Goodnight and Good Luck – Russ Cowley

With comings, there are goings and with a small nucleus of the Bison coming together we take a moment to look at the first departure from the most recent Herd roster as Russ Cowley chooses not to return.

After returning from a year out of hockey, Russ Cowley returned to the ice with the Bison but will not return for 2019/20.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

What have we lost:

With Cowley going, this new look Bison roster loses a number of things all at once; the captain, a point per game player, a veteran, a top line centre, a first team all star and an elite British player at this level. It’s a big hole for the Bison to fill. Cowley’s 49 points in 38 South 1 games doesn’t look immediately impressive to the outsider when you read some of the numbers from North 1 but the leagues are vastly different in their competitiveness and style. Ultimately the people who choose the all star teams felt the same way as many Bison fans in that Russ Cowley is a gem of a player at NIHL level.

Where has he gone?

Russ has signed with the Milton Keynes Lightning for 2019/20. The Lightning are still somewhat embroiled in a variety of issues from their final EIHL from a grievance with their coach from the start of the season to unpaid players to a group but their move back to British hockey’s second tier under new coach Lewis Clifford has already yielded results. Christie’s first three signings are highly touted netminder Jordan Lawday, Cowley and the return to Milton Keynes of popular utility player Leigh Jamieson who returns after time at Peterborough and Streatham.

Who replaces him?

At the moment, nobody else bar the netminders have been announced so that change will come out in time.

Final thoughts:

Having covered this club in the second tier of British hockey since its inception this site has gotten used to a very simple truth about really good players; they will leave. This isn’t more harking back to last summer which was a true anomaly. Very few stay anywhere for a long time in British hockey at all without moving for one reason or another. Players like Kurt Reynolds are the exception rather than the rule in Basingstoke and even Cowley himself, with his jersey hanging from the rafters in the Coventry Skydome from his time at the Blaze, is not immune to the fluctuations of lower league sport and life.

The Doctor wasn’t a fancy nickname; Russ Cowley returned to the sport in 2018 after a season out where he completed his PhD and this site spoke to Russ in the summer about his signing. Ashley Tait coaxed (to a point) the former GB international out of retirement and back into playing a lighter schedule because Cowley wanted to play.

Play he did; from the start of the season Cowley had clearly not lost a step from his year away. Whilst many of us never quite got used to seeing him in a full face cage, it was like the Cowley of old. Playing up front rather than having to flit between centre and defence, Cowley was the team’s first line centre in all but a handful of situations. It worked for the Herd as Cowley was the team’s best distributor of the puck. Whilst arguably at his most effective alongside Richard Bordowski, Cowley would and could play with anyone.

However it’s been a long season for Cowley. Commuting from Coventry whilst working as a university lecturer at Birmingham City University and then having to spend large chunks of weekends away from a pregnant wife and young daughter is not conducive to a good work/life balance some would argue. Whilst the Lightning are making a new start amongst a variety of issues, it’s a much better fit for Cowley if not stylistically (from what we can guess of how Christie coached the MK Thunder last season) then at least personally. Not travelling hours to training but less than an hour meaning its easy to get back home. During the massive snow storms early in 2019, Cowley once drove 12 hours through the snow and traffic to get to Basingstoke to train and play. That’s commendable, that’s what we know of the man Russ Cowley is, but that’s not a sustainable option if something goes wrong with the roads or the car or whatever.

It’s a big loss for the Bison but it’s an understandable one as well as one that the fanbase have readily accepted. Cowley was the right person in the right place at the right time for the Herd. Yes the club needed that top end British player to help lead the line but the club and the fans needed stability after that frustrating summer of 2018 and got someone who personifies stability and professionalism.

All the best, Russ and thanks for being there at the start of this new era. We wish you and your family the best ahead of the new arrival.


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