Goodnight and Good Luck – Declan Balmer

The Bison has taken recently to announcing departures and signings together. The scheduling that we do here on the site occasionally means that we get to have a bit more information as things go and that’s what’s happened this time. With that, Banners On The Wall wraps up the last few days’ worth of announcements by bidding our farewells to Declan Balmer.

What have we lost?

In Balmer, the Bison lose a physical presence on the blueline. At 6’3” and nearly 200lbs, the Hull born defenceman has been one of the bigger elements to the Bison’s defensive corps. Never one to shy away from the rough and tumble, Balmer has always been prepared to stand up for his team mates as well. Declan has never topped the scoring charts but his upswing in points in the last couple of assists, mostly through assists, has provided an additional edge to his very good defensive play.

Declan Balmer swaps Basingstoke for the EIHL and the Manchester Stor.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Where has he gone?

When they announced his departure, the Bison mentioned that Balmer was off to the Elite League and Declan was announced today (10/6/17) as having joined the Manchester Storm.

Who replaces him?

At the moment, whether we’ve replaced Balmer directly is inconclusive. In terms of decent stay at home defencemen, both Dan Scott and Elliott Dewey can fill that roll. Scott certainly plays a similar physical style though I’m not sure if Doug Sheppard wants Scott to have that added physicality that Balmer occasionally provides. That element of Sheppard’s roster building remains to be seen.

Final thoughts:

Where the Ciaran Long departure to the Elite League has been a long time coming, the departure of Declan Balmer is a bit more of a natural transition though like Long, it isn’t a surprise that someone has taken a chance on Balmer at the highest level.

The provision for under 23 players in the line ups of EIHL sides means that rosters need those players on the gamesheet but how will the be used if at all? That’s where I think Balmer’s been shrewd in going to Manchester for a couple of reasons.

The first of those is Manchester, who are not a big money organisation within the British top tier are not going to want to carry passengers. Balmer will not be a top 4 defenceman off the bat for the Storm, most likely aspiring for the 5th or 6th spot but he will get shifts.

The second reason of this is that new Storm coach Ryan Finnerty sort of knows what he is getting. A couple of years ago, whilst still the coach of the Braehead Clan, Finnerty signed Zach Sullivan for the Clan. BOTW (and everyone else in Basingstoke) joked when Finnerty said he was “surprised” at how ready Sullivan was for the EIHL but that experience has likely led Finnerty back to the well. Sullivan twice won the young British player of the year but with Sullivan committing to Braehead again, Finnerty has looked at Hampshire again for his next project defenceman. With a need for younger British roster players, a player like Balmer who has hit that point where he’s ready to make that step to the EIHL but won’t be stepping into a top 4 slot, will be useful piece of the Storm’s roster building puzzle.

Balmer has his detractors. During his time in Basingstoke he was accused of being overly physical, an agitator (and that’s the polite version) and a punching bag because whilst he likes to fight, critics say he isn’t good at it.

The fighting part aside (Balmer’s not that bad at it and remember that no fight has ever won a hockey game) I’d say both criticisms are fair to a point.

Declan Balmer, like the Bison as a team under Doug Sheppard’s stewardship, can be overly physical. However you don’t sign Declan Balmer to be a finesse defender. You sign him to hit people. You sign him to go into corners and do the dirty defensive work you need your blueliners to do. That means being physical. Hockey is a physical sport and whilst the penalty minute count might concern certain fans of his new employers, I don’t think it should be a primary concern.

The agitator claim is an interesting one. For me, Balmer is a player that you hate if they play for someone else and love if they play for you. He wants to get under the skin of players because if those skill guys are off their game, they try to play his game and Declan Balmer is better at playing his game than your first line winger. He’ll take the hacks and the whacks, he’ll take the penalty minutes because if it takes someone else out of the game that is a real threat for the other side then that’s going to be a trade off, especially in the EIHL.

The Storm don’t need an out and out fighter, they have that in former Philadelphia Flyer, Jay Rosehill but as a middleweight (of sorts) who can be a solid defender and do some extra work, I think this is a signing that works for player and club. We’ll obviously miss his presence in Basingstoke but the whole point is that we should see our better players head to the EIHL. That’s what should be happening when we’re playing second tier hockey. He leaves Basingstoke with an EPL winners medal and clearly an ability to do the job. The player and the club have both done what they are supposed to.

All the best, Declan; try your best to kick up a Storm. (I know, that pun is terrible but it worked.)

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