Running with the Herd – Bison vs London Raiders 19/11/2017

NIHL 1 South

Basingstoke Bison 6-0 London Raiders

Connolly

Karpov pp

Malinik

Davies x2

Rounding

Raid repelled:

Where the Bison’s cup form has at times left a lot to be desired, the Herd’s league form has seen them set themselves a good base for the rest of the year. After a good showing in Saturday’s penalty shot loss to Peterborough it was important to keep going in the league and that’s just what the Bison managed to do.

The Bison had been guilty at times against the NIHL classic sides of slacking off when they thought the game was put to bed but since the scare away at Streatham have been better at keeping their foot down on opponents. This showed massively during that game as they limited the Raiders to just 19 shots and the first of those didn’t come until after the midway point of the first period.

Whilst Stuart Mogg took the warm up, the former EPL all-star did not ice in the game which left the other 4 defencemen in what’s been their regular rotation and they mostly looked well at ease with what the Raiders threw at them. Dean Skinns had a good game on Saturday night against the Phantoms but there were moments where his defenders were doing so much of the heavy lifting for him that he could have put the kettle on. However the shots he did see needed dealing with and Skinns was more than equal to the task combining good rebound control with solid positioning that he didn’t have last week against Swindon.

Whilst I still believe the Bison need a bit of extra forward depth, it was good to see the Bison at least start with more players. Paul Petts and Josh Smith both returned to the line-up and have a good account of themselves. Where Smith was used occasionally further up the lines, Petts is still finding his feet within this Bison system but had one of his best games here. The combination of Petts, Ryan Sutton and Hallam Wilson were a really capable and effective third line until Sutton’s early finish due to injury where Smith found himself rotated onto that line as well which maintained its effectiveness. The only thing missing was a goal for Wilson who just seemed to never quite make the right connection at the right time.

After the Bison spent the first 5 minutes without the puck going anywhere near the hosts’ blueline, the result never really seemed in doubt. The retooled line of man of the match, Dan Davies with Vanya Antonov and Roman Malinik never looked massively troubled and were seemingly allowed to do whatever they wanted. The Raiders defence couldn’t handle Malinik’s size or the passing and speed of Davies and Antonov. Some have said that Malinik looked the best player of the ice but for two well taken goals and a good all-around game, I don’t begrudge the beers going the way of Davies.

Tomas Karpov was with Aaron Connolly and Grant Rounding for this game and whilst I confess to preferring Karpov with Antonov, this combination does work as well with Connolly and Rounding using their speed and grit to give Karpov space to work in. All three of the line scored on the evening with Rounding’s goal being the pick of the bunch; a laser of a slapshot that beat Michael Gray in the Raiders net.

10 wins from 10 league games makes great reading and combined with a better performance against Peterborough in the cup, the Bison have given the fans some reasons to be cheerful following last Saturday’s poor showing against the Wildcats. It’s not the finished product yet but with players returning from injury and confidence from decent winning runs it could be that the Herd are working their way into being the team to beat in NIHL South 1 as they sit 2nd with 3 games in hand over Peterborough in first.

A word on our opponents:

The last game against the London Raiders threw things into doubt when Euan King had to leave the game due to injury to be replaced in net with Tom Davis. The Raiders bettered that game by coming with two netminders but the performance saw them come to a similar result; effort alone can’t beat effort and quality.

The Raiders remain a hard working side but as with the last game in Basingstoke, they lacked the clinical edge. Twice Juraj Huska had chances on a plate to score and twice they were squandered and that was when the visitors could get a shot in on goal. As the game went on the Raiders swapped to trying to clog the neutral zone and take the Bison’s space to work away but the Herd would dump the puck behind the defence and get the cycle going. The visitors were on to a loser.

Michael Gray got man of the match, which is fair enough as another netminder came into Basingstoke and got shelled though at times he didn’t help himself. He’s a netminder who likes to move about and whilst his defencemen got in his way, at times it seemed like he didn’t trust the defender to do the job they were there for. I’ve been told by friends who play the position that the goalie is always right but his defence were trying their best.

I was actually impressed with the performances of Callum Burnett and Sean Barry on the evening that look very solid at this level. Both made good plays to deny the Bison extra scoring opportunities.

The real problem for the Raiders was that the forwards could not generate any real offence. Brandon Ayliffe dashed about but nobody could really do much to get anything going. The breakouts were snuffed out and when they did get into the zone it was either taken away or saved by Skinns. I must make an effort to watch the Raiders against a side like Invicta or Streatham to see the contrast.

Our best wishes to JJ McGrath who leaves the Raiders to move to Canada and to the Raiders. The thinking cap goes on for Sean Easton as to how he can break down the Bison on the ex-occasion.

Lowlight of the night: The injury to Sutton; it’s the last thing the Bison need.

Highlight of the night: Rounding’s goal was superb.

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The BOTW Podcast – episode 63

When podcasts collide…or talk hockey and stuff.  Dan Green and Sam Oakford both had decent careers in British hockey and both called time at the end of last season.  This season, as well as doing other bits, they’ve come together to start the Players View Podcast.  Dan and Sam talk to Anthony about their careers, why they called time, stuff in British hockey at the moment and generally make fun of each other.

There’s also the news and a great competition from our partners, Victory Hockey UK.

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.


Running with the Herd – Bison vs Swindon Wildcats 11/11/17

NIHL National Cup Group D

Basingstoke Bison 1-3 Swindon Wildcats

Scott pp                       Jones pp

                                    Kelsall pp

                                   Birbraer

The perfect storm

Having skimmed through some thoughts from people this morning, there’s a real mix of feeling from the Bison fans about this game. Some think that a shortbenched side playing with two and a half forward lines and 4 defenders did the best they could against a decent side with a deep bench. Others thought that the Bison underperformed, misfired and played badly. Whilst BOTW will be accused of fence sitting because we always try to see both sides of the argument, there are elements of truth in both arguments.

The Bison were shortbenched and it did show. The side looked tired from the start of the game and this game did not help the forwards as in terms of shooting they seemed short of ideas. Ninety nine times out of one hundred, a Vanya Antonov breakaway one on none with the netminder does not result in the Russo-Brit shooting lamely at his pads. The Bison’s lack of depth and energy saw them employ few tactics that could harm the Wildcats over the distance. The top line of Antonov, Davies and Karpov fell into the trick of trying to do too much and overthinking on the puck. When they did shoot, it was like the logo on Renny Marr’s chest had a gravitational pull.

However it also has to be said that the Bison did not play well in this game. They put in the effort. That is undeniable and it showed on the faces of the players especially after Floyd Taylor’s major penalty gave the Bison a late lifeline but over the course of the 60 minutes they were second best and there’s no shame in saying that. When you’re beaten, you’re beaten.

The Herd had a poor first twenty minutes and whilst were arguably unlucky to be 3-0 down after the first period, they were because of their own mistakes. Dean Skinns cheated across and gave Chris Jones too much of a gap to aim at for the first, the defence broke down and gave Jordan Kelsall too much space and the same happened for Max Birbraer’s goal as well. Since the Bison rebounded from their early season poor form it has been the defence that has performed well as a unit that has been the backbone of the Bison’s recovery. Unfortunately that twenty minute lapse cost the Herd dearly.

Yes, the Herd were tired but having put themselves in a hole they made themselves easy to play against. They were short of ideas going forward and the tricks that had worked the last few weeks just seem to fail them on this night. They rightly got at least one goal but it was a case of too little too late, even if it did make for an exciting finish to the game.

The Bison can write the poor play down to a bad day at the office. It happens to all teams; Swindon lost to Streatham and Marr was pulled from the net in that game. The Bison can win hockey games and have the tactics, ability and energy to do that on their day. The real issue for me is the later one; the Bison need to get some extra bodies on the bench. Doug Sheppard cannot legislate for injuries and hopefully all the players out of the line-up return to action as soon as possible but they have to get bodies onto the bench as this roster will not challenge with 11 or 12 skaters icing in games.

Some argue that toughness is an issue and that a Chris Wiggins or someone to protect players and that phantom appearance at the end of the bench that one game has left people clamouring for an announcement. At this stage and irrespective of how well the Bison believe they are when they are busy, they need depth. Depth was the marker of the best Bison sides of the last couple of seasons. They do not have it now. It needs addressing as a matter of importance.

A word on our opponents:

Sometimes you don’t have to run roughshod over a side to beat them, you just have to be clinical. The Swindon Wildcats were clinical in the first and then simply said to the Bison, “you have to score, come at us and try to score.” The visitors then had the rather straightforward task of frustrating a tired side by clogging the neutral zone and limiting their space to operate.

Some have said that the scoreline flatters the Wildcats over the course of the game. 3-0 certainly flattered them after twenty minutes but a 3-1 win over the course of 60 minutes is probably fair on reflection. They struck then shut the game down; the Bison were effectively beaten by their own game.

Renny Marr got the man of the match which is fair enough for letting up 1 goal on 35 shots but how ruthlessly he was tested by those shots is up for debate. You could argue it goes to Chris Jones or Max Birbrear for the quality of their goals but this was a good all round performance by the Wildcats. They came in with a strategy, got a good early lead then adapted around it. They were fortunate; I don’t think the second Wildcats goal should have counted given that Vanya Antonov was rugby tackled to the ice in the build up but that’s hockey and those bounces go your way one day and don’t the next. The Wildcats go up the ice, get the bounce and it’s 2-0 on the powerplay to them rather than being 1-0 and at even strength.

Are Swindon the best team we’ve seen so far? I personally think Telford’s performance here was better but it’s no doubt that Swindon are firmly in the frame for the NIHL 1 South title. However this was the cup where the Herd haven’t been great. The league is a different animal.

What Swindon are however is incredibly cohesive. It’s a deep roster, even without the injured Toms Rutkis and the age old jokes about Swindon overplaying their top line despite having loads of players is at an end. The imports are used well, there’s good scoring depth across the lines. In our pre-season preview of Swindon, I said that if the Wildcats don’t win a trophy this season then it will be an abject failure. I think that even more so now.

Lowlight of the night: The entire first period

Highlight of the night: This might turn a few heads but the continued decent performances of Ryan Sutton. He’s not setting the world alight but he’s being asked to do a job and he’s doing it with minimal fuss or issue.


Running with the Herd – Bison vs Milton Keynes Thunder 04/11/2017

NIHL 1 South

Basingstoke Bison 7-2 Milton Keynes Thunder

Karpov                         Carlon

Antonov pp                  O’Flaherty

Malinik

Connolly ps

Evans

Rounding

Davies

This, repeat this:

Certainly in terms of home games in 2017/18, this was the best all round game that we’ve seen and the best performance from the Bison. It did help that the opposition played a style that really suited them but also came at them a bit and the Bison under Doug Sheppard have always done better against teams that come at them rather than teams that sit back and wait on the counter.

The Bison knew that they didn’t have the larger bench and with so many injured guys meaning the Herd ran with 3 lines and 4 defencemen. The question during warm-up was what sort of a game the Herd would play as a result. Would there be any energy conservation ahead of the game with Telford? The answer was not really and they troubled the Thunder with their speed down all channels all evening and the visitors couldn’t handle the speed of the Bison’s transitional play through the neutral zone at times.

Roman Malinik had his best game in Bison colours so far in this performance; scoring a goal, assisting on another and generally looking more of an attacking threat. Malinik is much more of a playmaker than I think any of us realised and he’s found a way to work with Aaron Connolly and (last night) with Grant Rounding which made them a really potent attacking threat. The fact that Malinik was given the beers was not a huge surprise. He also took his goal well, being on the spot and using his size to not get moved out of the way and pot one of many rebounds that came the Bison’s way.  Credit goes to Connolly as well for channelling his inner Ciaran Long on his penalty shot.

The return of Dan Davies to the side has also seen the return of a more natural first line of the Kent born forward with Tomas Karpov and Vanya Antonov. The Thunder had no answer for the speed or the skill of this line at times. It did suffer from Karpov and Antonov trying to do too much on their own on occasion but seeing the three of them able to move with virtual impunity at times was great fun. The line has balance, all players are constantly looking to distribute the puck and make attacking plays, all players aren’t afraid to backcheck and work in their own end. Hopefully the line is kept together.

We’d also be loathe not to mention the makeshift third line which did the exact job it needed to do. Ryan Sutton, Hallam Wilson and Oscar Evans didn’t look out of place and weren’t used sparingly in this game (the short bench meant they couldn’t afford to) and more than did their part. Some shrewd line matching at times by Sheppard at the start of the game eventually gave way to more of a regular rotation for them and it paid dividends for Evans who converted Wilson’s pass brilliantly for his first goal for the Herd. Evans had looked dangerous in his previous outings and this was just reward for being prepared to get stuck in.

Dean Skinns will want both of the Thunder’s goals back; first getting caught behind the net and not being able to settle for the shot from Carlon and then getting beaten with a “hit and hope” shot from Gareth O’Flaherty on the half boards. Skinns did make some good saves but the story again was this smaller four man defensive unit (still without Stuart Mogg) running a solid rotation and, whilst not being perfect and getting beaten on occasions, knowing how their keeper works and limiting the shots that he faced. Now they’ve got some confidence, it’s pressing on from here.

The recent scare at Streatham has seen the Bison wake up slightly to the fact that they can’t really take these games lightly, especially after Swindon’s loss to the Redhawks and Peterborough’s loss to London. The Bison are now the only unbeaten side in NIHL 1 South. They head into cup action for the next two games but head to MK next Sunday. The Bison players talk about keeping the train rolling. They need to do that through these cup games into their return to league action.

Swindon and Telford will be a much tougher task and the question still lingers as to what, if any replacements Doug Sheppard will be drafting in. He pulled the trigger on some changes but with a rotating line of injuries, the Bison head into some tough games with a short bench. They’ve always been a better side when busy. Will they be too busy? We’re going to find out.

A word on our opponents:

Aside from having the nicest jerseys so far, the MK Thunder are the best NIHL South 1 side that we’ve seen so far in Basingstoke. Some will say that this opinion is tempered by the fact there’s lots of ex-EPL players in the side and that’s what we’re used to here but the Thunder came into Basingstoke and did what no other classic NIHL side has really tried to do; go at the Bison.

In our pre-season preview we mentioned that the Thunder would play physical and skilful hockey and we did get measures of both. Rather than sit back and hope, the Thunder tried to play their game, impose their systems and maintain their structures. They were outplayed over the course of the 60 minutes but did what the other sides have failed to do in Basingstoke and that’s look a bit more settled and trouble the Herd more.

Tom Carlon was a justified man of the match and his partnership with Gareth O’Flaherty was certainly a potent one for the Thunder on this night. Teams either carve chances out to score or capitalise on mistakes. The Thunder did the later and their most threatening players were the ones who scored.

That’s not the say there weren’t other good performance in the Thunder roster. Rio Grinell-Parke has been much talked about and with good reason on what we saw last night. Jamie Line and Ross Bowers together look to have lost neither a step not their sight to make a good play. Despite the defence shipping 7 goals, I was impressed with my first viewing of Oliver Lord who looked very assured.

The Thunder had the physical edge but they just didn’t seem to be able to deal with the speed. This coupled with a bad night for Tom Annetts whose rebound control seemed to have deserted him on his old stomping ground made for a bad evening for the visitors. Josh Crane looked decent enough in relief but is not the finished article yet. There’s promise there.

The Thunder look like they could challenge in the playoffs and they will sneak wins against the ex-EPL sides, I’m sure of that on this viewing. However this was not that night.

Lowlight of the night: The Thunder’s second goal was a really bad goal to give up.

Highlight of the night: 7 goals from 7 goalscorers and a great first Bison goal from Oscar Evans will do it for me.


The BOTW Podcast – episode 62

Yes we round up the news, scores and tables quickly but this show is something different.

When a DM pops into the BOTW twitter account, it starts a conversation. A conversation leads to questions, questions need answering.

The BOTW Podcast presents “The Concerned Player”

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.


Running with the Herd – Bison vs Cardiff Fire 28/10/2017

NIHL 1 South

Basingstoke Bison 5-1 Cardiff Fire

Karpov x3                     Christian

Sutton

Davies

No embers:

Paul Petts (white) battles in front of former Junior Bison team mate, Jordan Lawday (left, in goal) in the Bison’s win over Cardiff Fire.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Ever since the Bison joined the NIHL, people have been complaining about the quality of games, that they aren’t competitive. As a rule, I’ve disagreed with them because I genuinely believe that’s not true. The game away at Streatham proved clearly that if the Bison don’t give the effort then they won’t simply win against the NIHL Classic sides by talent alone, however the issue with this game against the Cardiff Fire was that it was, sadly, pretty close to not being competitive.

The other “however” is a simple hockey truth; you can only beat what is put in front of you and whilst it would have been nice to run the score up a bit for the fans, this game served a couple of purposes and the Bison made it out with minimal injury issues and a ton of upside.

Tomas Karpov took the man of the match for his very well taken goals and that’s fair enough on the balance of the 60 minutes of action but there are other important factors to focus on here.

Dan Weller-Evans will be kicking himself to have let up one goal on 7 shots (indeed, he is beating himself up judging by his social media) but look at the upsides to what came of this weekend as a whole; Weller-Evans played 120 minutes of hockey, conceded only 3 goals and his defence performed admirably around him and with him. He’s given Dean Skinns a vital rest ahead of a tough weekend coming up as well as getting really solid game time that will stand him in good stead should he be called upon at short notice due to injuries. That’s what you want from your back-up netminder.

Dan Davies skated for the first time in nearly two months in game situations and whilst looking a bit off the pace, didn’t look out of place with it. The Bison have massively missed the balance that a two-way player like Davies brings to the line-up and for him to return ahead of some tough fixtures is a really good sign for Doug Sheppard. I’m not sure whether Davies fully works with Connolly and Malinik as a line combination but this wasn’t the game to make such decisions.

Oscar Evans looked beyond promising. Where occasionally players have come in from the juniors and looked energetic if tentative in their initial forays in a Bison shirt, Evans got stuck in from the get go, creating opportunities for himself as well as not being scared to go to the net and came close on occasion to scoring.

Ryan Sutton and Josh Smith continued recent runs of good form as well as promising performances from Paul Petts (till he got hurt) and Hallam Wilson. Wilson would finally break his goalscoring duck on Sunday in Cardiff but looked promising on Saturday as well.

All in all this was a professional performance from the Bison where second gear was firmly not needed. When you consider the Bison won 12-2 the following night with 11 outskaters, the attitude was on point this weekend. After the narrow win over Streatham it was reported that Doug Sheppard read the riot act to the Bison about how they approached these games. The Herd have a 4 point weekend, the message was received it seems.

A word on our opponents:

In some ways it’s hard to know what to say; Mark Cuddihy is a good coach, the Fire are a good group of guys and deserve a lot of credit for deciding to take on the upper echelons of the NIHL but this was not good.

A squad of 14 (12+2 netminders) travelled from a much larger squad and quite simply, they couldn’t compete. Yes, the Fire scored a goal but they just weren’t at the races. There were few chances created and 7 shots in 60 minutes speaks to that.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. I ask that you don’t misunderstand what I’m trying to say here; the Fire aren’t good enough but they gave it their all in trying. The issue in some ways was that they worked very hard but not very smart. The prime example would be Jackson Price; the lad clearly has an engine to rival a good family car for its longevity and he skated his heart out for the short but to what end? It was the clear difference between players like Chinn, Buglass and Stratford who did more with less. It’s all well and good skating through the wall for the team but just skating doesn’t do much else. The Fire at times didn’t even really seem to be attempting to go at the Bison but just not get scored on. It didn’t work.

The bright spots of the tie for the Welsh side were Dave Christian’s goal, a neat pass that caught Dan Weller-Evans looking the wrong way after an attempted pokecheck, and Jordan Lawday. The former Bison junior has come back to Britain after his time in the US and looks very good. The fact that it wasn’t a cricket score at the end of this game was down to Lawday making an array of very good saves and came into his home rink with something of a point to make. How much facing 50 shots a game will do for the youngster remains to be seen but it worked for Kevin Reiter.

Bar a minor miracle, the Cardiff Fire are going to be relegated at the end of this season. I’m saying that in October because we don’t go into sugar coating things here. The Fire have conceded 93 goals in 11 games which works out to roughly 8.5 goals a game. Cardiff want to keep making strides and trying to progress as best as they can so they can take this from the game. The Fire won the second period; they scored the only goal and therefore won their first period of the season. It’s a victory, albeit a small one. It seems like a season for the Fire where they need to celebrate all of those.

Lowlight of the night: The Fire’s goal; hurray for the visitors for a reward but it sucks for DWE’s stat line.

Highlight of the night: Yes, Karpov scored a hattrick but I’ll say the performance of Oscar Evans. Hopefully we get a chance to see more of the young man.


The BOTW Podcast – episode 61

The new era of the NIHL is about two months old, so how is it going?

Anthony and Dave Carr, formally of Streatham, Oxford, Haringey and others and now of ProHockeyNews.com bash their heads together to discuss how they think things are going.

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.