Goodnight and Good Luck – Ashley Jackson

The wheels of change continue to turn in Hampshire as Doug Sheppard tinkers with the Bison roster. The latest change sees the departure from Basingstoke of Ashley Jackson.

Ashley Jackson has left the Bison by mutual consent.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

What have we lost?

Aside from the fact that the Bison have just released a two sport athlete, former Olympian (and the fact I’m even typing that sentence is pretty crazy), Jackson proved versatile member of the Bison roster. He played across the lines, which we’ll get to in a bit, as well as playing both sides of special teams. The Bison has always been role players and everymen and Jackson proved to be one of the everymen who asked to and could do a bit of everything. Why it’s not worked it going to go below.

Where has he gone?

At the moment, nowhere as he’s been released with immediate effect by mutual agreement. In terms of where he goes, the Invicta Dynamos become instant favourites given that Jackson is Kent based but other NIHL Classic teams like Streatham and London Raiders might also be in the mix.

*Editor’s note* just after publication, Jackson was announced as having signed for the Invicta Dynamos.

Who replaces him?

Well, tomorrow is Thursday so maybe we’ll find out.

Final thoughts:

With the new structure and the Bison’s move to NIHL 1 South, this move seemed like a win/win. Jackson, a first team all-star in the league last season put on a roster with some of the big names that the Bison were bringing with them from the old EPL seemed to be an ideal sort of signing for this new look Herd side or at least one that the fans could be excited about. Jackson had even put out a statement saying he was focussing on ice hockey this season to put fears of him possibly going to Hockey League India in early 2018 aside. However for whatever reason,despite clearly being a decent hockey player, despite clearly trying every game and despite having 5 points in 4 league games, it’s not worked. Why?

One thing that we’ve seen in recent weeks was that on special teams Jackson had been really prevalent on the powerplay with Vayna Antonov and Tomas Karpov but he’d slipped down the lines in five on five play. For whatever reason, Jackson just didn’t seem to have the impact desired at even strength. Scoring points when the team have the man advantage is great but teams need their top 6 forwards to be scoring when everyone is on the ice.

Under Doug Sheppard the Bison have played really system based hockey and it hasn’t worked very well for some players. I don’t think it’s worked for Ashley Jackson. At Invicta last season he had much more of a free reign to go out and played. Alongside Adam Rehak last year Jackson could go out and yes, there was a structure to what the Dynamos did last season but Sheppard asks his players to play a really structured game and for whatever reason a superb athlete like Jackson’s game on the ice doesn’t fit with that.

With all the recent changes Doug Sheppard has clearly come to the conclusion that he didn’t quite get the recruitment right. That’s fine given that he’s clearly making moves to alter that but I am rather hopeful that this move has been made now because a replacement for Jackson is ready to be announced. For a team that felt it was getting roughed up, they let Dan Lackey go to the Buffalo and haven’t really replaced the physicality he added. If Jackson was meant to provide secondary scoring and play a role that he’s not filled, that can’t go unfilled. Josh Smith has stepped onto the second line and done a fantastic job but there’s also now a hole on the first powerplay unit to be filled and Dan Davies and Grant Rounding still listed as injured. I’m all for making changes but the Herd can’t run that shortbenched for long if they intend to still challenge. There are some good players still unsigned from the summer, a few who deliberately haven’t signed because of the changes to the league structure who hopefully Sheppard has convinced to come in.

When we get down to brass tacks the Bison are starting to pick up some steam then make this move that whilst understandable in context seems to have come at an odd time. There feels like there’s been something of a revolving door of changes recently at a time the roster needs to be getting settled and pushing on. With only one game this coming weekend, perhaps Sheppard sees this as the time to pull the trigger and play with a shorter bench for the shortest possible number of games. The coach still deserves the benefit of the doubt given the recent run of better form but if there is no announced replacement soon then Jackson’s release will look very strange.

Such is hockey; things work or they don’t. There are shades of grey between those two positions and I’m sure that some will feel this move is overdue or premature. Here at BOTW, we see both sides of the coin as always but know that Jackson will fit and work somewhere in this league. It just wasn’t here.

Thanks for everything, Ashley and all the best.


Goodnight and Good Luck – Jaroslav Cesky

With changes already afoot with the Bison, coach Doug Sheppard appears to have pulled the trigger on further roster moves with the release of Jaroslav Cesky.

Over and out; Jaroslav Cesky has brrn released by the Bison.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

What have we lost?

Whilst the initial prediction from this site was that Cesky would be used as a third line veteran mentor role, he was instead used as a second line, second powerplay unit focus for the offence. The big question was could he still go and the answer, I think, for the most part was yes.

Cesky was arguably the Herd’s best player through the first few weeks of the season until the Herd suffered from their real offensive output issues. He wasn’t the fastest but he seemed to arguably be the sharpest. In the same way that people wondered about the signing of Rene Jarolin when he first came in, Cesky looked better than people expected. He was setting things up, he was scoring, he looked good.

Where has he gone?

At the moment, nowhere; it’s a straight goodbye and thanks for everything to end Cesky’s second stint. A personal feeling is that he joins up with his former coach Jeremy Cornish at Streatham but that’s pure speculation on my part.

Who replaces him?

The release says that Doug Sheppard is in the process of finalising another deal. Rumours abound as to whom but we’ll just wait until the word comes through.

Final thoughts:

Let’s get this clear right off the bat; Jaroslav Cesky hasn’t done anything wrong. I maintain that Cesky has actually played well. He’s exceeded my expectations as to what we were going to get out of the 39 year old. If we’re looking at a top 5 Bison players so far this season, I think Cesky is in that discussion.

The issue is that the Bison needed to make a change to generate more offence. Doug Sheppard wants to make the change to get more offence and with there being a wider market of available imports than free scoring British wingers at the moment and with Tomas Karpov and Vanya Antonov finding their feet together, it sadly meant that there was only one player who was going to have to make way and that’s Cesky.

2 goals and 2 assists in 9 competitive games would be an easy target to point to but that doesn’t take into context how the Bison have played and how he has been used. Of course Vanya Antonov has more goals than one of our imports when Antonov is out there with Karpov and they appear to be able to score for fun. However Sheppard thinks he can make a change to get more scoring and if we’ve learned anything from Sheppard’s years in charge of the organisation, he is not scared to make the upgrade if he can see it.

With the Bison having (sort of) swapped Dan Lackey for Sam Brooks and still being without Dan Davies due to reasons unknown, Sheppard hopefully gets the contract signed on Cesky’s replacement sooner rather than later or the Bison face being even more unsettled just a time when they’re starting to get their feet back under themselves and really need to be settled. There’s always been a plan. Whether Sheppard has earned the benefit of the doubt from you, dear reader, to be given the time to make this change to make the Bison better is your own decision.

Thanks for everything, Jaro; see you around.

Goodnight and Good Luck – Dan Lackey

The Bison’s inconsistent start has led to some changes being made. There’s one in, one out and we’ll deal with the departure first as Dan Lackey steps aside.

What have we lost?

Lackey was a depth forward for the Bison and I don’t think anyone would argue that, even Lackey himself. He’s the sort of player who, for the Bison was asked to go into the trenches and the dirty areas and be that physical player. He was asked to go into the corners and be the checking forward or clear the way. He wasn’t, at least for this writer, there to put up lots of points.

The Bison lose a bit of physicality from the line-up as there is arguably now few players prepared to go and play the body as well as throw the hands if required.

Where has he gone?

Lackey has moved to the Buffalo in NIHL 2 as part of the roster moves.

Who replaces him?

I suppose technically Sam Brook (who we’ll cover tomorrow) in the sense the club covered them both in the same press release but given the skill set of both players, it’s not much of a like for like swap is it?

Final thoughts:

I have to confess to being slightly confused with this roster move unless one specific thing is happening.

I didn’t think that Lackey had played particularly badly so far. There have been issues with the forwards producing offence but again, what is Lackey being asked to do? Score? He was doing all the things above that he was being asked to do, wasn’t he? That’s what makes this move somewhat unusual.

I feel bad for Lackey as a result; a player who can play forward or defence was asked to do a roll and when the top end guys are struggling to produce the numbers, the Bison release one of their role players instead and release him, if you believe the press release as gospel, for a 17 year old who is also added on a two way.

The thing is that we don’t necessarily believe that Sam Brooks is Lackey’s actual replacement. We’ll look at the potential of Brooks in another piece because the departure of Lackey means that the Chris Wiggins sized elephant in the room.

If the Bison have signed Chris Wiggins after his appearance at the end of the bench a couple of weeks ago then this move makes a bit more sense because it would be a move that would make sense. The Bison free up a roster spot to add physicality whilst giving a young, skill player a chance at the roster whilst also getting ice time with the Buffalo. That would make sense.

However that’s not what we’ve been given at the moment. Instead it’s a press release outside of the Herd’s usual announcement schedule and we’re all left scratching our heads a bit. Ultimately I don’t think that Dan Lackey did that much of anything wrong, it is just a move that Doug Sheppard thought he needed to make and he’s made it.

Thanks for everything, Dan and all the best.

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.