#?? Ashley Tait
Born: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Announced as signed: Bison website, 23rd May
With morale amongst the fanbase at a worrying low following recent announcement and the departure of a popular coach and 8 of the Herd’s treble winning squad, the NIHL was given a shot across its bow. Club owners Planet Ice announced on Wednesday that former Great Britain international, Ashley Tait would replace Doug Sheppard as Director of Hockey Operations for the Basingstoke Bison along with being the team’s new player/head coach.
42 year old Tait comes to North Hampshire with one of the most colourful CVs in British hockey. After coming through the Nottingham junior system and making his senior debut in 1990 for the Panthers, Tait became a fan favourite for the Panthers in the late days of the old British Hockey League and into the early days of the Superleague before departing for a two season stint in the British National League for the Kingston Hawks.
After returning to the Panthers in 1999, Tait remained in Nottingham for 3 more seasons before swapping one side of the midlands for the other as he left to join the Coventry Blaze.
Tait’s association with the Blaze between 2002 and 2007 is one that would help define Tait’s career. Captaining the Skydome side for the duration of that spell, he would become talismanic for the Blaze as well as captaining the club to a grand slam in 2004/05 with Tait famously scoring the playoff winning goal in overtime of the playoff final at the National Ice Centre against the Panthers.
In 2007 Tait made the somewhat controversial move of leaving Warwickshire for Yorkshire and joined the Sheffield Steelers. With a 1 year gap in 2009/10 to play in Italy for Ritten, Tait would remain with the Steelers until 2013 during which time he would also spend a season as player/assistant coach.
A return to old pastures beckoned as Tait headed back to Coventry and back into the captain’s role for the Blaze in 2013 which he would hold for the next 3 seasons. Tait would remain with the Blaze for his final year with the club in 2016/17 but would relinquish the C. 2017/18 saw Tait start the season without a club before stepping in to provide injury cover for the Milton Keynes Lightning and the Belfast Giants across the campaign.
In his playing career across the 4 different British leagues he’s played in and Serie A in Italy, Tait has accrued 5 league titles, 7 cups and 5 playoff winner’s medals along with 2 all-star selections and twice was the highest goalscoring British player in the EIHL. In league, cup and playoffs he totals 795 games with 699 points with 254 goals. As a senior player, Tait has played 1476 in all competitions.
Tait’s playing accomplishments extend into his 115 cap international career for Great Britain which includes 17 World Championship campaigns with 3 silvers and a bronze to his name along with appearing in 4 Olympic qualifying campaigns.
To give some of our fans who do not remember Tait from the battles against the Bison from the EIHL days, we turned to Stuart Coles, colour analyst for the Coventry Blaze webcast team to give us some insight into sort of guy that the team are getting.
“(Tait is) super motivated and keeps himself in great shape. Do not be fooled by his age, he’ll be able to keep up and likely excel at NIHL level. He’s very much a leader and has coaching experience so should be a good fit in that regard. Not the most vocal, more of a let me lead you by example kind of guy, which works as a player/coach. Smart, tactically aware, he has a decent shot but transitioned more to a playmaker/defensive role in his second spell with us. Also – he’s a sports business lecturer and has worked for the Blaze on the commercial side. That can’t be underestimated as part of the signing.”
This is the change and it’s one that will garner some opinions. A large swathe of Bison fans will not remember seeing Tait play in Basingstoke against the Bison but a great deal will hopefully be aware of him. If they weren’t before then they’ll get a chance to find out now.
The later part of what Stuart Coles has said about Tait’s sports business acumen cannot be understated here. Being director of hockey operations means being the guy; it’s houses for the team, meeting with sponsors, organising nearly everything as well as signing and coaching the team. Combining that with playing is not going to be an easy task for anyone even if the level of hockey is below what Tait is used to playing. However having that part of the club’s portfolio in the hands of someone with those skills is encouraging.
In terms of playing, we know the sort of player that we are getting. Whilst at EIHL level he has swapped to a more defensive style, Tait as a two way player is going to be huge in the NIHL. It’s obviously impossible to know exactly how he will fit into the lines as he’s the only signed player on the roster but you have to imagine that he’ll be playing top six minutes and on the powerplay.
The one question mark in all of this is the coaching. Tait has coaching experience, his ability to do that is not questioned but for the first time it is all on him. Despite what some may say about the gap in quality in all sectors between the EIHL and NIHL, it doesn’t detract from the fact that it’s now all his systems and all his ideas. Tait has worked under some very good coaches, notably Paul Thompson so there’s contacts for ideas as well as talent into the bargain.
The potential is there for this appointment to be massive for the Bison but at the moment, that’s all we have; potential. Seemingly the roster needs to be rebuilt from scratch and Tait will need to dig into his book of contacts and his use his nous to get a team together. With word that a fair chunk of last season’s roster have gone, it’s a fair bet that people will want to play for Ashley Tait but who is available?
In 2012, this was Doug Sheppard. In 2018 it is now Ashley Tait however the new man to head the Herd finds the club in a very different position that Sheppard found it. There’s a legacy to live up to but this is a different man with his own ideas. There may not be instant gratification and fans need to accept that. Then again, we saw what happened when the last guy got given a chance and some time.
Welcome to Basingstoke, Ashley.
The Basingstoke Bison took the unusual step of announcing the departure of 6 players all at once earlier this week, with all of them announced as having decided to “ply their trade elsewhere in the NIHL next season”. Following a poll on the BOTW twitter account, the majority wanted a single piece covering all the departures.
When Dean Skinns was announced as returning to the Basingstoke Bison, the general fan reaction was muted. The dying embers of the EPL had seen Skinns go from being shelled at MK to being a back-up at Guildford to now back in Basingstoke and stepping into the skates of the very popular Tomas Hiadlovsky.
Whilst the end result was superb, that wasn’t to say that Skinns’ season wasn’t without its extremes. At times letting in some very soft goals and having the occasional poor game, Skinns comfortably overtook Curtis Cruickshank as the club’s leader for total number of shutouts as well as conceded only 8 goals in 8 total playoff games including shutouts against Invicta and London in the regional rounds and shutting Telford out in the national final. Whether you’re a Skinns fan or not, that’s an impressive run and that resulted in two of the three trophies.
Many make the point that Skinns benefited from having such a good defence in front of him but the good defence was similar to the one that Hiadlovsky had and that Skinns had in his previous spell. Having a good roster balance is part of good coaching. Irrespective of that, it’s not the defenders stopping the pucks that do get through. Skinns made the saves even if you wish to make the argument that shutouts are really a team stat as opposed to an individual one. With another good defence in front of him, Skinns can likely do the same again.
At the time of writing, Antonov is the only player whose location is 100% confirmed with the news that he has returned to Bracknell to once again link up with Doug Sheppard.
Whilst I’m not surprised, I am slightly disappointed that an EIHL side hasn’t taken a chance on Antonov though this might be down to his desire to keep a focus on his university studies rather than it being a sidearm to his hockey playing. Whilst it took Ciaran Long a long while to make his way to the EIHL, this writer believes that Antonov will see an EIHL roster permanently sooner rather than later.
The man with (seemingly) the longest stick in British hockey returning to the club where he came through the juniors is no real surprise given the uncertainty of the situation in Basingstoke. Some may wonder why Antonov didn’t score astronomical numbers in the NIHL but that’s the structure of Sheppard’s brand of hockey. What always shone through from the young Russo-Brit is the skill level. That’s never been just a case of doing flashy moves, though he possesses lots of those, but his ability to hold players off, steal the puck and work in corners rarely gets the plaudits that it deserves.
As a watcher of hockey, I really enjoyed Josh Smith. It wasn’t just his terrible dancing or the fact that his massive beard did nothing to make him look any older than his 19 years but he’s just one of those players you have to respect for how they play. Smith does everything he’s asked to with minimal fuss. Asked to play on the top line with Karpov and Antonov to make some space; he does it. Asked to crash and bang on the third line; does it with a smile on his face. Asked to play on the powerplay or penalty kill; goes out and gets on with it. With an underrated shot, Smith is not someone who is going to score 40-50 points at the moment but he’ll get the odd pretty goal and a ton of gritty ones if given the opportunities.
It’s no secret that the Ryan Sutton that came back from Canada was a lot better than the one that went to Canada but at the start of the season when the Bison’s form was a real issue, this site questioned whether Sutton was ready to be a second line centre. With the Bison in flux, Sheppard made some roster decisions and didn’t replace like for like. The departure of Ashley Jackson left a hole in the lines and Sutton had an opportunity. It was time for the former Bison junior to stand up and be counted and he made it count. He upped his game and made his chances count.
He’s not the finished the finished product at this stage by any stretch and I still think that Sutton needs to really find his niche in British hockey but he certainly has the tools to do it. Another player, like Smith, who was asked to do a bunch of stuff and did it with minimal fuss, Sutton surprised other teams and most of the Bison fans with his wrist shot and 14 goals in league and cup is not a bad return. If Shaun Thompson’s overtime goal against Swindon in 2016 was a fulcrum towards the EPL title then Sutton’s away at London to steal the points was arguably the one towards the NIHL South 1 league crown.
The young man who went from spare forward to all-star defenceman to the scorer of the NIHL 1 South championship winning goal is off. Very little in British hockey should surprise anyone but that Mogg is leaving Basingstoke arguably feels unusual than most given how much he’s been around the club.
With the reasons given above for others leaving obviously a contributing factor, it goes without saying that a defenceman of Mogg’s qualities would obviously be in demand. There were some brief rumblings given his brief guest appearance for the Coventry Blaze in the last pre-season whether he’d be trying his luck at a higher level but it seems that the NIHL remains Mogg’s destination.
Mogg is never going to win any awards for the hardest hitting defenceman or hardest slapshot but if you had 6 defencemen who did just that then you’d be caught out very easily. A more than solid skater and useful with the active stick, Mogg is a defenceman who gets in your way rather than levelling you at centre ice but that works for him and for teams. Never afraid to jump into the play when required, he’s probably not as the quarterback of a powerplay but certainly able to contribute 5on5 or on special teams.
Having headed back to the Czech Republic recently, Karpov spoke to BOTW from his Prague home late on Tuesday evening. I asked him his reasons for leaving. I asked him “why now?”
“I’ve been in Basingstoke for 5 years. I’ve had a lot of success and met a lot of great people but within myself I think I need a change. It’s a great place to be but my studies (at Winchester University) are finished and I just feel that I want to change my environment.
In some ways it’s impossible to blame Tomas for any of that. Given the changes going on and the end of his formal education, it’s as good as a time for a change as any and whilst we might not like that, we should respect that. Karpov had worried whether everyone would understand his rationale. I took a moment to retort that this is sad but it’s one of hockey’s comings and goings, “it is what it is”. There’s a pause on the line then finally a noise of agreement then another pause; “yeah, it is what it is”.
The focal point of a large chunk of the Bison’s offence is now missing and that will arguably be the hardest bit to replace for the Bison. Similar to Antonov, it wasn’t just the goal scoring but all the bits that came with it. A natural centre, Karpov’s playmaking ability was second to none at this level and that’s what the Bison will miss most going forward.
Karpov once told me that he overthinks things on the ice and I think that’s probably a fair assessment. Sometimes he does try to do too much himself but that’s the reserve of players in his position; when you are the go-to guy and the team need you, you have to do something. Thankfully for the Bison, more often than not it was the right thing. When you consider that bar Mogg’s mention above, Karpov has the winning goal on every other trophy of the Sheppard era, the Bison lose more than goals and playmaking here.
People in Basingstoke were prepared for change but given that so much has come at once, it seems a tough pill for many to swallow. Newer fans won’t remember the move from EIHL to EPL when only 1 member of the roster (Kurt Reynolds) remained with the club. Whether we see such a drastic roster shift will depend on the plans and persuasive skills of our new coach.
Whilst the ownership make it clear that they wanted to get the right man, some sort of break down has resulted in a trophy a year winning coach leaving. Planet Ice need to accept that the state and longevity of the arena has likely played part in that and that it’s also likely part of the reason for these 6 departures.
I don’t think anyone reasonable blames the players for going. People are upset, naturally. We also have to accept that with Sheppard going that a large chunk of the roster was going to go as well and, as said in the pieces on the departure of Connolly and Scott, this is the time for a reset if the man steering the ship is leaving. The nature of it though feels brutal and that’s what strikes fans in North Hampshire. Whilst I won’t share the ferocity of Dan Scott’s social media post, more surely needs to be said for 6 guys, let alone when one is arguably one of the club’s finest netminders and one, one of the most successful players in a Bison shirt in recent memory.
We’re heading into No Man’s Land where reasonable analysis is going to be tricky. The hope is that the ownership have appointed the right man and not just an available man or a popular man to help calm the disquiet. They got it right with Doug Sheppard. Tomorrow, we examine their latest selection.
Thank you gentleman for all you did in this jersey. Go well and (just for Tomas), don’t tell the monkey.
Having covered the departure of Dan Scott yesterday, the time has come to do the second goodbye of the weekend as we bid farewell to Aaron Connolly.
What have we lost?
What haven’t we lost? Under Doug Sheppard, Aaron Connolly became the engine and the heartbeat of the Bison on the ice. The 20 year old who became an alternate captain in his first season with the team after the departure of Joe Miller transitioned to being the leader of the team after Nicky Chinn left the club and never looked out of place despite his age. Aaron Connolly turns 25 at the start of next month.
On the ice the Bison lose one of their forwards who is able to do a bit of everything. Aaron is more than capable of doing his duty in his own zone but his strength this past season was finding his attacking feet again. 2016/17 saw a drop in personal numbers but 27 goals and 49 points in 31 league games is a superb return and made him the team’s third top scorer. When you have a player who can play top line scorer and be physical, losing him is not a good thing.
Where has he gone?
Connolly revealed his reasons for moving on though not where in the release from the Bison. Like Scott, Connolly is rumoured to be heading to join the London Raiders though this is yet to be confirmed by player or club.
Who replaces him?
Nobody on ice yet but who replaces Aaron as captain will depend massively on who the coach is and who is signed. I venture that the new man in charge will either go for an experienced veteran who joins or one of the roster who from last season who is convinced to return. I don’t expect the next Bison captain to be in Connolly’s mould.
Bison fans are obviously very sad about this news. The captain, the heartbeat of the team, its engine and probably the most popular player on the team has left the club. The coach going was bad enough but the front and centre vocal presence on the team is going as well. If Sheppard leaving and joining Bracknell wasn’t enough of a sea change then this is the confirmation that the club is heading in a different direction, one that we don’t know right now.
There’s been talk amongst some fans that I’ve seen of retiring Connolly’s jersey to which I’d say is premature. When Connolly nears the end of his career we should arguably look back and consider it given the legacy he has left at this club but he’s so young that he doesn’t remember Ed the Duck on CBBC. I appreciate the sentiment that people are expressing but there’s a lot of road left on the highway of Aaron Connolly’s career.
I don’t think a player has been this popular with the Herd fans since Brad Cruikshank. Those who remember the Canadian will see the similarities; would go through a wall for the jersey, talismanic when needed, would put the team on his back and always had a smile for the smallest fans, intimidated by the size of their heroes but would always take time to say hello to them.
Aaron Connolly leaves Basingstoke having made memories and history however time marches on. People, sport, lives; none of these things stand still and ultimately all of these things have come together to see one of the club’s favourite players of the 21st century take his leave of us for pastures new.
I’ll end on a brief story; for a couple of years now, Grant King the club’s photographer has let me use his shots on here as desired. Technically I should ask permission every time but Grant has always said that I can use whichever shots I wanted provided I credit him and keep the watermarks in. I’ve always been more than happy to, he’s a talented dude. Grant has also never asked me to use specific images. Being a professional, he’s got his favourites but he’s always let me choose which ones I thought fitted what I was writing.
However late yesterday I got a message from Grant where, for the first time, he asked me to use one of a selection. He felt that the skipper deserved the very best and had a couple of his favourites that he wanted used. I was happy to oblige. I also traditionally put the image at the start of the piece but I’ve put it at the end because it’s fitting. Grant sent me three but I’ve chosen this one because it’s a fantastic picture and one that I thinks sums up tons of feelings all at once. It’s a celebration of a job well done, it’s a salute for support and it’s the wave goodbye.
Thanks for everything, Aaron and just for you; bar dizzle.
The Bison threw two departure announcements at us in one go. We’ll get to the other one on Sunday but today we bid farewell to all star defenceman, Dan Scott.
What have we lost?
Doug Sheppard had reportedly tried to convince Dan Scott to sign in Basingstoke for a while before Telford’s financial instability during the final EPL season saw the Kent born defenceman finally make his way to Hampshire. In a team like the Bison’s which consistently allowed the fewest shots and goals, Scott was arguably the standout defenceman. Able to use his size as well as very rarely being caught out of position, Scott has a booming shot. The Bison’s first powerplay unit steadily became a task to tee Scott up for a one time shot from the hashmarks to the right of the goalie. An asset to any blueline corps at this level, Scott is also never shy to get stuck in and defend his teammates as needs be.
Where has he gone?
Scott’s new club has not been announced by is heavily rumoured to be heading to London Raiders. There always remains a chance of him going back to Invicta, nothing is ever confirmed until it’s confirmed, but BOTW’s understanding is that Scott is bound for Essex rather than his home county.
Who replaces him?
We don’t even have a coach announced yet so Lord knows who replaces Scott on the blueline.
It feels something of a moot point to say someone was a popular player on last season’s Bison team. Whether scoring loads of points or a bit part player, the fanbase rallied behind the team. With that being said, Dan Scott was a very popular on this Bison side.
People talk about hockey lacking characters in this day and age. When I first started watching hockey in the mid 2000s, it always seemed that the people that got associated with that moniker were not, traditionally speaking, the best of players; the sort who were good rather than really good and got by on being a bit quirky.
The above obviously doesn’t apply to every player. Dan Scott’s certainly a quirky guy or at least a noticeable one. Very rarely seen without a smile on his face, he seems to possess more natural rhythm than most hockey players I’ve met. The thing with Scott is that at EPL and NIHL level, he is a very capable defenceman. He ticks all the boxes in terms of what teams need from a number one or two defenceman. Scott can log big minutes whilst minimising mistakes, he does the important things that defencemen are meant to do first and foremost. He makes it hard for players to get around him and whilst not the fastest player on the ice, he makes up for that slight lack of speed by being really good with the active stick, see the playoff semi-final for evidence of that. The fact that he’s also able to add some attacking output to his arsenal makes him all the more valuable for teams that can secure his services.
Scott’s tenure with the Bison wasn’t a long one but it certainly was a profitable one for both parties, certainly in terms of the success that both sides got as a result. In some ways given Sheppard’s departure, it’s a natural point for many players to leave as a result. The pivot in the middle has gone and after so much success, it’s time for some guys to try other things or try to make hay whilst the sun shines. I doubt that Dan Scott is earning massive money playing second tier British ice hockey so we take his statement on social media at its word; it’s just time to move on.
The changes have begun.
Thanks for everything, Scotty and all the best.
Off the back of a season where he coached the team to three trophies and 6 trophies in his 6 years in charge, the Basingstoke Bison announced the decision of the club’s Director of Hockey Operations, Doug Sheppard to refuse a contract for 2018/19 and leave with immediate effect.
When asked Sheppard would not comment on the club’s press release mentioning that he refused a contract, nor on rumours of a reduced budget influencing his departure or where his next appointment would be, only saying that he had options to consider. Sheppard was quick to thank an array of people when BOTW spoke to him this afternoon. “I have to thank everyone, fans and volunteers. I do have to thank Plant Ice for the opportunity but it was the players that made it all happen and they’re the reason why we had so much success. We also had great off ice staff and I don’t want to try naming everyone because there’s too many people to thank. I leave with nothing but really good memories. It was a really good ride.”
Sheppard leaves the Bison after a second spell with the club. His first during the club’s Elite League tenure saw Sheppard join in 2004 and become player/head coach in 2006. Sheppard played 156 league, cup and playoff games for 165 points. At the end of 2006/07 the Bison’s operating license was purchased by David Taylor, then owner of the Bracknell Bees who wished to make changes including appointing Ryan Aldridge as head coach. Sheppard was offered the chance to remain as a player but instead left and joined Sheffield Steelers.
Following two playoff and one EIHL league with the Steelers, Sheppard spent a two year spell at the Slough Jets including 2011/12 as player/coach. After a cup and a playoff triumph in Berkshire Sheppard was enticed to return to Basingstoke, now in the English Premier League after Steve Moria’s contract was not renewed.
From 2012, Sheppard would play another 176 league, cup and playoff games for the Herd scoring 161 points until hanging up his skates to concentrate on coaching. Sheppard coached the Bison to their first trophy success in over a decade in 2014 with the side’s capture of the EPL over the MK Lightning, a second placed league finish as well as the Herd’s 2014 playoff weekend success where they defeated Manchester Phoenix in the playoff final to secure a famous double in the 25th season of Basingstoke hockey.
After a disappointing 2014/15 the Herd rebounded, with Sheppard coaching the Bison to the club’s first league success since before the club changed its name from the Beavers and ending a 23 year wait with the 2015/16 EPL league title.
Following the 2016/17 season and the demise of the EPL, the Bison were accepted into division 1 south of the National Ice Hockey League where Sheppard oversaw the Bison become the premier side in the new order of second tier hockey. The Herd were pushed to the final weekend but won the league title on goal difference after scoring 18 goals in two days. They followed that up with by winning the southern playoffs and then winning the national playoff weekend, defeating Telford 4-0 in the final to close out a memorable season.
For whatever reason, Planet Ice’s announcement on the departure of Sheppard has the news that the rink has passed whatever sort of survey was needed to allow the club to continue next season buried within it. Doug Sheppard or not at the helm this is a resolution, even if only a brief one, to allow the club to run in the 2018/19 season. There will be a title defence by the Basingstoke Bison
The future that the Bison face is one in a building that now can hopefully get some much needed attention given that surveyors have confirmed that it can continue but this team will be different. If all you have ever known is Doug Sheppard hockey then the big surprise starts now.
We all knew that players would leave. This site has long made a point of reiterating that this is the norm in minor league hockey. However we now must be prepared that some of our core players will now also likely leave the club. Depending on where Sheppard has gone they may well follow him to a new location. The Basingstoke Bison as we know it, the team that won the title last season is now a thing of the past.
If we turn back the clock to the end of 2011/12, some will remember how that season ended. The Bison had a 6th placed finish and were knocked out in the playoffs by the Sheffield Steeldogs; the surprise package of the season led by the goals of Janis Ozolins and an up and coming netminder called Ben Bowns. (Wonder what happened to him) BOTW was just about a year old and I wrote what, at the time, was my most literally critical piece about the club. I questioned the direction of the organisation as the club seemed to be stuck; stuck for a direction, stuck for a purpose and stuck accepting mediocrity. I genuinely didn’t know what the focus or the goal of the club was. The club responded by hiring Doug Sheppard.
As they say, the rest is history. In similar farewell pieces I’ve made a point to not trawl through all of the history of a person’s interaction with a club but we find ourselves again at a crossroads for the Basingstoke Bison as a club. The torch is being passed again to the next person to lead this organisation that many readers of this site love and many others at least begrudgingly respect.
The club is, again, in limbo. Despite the news that the club will play the 2018/19 season, home ice requires some urgent attention to make it an acceptable venue to welcome hockey players, officials and fans in to on a regular basis. This is coupled with the fact that ice sports participants and supporters find themselves in an unusual position where they need to keep attending the rink to show a lack lustre and seemingly blind local council and set of councillors that Basingstoke needs to keep any sort of facility there.
I threw a quick poll out on to Twitter and the majority said that the club should retire #28 for Doug Sheppard. If you also read social media or forums then you’ll see that the rumours are already in overdrive. Sheppard is going to Bracknell, he’s going to the Elite League, this player is leaving, that player is leaving; silly season is well and truly here and we understand that this is out of the blue and has caught the organisation off guard. Sheppard had signed players for the upcoming campaign already which only adds to the confusion.
Bison fans have to prepare themselves not just for changing faces but a changing style and changing outlook. We do not know who will be taking over and this change might see the club needing to step back before it can step forward again.
That bigger discussion is for another day. This door closing is someone’s opportunity. The person who has that opportunity has to step into some very big shoes left by the most successful coach in the modern era of the Basingstoke Bison.
Doug Sheppard was many things; the quiet man, the hard worker, the boss, the tinker. He left you jumping for joy as well as sometimes scratching your head. Why did we struggle to beat Peterborough so often? Why did he change the line combinations every couple of minutes? Why did he sign Kris Melachrino? Did he ever speak to the agent who recommended Jakub Barton ever again?
Aaron Connolly ruined at least three of his suits with alcohol. He took a solid foundation and pulled the club to the highest point it could muster. He was also accommodating to everyone who wanted to speak to him. He always knew that being a coach of a team was more than just drawing up hockey plays but about the people side of it. Whoever has secured his services have got one of the very best.
All the best, Doug. Go well.
NIHL 1 South Playoff Final
Basingstoke Bison 2-1 Peterborough Phantoms
Malinik x2 Padelek
Double it up:
After a close fought 1-1 draw the night before, it seemed that these two sides who were separated in the league table on the fifth tie breaker were once again going to fight out another nail biting encounter. Sometimes the easy story is the one that makes the most sense even if it was an incredibly elongated one thanks to the zamboni issues that saw the first period break last nearly as long as the first period itself. We tip our hat to the rink staff for getting the back up machine going.
In many ways Doug Sheppard brand shutdown hockey is made for the playoffs. Close games that require a bit of “grit your teeth” determination at both ends of the ice are not something that either the Bison or the Phantoms are adverse but the Bison managed to find that little extra something in their attacking play that put them over the line.
The Herd were the better side for the first twenty minutes as they had the better of the attacking chances and pressure though a 5-3 shot count in the Bison’s favour didn’t speak of tons of clear cut chances either way.
The second period saw the visitors step up a gear in their play and their physicality which made lots of sense against a shorter benched Herd side. When the Phantoms goal came it was arguably well deserved but the near immediate response from the Bison reset the home side’s confidence and allowed them to press on.
The third period just ended up being a war of attrition as both sides had their heads down for the finish. The Bison lost Grant Rounding in the second period to a knee issue and so the shorter bench that was already down Joe Baird before the game began switched to trying short, sharp shifts to keep the outskaters as fresh as they possibly could. The visitors started to crash the net and unsettle the Herd but thankfully everyone kept their cool in what had been a flowing game where Mr Matthews had tried to let the on ice action do the talking. Ultimately it was the Bison who held their nerve the best as the extra attacker yielded no reward for the visitors and another trophy celebration on Basingstoke ice.
Roman Malinik was nothing short of superb on this night. Having been almost understated in the quality of her performances over the season this time, with his wife in attendance, the Czech forward kept grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck trying to make things happen. So often the set up man, Malinik was the recipient of very good passes from Grant Rounding and Dan Davies and it was his finishing that proved the difference maker this time around as both his shots left Euan King with no chance.
Dean Skinns had an interesting night; at times like his counterpart, seemingly fighting the puck but the majority of the time he seemed to be dialled in to what was thrown at him. His defence let him see the puck which made the saves easier and whilst the Phantoms’ lone goal was frustrating, it was Skinns’ strength in close in the scramble and with the Phantoms crashing the net that was the reassuring factor. Playoff hockey so often becomes route one and it’s the netminder who is in the firing line. If Skinns is able to stand up to the attention then that bodes well. Sheffield are not known for their finesse.
The lines did get shuffled around after Rounding’s withdrawl but the Antonov, Davies and Karpov line remains one of my favourite things to watch when in full flight. It doesn’t score on every shift but has such a good blend of skill, flair and aggression that it’s impossible to not enjoy watching them play. Then there’s Aaron Connolly who skates through a concrete re-enforced wall at the drop of a hat.
This game could have gone either way but having dragged the title out of the hands of the Phantoms a few weeks ago it was a similar result again as a result of another whole team performance. It’s a second double trophy for success for Doug Sheppard during his tenure as head coach and the coach of the year accolade seems all the more apt.
A word on our opponents:
How the Peterborough Phantoms ended up in the Southern playoff final is not the concern of this piece (check out the latest BOTW podcast for that) but nonetheless, if I was a Phantoms fan I’d be sick to death of the Bison by now.
Nervy edgy games like this play into the Phantoms style but it was a good rather than a great start from the visitors. They just didn’t seem to quite have the attacking bite and whilst some have bemoaned the performances of Darius Pliskauskas this season, Peterborough needed someone with that sort of eye for goal.
However after the lengthy first period break it was the Phantoms who came out stronger in the second frame as they seemed to find an extra gear that they hadn’t had in the first frame. The game on the whole became much more open with both sides getting a bit more space to work with. It’s what gave the Phantoms the space for their goal which Ales Padelek took well. It’s also what gave the Bison the space to respond which was something of a problem.
In the final period the Phantoms upped the physicality again and threw the kitchen sink at the Bison. It just didn’t work. Sometimes you can give everything and it just doesn’t come off. After a lack lustre performance the previous weekend against Swindon, this was a better match up for Peterborough as they stylistically do better against teams like the Bison than they do the Wildcats. Whilst they will be disappointed to lose it’s better than it could have been for them heading into their game with Telford next weekend.
The above mentioned Padelek got the man of the match beers which was fair enough on the balance of play. As the Phantoms’ lone import he needed to make an impact on the game and he did. The defensive corps did a very good job of limiting the Bison at times and whilst Euan King felt like he was struggling with the puck on occasions, he also made some very good saves to keep them in it. Nathan Salem for me remains one of the better power forwards in the league. My only real frustration with the Phantoms’ performance was Will Weldon who should have spent more time concentrating on his play rather than bending the ear of Mr Matthews. He’s a superb player when he does. I don’t blame people for wanting to chat to the ref, Lord knows the Bison do it, but after every play?
The Peterborough Phantoms have now not won since their 2nd leg against Milton Keynes a fortnight ago and yet you cannot count them out of walking out of Coventry with the national playoff title. Slava Koulikov is a good enough coach and this is a good enough team to be able to do that over two games next weekend. Many won’t like that if that happens. The Phantoms won’t care.
Lowlight of the night: A fair few Phantoms seemed to want to bend the ear of the officials but as mentioned above, Weldon’s continued protestations detracted from a good game.
Highlight of the night: Malinik’s second goal and this…