Building the Herd – Ivan Antonov

#19 Ivan ‘Vanya’ Antonov

Position: Forward

Born: Москва́, Росси́йская Федера́ция

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 18th May

Vanya Antonov returns for another season in Basingstoke.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

After covering the return of the one defenceman from the Bison’s announcement, we move on to the forwards and the return to the Herd for 2017/18 of Russo-British forward, Ivan Antonov.

More commonly known as Vanya, the 20 year old came to Basingstoke with much fanfare last summer and continued his impressive senior hockey career with an 18 goal and 38 point season, regularly mesmerising audiences with his stick handling and speed.

2016/17 was Antonov’s first season away from Bracknell where he had played all of his British junior hockey. Having debuted for Bracknell’s under 16’s team, the Stingers as a 13 year old, Antonov regularly played above his age group in junior hockey. In his last season of solely playing with juniors in 2012/13, he scored 69 points in 17 games at under 16 level and 32 points in 13 games at under 18 level, combining for 49 goals across the two age groups.

On hitting 16 and becoming eligible to play senior hockey, Antonov was immediately used by both Bracknell senior sides as he made his NIHL debut with the Hornets and his EPL debut with the Bees in the same season. Vanya managed to an impressive 4 goals and 5 points in 22 games in the EPL whilst scoring 4 goals and 6 points in 7 NIHL games. His playing time at under 18s with the Drones was limited that year as Antonov only managed to appear in 9 games in which he scored 38 points. Antonov capped of 2013/14 by appearing for both GB under 18s and under 20s in the same season.

As the EPL became his bread and butter, Antonov would play one more game of under 18s in 2014/15 scoring 2 assists and that would spell the end of a fantastic junior career with 175 points in 76 games. 2014/15 saw a real coming out onto the senior stage as Vanya tallied 41 points in 43 games.

Lukas Smital gave Vanya the alternate captain’s A for 2015/16 in what was a tough year on and off the ice for the Bees. Financial issues were causing issues which saw squad building be a challenge for the Berkshire side. Alongside Smital, Antonov was a focal point of the Bees offence as he put up 65 points in 51 games before opting to move to Basingstoke.

I can’t be the only person massively surprised by this move, can I? Two new teams into the Elite League from the old EPIHL, one of whom in the same county as where Vanya Antonov attends university and he’s ended up back at Basingstoke. The majority of the Bison fanbase, including myself had assumed that Paul Dixon had one of the best young players on his way to the Elite League.

Yet, here we are and I’m sure all Bison fans are delighted. Why Antonov is back in Basingstoke could be for all manner of reasons; fitting things around university, Vanya feels he needs more seasoning before he steps up to being a full time hockey player, maybe he didn’t even get an offer from anywhere else. I don’t genuinely believe the last one is part of it but circumstances have certainly conspired in the Bison’s favour on this one.

The question with Antonov remains his size. It is quite clear that the young man is not about to suddenly grow 6 inches in height so the discussion turns to whether he will bulk up at any stage. If he bulks up too much to win some more of those physical battles, does he lose his speed and his edge over other players?

For this writer, Vanya Antonov needs to be Vanya Antonov and just play. At 20 years old and arguably 15-20 years of hockey ahead of him and given how good he already is, I don’t see the need to start radically trying to change his game. He does need to be a bit smarter with his physical battles and how he can be most effective in the corner battles but nobody signs Vanya Antonov to be a checking forward.

As one of the most naturally gifted players in the league last year, the bedding in process in Basingstoke has finished and hopefully this change of league will see Antonov press on and become a really dominant offensive force on a team that is regularly challenging for silverware. He’s got lightning speed, impressive hands, a really impressive shot and superb vision on the ice. He’s got the potential to be really special in British hockey and maybe even abroad. The fact it’s another season of him in Hampshire is a nice bonus for us along the way.

Welcome back, Vanya.

Additional: As this piece was being written, there was some upheaval as Chelmsford, Oxford and Solent all requested to withdraw from NIHL 1 South. BOTW will report as and when it gets concrete information.

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