Goodnight and Good Luck – Joe Miller

After two days of signings and given that the move was (finally) made official, it’s time to bid farewell to Joe Miller.

Back on a Tiger beat; Joe Miller leaves Basingstoke for Telford for 2017/18.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

What have we lost?

On his day, Miller remains one of the premier Brits outside of the EIHL. Able to score, able to grind, able to play the two way game, able to play powerplay and penalty kill; Joe Miller has the talent to do it all.

The Bison lose that forward with the ability to play across all the lines and do whatever’s required of them. That sort of versatile player with that high end talent is going to be vital not only in the NIHL 1 South but in those cup games and the business end during any national playoff scenario with a team from the north.

There is a difference between intent and end product and we’ll get to that in a bit but when Miller was on, then Miller was really on.

Where has he gone?

Miller has signed on to return to Telford Tigers in NIHL 1 North for next season.

Who replaces him?

In true Doug Sheppard fashion, I don’t think that there’s a direct like for like replacement for Miller but I think people cover some his functions. Of the players that are on the roster in the forward ranks I think Ashley Jackson covers some of the desired offensive output in the first instance and Grant Rounding covers some of the grind line/secondary scoring desires that Sheppard will have but there’s some unknown factors still at play. Whilst officially the Bison have 9 forwards on the roster at the moment, two of them are Hallam Wilson and Paul Petts who we know are not going to be playing every game so that’s 7 forwards in actuality to work with. I don’t believe that the Bison will head into the season with 9 forwards (I reckon 10, 11 at a push) so we might see someone come in who is a more natural fit.

Final thoughts:

It is not hyperbole to say that Joe Miller didn’t have a great 2016/17 season. Injured during his time in Telford so he was limited to just 4 points in 16 games followed by the money issues for the Tigers which led to his move back to Hampshire. When he arrived, there were injury issues again which gave 8 points in 17 games before a really good run in the playoffs. Last season was the lowest number of games that Miller has ever played in a season and his lowest ever EPIHL points total. The only time he got fewer points in a season was playing on Manchester Phoenix’s 3rd line in the Elite League and I’ll let you make your own jokes about Tony Hand’s usage of his third line.

This happens to the best players. They have periods of injury and it affects their stats. Miller, now 32, feels like he’s been around forever and probability dictated that he’d have at least one really injury affected season. Sadly this one saw it rain then pour unfortunate issues for him.

This doesn’t take away from the fact that Joe Miller is still a really good hockey player when he’s fit; a quick squint at Elite Prospects or just watching him will tell you that. If Miller finds fitness this summer and is paired with suitable linemates then Telford will be a force to be reckoned with in the new NIHL 1 North.

We could have the last word but Joe himself sent us a brief statement that he wanted included so we’ll leave it to him.

Firstly, I would like to thank the fans for all the support on and off the ice during both spells at Basingstoke. Also to the players and staff last season for making me so welcome half way through the year. Basingstoke was a special place to play for me and where I met my wife Jaime and a great friend in Harry Robinson. Thank you to those for their private messages of support and I’m sure we’ll see you at the business end of the year! Goodnight and good luck.”

Building the Herd – Paul Petts

#?? Paul Petts

Position: Forward

Born: Gosport, Hampshire

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 14th July

Paul Petts got his Bison debut in January 2017. This coming season, the former Bison junior will be on a two-way contract with the Herd and the Buffalo.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Along with the return to Basingstoke of Hallam Wilson, Basingstoke coach Doug Sheppard announced a second player as joining on a combined Bison/Buffalo two way contract in the form of Paul Petts.

20 year old Petts, another product of the Junior Bison played both u16s and u18s in 2011/12 and had a slow start as he scored 2 points in 18 games for the under 16s in their relegation season with 3 points in 2 games for the under 18s.

The following season with the u16s in the 2nd division, Petts scored 26 goals and 63 points in 18 games and continued to impress at under 18 level as he followed up a 6 point season with 15 points in 12 games in 2013/14.

2014/15 saw Petts continue his impressive performances in junior hockey as he went over 2 points a game in under 18s with 34 points in 16 games as well as appearing in 11 games in the NIHL 2 South with the Buffalo, scoring 3 assists.

The last couple of seasons have seen Petts be a very busy player. In 2015/16 as well as playing under 20s in Basingstoke and NIHL 2 for the Buffalo, Petts made his NIHL 1 South debut for his hometown Solent Devils, appearing in 8 games and scoring 1 goal.

Last season Petts continued his three way split between the Devils, Buffalo and captaining the Bison under 20s, Petts was handed his EPL debut by Doug Sheppard on 22nd January as he and Kyle Goddard were added to the roster for the Herd’s 5-0 win over Bracknell.

Petts’ career totals sees him with 58 points in 44 games at under 18 level, 56 points in 26 games at under 20 level, 26 points in 34 games with the Buffalo and 2 points in 18 games with the Devils in NIHL 1.

Where I’d had the opportunity to at least see a bit more of Hallam Wilson, I’d heard the name Paul Petts but couldn’t really offer much of an opinion on his play. I can give an idea as to what the plan might be for him but what sort of a player is Paul Petts? I turned to Buffalo head coach and head coach of the Bison Junior system, Simon Beere to offer some insight.

Paul has developed in the season to one of the best two way players for his age nationally and this is proven by finishing top points scorer in the 20s league by some distance. He started at Basingstoke from u12s from Solent and has shown great dedication to progressing through our junior system. Originally a winger but he has shown himself to be a very accomplished centre with great awareness in all zones and situations. I strongly believe he’s one of the best blue line to blue line forwards we’ve produced so I’m hoping it can show in the future in a Bison jersey”

As for how Petts is used when he gets into the lineup, it’s a case of use whatever ice time he gets 4th line minutes with the Bison are always hard to come by and they need to be used to maximum effect. Whilst he has a good scorer’s touch, do not expect massive points from Petts when he’s used on five on five situations. However do not write him off with it. An injury to a role player here or a trademark Doug Sheppard shuffling of the lines there and Petts could find himself getting a couple of extra minutes. Simon Beere has pointed out that Petts is a hard worker and that’s the key trait that Doug Sheppard looks for in any of his players. In fact, a hard working, two way player with a scoring edge sounds somewhat familiar to anyone who remembers how Sheppard played.

I don’t think we’re going to see everything that Petts has in his locker this season unless someone gets hurt for a sustained period so we need to take every opportunity to really take a look at him when we do. His coaches think a lot of him and think he can do the business. He’s been given the opportunity. All Paul Petts needs to do now is take it.

Welcome to the top table, Paul.

Building the Herd – Hallam Wilson

#?? Hallam Wilson

Position: Forward

Born: Winchester, Hampshire

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 13th July

Back in town; Hallam Wilson (right in Buffalo blue) returns to the Bison from Oxford City Stars on a two-way deal.
(c) Flyfifer Photography

The Bison fans were treated to a two for one deal on young talent with this Thursday’s announcement. We start by looking at the player who spent last season in NIHL 1 South in Hallam Wilson who returns to the club on a two way deal with the Basingstoke Buffalo.

Bar a very brief stint at Bracknell, 19 year old Wilson played the rest of his junior hockey in Basingstoke with the Junior Bison. More of a goalscorer than a set up player, Wilson first played u16s hockey in 2011/12 when he scored 4 goals and an assist in 15 games as the u16s were relegated. The following season in u16s division two, Wilson played 17 games and scored an astronomical 67 goals and 99 points. He also made his under 18s debut scoring 6 goals and 12 points in 17 games.

Hallam made his senior debut in 2014 as he split his time between the Bison under 18s and the Buffalo. Wilson was made captain of the under 18 Bison and scored an impressive 33 points in 15 games. For the Buffalo, Wilson scored 2 goals and 8 assists in his first forays into adult hockey in NIHL 2 South.

Wilson continued the split between junior and senior hockey the next season as he started to make more of a mark on senior hockey. 10 games for the under 18s yielded 15 goals and 26 points and 13 games for the Buffalo saw Wilson add 11 goals and 20 points.

When the start of last season rolled around, Wilson had a choice. He could continue into the new under 20s league with the Bison or he could try his chances full time with the Buffalo or try something else. Whilst Wilson did appear in 2 games for the under 20s, the Winchester born forward spread his wings and headed into NIHL 1 for the first time with the Oxford City Stars. Wilson appeared in 25 games in yellow and blue scoring 9 goals and totalling 15 points, making him joint 9th in team scoring for the Stars as they finished 4th in the league before a disappointing playoff exit.

With the Stars dropping into NIHL2 in the reshuffle, Wilson chose to return to Basingstoke.

I get a feeling that today’s and tomorrow’s piece will have a slightly similar feel to them but of the two players signed today, they’re sort of at opposite ends of a very small spectrum. For players at the end of their junior career where they’ve mostly been playing in juniors, the demise of the EPL has come at an opportune time because the pathway has become much more direct. For younger players who were on the cusp of breaking into the EPL, its demise muddies the water somewhat as the new structure needs to even itself out in terms of its standard. This later option is where we find Hallam Wilson.

Wilson was at a point where if he wanted to press on, he needed to leave Basingstoke. The gap between the Buffalo in NIHL 2 South and the Bison in the EPL was a big one. For someone wanting to reach the next stage, there was that platform of NIHL 1 in the middle and Oxford offered the opportunity. Wilson was at the Stars at an opportune time as the organisation has become much more professionally run. Simon Anderson, the then coach, was one for giving opportunities and ice time to the younger players and for a first season at that level, 15 points in 25 games from an 18 year old is a pretty good return.

Hallam Wilson was always one of those names that was mentioned to me at games as a youngster to keep an eye on and it seems that we’re hopefully going to get a chance to have a really good look at him. Secondary scoring is something that this site has always made a point of emphasising and when used, if Wilson can get himself on the scoresheet then it potentially swings the balance between more of his games being in division 2 or being in division 1. For the time being, he’ll need to take whatever opportunity he’s given.

Welcome back, Hallam. We’ll be keeping an eye out.

Building the Herd – Dan Weller-Evans

#93 Dan Weller-Evans

Position: Netminder

Born: Pen-y-bont ar Ogwr, Cymru

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 6th July

Yep, we did an audio one for Dan last year but why speak about him when the chance came up to speak to him!

Photo thumbnail copyright of 5 Hole Photography

Building the Herd – Ashley Jackson

#?? Ashley Jackson

Position: Forward

Born: Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 29th June

Field hockey Olympian Ashley Jackson swaps Invicta for Basingstoke as his on ice home for 2017/18.
(c) BBC

The Herd’s roster building process continues and with the majority of players signed up either returning players or players with a connection to the club, Doug Sheppard has announced the first true new player of the summer with the signing of Ashley Jackson from Invicta.

A look through Elite Prospects does not yield much for the 29 year old Jackson. The stats available for the former Medway Bears junior player are few and far between, though impressive. Having never played much of a full campaign until last season, Jackson’s stats with the Invicta Mustangs in NIHL 2 South and the Dynamos make for impressive reading where he has never been below a point per game. Jackson made 9 appearances in 2 seasons across 4 years for the Mustangs scoring 24 goals and 30 points at the ENL/NIHL 2 level before moving up to the Dynamos in 2014.

Jackson appeared sparingly in 2014/15 appearing 6 times and scoring 4 goals and 7 points before taking the 2015/16 season off the ice and returning to the Kent side for 2016/17 which was his first full senior season of ice hockey. Jackson more than impressed as he scored 18 goals and 37 points in 20 regular season games before an impressive 5 goals and 10 points in 6 playoff games as Invicta won the NIHL1 South playoff title with their shock win over Chelmsford. Jackson was also named to the NIHL 1 South first all-star team. The NIHL 1 South all star awards are organised by and were voted for by the coaches and senior players in the league.

So why are there all the gaps in the numbers? Why are there so few stats on the Bison’s latest signing? If you head to Google and type in “Ashley Jackson hockey” then you will quickly see why. Jackson is one of Britain’s highest profile and best field hockey players.

Ashley and his brother Wesley came through the ranks at East Grinstead Hockey Club, one of the oldest and best teams in the country. Jackson made his England debut at the age of 19 in 2007 and impressed during the 2007 Champions Challenge and 2007 European Nations Cup campaigns. It was enough to earn Jackson a place on the GB team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics where GB finished 5th. In 2009, Jackson was the first English player to be named the FIH World Young Player of the Year as England won gold at the EuroHockey Nations Championship.

Jackson’s club hockey shifted between East Grinstead and Dutch side HGC based near Den Hague as well as continuing to star on the international stage. Jackson and England won the Hockey Champions Trophy before they finished 4th at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi which they followed up with a bronze medal at the 2011 EuroHockey Nations championship. The next year saw GB finish 4th at the 2012 Olympics in London where Jackson scored 6 goals and was joint second top scorer in the tournament.

Swapping between his off-ice and on ice exploits, Jackson then won bronze with England at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow before stepping off ice to concentrate on playing for Holcombe and his third Olympic games in Rio as GB finished 9th. After one season with Holcombe where he won the English title, Jackson returned to East Grinstead

Since 2015, Jackson has also taken a starring role in Hockey League India with the Ranchi Rays. Jackson is the league’s top scorer and won the 2015 HLI title with the Rays where he is also captain.

Along with representing Great Britain at three Olympic Games, Jackson is England’s record goal scorer and is the only Bison roster member to be verified on Twitter.

That was a more lengthy description of someone’s exploits prior to signing than we generally give someone but it made sense to give some context to the player that the Bison have just signed. Doug Sheppard has signed a legitimate two sport athlete and someone that doesn’t just bring hockey skills to the table for the Bison.

Jackson is an elite sportsman; you don’t compete in multiple international tournaments and three Olympic Games if you’re not. As mentioned above, Jackson played both versions of hockey as a junior before choosing to focus on the grass over the ice so he didn’t come to the sport from a standing start.

However it’s really obvious to see that those skills he uses in field hockey have served him in good stead. Jackson is known for his scoring and that’s been the story in both codes. That sort of scoring threat will always be welcome on the ice and Jackson’s ability and physical skill to make space for himself to score is going to come in handy especially with the loss of Ciaran Long to Manchester.

There are some big questions that lurk over the signing and the first major one is just how much we see of him. Doug Sheppard says in the Gazette that Jackson “wants to commit to ice hockey” but fans will wonder about how much field hockey will play a part.

Jackson has been a topic of discussion in field hockey circles as there seemed to be a “Will he? Won’t he?” surrounding his involvement with GB for the 2020 Olympics but that appears to have ended with Jackson being out of the GB squad going forward. However the lure to return to India for their season may well be strong. The season is short; only 10 games but in a franchise league where your club is owned by cricket legend MS Dhoni, you’re the captain and leading scorer and the chance is there to make a decent chunk of money, do the Bison lose Jackson for all of January and February? That’s aside from any commitments he might have to club hockey in Britain.

Sheppard won’t have made an agreement to sign Ashley without both sides being happy with it. If Jackson is to miss playing time then the club will hopefully make this clear when and what time he will be out, if at all.

The flip side is that we may get a full season out of a player who, whilst he doesn’t have loads of senior ice hockey games under his belt, is a naturally talented athlete with a knack for goal scoring and in a season where he played 20 regular season games was voted an NIHL all-star by the players and coaches. Even if the EPL was still around, that seems like a good chance to take on a player.

Where he fits in will be interesting. Does Jackson go onto the second line or third line? The roster needs bulking out at the moment before we know 100% but with such a natural scorer do you try him out with Davies and Antonov as his centre and see who he clicks best with? The other big aspect to Jackson’s game is that he’s a really good two way player with a lot of energy and Sheppard will need to factor that in to how best to use him.

The Bison have signed a proper genuine professional attitude. He’s a winner and with that comes a winner’s attitude and determination. It’s a bit of a novelty signing but it won’t be if Jackson delivers in the way he did last season for the Dynamos.

Welcome to Basingstoke, Ashley.

Building the Herd – Joe Baird

#15 Joe Baird

Position: Defence

Born: Southampton, Hampshire

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 22nd June

Baird on board; veteran defenceman Joe Baird rejoins the Bison for 2017/18.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

The Bison continued their recent run of Thursday signings with the return of another well know face and a veteran presence in the form of Joe Baird.

Baird, 37 is about to enter his 23rd season in which he’ll have made an appearance in senior hockey. Having dressed for 1 Basingstoke Beavers game in the 1994/95 season, Baird has played for the club across both its names and in what will now be its 6th different league competition. A former Bison junior, Baird left the club in 2002 and plied his trade at a number of southern sides in the old EPIHL going from Wightlink (2002-2005) to Bracknell (2005-2009) to Swindon (2009-2013) before returning to Basingstoke at the start of the double winning 2013/14 campaign. Baird will enter his 5th consecutive season with the club when the season begins in September.

Joe has played 652 career EPIHL regular season games together with 65 playoff games for a total of 227 points in regular and post-season play with a total of 1636 penalty minutes in his EPL tenure. Baird’s personal PIMs record came in 2006/07 when he tallied 169 minutes of penalties in the regular season whilst at Bracknell where the Bees won a league and playoff double.

Joe has won the EPL league title twice, the playoffs twice and the cup once. His numbers for the Bison/Beavers organisation stand at 426 games in all competitions with 80 points and 448 penalty minutes. He is also a former GB u18 and u20 international.

I won’t lie; this one is a bit of a surprise for me. I genuinely had an inkling that 2017 would have seen the end of Joe Baird’s hockey career. With all that the off season has thrown at us and all that had been thrown about before the 2016/17 season had even ended, you wouldn’t have blamed him for calling time. I don’t think anyone blamed Matt Towalski from stepping away from hockey, it seems the ideal time to do it. At an outside chance, I thought that maybe a role with the Buffalo would have wetted Baird’s appetite but no. Joe Baird is a Bison once again.

Baird has his detractors; he’s not the fastest of skaters anymore which sees speedier forwards get the wrong side of him. People feel that he also takes too many unnecessary penalties into the bargain down to a mixture of being too slow and being too physical at times.

With 5 trophies to his name, 3 of those since 2014 with this club, it’s pretty easy to argue that Joe Baird should be allowed to go out on Joe Baird’s terms and especially where the Bison as a club are concerned. If Baird feels he can play on then play on he shall and the organisation should certainly take his wishes into account.

That’s not to say that Doug Sheppard should just blindly re-sign players because they were here the previous season. If there are upgrades to be made then they should be made. Sometimes that means putting sentiment aside.

However Doug Sheppard still sees a place for Joe Baird in this team, Joe Baird still wants to play and so Joe Baird is back. It’s as simple as that and I think I can see why Sheppard has brought him back and to my mind, there’s two reasons for it.

The first is simply the style of play that the Bison will be playing. Look at the three defencemen that the Bison currently have on the roster; it’s now Dan Scott (big lad who likes to play the body), Elliott Dewey (big-ish lad who likes to play the body) and Joe Baird (not the biggest lad but likes the play the body). Doug Sheppard is clearly not changing his overall ethos of how he is putting this team together and the blueline are going out to shut people down and make sure they stay shut down. The drop to two imports means a fair few imports who were usually the faster and more skilled players on the team are gone. It means that Baird has a role because the way we’re going to play defensively suits his style and it’s the style that has seen the Bison concede the fewest goals and allow some of the fewest shots in the EPL the last two seasons.

The other reason why Baird is back is the good old mantra of veteran leadership. The Bison has always been a team of multiple “leaders” in that sense. Aaron Connolly is still in his early twenties and is the named leader of the Bison but you can’t beat experience. In the shifting seas that we find the club in, on ice you need a steady head. You need someone who has been and seen and done it all and that’s where Baird will come in. He might be slow, he might take daft penalties but in crunch games who is generally a really solid player on the team?

I don’t propose that Baird is about to be on the Bison’s top pairing for the coming campaign, he likely 4th or 5th defenceman to be paired with one of the younger players to help show them the way. Whether you like him or not, Joe Baird has forgotten more about hockey than most of us. The Bison believe that he has an on ice role to play in their systems and with some younger players coming onto the roster as a result of the move to NIHL 1 South, it makes sense to milk that experience for all that it’s worth.

Welcome back, Joe.

The BOTW Podcast – episode 56

So the summer keeps rumbling on and The BOTW Podcast is back for one of its off-season specials.

Tons has been happening in British hockey; we had a structure then it changed as teams withdrew from NIHL 1 South, one of which was the Oxford City Stars. We speak to Stars’ director, James Schall to get the lowdown on why the Stars made their decision as well as other things going on at Oxford.

Then, we figured we’d talk about some hockey that’s actually being played. Michael Smith and Ellie-Marie Watts from Grassroots Sports and the media team of the Newcastle NorthStars in Australia come on to discuss the sport down under and how you can get your hockey fix this summer.

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; the news, action and views from the EPIHL NIHL and all levels above, below and in between.