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.”


Goodnight and Good Luck – Declan Balmer

The Bison has taken recently to announcing departures and signings together. The scheduling that we do here on the site occasionally means that we get to have a bit more information as things go and that’s what’s happened this time. With that, Banners On The Wall wraps up the last few days’ worth of announcements by bidding our farewells to Declan Balmer.

What have we lost?

In Balmer, the Bison lose a physical presence on the blueline. At 6’3” and nearly 200lbs, the Hull born defenceman has been one of the bigger elements to the Bison’s defensive corps. Never one to shy away from the rough and tumble, Balmer has always been prepared to stand up for his team mates as well. Declan has never topped the scoring charts but his upswing in points in the last couple of assists, mostly through assists, has provided an additional edge to his very good defensive play.

Declan Balmer swaps Basingstoke for the EIHL and the Manchester Stor.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Where has he gone?

When they announced his departure, the Bison mentioned that Balmer was off to the Elite League and Declan was announced today (10/6/17) as having joined the Manchester Storm.

Who replaces him?

At the moment, whether we’ve replaced Balmer directly is inconclusive. In terms of decent stay at home defencemen, both Dan Scott and Elliott Dewey can fill that roll. Scott certainly plays a similar physical style though I’m not sure if Doug Sheppard wants Scott to have that added physicality that Balmer occasionally provides. That element of Sheppard’s roster building remains to be seen.

Final thoughts:

Where the Ciaran Long departure to the Elite League has been a long time coming, the departure of Declan Balmer is a bit more of a natural transition though like Long, it isn’t a surprise that someone has taken a chance on Balmer at the highest level.

The provision for under 23 players in the line ups of EIHL sides means that rosters need those players on the gamesheet but how will the be used if at all? That’s where I think Balmer’s been shrewd in going to Manchester for a couple of reasons.

The first of those is Manchester, who are not a big money organisation within the British top tier are not going to want to carry passengers. Balmer will not be a top 4 defenceman off the bat for the Storm, most likely aspiring for the 5th or 6th spot but he will get shifts.

The second reason of this is that new Storm coach Ryan Finnerty sort of knows what he is getting. A couple of years ago, whilst still the coach of the Braehead Clan, Finnerty signed Zach Sullivan for the Clan. BOTW (and everyone else in Basingstoke) joked when Finnerty said he was “surprised” at how ready Sullivan was for the EIHL but that experience has likely led Finnerty back to the well. Sullivan twice won the young British player of the year but with Sullivan committing to Braehead again, Finnerty has looked at Hampshire again for his next project defenceman. With a need for younger British roster players, a player like Balmer who has hit that point where he’s ready to make that step to the EIHL but won’t be stepping into a top 4 slot, will be useful piece of the Storm’s roster building puzzle.

Balmer has his detractors. During his time in Basingstoke he was accused of being overly physical, an agitator (and that’s the polite version) and a punching bag because whilst he likes to fight, critics say he isn’t good at it.

The fighting part aside (Balmer’s not that bad at it and remember that no fight has ever won a hockey game) I’d say both criticisms are fair to a point.

Declan Balmer, like the Bison as a team under Doug Sheppard’s stewardship, can be overly physical. However you don’t sign Declan Balmer to be a finesse defender. You sign him to hit people. You sign him to go into corners and do the dirty defensive work you need your blueliners to do. That means being physical. Hockey is a physical sport and whilst the penalty minute count might concern certain fans of his new employers, I don’t think it should be a primary concern.

The agitator claim is an interesting one. For me, Balmer is a player that you hate if they play for someone else and love if they play for you. He wants to get under the skin of players because if those skill guys are off their game, they try to play his game and Declan Balmer is better at playing his game than your first line winger. He’ll take the hacks and the whacks, he’ll take the penalty minutes because if it takes someone else out of the game that is a real threat for the other side then that’s going to be a trade off, especially in the EIHL.

The Storm don’t need an out and out fighter, they have that in former Philadelphia Flyer, Jay Rosehill but as a middleweight (of sorts) who can be a solid defender and do some extra work, I think this is a signing that works for player and club. We’ll obviously miss his presence in Basingstoke but the whole point is that we should see our better players head to the EIHL. That’s what should be happening when we’re playing second tier hockey. He leaves Basingstoke with an EPL winners medal and clearly an ability to do the job. The player and the club have both done what they are supposed to.

All the best, Declan; try your best to kick up a Storm. (I know, that pun is terrible but it worked.)

Goodnight and Good Luck – Ciaran Long

Photo (c) of 5 Hole Photography – remember to celebrate the best Bison moments with a print

Goodnight and Good Luck – Derek Roehl

After a rest over the bank holiday weekend, BOTW returns as we have a couple of farewells to do. We’ll get to Joe Rand at a later stage given we did the big retirement piece for him as we’re going to do something different, so it’s time to say goodbye to Derek Roehl.

The party’s over; Derek Roehl is off to pastures new.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

What have we lost?

Roehl is a player who tries to do a bit of everything. In a league with an import limit, this is the kind of player that you want because they are prepared to do a bit of all the work. The difference is having the ability to be able to do all of that. Roehl is able to score and make the pass. He’s not afraid to crash the net and has the hands and physicality to get there in the first place. He can do that bit of agitation that’s needed now and again as well.

What Roehl added to the Bison when he came in was a bit of old fashioned direct play. Petr Polodna had taken too long to start firing whereas Roehl stepped off the plane and immediately made an impact on the Bison’s style of play. Where Jakub Barton was arguably the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time, Roehl was the opposite.

Where has he gone?

Chalk up another victim to the Bison’s move to NIHL 1 South changing the make-up of the Bison roster.

Who replaces him?

At the moment, it’s really hard to tell given that the roster has only 4 players and one import. Tomas Karpov and Derek Roehl do not play the same game so that’s not the right comparison to make here. What becomes the key for the Bison is what sort of import split that the Herd are going to go with. If the club are going with 2 import forwards than the Bison arguably find an import player like Roehl and some would argue that you should have just brought him back. You might want a more natural out and out scorer in that second import slot so there’s one on each of the top two lines but Roehl scored 20 goals in 44 games so are you wanting someone more like Karpov than not?

The other option is an import defenceman who you would want to have an attacking upside, someone in a Mindy Kieras mould though I venture the nearly 37 year old Kieras will not be on his way back to these shores. Either way, a replacement for the other imports the Bison have is going to be a massive task. Then again, the glut of British players now available will more than be able to fill those other positions.

Final thoughts:

40 points from 44 games; Derek Roeh’s time in Basingstoke started off well, tailed off a little bit in the middle then picked up again at the end. When the playoffs rolled around, the switch in the American’s head and he roared into life again. If the Derek Roehl of the first few games in Basingstoke had played like that for the duration of the season then Roehl would have had 80 points rather than 40.

I am convinced that Derek Roehl was playing hurt during this season. Hockey players all play hurt, that’s a given but I think there are games that Roehl played and didn’t do as well as he could have done because he should have sat because of injury.

There’s also the other factor that no player on a Bison roster since the appointment of Doug Sheppard has scored astronomical points. Even the year that the Bison won the title, the highest points scorer on the team was Rene Jarolin who was 10th and that included his numbers in MK. The next was Tomas Karpov in 19th. You don’t come to Basingstoke to pad your stats, you come to win games. You come to buy in to what’s going on and to Roehl’s credit, he bought in.

Roehl’s a charismatic guy and he plays a charismatic game that fans can easily get behind. He chucks his flat cap onto the ice when a team mate scores a hattrick, he gets on the mic to announce during the NIHL game, he sticks up for his team mates. Hockey is sport but it’s also entertainment and for his faults, Roehl is entertaining to watch in full flight.

We’ve talked about it on BOTW many times that players come and go. Hockey sees people appear and leave. That is true of Derek Roehl’s time at the Basingstoke Bison. He wasn’t here for a long time but he made us laugh and he made us smile. I guess that’s the point isn’t it.

Thanks Derek and all the best.

Goodnight and Good Luck – Rene Jarolin

Rene Jarolin is another of the Bison imports not returning for the venture into NIHL 1 South.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

With the departure to Tomas Hiadlovsky in the books, it’s time to say to the other player that the Bison announced wouldn’t be returning in Rene Jarolin.

What have we lost?

Since his arrival in November 2015, Jarolin has been one of the Bison’s most potent attacking threats. His partnership with Joe Greener and Ciaran Long in 2015/16 was the arguably the Bison’s most threatening forward line on the way to the title. Jarolin was deceptive, seemingly almost appearing from nowhere to make a pass or fire in which is impressive given that he’s not exactly a small guy. He wasn’t fast but seemed to make the space in one stride that others would in three or four. He reportedly can’t see that well off the ice without his glasses but could see everything and everyone on it. Despite his advancing years, Jarolin was the match of many defences and put up numbers that also saw him named to the second all star team off the back of joining the Herd a couple of months into the season.

Let us also not forget that he scores with his face.

Where has he gone?

At the moment, nowhere. Jarolin, along with Tomas Hiadlovsky, are not returning as a result of the Bison’s move to the NIHL 1 South.

Who replaces him?

At the moment, nobody but there’s nobody signed up for next season so as with Hiadlovsky there’s only rumour and conjecture.

Final thoughts:

It’s the 26th November 2015; Joe Rand has “retired” from hockey and there are two free agent import forwards lurking around the EPIHL. Frantisek Bakrlik has left Bracknell and ends up at Milton Keynes and Rene Jarolin, despite being at a point per game is released by the Lightning having scored 5 goals in 20 games. I theorised on here why Doug Sheppard made that choice at the time, why he had chosen the EIHL player who had appeared to be struggling to adjust to the EPL instead of the player who had torn the EPL apart. It seemed a bit of a gamble.

It also seems Sheppard was proven right in the end. After 5 goals in 20 games, Jarolin hit 24 in his 35 games for the Herd. His overall record in his 86 Bison regular season games was 48 goals and 107 points. For whatever reason, Jarolin seemed to work in the Bison’s systems where he didn’t work for Milton Keynes. That happens; we saw players come into the Bison’s systems and just not work like Petr Polodna or JJ Pitchley and this was just the reverse of that. Jarolin came to Hampshire and made the players around him better. He was never going to win a foot race with Tomasz Malasinski or out muscle Doug Clarkson but for some reason, he just seemed to be able to do the right thing at the right time.
Jarolin was a different figure in the Bison roster. With a team that’s generally been at the younger end of the scale, the Slovak cut a bit of a different figure. 35 years old and closer to the end of his career than the start, he was the right guy in the right place at the right time.

It’s a shame that he has to go as I believe that if the Bison manage to keep a large chunk of their defensive corps that the Herd will go down the two import forward route and Jarolin and AN Other would have been a fantastic 1-2 punch in the NIHL but it’s not to be.

There’s not much left to say than this for the last time;

Thanks, Rene.

Thanks, Pete Russell.

He scores with his face, he scores with his faaaaaace, Rene Jarolin, he scores with his face.

Goodnight and Good Luck – Tomas Hiadlovsky

After two seasons in Bison colours, Tomas Hiadlovsky waves goodbye to Basingstoke
(c) 5 Hole Photography

The Bison’s move to NIHL 1 South was always going to see some members of the Herd leave. The move to a 2 import league was always going to see players move. With Joe Rand heading back to Canada (and don’t worry, we’ve not forgotten about him), another two imports are heading on to new locations. We’ll start with the hole left in the Bison net with the departure of Tomas Hiadlovsky.

What have we lost?

For some reason, there’s been no announcement from Ice Hockey Journalists UK with regards to all-star teams for last season. I genuinely believed that Tomas Hiadlovsky would have been on one of the all-star teams but I suppose we’ll never know. For a man who clearly has a bit of a temper on the ice, Hiadlovsky was generally a cool customer in the net. In the title winning season there was this really great contrast between Jon Baston with his frantic, kinetic, almost chaotic style and Hiadlovsky who was the more orthodox in how he approached things.

The Bison have had a really good defensive corps over the last few years and had two years running with the fewest goals conceded in the league. The defenders played a massive role in that and so did Hiadlovsky. Some might argue about his save percentage possibly being higher or the odd soft goal (we’ll get to that) but you had to shoot well to beat the Slovak. The defence would let shots through because they knew that he’d save them. For every random lost puck behind the net, there were 4 or 5 breakaways that he stopped. If he’d stayed, the club’s shutout record would have surely gone.

Where has he gone?

At the moment, we don’t know. All we have is the announcement from the club that they won’t be returning.

Who replaces him?

Let the silly season begin! There are no concrete rumours as to who will start between the pipes for the Bison next season but there are options. It seems that a British netminder will be the Bison’s preferred option for the next campaign and there are some options about. The gap between the EIHL and the NIHL is now pretty vast but there will be players looking for a starting spot. The chance in focus at Bracknell could see Alex Mettam as an option. Doug Sheppard might target former Bison netminder and current Streatham number 1, Matt Colclough, a player with vast experience at this level and locally based.

The other option of course is sitting under our nose and that’s to hand the reigns to Dan Weller-Evans. Having sat behind Dean Skinns and Tomas Hiadlovsky, Dan’s had some good training as well as some experience in the NIHL. He’s always accounted himself well in EPL games when given the chance. The time might be right for DWE to step into the role that it’s known that the former Bison junior has wanted for a long time. One thing counting against Dan is that the pool of British goalies for a two import league is now quite a deep one and does he lose out to a more established British name if Doug Sheppard doesn’t want to take that chance? We’ll have to wait and see.

Final thoughts:

Stay in your net!” became the most annoying thing to me last year. I’ve even just gritted my teeth writing this. I’m not going to lie; I don’t always sit with my finger on the pulse of popular opinion and that’s fine. It’s not a big deal to have different opinions but that one always got my goat as people demanded that Tomas Hiadlovsky stop playing his natural game. There I would be, like Winnie the Pooh under his little black rain cloud as muttering to myself that why couldn’t people just let him get on with it?

Yes, he got caught out behind the net on occasions. He also still conceded fewer goals than any other goalie and had the best GAA in the league doing it. High risk, high reward and a first league title for over two decades is a fair price to pay I feel. Without a shadow of a doubt, Tomas Hiadlovsky was the best netminder we had in the EPIHL. Whether he is your favourite is another matter but performances across two years and the numbers don’t lie.

We know why this decision has been taken by Doug Sheppard. In a league with 2 imports dressed, one on the ice at a time, you cannot have an import netminder. It just isn’t feasible to operate in that way. Could the Bison have done it? Arguably yes if they’d manage to keep all of last year’s British players. However for a first season into an unknown venture, it makes sense to have the options.

I venture that Hiadlovsky could still do a job at EIHL level and wouldn’t be massively surprised if he ended up back in Scotland or at Guildford but then he might just head home. Either way, the cycle of hockey goes onwards and where many don’t get to attach their names to things, Tomas Hiadlovsky helped backstop the club to the very top.

Thanks Tomas, go well.

Goodnight and Good Luck – Matt Towalski

(c) 5 Hole Photography

It’s been a bit of a mad week this week. Unless you’ve been living in a hole or just insanely busy, you’ll have noticed that British hockey has started spiralling out of control. I’ve put publishing this piece back twice already and when I sat down to try and write it properly, I just could bash out the same thing that I usually do. However a player with a long and storied career deserves the same treatment that we’ve given every other player to leave the Bison organisation since 2011 so we’re just going to go a bit more freestyle in this piece.

Perhaps Matt Towalski knew something that we didn’t. From a personal perspective, it was somewhat disconcerting to sit down and look at Matt’s statistics and read he was retiring. Matt Towalski is a couple of months older than me so to read of anyone around my age retiring was a bit of a shock to the system. Does this mean that I’m old now?

From a hockey perspective it makes a ton of sense. Matt Towalski has played a high energy, really hard nosed game for a very long time. You didn’t sign Matt Towalski to score tons of points (his EPL best totals for a season was 34 points back in 2008/09) but he was a grinder, an agitator, a salt of the earth middle to lower order forward who would go and do anything you wanted him to.

From Slough to 7 seasons at MK with one playoff and one league title to his name before a more storied end to his career where he went to Slough whose star in the EPIHL was fading to Bracknell who just ran out of resources to joining the Herd midway through last season and ending up with a league winners medal and creating space for Tomas Karpov and Alan Lack.

We all have our traits that make someone our favourite players whether they be flashy or skilful but one of the best traits that any hockey player can have is consistency. It’s something that the writing here across the last few years at BOTW has made a point of it. When players are consistent, when teams are consistent, they win and the 2015/16 Bison team were perfect evidence of that as were this season’s Telford side. The Bison won 14 games out of 17 down the stretch to the point where they won the title. Telford didn’t lose a league game after early February. That talent for a player to play to the best of their ability as much as they can is what won Dan Davies this site’s player of the season.

However if we track back to the start of the campaign when the Bison weren’t consistent as a unit there were two players who maintained that level that was needed. One was Shaun Thompson who left as he felt he needed to play more of “his game”. The other was Matt Towalski. Where others were looking lost, he made things happen.

As the season went on and the rest of the roster warmed up and settled down, you started noticing Towalski less apart from the odd spectacular goal (he had deceptively good hands). He and others might argue that was somewhat the point, that he’s a depth guy but it’s that depth that has made the Bison so good over the last few years. Yes, Tomas Karpov or Ciaran Long or Rene Jarolin get the plaudits but the title win wouldn’t have happened without Thompson, Towalski, Lack and Lackey to provide that support. Those MK teams in the mid to late 2000’s had spectacular imports but what would they have been without Towalski, Wales, McPherson and Jamieson running about?

Whatever bizarre future lies ahead for the Bison is very much up in the air, the Bison have joined other clubs in applying for the NIHL 1 South along with others according to the club, and if we’re honest we can sign guys to be depth guys. What needs to go on record though is that you can put anyone in the shirt but the quality and capability will always differ. You knew what you got with Matt Towalski; he’d tug at your shirt, he’d hack you, whack you, maybe give you a little dig in the ribs, you could almost set your watch by the holding penalty he’d get but it’s that effort, that consistency that you can never fault.

The future of many clubs appears to be up in the air but Towalski has chosen his and with all this uncertainty, others may well follow. Greg Wood already has citing the recent chaos as part of the reason. What we can celebrate is a guy who gave everything he had for the clubs that he turned out for.

Congratulations Matt on the career and all the best for what comes next.