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.

The State of our Game – Doug Clarkson’s letter to British Hockey

Former Cardiff, Dundee and Telford forward Doug Clarkson recently retired from hockey after the end of the 2016/17 season. Doug recently announced that he wanted to publish an open letter to those who run British hockey about his thoughts on how things are run. He asked BOTW to help out, we accepted and we present this to you now, without editing on our part.  They are Doug’s thoughts, rather than those of BOTW but we feel that it was in everyone’s interests to publish this given recent events.


Dear Sirs

(c) 5 Hole Photography

Having now retired from the game I love, I am writing this letter in the hope that the people following in my footsteps by playing hockey professionally will be ensured of the best possible experience. A career as a professional sportsperson is short, and can pass by without you ever realising what opportunities you might have missed, or how things could have been improved.

I want to start by saying that the time I spent in the UK was, hands down, the most fun and rewarding time I have ever had playing hockey. It was an amazing experience both on and off the ice. I played for great teams, met amazing players and people, and was lucky enough to leave the game on my own terms, and on the back of my career season!

As hockey players, we are used to being liked and disliked, jeered and praised in equal measure. It comes with the job, and most of us embrace it. But, in all of that madness of a game, weekend or season, the fans always deserved our best. They are the ones parting with their money to watch us play, and to pay our wages. I prided myself in always giving my best, every game and every season. From my experience of hockey in the UK, most other players took the same approach.

Sadly, however, the unwavering support of the fans, and the efforts of the players, is not enough to help hockey grow and thrive in the UK. Great games and strong attendances are an important first step, but they are arguably just papering over the cracks in the system. As a league and sporting governing body, I believe that the fans and players are being let down, and that the situation will not change any time soon unless action is taken.

My first issue is with the league structure itself. Hockey in the UK is not a mainstream sport – I do not think it has the resources or the capabilities to operate with a number of different leagues run by separate, independent governing bodies. As I understand it, the EIHL, SNL and EPIHL are operated and governed by separate organisations, with what appears to be little (if any) cohesion between them.

Why is there not one governing body, with a system in place where player development is a priority? You can still have the high quality hockey by having teams operate with a ‘farm system’, which will only help young players to develop and play, to the point where the leagues can start lowering the import levels but without compromising the quality of the on-ice product. It might even be possible to get help from the IIHF, which has helped other countries grow and sustain local, home-grown talent.

For a sport that is still trying to develop, I cannot see how the current approach is beneficial in the long run. I would like to see a more central governing body – an overarching board that has ultimate responsibility for the development of the game in the UK. Is this something that is being considered?

The issue of the GB National team still confuses me. Whilst, as a dual national player, I would have been honoured to represent GB, I am concerned that the home-grown talent will never thrive whilst that is still permitted.

The GB team looks strong at the moment, and some of the more recently eligible inclusions have added a great deal of skill to the squad. However, this has clearly been at the expense of British talent. Two excellent players have recently been cut from the GB squad, arguably at the expense of dual nationals. I feel strongly that this is not the message that GB ice hockey should be sending.

This decision, when combined with the EIHL increasing import levels in a short amount of time, is only going to hinder the longer-term development of British players. The current system feels short-sighted to me.

If the British players don’t play, either at club or international level, they don’t develop, and the next generation of young kids will shy away from making a career out of hockey. I understand that coaches are answerable in the ‘here and now’, and that that results in a moral conflict of sorts. I get why they would not want to sacrifice short-term results (against which they are judged) for a longer-term and more sustainable program.

I would argue that the GB team at the moment will be the best it will be for a while. When the Mark Richardsons and Jon Weavers are done playing, the gap left will be huge. I would like to see this reviewed to ensure that GB hockey has a bright long-term future, and would welcome clarification on what steps (other than limiting EIHL team to the number of Brits over the age of 23) are being taken to nurture young GB talent..

My final concern surrounds the image and reputation of hockey in the UK, both domestically and internationally. Sadly, there are people involved in the game, some of whom are ‘high ranking officials’ at clubs or in the league, who have no background in playing or managing hockey, and who offer little else to compensate. Others lack the professionalism to be in a position to influence the league in a positive way.

Whilst I appreciate that you don’t need to be a player to understand and love the game, I strongly feel that clubs should be led by people who understand both the game and the need to be commercially minded and professional.

I think it is really important that clubs engage with, and employ fans, particularly as there is no substitute for passion. That said, senior officials of large sports clubs are not brought it because they are fans. Chief Executives of large corporates or charities are not there because they like the brand or the cause their organisation is promoting. They are there because of their commercial skills, and the value they can add.

Until clubs, and the league, realise that they need shrewd business people (with a love of hockey, of course) at the helm to be able to grow this league, I fear that any progress made will be minimal.

Take the new Cardiff ownership for example. They come across to me as passionate hockey fans, which is great! But they are, first and foremost, successful business people, each and every one of them, and the team is doing well as a result of this combination. In contrast, one of the larger clubs continues to employ an individual in a key role whose inappropriate actions and comments appear to be constantly swept under the carpet.

If you were to review the forums, or ask the fans whether their conversations focus more around the commercial success of Cardiff, or the inappropriate actions of this individual, I am confident it would be the latter. Players, coaches and owners hear of these situations, which cannot be good for the league. It was not long ago that a well-known, former NHL player described the EIHL as a ‘beer league’ – this reputation will not disappear, and the league will not grow whilst unacceptable incidents continue to be tolerated. I would be interested to know what steps are being taken by the league to hold club officials to a particular standard, rather than relying on the clubs to take the correct action.

As I mentioned above, I am retired now, and am excited to be starting a career in coaching young hockey plays. The changes I am proposing have no bearing on me in any way, and I hope people realise that the purpose of this letter is not to criticise for the sake of it, but to ask for clarification and to try and raise awareness of what I believe is holding back hockey in the UK. It is terrible to see the wasted potential.

As I said above, I loved my time in the UK and I think the British born players and the fans deserve to have a league that is progressive, exciting and effectively operated. I feel strongly that the image of the league needs to be one of developing British talent, together with other young players just starting out. This will raise the standard at grass-roots level, and will hopefully ensure that hockey in the UK becomes a reputable and appealing alternative to the AHL and the other European leagues.

In short, I believe that better development, a more professional and structured approach, and the right people making decisions will only result in positive changes.

I look forward to your response.

Doug Clarkson

Running with the Herd – Bison vs Telford Tigers 8/4/17

EPIHL Playoff Semi Final

Basingstoke Bison 2-3 Telford Tigers

Roehl pp ………………….Clarkson x 2 (1pp)

Jarolin ……………………..Jones

Out of gas:

Banners On The Wall has always tried to be a place where the analysis is fair but make no mistake, this place has always been partisan. When asked in the run up to this game how I thought it would go, I tried to be rational and sensible. I tried to call it down the middle and was accepting of the fact that there were ways that the Bison could lose this game. Then Saturday evening rolled around, the nerves kicked in and I was shouting with the rest of them. I was also disappointed when it was done.

However, done it is and ultimately it was simply the fact that the team gave everything and ran out of energy. In what was a really evenly matched and tightly fought contest, the massive 5 minute penalty kill from the Aaron Connolly game penalty for boarding emptied the tank. The Bison ran out of steam and ran out of ideas. There’s no shame in that. The Bison needed a big final 20 minutes, gave everything they had and sadly came up short. That’s hockey.

On the BOTW Podcast I said that the one thing that the Bison needed to do was be good defensively and keep their discipline. The moments that didn’t cost them. The one massive penalty yielded the game winning goal and the two of the other three defensive lapses saw goals scored but actually the defensive corps had a good game I thought. Tomas Hiadlovsky will likely want the first and third goals back but made a string of decent saves and recovered well from being run by Jason Silverthorn in the early stages of the game, a penalty that led to Roehl’s goal.

With regards to Roehl, whilst he had a good game I feel that Vanya Antonov was robbed of man of the match. All of the Bison’s best work came through the line of Antonov, Rene Jarolin and Joe Miller. They were a constant threat and the Tigers struggled to deal with that combination all night. Jarolin’s goal in particular was a thing of beauty; a tic, tac toe manoeuvre that put the Slovakian behind the Tigers defence where he proceeded to remove Jon Baston from his shorts.

The issue for the Bison going forward was that the other lines just never really quite found their stride during even handed play. Connolly’s penalty meant that the lines had to be shuffled and they still just couldn’t find a way through against a well drilled Tigers side who did a good job off running out the clock.

The fairy tale ending was in sight when the Bison got a late powerplay but sadly the powerplay that has been the failing of the Herd on occasions just couldn’t lift itself. The tank was empty and the season was done. We’ll obviously go into the season in greater depth in Curtain Down but there was no reason for the Bison to be ashamed of that performance. It was effort every shift and played in the right spirit, it was Bison hockey.

A word on our opponents:

This was a good and a bad match for the Telford Tigers. It was good because they played well, played their systems to perfection and saw the game out once the had the lead. The bad comes from the fact that they had to work so hard to achieve that win that it no doubt played into the fact that Milton Keynes thumped them the following day. However we’ll cover that later this week.

This particular game was one where you saw why Telford won the league; they found the ways to make breakthroughs where others don’t. They went 1-0 and 2-1 down but found ways to get back into the tie. Whatever feelings you have about the off ice antics in Telford, the team on the ice on Saturday found those margins needed. They found those gaps that they needed. Sadly one of them was through Tomas Hiadlovsky.

Doug Clarkson got man of the match and this was actually spot on for me. Clarkson did his job to perfection on the night. He was a physical threat when needed, he was a scoring threat when needed. The game winning goal was the sort of goal that the Canadian has scored all season which was a nice one timer from the hashmarks that managed to make it through the 5 hole of Hiadlovsky. From there all he had to do was help get in the way. I can’t always say I liked the way Clarkson played, even in this game, but credit where it’s due to a man who played with a smile on his face. I wish him the best in retirement.

Jon Baston would come back to haunt the Bison in this one. Having had something of a slow start with the Tigers, Baston certainly found his stride on Saturday night where he made save after save in the clutch. In the last minute with the game on Derek Roehl’s stick, Jon Baston took it away and saw Telford into the playoff final.

Obviously this report is written after the final and what happened there. However as for Saturday night, we have to tip our hat to them. Much like when the Tigers beat the Bison 4-2 in Basingstoke, they found a way to outlast the Herd over the course of 60 minutes. The other discussions surrounding the Tigers are not for here. This one is about the game. They won it, more power to them.

Lowlight of the night: Jason Silverthorn is the best player in the EPL this season, there was no reason to run the goalie in the first few minutes of the game.

Highlight of the night: Jarolin’s goal, it was better than Bakrlik’s for me.

Running with the Herd – Bison vs Milton Keynes Lightning 01/04/17

EPIHL Playoff Group B

Basingstoke Bison 3-2 Milton Keynes Lightning

Miller x2 …………………..Emersic

Rand ……………………….Hölli pp

Punch the ticket:

Bison fans were treated to the rarity of all rarities at home in this game; a full roster. Grant Rounding iced in a full face guard after his hit from Frankie Bakrlik last Saturday in Milton Keynes.

I’m not one for throwing clichés around if I can help it but the idea of a cliché is that there’s a lack of original thought behind it but this was the archetype of a playoff game. It was tense, it was exciting, the hockey was edgy and nervous and both sets of fans lifted their respective rosters.

Hockey is a game of three periods and it really was a game of three for the Bison as the game had three very distinctive phases. In the first, the Bison gave what might be deemed their usual first period; a high energy approach where they threw the kitchen sink at the Lightning, forced many rebounds out of the opposition netminder which they didn’t follow up then in true Bison fashion got stung on the counter. The second period saw the Bison regroup and play a bit smarter. They did get fortunate, certainly on the second goal, that Przemyslaw Odrobny doesn’t seem massively keen on holding tight to the post but they rode that good fortune as well as manage to get their system set up and the two goal lead was established going into the third. The third period then was the attempt at Doug Sheppard shutdown hockey which worked for the most part bar the powerplay goal.

The one issue in the third for the Bison was they started to lose their cool a bit in the third. As is the way with games between these two teams, it was niggly with lots of off the play little hooks, grabs and whacks at each other. Whilst I think that Mikolaj Lopuski was fortunate to not take a penalty at the same time as Dan Scott to then have Derek Roehl take a penalty on the same powerplay as the Lightning scored could have made things a lot harder than they needed to be.

To Roehl’s credit, whilst he didn’t score, this was one of his better recent games. There’s something to be said about the way that British hockey values the league more than the playoffs but Roehl (and Rand for that matter) have the idea of playoffs hard-wired into them. Roehl was throwing himself in front of every shot, trying to do everything he could. He was arguably a man of the match candidate as a result.

The actual man of the match, Joe Miller, took both his goals very well. The first was thanks to the work of Vanya Antonov as he went on one of his mazy runs that drew the defender and allowed Miller the space to take the pass and fire home. The second was as a result of the above but also relied on the fact that Miller saw the chance and gave it a go. You may insert your own Gretzky quote here.

For those wondering about the remonstrations from Tomas Hiadlovsky on the first Lightning goal, the argument was to do with where Hiadlvosky was. The Slovak felt that he had been taken out by one of the Lightning forwards and impeded from making the save and that as he was in his goal crease that it was goaltender interference. Mr Matthews determined that the Bison netminder was outside of the crease and thus that call couldn’t be given. To be fair to Mr Matthews and irrespective of Hiadlovsky’s positioning, I don’t think the official can be blamed for not seeing exactly where the crease exactly began or ended. It should actually be noted though that the Lightning goal was a cracking shot from Blaz Emersic.

There was a job to be done and in the end, the Bison got it done. It was a real teamwork effort from the Herd who took a setback in conceding despite having had lots of pressure to turn the game in their favour and hold on. With Swindon unable to get more than 6 points, it meant that the Bison confirmed their spot at the Coventry weekend for the 4th time in the last 5 seasons. The Herd also currently lead the playoff group going into tonight’s game with Swindon. With the tiebreakers between the Bison and MK completely level, the Herd’s superior goal difference overall sees them lead the group. MK need to better the Bison’s result by 3 goals to win the group.

A word on our opponents:

So that was the last time for the foreseeable future that we will see the Milton Keynes Lightning in a competitive game in Basingstoke. Games between the good side have always been physical and bar a couple of incidents have always been played in the right spirit which will be missed. A slight boo to the folks who thought it was a good idea to stick an MKL flag on to some of the title banners and over the Bison logo. A slight cheer to those who encouraged them to move it to a more suitable location.

With Frankie Bakrlik rested, the Lightning were otherwise at full strength and it showed; they’re a very good EPIHL side. I think there’s an argument that they underachieved having finished as far behind Telford as they did but the quality that they possess as a unit is undeniable.

The Lightning played a very similar style to the Bison; a mix of mostly dump and chase with the odd charge up the middle or wings which trying to establish physical dominance. The other thing that the Lightning are very good at (and having a good netminder helps) is they are really good at weathering spells of pressure from their opponents. Given that this is essentially the Bison’s MO where they charge in and almost fire shots and let the law of probability dictate that something will eventually go in, it’s actually quite a useful ability to be able to have. Whether Nick Poole or Pete Russell has been the head coach, that defensive assuredness has been a hallmark of Lightning hockey.

Przemyslaw Odrobny got man of the match for a 21 save performance and he made some very good saves though he also had some awkward moments. His rebound control at times, especially in the first, was not brilliant and it seemed to catch his defence on the foot. That’s not to say Odrobny is a bad netminder and he certainly wouldn’t be the first netminder to struggle to get to grips with the angles in Basingstoke as older Bison fans will remember Jody Lehman never really got settled whether playing for Coventry or Sheffield. What will be interesting to watch will be Odrobny on that “bigger” ice (I say “bigger” because the dimensions at Coventry aren’t significantly bigger than either MK or Basingstoke) with that much more open venue. The Polish international is clearly very good but I don’t venture the Barmy Army want the heart attack moments next weekend.

The other player who really stood out was unsurprisingly, Antti Hölli. The Finnish forward is clearly a step above the EPL with a shot that will trouble most netminders. I’d be interested to see if he’s offered a contract for the Lightning’s step up to the EIHL. Given he’s just about to turn 30, he’s certainly in a place to be able to do it and has experience in EIHL calibre and better leagues.

Milton Keynes didn’t win in Basingstoke this season nor did the Bison win at the Thunderdome this year. The record in the playoffs is level as well. These two could contest the final if results go their way and if this is the basis then it will be a very good final.

Lowlight of the night: There wasn’t actually that much, this was a great game but the hit from James Griffin on Dan Davies as well as Joe Baird’s boarding of Milan Baranyk were two unnecessary hits.

Highlight of the night: The Bison’s first goal coupled with the fact that we’re off to Coventry again. See you there, everyone!

Running with the Herd – Bison vs Hull Pirates 22/3/17

EPIHL 2017 Playoffs Group B

Basingstoke Bison 7-0 Hull Pirates

Connolly x 3 (1pp)


Miller sh

Sound the cannon, we’re off and running!

It seemed that last night was a night for wacky playoff result and this was certainly one of them but I don’t think any Bison fan is going to argue with how this one worked out.

The start of the game was what you’d expect any playoff game to be; nervy, edgy, both teams engaging in a feeling out process but once the Bison found the breakthrough they didn’t look like losing and put the Pirates to the sword.

The Bison played archetypical playoff hockey in this game and the officiating allowed them to do so for the most part though Joe Rand was unlucky to be called for landing hits that seemed to be unpunished elsewhere in the encounter. The Bison were physical, took the body, pressed high and the visitors didn’t really have much of an answer for long stretches of the game.

The lines were characteristically juggled by Doug Sheppard at times to match the opponents and the Herd became even more North American in their attacking approach. If the space wasn’t there to skate into, the puck would be dumped in to set up the cycle and taking the body at every opportunity to rattle the Pirates and it worked. The traditional Bison high pressing forecheck helped win board battles and on the defensive side helped stifle the Pirates breakout.

Aaron Connolly’s man of the match was a relatively easy decision as soon as his hattrick goal went in. In many ways this was a performance, like Grant Rounding’s last Saturday in Swindon, where the sheer amount of effort that the player puts in finally comes good. Even at 5-0 up starting the third period Connolly, the team’s most vocal communicator, was screaming at his team mates that they needed to finish the job. Connolly’s tenure as captain has been defined by his effort and his enthusiasm and this was a captain’s performance where he took all three of his goals well combined with his usual tearing around the ice.

The only person who was arguably going to come close to that was Dan Scott. Before his signing, Doug Sheppard had reportedly been chasing Scott for a number of seasons and the performances since his arrival have been testament as to why. Arguably with something of a chip on his shoulder after the last game in Basingstoke against the Pirates where Scott was concussed by an elbow from Ugnius Cizas (great job on that by the way EIHA), the Chatham born defender responded by being a defensive rock all evening coupled with what available stats tell me were his first two playoff goals.

Otherwise it was a complete team performance; the Bison played well and the Pirates did not over the course of 60 minutes and it allowed Tomas Hiadlovsky to tie the club record for shutouts having only faced a shot every 4 and a bit minutes. Playoff hockey is engrained in their mentality so Derek Roehl and Joe Rand are in something of their element where they get to go out and check everything in sight. The one player whose two way game last night was also much more noticeable was Rene Jarolin who blocked far more shots than I normally notice him doing.

The Bison should feel positive about this result as it sets the stall out about the quality of this side at this, the business end of the season. The game was played with intensity and purpose and this is exactly what is needed. The Bison will face sterner tests going forward than they did last night, even from Hull who are a different animal at home (16 of Hull’s 20 league wins this season were at home including 3 against the Bison) and it’s easy to get ahead of ourselves but this is a very promising start. It’s now about keeping that momentum going into the weekend’s games starting with a tricky trip to MK where the Bison haven’t won this season either.

A word on our opponents:

This was not a good night at the office for the Hull Pirates. The Bison did play well and for the first half of the first period, the visitors kept pace with their hosts but once Aaron Connolly’s goal went in, it just never seemed like a comeback was on the cards. It was an inauspicious start to the Pirates’ first playoff campaign.

The problem wasn’t so much that Hull lost, teams lose hockey games, but it was the manner of the defeat. After going a goal down, all the energy seemed to go out of the Pirates and in the second they had no answer to the Bison’s offensive flurry as the defence constantly kept giving the Herd too much space to be able to work in.

Vlastimil Lakosil, who has been something of a scapegoat for the Pirates’ defensive struggles, made a variety of decent saves but will want a good few of the goals back especially Joe Miller’s shorthanded effort which went right through the five hole. On a night they needed him to have a good game, he didn’t. Ultimately the defence needs to find a way to provide him some more support if the Pirates want to win games in this group.

Jon Kirk got man of the match which was fair enough as he certainly tried. Actually a good few players tried but the depth of quality ultimately failed them. Lakosil had a bad night, the defence didn’t give him the requite support, the attack lacked any sort of bite and the team with the league’s top goalscorer managed 14 shots. It’s not a recipe for success.

The defeat should provide a wakeup call for the Pirates as to how they approach this weekend’s games with Swindon and Milton Keynes. Out of the three teams that the Pirates play in a group, the Bison are arguably the team with the least amount of speed and they got burned by giving the Bison too much space to work in. The Pirates tried to clog the neutral zone and couldn’t. They need to not give Swindon and MK an inch to work with. If the Pirates want to win a game in the playoffs then they are not going to win pretty on the whole. It’s got to be ugly, drawn out wins where they find ways to get service to Themar and their better scorers. If they play like they did last night, it will be a long playoffs for all the wrong reasons.

Lowlight of the night: Themar’s hit on Baird at the end of the first wasn’t necessary.

Highlight of the night: Dan Scott’s second goal was pretty