Building the Herd – Tom Ralph

#?? Tom Ralph

Position: Defence

Born: Kingston upon Hull, East Riding of the People’s Republic of Yorkshire

Announced as signed: Bison website 13th July

Time to Wreck it, Ralph! Tom Ralph (centre, in blue) battles with Aaron Connolly during last season. This coming season Connolly will be with the London Raiders and Ralph is the newest member of the Basingstoke Bison.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

The Basingstoke Bison rarely do much on a Friday so they kept people on their toes with the signing announcement of Tom Ralph from the Invicta Dynamos.

Ralph, 24, is a product of the junior system at the world’s most versatile arena having progressed through the Kingston youth system from the under 16 Crunch to the under 18 Predators team and onto the old ENL setup with the Kingston Jets making his senior hockey debut in the 2009/10 season in the old ENL North.

In 2011, Ralph moved to what was the Hull Stingrays second team, spending a year and a half there before moving back to Whitley Bay for the end of 2012/13.

His working hard in the lower levels paid off as Ralph got the call to the Elite League and spent the season with the Hull Stingrays. Whilst he didn’t get masses of ice time, Ralph was getting time at the top level in the country and the Stingrays made a shocking appearance at the playoff weekend as they made the semi finals.

Ralph originally signed for the following campaign with the then playoff champions, Coventry Blaze but after one game he returned back to Hull. The Stingrays had sadly folded so Ralph found himself in green and black as part of the Hull Pirates for the remainder of 2015/16.

The Pirates’ first year of existence was an odd one as they lurched from big losses to exciting wins. Ralph stuck with it then left abruptly with one weekend of the season to go. (He would later say in an interview with 482 Days it was some of the least fun he had playing hockey.)

Ralph reappeared the following season in a somewhat unlikely location; Kent. At 22, he left Yorkshire and moved to Silverblades Gillingham and the Invicta Dynamos where he’s spent the last two seasons. It has been a tail of two seasons for Ralph; his first season saw him score 9 points and win a playoff title. His second saw Invicta near the bottom of the table but he scored 24 points in 30 games from the blueline.

Given that some of the reaction to the signing of his new team mates has been somewhat more moot, the response to Ralph’s joining so far has been much more enthusiastic. That’s understandable to a degree. Whilst some of the announced Bison players so far have arguably not had quite the same impact as signing a nearly legendary British hockey talent as your head coach, Ralph comes with a bit more of a reputation behind him.

Critics of Ralph have sometimes felt that he’s flattered to device with arguably his best season coming when he was a spare player on the roster seeing minimal ice time and scoring zero points but his time outside of the EIHL shows that at this level, Ralph can definitely play. Having come from a decent junior programme the Bison now have a player who has got decent size, he uses it well whilst not taking tons of penalty minutes which is what you generally want from a defenceman.

The outlier season isn’t so much the season in the EIHL but last season where, out of nowhere, Ralph suddenly started scoring more points than he ever had before. The obvious explanation for that is that in the great shake up that followed the collapse of the EPIHL, Invicta were arguably one of the biggest losers. Kev Parrish used his resources to build a roster to defend Invicta’s playoff title. Then the changes happened and where others tinkered or moved to other clubs, Invicta found themselves either priced out of the market or just not as attractive a proposal. However they did have some decent players last season like the Webster brothers and Scott Bailey and Tom Ralph. Ralph was being used more and with more ice time and more responsibility comes more points.

So the Bison’s new order has managed to tempt across a player that is defensively responsible who is also able to contribute a few points from the back end. This is good.

I was asked shortly after the signing what I thought and I was honest in that I think it’s a good signing but that I generally, as a writer, approach forward signings differently from a defensive one in that I normally want to see the whole defensive unit before I believe I can fully judge them where I find it sometimes easier to gauge how a forward will be used. I look at the three signed defencemen and the two netminders and it’s still an incomplete picture at the moment. At present the Bison blueline looks to have good size and physicality but arguably lacks a bit of mobility. However given the club are not going to be heading into the season with only three defencemen, it’s a concern to be filed till the roster is complete.

What Ralph adds is more than what he might possibly subtract. People will wonder who is the Dan Scott replacement (though that is arguably Adam Jones given their stylistic similarities) and who is the Mogg replacement and so on but the problems with that is that not only have the players changed but the systems have changed. This has to be the reminder to the Bison fanbase that whilst this is still Bison hockey, it’s not the exact same Bison hockey. Ralph is nobody’s replacement, he’s Tom Ralph. He’ll be part of a puzzle that Tait is building. How well it fits together remains to be seen.

Welcome aboard, Tommy.


Building the Herd – George Norcliffe

#?? George Norcliffe

Position: Forward

Born: Guildford, Surrey

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 5th July

Dear Gordon,

Now we’ve got the obvious joke out of the way, it seems we need to welcome you to the Basingstoke Bison. So, hello; make yourself at home.

I realise that you know about you but there will be some people on here that won’t know about where you came from. They won’t know about the years in the Flames junior system and the bucket loads of points that you scored. They might be aware of the 4 years in Gosport with the Solent Devils where you went from decent junior to established scoring forward in the old style NIHL and starting to catch the eyes of some of the quote unquote, bigger sides.

They might be aware that you were one of the last of the Wightlink Raiders and are probably sort of aware that you followed Jeremy Cornish and half that roster across the water and up to Streatham for the rest of that campaign.

What people are probably more aware of is that you’ve joined us from the Bracknell Bees. You’re probably aware of the history between the sides but this summer has been a little, let’s say, fractious between the two sides. If nothing else, the derby games should be decent.

It feels to many people that the clubs are heading in different directions as a result of Doug Sheppard’s sideways shuffle up the M3 and here you are; a man left out of the Berkshire revolution and at a station because it was all that was left. Here you are joining a team in a rink that leaves a lot to be desired (because let’s be honest here, it’s seem better days) and seemingly devoid of what some people deem “big name talent”.

Here’s the thing with that; I think you know different. I’m not going to sit here and say that I’m an expert on the career of George Norcliffe, because I’m not but you know who you are as a hockey player and that’s what’s really important here.

We’ve been honest here; the doom and gloom has gotten us down a bit recently and we’re not daft enough to think that you’re not aware of it. Also that bit of honesty is really important because this club as well as ice sports users in North Hampshire look like we’re in for a fight over the future.

If you skim back through recent pieces on this website then you’ll see a conversation I had with your new team mate Dan Weller-Evans where he talked about the people putting on the Bison jersey this season and that they’d work hard for the shirt. Ashley Tait felt you were worth a shot and even mentioned that you’re going to be used for secondary scoring. This makes sense given your goals/assists ration generally leans towards the former rather than the later.

The year that Basingstoke won the EPL in 2016, the great line was that it was a “6th placed roster” and whilst people are making all sorts of crazy predictions, they genuinely have no idea how this is going to go.

However what’s important here is what Dan said; put the jersey on and care. People have often misunderstood how this site presents itself; being fair is important but this site is unapologetically Bison focussed and we want the Bison to be successful. We’ve recently been very successful and that’s been nice but as someone who remembers the EIHL days, who remembers Taylor and Enerston as owners, I just want the people to care. We’ve lost some really good players and people associated to the club who cared a lot. Now you’re here and that’s what we need you to do.

If you can do that George, if you put on that jersey and care then you are going to be just fine.


Banners On The Wall

P.S. You’re going to be called Gordon all season, just so you know.

The BOTW Podcast – episode 74

The BOTW Podcast pops its head out of its summer hideaway! We round up the news from the NIHL and give our thoughts and we chat about the NHL and KHL trying to expand their brands.

Our interview guest is a really fun one. A journeyman as a player (including 3 months in Basingstoke), Brett Larson retired from hockey and headed to coaching. 2 national titles in American college hockey as an assistant coach later, we chat to Brett on the eve of his debut season as head coach of the St Cloud State Huskies about coaching college players, his goals and how he deals with players being drafted.

Remember to subscribe to The BOTW Podcast on iTunes HERE (go on, leave us 5 stars) and make sure you let us know what you like on Twitter or the BOTW Facebook page once you’ve listened.

The BOTW Podcast in association with Victory Hockey UK; the news, action and views from the NIHL and all levels above, below and in between.

Building the Herd – Danny Ingoldsby

#?? Daniel Ingoldsby

Position: Forward

Born: Frimley, Surrey, England

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 28th June

Apologies for the delay in getting this to you, the site took a small break whilst I did some family bits.

Back once again; after time at Bracknell and on the Isle of Wight, Danny Ingoldsby is back with the Bison for 18/19.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

With the summer winding onward and the just after the rink user group’s appearance in numbers at the Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council meeting, Bison coach Ashley Tait announced another young name who returned to the Bison roster from time away in the form of Danny Ingoldsby.

Now 21, Ingoldsby finished up a decent junior career in Guildford by originally choosing to sign in NIHL 2 with the then Haringey Racers for 2013/14 but accepted the offer to guest in some pre-season games for the Basingstoke Bison. The young Surrey born forward impressed then Bison coach Doug Sheppard so much that he was signed up for the duration of the season. As well as making appearances for the Bison under 18s and Buffalo, Ingoldsby dressed for 47 games of the regular season and all the way through the Bison’s cup playoff run as the Herd ended a long silverware drought with the EPL Cup and Playoff titles.

After that success Ingoldsby somewhat surprisingly (from outside the organisation) moved on to Bracknell where he continued his EPL/NIHL/u18 split playing 46 games in 2014/15 between the Bees, Hornets and Drones. Those efforts earned him a call up to the GB under 18s side at the end of the season where he tallied 1 assist in 5 games as GB earned the Division 2A bronze medal.

With EPL opportunities, Ingolbsby accepted the offer from Jeremy Cornish and moved to the Isle of Wight for his first full season away from junior hockey. Ingoldsby fitted well with the Raiders’ style and tallied a respectable 16 points in 34 league games for the Raiders.

Things had gone so well on the Isle of Wight that Ingoldsby agreed to return for 2016/17 but we all know the sad story; the Raiders were locked out of the arena and the team folded. As the players went their separate ways, Danny chose to return to Bracknell and the Bees where he found a role as a 3rd line winger and agitator scoring 4 points in the final EPL season. Ingoldsby returned to the Hive for the first season of the new NIHL era where he scored 18 points in 27 games and 2 points in the Bees’ playoff run where they lost in the first round to the London Raiders.

One of my guilty pleasures in hockey is listening to people call players like Danny Ingoldsby every name under the sun. It’s mostly due to the fact that it will come back to bite them later as it did for most of us when Joe Greener signed. That’s not to say that Ingoldsby is at that level yet but the argument is the same; a lot of people laid into Ingoldsby for doing nothing different than we cheered Greener for or Alan Lack for or Michael Wales for or Matt Towalski for. You get the point.

If anything, Ingoldsby is a good addition to the roster because at 6’1, 220lbs it’s a forward who won’t be easily roughed up without giving something back in the other direction. It’s all well and good being happy with size in your defencemen (both Dewey and Jones aren’t exactly small guys) but for a player like Ingoldsby who will be asked to go into the dirty areas and make things happen, having someone with a bit of weight behind them will help do that.

The Bison roster at the moment with Ingoldsby added to it is two things; short of an obvious top line which we have to accept might be a choice of the club in terms of its PR strategy and the other is that it’s young. One signed forward is over 21 and that’s Tait himself and only 3 of the combined 11 signed players are over 22 in Tait and both netminders.

With the season ticket event and jersey launch coming up on 27th July, this is traditionally a night when the club announce “bigger” names though with rumours circulating about the retirements of Dan Davies and Kurt Reynolds, there’s much to be said about whom these top end players will be. Ingoldsby could be used as a space maker on the top two lines but this would somewhat detract from what his game has been the last couple of seasons. However what’s the flip side of that argument? Are we pigeonholing a 21 year old player who might have tools in his locker that could be brought out with coaching? There’s the x factor of what Ingoldsby can do but also what Tait might be able to do with him.

The questions still reverberate around the roster but at least we know that this most recent addition will deal with them head on.

Welcome back, Danny.

Building the Herd – Adam Jones

#?? Adam Jones

Position: Defence

Born: Birmingham, England

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 21st June

If you can’t beat them, join them. Adam Jones has swapped Telford for Basingstoke in 2018/19
(c) 5 Hole Photography

After a raft of familiar names to Basingstoke, Bison coach Ashley Tait has announced the signing of defenceman Adam Jones from Telford Tigers.

22 year old Jones, a former GB u20 international spent a lot of his formative junior years in Canada. After being part of the Okanagen Hockey Academy in Penticton, British Columbia where he played at bantam and midget levels, Jones moved to the Banff Hockey Academy in Alberta in 2011 before moving back to Okanagen one year later.

In 2013, Jones remained within the Okanagen system but ventured further afield to the organisation’s team in the Austrian based Erste Bank Young Stars league, then Lower Austria Stars, now known as Okanagen Hockey Club Europe. The Stars u20 side based out of St. Pölten finished 5th in the 13 team league, missing the playoffs by a point. Jones scored 4 goals and 9 points in his 42 games.

After finishing his season in Austria, Jones returned to Canada in 2014 and spent the next two seasons with the Summerland Steam of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL) based in British Columbia. Jones, who wore an A in his second season with the team, scored 8 points in 47 games in his first season before an impressive 24 points in 51 games in the following campaign. Whilst the Steam didn’t win a championship with Jones on the roster, he appeared in 30 playoff games and scored 11 points.

With his time in junior hockey done, Jones returned to Great Britain and joined the Telford Tigers in 2016. In what would prove to be the final EPIHL season the Tigers claimed the last ever EPL league title despite the operating company going into liquidation during the season. He also got to play against his younger brother Sam who joined Milton Keynes for that campaign and won the playoff title with the Lightning.

Last season saw Jones get the call from Paul Dixon and he started the season with the Guildford Flames as they started their journey into the Elite League. Sadly Jones was released after 12 league and cup games and found a temporary station with the Belfast Giants as injury cover where he made 5 appearances.

With Belfast choosing not to keep him on, Jones returned to Telford for their NIHL 1 North campaign scoring 21 points in 22 league games and helping the side to the northern playoff title before losing to the Bison in the national playoff final in Coventry.

This is a very good signing. From the press release on the Bison website we’re starting to see Ashley Tait using some of his contacts to get intel on players and then convincing them to sign. If the sort of player that he’s able to attract through this method is Adam Jones then the Bison should be in a good place.

Jones is a good defensive player at this level. He has size, he takes the body well, he has good positioning and he can add a bit of secondary scoring from the back end which was sorely needed with the departure of Dan Scott and Stuart Mogg who were able to add points from the blueline, Scott in particular last season.

Given the Bison now have two defencemen they at least have a defensive pairing technically but I don’t think we see tons of Jones and Elliott Dewey together because of the way that they play. Stylistically I think you want someone a bit smaller and more mobile with either guy rather than putting them together however as a shutdown pairing, two big lads getting in the way, then there’s room for that to happen but it would effectively see neither man crossing the redline and the Bison playing hockey’s equivalent of parking the bus.

What I think will reassure the fanbase about the signing of Jones is for those who were worried about the quality that was going to be on the roster. Some were unfair in their criticism and one person I saw complained that the Bison were on course to finish below Cardiff. Those opinions were unjustified though even here at BOTW questioned the PR strategy of announcing a lot of familiar names if not the flashiest ones. People recognise that Adam Jones has all-star defenceman potential and arguably should be on an EIHL roster rather than with the Bison. Where people were worried it would be a Bison done on the cheap or with the leftovers from the other rosters, this signing will likely quieten some of those worries.

The proof will be in the pudding as to who else Coach Tait manages to convince to join the roster but for a team defending a league title, to get a player with an EPL league title and an NIHL regional playoff title under their belt can’t be sniffed at.

Welcome to Basingstoke, Adam.

Building the Herd – Alex Sampford

#?? Alexander Sampford

Position: Forward

Born: Basingstoke, Hampshire

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 14th June

Alex Sampford returns to Basingstoke after seasons at the Isle of Wight and Streatham.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

With Ashley Tait still building his squad for 2018/19, the new Bison coach added to the forward ranks this week with the return of former Bison junior, Alex Sampford after spending the majority of the last two seasons with Streatham.

Basingstoke born Sampford, 21, started his hockey journey in Basingstoke before heading to Slough at under 16 level. Sampford progressed well through the junior system at The Hanger as he moved to the u18 Comets and made his senior debut for the old Jets NIHL2 side during 2012/13.

For 2013/14, Sampford came back to Basingstoke as he split his time between the under 18 Bison and the Buffalo scoring 8 points in 17 NIHL 2 games that season. With Sampford getting more eyes on him, 2014/15 was a year of movement and change for the young man. After starting the season with the Buffalo and making his first Bison appearance, Sampford moved to the Solent Devils in NIHL 1 to finish the season, scoring 15 points in 15 games and 3 points in 2 playoff games.

It was that performance with the Devils that caught the eye of Jeremy Cornish and Sampford was convinced to join the Wightlink Raiders. Whilst he was also training and making sporadic Bison appearances to gain experience, Sampford thrived at Ryde scoring 32 points and helping the Raiders make the playoff final in his first full season on an NIHL roster.

It had gone so well that Sampford was convinced to return to the island for 2016/17 and then the doors at Ryde were locked. The dispute between Ryde Community Trust and the landlords, AEW saw the club forced to fold and along with Jeremy Cornish and what seemed like half the Raiders roster, Alex migrated north to Streatham.

It was a mixed first season for the Redhawks as they adjusted to a poor start to the season and the coaching and playing style change. Streatham stuck with Sampford for the altered NIHL in the season just gone and Sampford provided a useful asset for the team scoring 15 points in 30 league games as well as going a point per game in the NIHL cup.

Again, not another title grabbing signing for the Bison but one that provides discussion. Why has Sampford come back to Basingstoke after such a productive time in South London? It’s a question that only Sampford himself can really answer but the Alex Sampford that we’ll see in a Bison jersey this time is a different one from the one that we’ll see in 2018/19.

Sampford has developed from the wide eyed junior into a useful secondary scorer who plays with a bit of an edge. He’s a decent sized player who can skate well and put the puck in the net. The Bison need that at the moment with the gaps that they have on the roster. It’s been the strength of recent Bison sides; go back through last season and see how many games they had where there were multiple scorers.

Is Alex Sampford a top line player? At this level and at this moment, probably not but he is capable of filling a gap on the second line even if he is more suited to a traditional third line role at the moment. However this is also what we’ve seen out of young players at this club. When there’s a chance to step up, someone steps up. If Sampford develops well over the season then there’s no reason why he can’t earn the shot at more ice time. I’m not resting the entire scoring hopes of the team on the solicitor firm sounding duo of Tait and Sampford as the coach no doubt has some ideas of who he wants on that top line but you’d want Sampford to be aiming to better his 22 points in league and cup from last season and especially if he has increased ice time to do so.

Welcome back home, Alex.

Goodnight and Good Luck – Roman Malinik

(c) 5 Hole Photography

As another player leaves the Bison even this writer, someone that tries to always maintain an optimistic outlook on things, has to take a deep sigh and scratch his head about what is happening at the moment.

As an individual story, Roman Malinik leaving the Bison is sad but not earth shattering. British hockey has had import players since its inception and won an Olympic gold medal with a lot of Canadian ex-pats and hockey fans in Hampshire are used to players leaving, especially imports.

Malinik will be a loss to the Bison, there’s no doubt of that. At times single handily trying to take the side kicking and screaming towards its goals last season, he’s a player that will maybe score 50 points rather than 60 or 70 and on the surface you wonder why. It’s when you stop and look at the wider game that he plays that you realise just how much he does. If nothing else, how entertaining was it to watch Malinik drive to the net, holding off defenders like he was made of Teflon.

Getting an import forward of Malinik’s quality will be tough but again, there’s not a shortage of good eligible players who want to play in Britain. If the Bison are operating under the same budget or even slightly less, there’s a guy that we can get that will do the job. Whether they do the job as well remains to be seen until they are on the ice. We couldn’t even be sure that Malinik would until we saw him.

I don’t think anyone can blame Malinik for going to Bracknell and it’s likely for the same reasons that a lot of Bison players have gone there; Sheppard is an excellent coach at this level, he plays well and had success in his systems and the uncertainty over the rink situation.

I mentioned in our welcome piece for the 5 returnees yesterday that I understood why Planet Ice announced them when they did, doing so as a means to say “look, some guys are coming back” however whether this was the correct strategy was a question that was also asked. If the Bison had big guns in their arsenal to announce then arguably get them out early and often to get people onside and squash some of the nonsense doing the rounds. It’s not a slight on the players that have come back; it’s good that players have returned and it’s good that young guys think that they can still develop in Basingstoke under Ashley Tait. The concern is that not everyone will give the fair shake that we try to do on here. There’s no news on season tickets for example and even MK Thunder have their season ticket news out when they’ve never offered season tickets before!

Perhaps as a hockey fan, I’m fatigued by all the doom and gloom. Even I have my limits. Coupled with the news about the Basingstoke Bison Ladies folding and moving to Slough and the absurd things said and the infighting that caused inside the Basingstoke hockey community, I have hit the wall.

Tomorrow is another day and this roster is not complete yet. This is just another goodbye as the circle of minor league hockey goes ever onwards. We’ve lost a superb player but if we truly are hitting the reset button then this day and others were inevitable. It doesn’t detract from what a good player he is and he deserves that respect for coming into this roster when it needed a jumpstart and being a driving force in pushing it towards three trophies. On its own, it’s manageable. The bigger picture is worrying but not all black, yet.

Thanks for everything Roman, go well.