saw him register 5 points in 39 games.

Balmer has played 161 games in the EPL scoring 41 points. He was also a frequent GB junior international having had his first call up to the u18 side whilst still at Bradford. Declan has 10 caps for GB u18s with 1 point along with 15 caps for the GB u20s and a gold medal from the 2015 Division 2A world championships held in Dumfries alongside new team mate Ivan Antonov.

So we’re back with the man that last season I called “the easiest man to write about”. He was a solid, dependable, stay at home defenceman that added a bit of team toughness and wasn’t going to be flash. Then he went and spoiled it all by scoring 20 assists in a season. Curse you and your development, Balmer!

I’m kidding of course. Yes 3 of those goals came in that one game against Hull where the Pirates were out of the playoffs and crumbled but the sudden offensive upsurge in Balmer’s game wasn’t an unwelcome surprise. A lot of those goals were tips from the point which is what you want out of a defenceman with a big shot. Will every shot go in? Of course not but it’s a simple enough hockey tactic; get a tip in front of the goalie or a rebound to cause some chaos and with players who are good around the net like Karpov or Jarolin or Greener (last season) then points will come your way.

One thing that Balmer did take criticism over in some quarters over was his tendency to drift out of position to go after the man leaving space for other teams to score. I’d say that it was an issue with all of the defence to a point at the start of the season but as time went on, the defence did sure up a bit and Balmer did improve on that scale. When the team settled into its routine and rhythm, the entire team got better and Balmer, more assured of what his role was and what was required started thriving and contributing more.

The thing I notice about Balmer is that I never have to right about him a great deal which in some ways is how it should be. Given that over the last couple of years the Bison have been a very distinctive attacking style, the focus has been on them. I rarely end up having to talk about the defenders individually. Unless one of them has an absolute nightmare of a game then I generally find myself talking about “the defence” as a unit. This is the Bison defence that is regularly around or top of the charts for lowest goals conceded, they become this fluid collective where the whole is more than the sum of the parts.

Declan Balmer as an individual player is 21 years old. He is young, people have criticisms of him, some of them are likely justified but he is still developing. The question for this writer is now what direction he starts developing in? Are the days of single digit points seasons a thing of the past for the time being as Balmer looks to really add a more offensive side to his game or does he start to tighten things up and become a literal defenceman? We await the completion of the roster to give us some clues before the season begins.

Welcome back, Declan.

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