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.

Goodnight and Good Luck – Manchester Phoenix

(c) 5 Hole Photography

(c) 5 Hole Photography

What a mess.

I seem to have said that over and over again in the last nearly two years. We have come a long way from the 2015 playoff weekend in Coventry when the first shots were fired in the farrago that would ultimately lead to this point and Banners On The Wall’s second farewell to a club this season where we had only done one in the previous five years of the blog’s existence.

The Basingstoke Bison and the Manchester Phoenix games were never derbies; that word always has a geographic connotation to it in my opinion. Manchester vs Sheffield was the derby but the Bison and the Phoenix had a rivalry, one I have long called the rivalry of respect.

In the Elite League, both clubs were mid-table sides but their games were always played with spirit and urgency. Saturday 9th December 2006 saw what remains one of the most memorable games I have as a hockey fan. Curtis Cruickshank and Jason Wolfe went to war and Greg Owen scored the only goal of the game at 39:17 in a 1-0 win. I’d been watching hockey for two years and it was the first time I really remember that sort of goalie dual.

Both clubs dropped to the EPIHL at the same time though for different reasons. The Phoenix went through choice, the Bison through necessity but the games continued in the same vein. The Phoenix found success first as the Bison were rebuilding but the games were always in that same spirit and then when both sides were the front runners, it made the games all the more intense and special. 2013/14 went down as a special moment for both clubs and the final game of the season as both met in the playoff final seemed like the fitting conclusion to a season where both teams had run each other so close.

The following season, Tony Hand’s last ride and the Phoenix knocked the Bison out of the playoffs. It’s always disappointing to not be at Coventry but there’s also a relief. You get all of the hockey and excitement but none of the stress of watching your team. Then came Saturday evening. Then we find ourselves here.

Rumour followed innuendo followed counter-rumour. Battle lines were drawn as the Manchester Storm came lurching back into existence and people felt nostalgic as their history was coming back to them or being brought back to be ripped away from them in a fit of peak. Altrincham became Deeside which became Fylde which became Widnes which became nothing but tears, sadness and goodbyes. I made many friends who were Phoenix fans. Despite what some have said about them being a cult or being brainwashed or playing the victim, they’re good people. It’s really easy to throw people under the bus when they’re making decisions you wouldn’t and you’re an outsider. Do I agree with every decision my friends made? No. I told them so. Should people sympathise and empathise? Yes, because (and I’ve said this a lot too) there but for the grace of God go us all.

A happier time (c) 5 Hole Photography

A happier time
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Hopefully they will realise that my coming assessment comes from a good place and not from one of malice because just as with the Wightlink Raiders, this point was avoidable.

I disagree with James Gordon’s piece on today that the Storm coming back into existence meant this day was inevitable. Firstly because he mentions a decline in the standard of hockey in the EPL when the general consensus of those who watch it remains that it’s improved over the Phoenix’s time in the league and mostly because James’ piece whilst well structured and makes his case eloquently but it doesn’t make much more of an argument in my opinion beyond “the Storm are back” and therefore the Phoenix were always doomed. The re-emergence of the Storm is a factor; Neil Russell has done superb work as the GM in terms of engaging two main groups; those nostalgic for the Storm and those disillusioned with how the Phoenix was run. That’s not Neil Russell’s fault, that’s his job. He is paid to get people to go to Manchester Storm games. This doesn’t mean that the Storm don’t need to be a bit more honest as to how they came into being rather than just “they replaced the Hull Stingrays when they went out of business” but that’s a story for another day.

What we’re left with in the story of the Manchester Phoenix is a lot of questions.

Why was a proper supporter’s trust not something anyone looked in to? For such a dedicated fanbase with a broad skill set, if they had found a place to play then a structure could have been set up to take over the operations. I am sure there is a reason why this wasn’t done but I am yet to hear one.

As harsh as it sounds, why did the EIHA and other EPIHL owners let Manchester start the season given the precarious situation they were in? Would it have not been better to allow Manchester to mothball for a season and have the EIHA assist them in finding a better solution than Fylde though accommodating was not a place that should have been hosting EPIHL hockey?

Why could the Phoenix and Silverblades not put aside what appears to have been issues of personal animosity for the greater good? There’s much we could ask that nobody will ever answer to a point where everyone is satisfied. Someone once said that there are three sides to every story; your side, the other side and the truth somewhere in the middle.

Then (and I realise that this is going to get a lot of backs up) there’s Neil Morris; the man who tried, the villain of the piece, the man who tried to keep hockey in Manchester alive for over a decade, a liar, a thief, a misunderstood man who cares and the 800 other things that he has been called over the time.

Popular opinion will not judge Neil Morris kindly because of the overall result of what happened with the Phoenix and sadly, it is a fall from grace. He put a fantastic amount of his own money into the club, he loves the Manchester Phoenix and I don’t think that was disputable. Was there ego involved? Of course there was, it’s British hockey but there was an element of care there, 100%.

However my personal credo has long been that the end doesn’t justify the means. Some ex-players spoke out in favour, some were vocally against like Jacob Corson-Heron who had said very little for a long time then let fire in a barrage where accusations of lying were made. There were clearly a bunch of decisions made since early 2015 that weren’t solely the fault of people smearing the Phoenix on social media but Neil Morris making bad decisions. Since the Phoenix won the 2013/14 title we had new investment brought in, a decision to leave their facility, a loss of that investment, the move away from Deeside and the failure to find a way forward that led to the final Manchester Phoenix game being in a Silverblades rink after many vowed they would never go back.

Then there was the Manchester Ice Arena, lurking in the background as this mythical lost city that would bring the Phoenix back to prominence. There were always plans long term, this wasn’t some thing that wasn’t being planned but poor execution of other actions in the short and medium term made the long term nothing more than a pipe dream. Again, there’s a measure of blame that the Phoenix organisation need to take for that.

Morris’ position was untenable, he needed to step aside and should have done long before this point but for some reason he was unable to find a replacement to take the club on. Was the brand too toxic? Did he want to retain involvement as a figurehead and that wasn’t palatable to potential investors? We’ll never know.

What are we left with? We are left staring at a sad decline and a lot of people whose effort and money and energy towards a club, their club, that is now confined to history. We’re left with a hole in the schedule and 9 teams now shuffling the books and the fixture list. Players have moved on. We’re left with a few people callously saying “I told you so” and many more people wishing it just hadn’t happened at all.

I hope my friends find their place within British hockey to carry on though I understand if this is their stopping point, especially at this point where the wounds are still very fresh. If Phoenix fans want to go to Storm games then that’s their decision as well.

It is like in vein but I do hope people will be honest about where they were in this. There are no winners in this situation. Saying “I told you so” to people who lost their club is insensitive clap trap that has no place here.

I will miss the laughs, I will miss the Phoenix Podcast, I will even miss the hideous jerseys. I will miss the Manchester Phoenix; the fans, the hockey they played, the rivalry. It’s what hockey is built upon. Wherever you all end up, may you be happy there.

(c) 5 Hole Photography

(c) 5 Hole Photography

Goodnight and Good Luck – Jan Jarabek

The Bison’s wacky week continues as BOTW bids farewell to import defenceman, Jan Jarabek.

Jan Jarabek leaves the Bison under something of a cloud. (c) 5 Hole Photography

Jan Jarabek leaves the Bison under something of a cloud.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

What have we lost?

The Bison have lost the services of a very good import defenceman at EPL level. An early season replacement for the underwhelming Jakub Barton, Jarabek was announced on the same day as Derek Roehl and the arrival heralded an upswing for the Bison in terms of their performances.

Jarabek is a positionally solid, strong defenceman with a fair bit of offensive upside. Possessing a cannon of a shot, the Slovak had a good eye for the breakout pass and joining the rush but most importantly for a defenceman was also responsible in his own end.

Jarabek’s performance levels had been very high and consistent since joining the Herd so to see him released in any fashion is a blow to the side.

Where has he gone?

Jarabek’s release was announced late on Sunday afternoon before the Bison took to the ice against Manchester. He has been released by the club due to disciplinary reasons.

Who replaces him?

At the moment there is no direct replacement for him though the club are reportedly keeping their options open. There are slight rumours of signing up Jaroslav Sarsok, recently released by Hull but they are not strong ones.

Final thoughts:

Well this is a piece that came out of the blue isn’t it. As with most signings, irrespective of what the press release says, I generally make contact with the club in case they have anything extra that they want to say on or off the record. I was told no on both fronts rather quickly. It’s also worth noting how the press release is written; Jon Baston fell foul of the coach and his team mates but the press release was almost conciliatory. This one was short, sharp and to the point. The conclusion that can be drawn is something happened that Sheppard couldn’t or wouldn’t ignore and Jarabek has gone.

There have naturally been rumours circulating as to what that particular incident was from fighting with a team mate (unlikely) to refusing to ice at times on Saturday night due to his altercations with Doug Clarkson (more likely but certainly unusual). Ultimately we don’t know and we’re speculating so let’s get back to what we did know.

When he left, I made the point that Jakub Barton was the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time. Jan Jarabek was the right man in the right place at the right time it seemed; the defence got better upon his arrival, he was his own player but offered a similar game to Miroslav Vantroba that Barton couldn’t. Ultimately it seemed that the Bison were on to something of a winner.

Now he’s gone and for reasons that will never fully be explained to us unless Jarabek goes public with them himself (for all of the club’s foibles, they don’t muck about with such things) and we’re now left examining what the plan is.

An entertaining if inconsistent title defence combined with a litany of players stepping back or being released and the Bison are now facing the prospect of announcing a 4th import defenceman of the season if they chose to get one with the announcement of the signing of Dan Scott. These are certainly head-scratching times.

All the best, Jan; it was fun while it lasted.

Goodnight and Good Luck – Shaun Thompson

After a 2 point weekend and what many were considering to be a pretty good start to the season so far, the shock news came on Monday night (28/11/16) that Shaun Thompson and the Bison had parted ways.

Shaun Thompson and the Bison have mutually parted ways. (c) 5 Hole Photography

Shaun Thompson and the Bison have mutually parted ways.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

What have we lost?

In what has been a somewhat inconsistent campaign from the Bison, Shaun Thompson was one of the most consistent performers. Thompson’s role in 2016/17 has been much more of a grinding forward role than in previous campaigns elsewhere and even different from last season’s role with the Bison but he took to it with his usual amount of hard work and dedication. Where high skill players weren’t firing on all cylinders at the start of the season, it was Thompson and Matt Towalski who were by far and away the team’s best performers on a regular basis.

Thompson’s biggest strength has been, that as an experienced player, he has been able to do a bit of everything as the roster needed. He could play top line minutes or crash and bang. He could play on the powerplay or get into the corners and work the cycle. The Bison will miss someone who offers them options.

Where has he gone?

At the time of writing, nowhere but with Bracknell having released the rather lack lustre Krystof Kafan recently and the Bees budget not being one of the biggest in the league, a player like Thompson who is a known commodity and can slot in to do a job quickly might be a more attractive option for the Bees than searching out another import.

Edit: after this was posted, Shaun was announced as signing for Bracknell for the remainder of 2016/17.

Who replaces him?

At the moment, nobody is lined up or announced. There have been talks of some NIHL players training with the Bison recently but no names are immediately being touted as a direct replacement for Thompson.

Final thoughts:

With the way this release was worded, it speaks to one of two things happening;

  1. Shaun has lined up another team to sign for.
  2. The Bison and Shaun disagree about his role and are simply going in different directions.

The release doesn’t read in the same way that Barton and Poldona’s releases earlier in the season nor does it read like Lewis Turner and Alan Lack’s releases when they stepped away from hockey. This appears to be the later of the two options discussed; Doug Sheppard and Shaun Thompson appear to be in disagreement as to how he should be used and it’s been deemed best for all parties for Shaun to ply his trade elsewhere. Given his qualities, the earlier option will surely follow and he won’t be without a club for long.

This is a real shame in a lot of ways. As mentioned above, Thompson has been a really solid performer for the Bison this season. Post the additions to the roster of Jarabek and Roehl, the entire roster has gotten better but Thompson was consistently good since the start of the season.

The role he had been asked to do was a mixed one though the majority had seen him in a much more grinding focussed role as a base with him branching out into special teams and occasionally being moved up the lines. I and others thought that he was excelling at this role though it seems that Thompson doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as a grinder at this stage of his career, as is his right. British hockey not having any sort of trade system and contracts being so short term in their notice periods allows him to seek another team to try and play the sort of game he wants.

As I said above, it’s a shame really but this is one of those things that happens in any sport. Sometimes players and organisations go in a different direction. It’s nothing to be held against either party, especially as they appear to be parting on civil terms, but the parting happens and everyone moves on.

What the Bison do from here remains to be seen. They are now effectively 3 players down from the start of the season and are without Joe Baird due to injury. You have to wonder if Sheppard now has his eyes on any potential replacements. However that is for another time.

Thanks for everything Shaun and all the best wherever you end up.

Goodnight and Good Luck – Wightlink Raiders

(c) 5 Hole Photography

(c) 5 Hole Photography

When I returned to Britain in 2005 after living in Germany and I started watching British hockey, the first big event of any impact was the folding of the London Racers. I never got to even watch the Racers live before the issues with Lee Valley and a bunch of other stuff caused the organisation to fold. One of those on the Racers’ last ride was Jeremy Cornish.

So here we are again with one of the characters of British hockey, this time as coach having retired and to come back one last time to see out the final game of one of a club so obscure in its existence that it could only be part of British hockey.

I’ve stopped and started writing this piece a few times because I get a mixture of angry and fearful about things.

I’m quite fearful because, and it’s a point I’ve been making a fair bit recently, it could all be us tomorrow. If we’re honest with ourselves British ice hockey always lives on a bit of a knife edge at the best of times and the demise of the Raiders is a rather concise bit of evidence towards that. A financially stable organisation disappears because of a situation beyond their control with their rink with nothing the governing body could have done and with the rink owners seemingly convinced that only their course of action was the right one.

There are clubs across the country that are in a decent place but there are many where hockey is a secondary concern of the rink owners, some where facilities are old and in a state of needing serious repair and some playing wherever they can get the ice time as they have no ice of their own…and that’s just the senior teams. Junior clubs and conference sides are training at insane times at night because it’s all they can get. With another facility gone for the time being, that’s added pressure on the ones elsewhere that are old and in need of repair. It’s a cycle that doesn’t look like it will end soon that the natural worrier in me can’t help but be concerned about it.

I get angry because this entire situation could have been avoided, it really does feel that way. People will tell me that I and others are getting overly emotional about the situation. As someone who is generally quite logical in his thinking, really process driven, I respectfully tell you to take a very long walk off of the already very long Ryde Pier. The time for emotionless examination of this will come but it is not today. Ice hockey inspires emotion and that anger at a lot of people and potential future internationals having the sport that they pour their emotion into being taken away makes me angry and I make no apologies for that.

I’m angry because, as I made clear in our open letter to AEW Europe, we see the short-sighted nature of the world that we live in. I won’t go into the full details of my arguments to them in this piece, you can read that here but even if you accept the need for AEW to lock everyone out of the rink, if negotiations are ongoing regarding the venue then why has the ice been ripped out of the venue with a digger this weekend? I asked the question in the other piece but I do need to ask it again here; was it so past the point of return that this was necessary?

People newer to this organised screaming into the vacuum of the internet that we call Banners On The Wall may wonder why I care so much about a team that I don’t actually support but as much as it has become respected by some for its coverage of the Basingstoke Bison and whilst taking the above into account there are two truths that permeate how this place works; writing is the way I best articulate my thoughts about stuff so doing all this is cathartic for me and as a result, I mean what I say.

I can’t remember my first Wightlink Raiders game at Ryde 100% but one of the early ones was watching a Raiders side that featured popular and free scoring Slovak forward Robert Franc and a goalie called Slavomir Sojak who was mad as a box of frogs, had a GAA over 5 and a save percentage over 90. It was everything from the ferry ride across the Solent to the train or walking down the pier to getting through the door into the cramped rink to be greeted by my friend (now friend of over a decade) Heather Jepson to chat through the day and then chat through the game we were watching; how the Raiders would be their own worst enemy, how the DJ would mention it was a family sport then always play the version of Green Day’s American Idiot with all the swearing left in, wondering if I would need to run up the pier to the ferry, all the plates of cheesy chips, it all made for part of the experience.

The Raiders took a bit of time to adjust when they dropped out of the EPL into the NIHL but eventually they turned into one of the league’s power houses. Raiders hockey was always about trying to do it with skill and if they couldn’t do it with skill then they’d just try to mow you down with brute force. They were a fun team to watch and yes, the surroundings weren’t exactly the Bell Centre in Montreal but I don’t know anyone who left without something of a smile on their face unless their team got thumped.

That’s the reason that I care; I’ve been lucky to go to rinks around the world but Ryde was unique, the Raiders were a unique club and the people were one of a kind.

And for now they’re gone from the hockey landscape.

Yes, those players may well find other clubs and yes thankfully it seems the Buccaneers will find a way to keep going for the time being but with respect to the newer side, it’s not them I watched.

I have stared at the page trying to think of a way to end this and I’ve struggled. Then again as this story doesn’t have the most definite of conclusions, maybe that’s somewhat fitting but I suppose I need to try.

So to all of you connected with the Raiders, I send you my commiserations as well as my thoughts and my hopes. I’ve been using #NeverGoQuietly in my tweets because I felt it was important that if this day did come that you didn’t go off into the night with a whimper but a bang. The hockey we saw from the club over the decades was never like that so you shouldn’t be either. The time has come to make your voices heard and get ice sports back onto the Isle of Wight where we all know they belong. You are always welcome in Basingstoke and anywhere you choose to watch your hockey. When that happy day comes that this enforced break ends, we’ll be ready with open arms for the Raiders to come marauding back across the Solent once more.

Goodbye Raiders, thanks for everything, we’ll be seeing you soon.