With comings, there are goings and with a small nucleus of the Bison coming together we take a moment to look at the first departure from the most recent Herd roster as Russ Cowley chooses not to return.
What have we lost:
With Cowley going, this new look Bison roster loses a number of things all at once; the captain, a point per game player, a veteran, a top line centre, a first team all star and an elite British player at this level. It’s a big hole for the Bison to fill. Cowley’s 49 points in 38 South 1 games doesn’t look immediately impressive to the outsider when you read some of the numbers from North 1 but the leagues are vastly different in their competitiveness and style. Ultimately the people who choose the all star teams felt the same way as many Bison fans in that Russ Cowley is a gem of a player at NIHL level.
Where has he gone?
Russ has signed with the Milton Keynes Lightning for 2019/20. The Lightning are still somewhat embroiled in a variety of issues from their final EIHL from a grievance with their coach from the start of the season to unpaid players to a group but their move back to British hockey’s second tier under new coach Lewis Clifford has already yielded results. Christie’s first three signings are highly touted netminder Jordan Lawday, Cowley and the return to Milton Keynes of popular utility player Leigh Jamieson who returns after time at Peterborough and Streatham.
Who replaces him?
At the moment, nobody else bar the netminders have been announced so that change will come out in time.
Having covered this club in the second tier of British hockey since its inception this site has gotten used to a very simple truth about really good players; they will leave. This isn’t more harking back to last summer which was a true anomaly. Very few stay anywhere for a long time in British hockey at all without moving for one reason or another. Players like Kurt Reynolds are the exception rather than the rule in Basingstoke and even Cowley himself, with his jersey hanging from the rafters in the Coventry Skydome from his time at the Blaze, is not immune to the fluctuations of lower league sport and life.
The Doctor wasn’t a fancy nickname; Russ Cowley returned to the sport in 2018 after a season out where he completed his PhD and this site spoke to Russ in the summer about his signing. Ashley Tait coaxed (to a point) the former GB international out of retirement and back into playing a lighter schedule because Cowley wanted to play.
Play he did; from the start of the season Cowley had clearly not lost a step from his year away. Whilst many of us never quite got used to seeing him in a full face cage, it was like the Cowley of old. Playing up front rather than having to flit between centre and defence, Cowley was the team’s first line centre in all but a handful of situations. It worked for the Herd as Cowley was the team’s best distributor of the puck. Whilst arguably at his most effective alongside Richard Bordowski, Cowley would and could play with anyone.
However it’s been a long season for Cowley. Commuting from Coventry whilst working as a university lecturer at Birmingham City University and then having to spend large chunks of weekends away from a pregnant wife and young daughter is not conducive to a good work/life balance some would argue. Whilst the Lightning are making a new start amongst a variety of issues, it’s a much better fit for Cowley if not stylistically (from what we can guess of how Christie coached the MK Thunder last season) then at least personally. Not travelling hours to training but less than an hour meaning its easy to get back home. During the massive snow storms early in 2019, Cowley once drove 12 hours through the snow and traffic to get to Basingstoke to train and play. That’s commendable, that’s what we know of the man Russ Cowley is, but that’s not a sustainable option if something goes wrong with the roads or the car or whatever.
It’s a big loss for the Bison but it’s an understandable one as well as one that the fanbase have readily accepted. Cowley was the right person in the right place at the right time for the Herd. Yes the club needed that top end British player to help lead the line but the club and the fans needed stability after that frustrating summer of 2018 and got someone who personifies stability and professionalism.
All the best, Russ and thanks for being there at the start of this new era. We wish you and your family the best ahead of the new arrival.
With the 2018/19 season fast approaching, the Basingstoke Bison made their final roster moves which has included the team’s longest tenured player, step away from hockey.
Kurt Reynolds, fresh off his testimonial season and scoring the game winner in the NIHL national playoff final, announced on his social media feeds that he had decided to not ice in the 2018/19 season and would instead be focussing on his business and time with his fiancé.
This was combined with the announcement that Dan Davies, arguably the team’s best end to end forward was also retiring from the sport and that Grant Rounding would not be initially on the roster but would be working with the club to rehab the injury which ended his 17/18 campaign with a view to joining the roster in the future.
31 year old Reynolds, a former Bison junior, returned to Hampshire in 2008 after spells in Guildford’s junior system, the US and a season in the EPL with Bracknell. Reynolds joined the Bison for their final and ill-fated Elite League season. He scored 12 points in a season where the Bison lost every competitive game after Christmas.
The Bison moved to the EPIHL after that season with Reynolds being the only member of the roster to remain with the Herd as Steve Moria rebuilt the profile of the organisation. Reynolds remained with the Bison throughout those years and became a cornerstone of the team’s defence through the Moria and into the Sheppard years reaping the rewards of the Bison’s recent upturn in good fortunes. Reynolds’ time with the Bison ends with 2 league titles, 3 playoff titles, 1 cup and as a two time EPL first team all-star in his 524 total league, cup and playoff appearances.
Former Haringey and Slough junior Davies retires from hockey after two seasons in Basingstoke. Davies made his senior debut in Bracknell before returning to Slough where he was part of the Jets team that won the playoffs in 2010, the cup in 2011 and the playoffs again in 2012. Davies was one of the players who joined the migration north to Telford in the Red Hockey ownership era where he won the league and cup in 2015. Davies was tempted south to Basingstoke after the Bison’s 2016 title win and remained with the club through the final EPL season and the transition to the NIHL, playing a massive part in the club’s impressive campaign.
South African born Rounding might win the title of “most unfortunate player in British hockey”. After breaking his leg in 2011 as a member of the Wightlink Raiders, Rounding’s tenure since coming to Basingstoke has seen him plagued by injuries including breaking a leg in training and a hit in a playoff game with Manchester that delayed his start to the following season. This has been combined with the end of 17/18 where a hit to the head from Frantisek Bakrlik saw the former Bees forward suspended for 18 games as a result.
The announcement on Rounding was arguably the biggest surprise of the lot. Rumours had circulated for some time that both Reynolds and Davies would not be icing in 2018/19 and that Rounding was also reportedly stepping away; deciding that the injuries were too much. However the man himself, at least according to the Bison press release, feels that he can still have a go at coming back and that’s what he will be working towards.
Given he was injured as a member of the Bison roster it is pleasing to see that the club are allowing him access to facilities to continue that rehabilitation going forward. It’s the decent and professional thing to do in this circumstance. Whether Rounding comes back to the ice remains incredibly unclear but when and if he manages it, Rounding remains a good depth signing at this level. Whilst some, this writer included, bemoaned his final touch on occasions 15 points in 25 games at NIHL 1 level is not a terrible return for a season. If Rounding is able to be injected into the roster at any stage of the season then it’s another bit of depth for the Bison and whilst Rounding may not light up the scoreboard, he is at least dependable.
The disconcerting thing about the Davies retirement is that he is exactly 5 years younger than me to the day. To read about anyone that age retiring from anything makes this writer feel very old. It’s also a shame in some ways given just how good he was when he came back from his early season injury.
Davies has been a model of consistency for every club that he’s played for. Bison fans who were around at the time will be familiar with Greg Owen; a two way player who was excellent at both ends of the ice with the ability to score when needed. That feels like a reasonably good description of Dan Davies’ style of play. You could rely on Davies to be sensible in his own end, be good on the penalty kill as well as produce offensively. If you’ve not then I recommend checking out the Bison’s 4th goal in the playoff final and his pass to Vanya Antonov.
The fact that he’s decided to call time at 29 is a shame because Davies certainly had the ability to keep playing. We don’t know exactly the reasoning behind it and this site did reach out to Davies but he’s under no obligation to tell anyone if he doesn’t want to. Our door remains open should he wish to chat to us.
Then there’s the big one.
A lot of messages I got over the summer were asking me the same thing; “is Kurt Reynolds coming back?” Whenever I did any digging I got the same answer; “he’s undecided.” Well, he’s made up his mind.
As if there wasn’t enough of a sea change happening in Basingstoke, the departure of Kurt Reynolds from the Bison line up for the time being just feels weird. I am pleased that the club has kept his jersey vacant (Jay King traditionally likes to wear #7 but will be wearing #77) but the fact he won’t be out there at all will be jarring on the eyes to say the least. A lot of people have said to me that this doesn’t feel like “their Bison” with so many fan favourite players leaving; it’s a statement I understand but disagree with. Whilst I won’t go to those extremes, having sat through the 2008/09 EIHL season, to think we’re just now losing the last member of that roster from the line up really is a changing of the guard for us.
Many will call for Reynolds’ jersey to be retired and this writer believes that it’s too early. Until Kurt rules out a return to the ice permanently then it’s a discussion for another day.
BOTW wishes Dan and Kurt all the best going forward. As for Grant; we’ll be watching this space.
As another player leaves the Bison even this writer, someone that tries to always maintain an optimistic outlook on things, has to take a deep sigh and scratch his head about what is happening at the moment.
As an individual story, Roman Malinik leaving the Bison is sad but not earth shattering. British hockey has had import players since its inception and won an Olympic gold medal with a lot of Canadian ex-pats and hockey fans in Hampshire are used to players leaving, especially imports.
Malinik will be a loss to the Bison, there’s no doubt of that. At times single handily trying to take the side kicking and screaming towards its goals last season, he’s a player that will maybe score 50 points rather than 60 or 70 and on the surface you wonder why. It’s when you stop and look at the wider game that he plays that you realise just how much he does. If nothing else, how entertaining was it to watch Malinik drive to the net, holding off defenders like he was made of Teflon.
Getting an import forward of Malinik’s quality will be tough but again, there’s not a shortage of good eligible players who want to play in Britain. If the Bison are operating under the same budget or even slightly less, there’s a guy that we can get that will do the job. Whether they do the job as well remains to be seen until they are on the ice. We couldn’t even be sure that Malinik would until we saw him.
I don’t think anyone can blame Malinik for going to Bracknell and it’s likely for the same reasons that a lot of Bison players have gone there; Sheppard is an excellent coach at this level, he plays well and had success in his systems and the uncertainty over the rink situation.
I mentioned in our welcome piece for the 5 returnees yesterday that I understood why Planet Ice announced them when they did, doing so as a means to say “look, some guys are coming back” however whether this was the correct strategy was a question that was also asked. If the Bison had big guns in their arsenal to announce then arguably get them out early and often to get people onside and squash some of the nonsense doing the rounds. It’s not a slight on the players that have come back; it’s good that players have returned and it’s good that young guys think that they can still develop in Basingstoke under Ashley Tait. The concern is that not everyone will give the fair shake that we try to do on here. There’s no news on season tickets for example and even MK Thunder have their season ticket news out when they’ve never offered season tickets before!
Perhaps as a hockey fan, I’m fatigued by all the doom and gloom. Even I have my limits. Coupled with the news about the Basingstoke Bison Ladies folding and moving to Slough and the absurd things said and the infighting that caused inside the Basingstoke hockey community, I have hit the wall.
Tomorrow is another day and this roster is not complete yet. This is just another goodbye as the circle of minor league hockey goes ever onwards. We’ve lost a superb player but if we truly are hitting the reset button then this day and others were inevitable. It doesn’t detract from what a good player he is and he deserves that respect for coming into this roster when it needed a jumpstart and being a driving force in pushing it towards three trophies. On its own, it’s manageable. The bigger picture is worrying but not all black, yet.
Thanks for everything Roman, go well.
The Basingstoke Bison took the unusual step of announcing the departure of 6 players all at once earlier this week, with all of them announced as having decided to “ply their trade elsewhere in the NIHL next season”. Following a poll on the BOTW twitter account, the majority wanted a single piece covering all the departures.
When Dean Skinns was announced as returning to the Basingstoke Bison, the general fan reaction was muted. The dying embers of the EPL had seen Skinns go from being shelled at MK to being a back-up at Guildford to now back in Basingstoke and stepping into the skates of the very popular Tomas Hiadlovsky.
Whilst the end result was superb, that wasn’t to say that Skinns’ season wasn’t without its extremes. At times letting in some very soft goals and having the occasional poor game, Skinns comfortably overtook Curtis Cruickshank as the club’s leader for total number of shutouts as well as conceded only 8 goals in 8 total playoff games including shutouts against Invicta and London in the regional rounds and shutting Telford out in the national final. Whether you’re a Skinns fan or not, that’s an impressive run and that resulted in two of the three trophies.
Many make the point that Skinns benefited from having such a good defence in front of him but the good defence was similar to the one that Hiadlovsky had and that Skinns had in his previous spell. Having a good roster balance is part of good coaching. Irrespective of that, it’s not the defenders stopping the pucks that do get through. Skinns made the saves even if you wish to make the argument that shutouts are really a team stat as opposed to an individual one. With another good defence in front of him, Skinns can likely do the same again.
At the time of writing, Antonov is the only player whose location is 100% confirmed with the news that he has returned to Bracknell to once again link up with Doug Sheppard.
Whilst I’m not surprised, I am slightly disappointed that an EIHL side hasn’t taken a chance on Antonov though this might be down to his desire to keep a focus on his university studies rather than it being a sidearm to his hockey playing. Whilst it took Ciaran Long a long while to make his way to the EIHL, this writer believes that Antonov will see an EIHL roster permanently sooner rather than later.
The man with (seemingly) the longest stick in British hockey returning to the club where he came through the juniors is no real surprise given the uncertainty of the situation in Basingstoke. Some may wonder why Antonov didn’t score astronomical numbers in the NIHL but that’s the structure of Sheppard’s brand of hockey. What always shone through from the young Russo-Brit is the skill level. That’s never been just a case of doing flashy moves, though he possesses lots of those, but his ability to hold players off, steal the puck and work in corners rarely gets the plaudits that it deserves.
As a watcher of hockey, I really enjoyed Josh Smith. It wasn’t just his terrible dancing or the fact that his massive beard did nothing to make him look any older than his 19 years but he’s just one of those players you have to respect for how they play. Smith does everything he’s asked to with minimal fuss. Asked to play on the top line with Karpov and Antonov to make some space; he does it. Asked to crash and bang on the third line; does it with a smile on his face. Asked to play on the powerplay or penalty kill; goes out and gets on with it. With an underrated shot, Smith is not someone who is going to score 40-50 points at the moment but he’ll get the odd pretty goal and a ton of gritty ones if given the opportunities.
It’s no secret that the Ryan Sutton that came back from Canada was a lot better than the one that went to Canada but at the start of the season when the Bison’s form was a real issue, this site questioned whether Sutton was ready to be a second line centre. With the Bison in flux, Sheppard made some roster decisions and didn’t replace like for like. The departure of Ashley Jackson left a hole in the lines and Sutton had an opportunity. It was time for the former Bison junior to stand up and be counted and he made it count. He upped his game and made his chances count.
He’s not the finished the finished product at this stage by any stretch and I still think that Sutton needs to really find his niche in British hockey but he certainly has the tools to do it. Another player, like Smith, who was asked to do a bunch of stuff and did it with minimal fuss, Sutton surprised other teams and most of the Bison fans with his wrist shot and 14 goals in league and cup is not a bad return. If Shaun Thompson’s overtime goal against Swindon in 2016 was a fulcrum towards the EPL title then Sutton’s away at London to steal the points was arguably the one towards the NIHL South 1 league crown.
The young man who went from spare forward to all-star defenceman to the scorer of the NIHL 1 South championship winning goal is off. Very little in British hockey should surprise anyone but that Mogg is leaving Basingstoke arguably feels unusual than most given how much he’s been around the club.
With the reasons given above for others leaving obviously a contributing factor, it goes without saying that a defenceman of Mogg’s qualities would obviously be in demand. There were some brief rumblings given his brief guest appearance for the Coventry Blaze in the last pre-season whether he’d be trying his luck at a higher level but it seems that the NIHL remains Mogg’s destination.
Mogg is never going to win any awards for the hardest hitting defenceman or hardest slapshot but if you had 6 defencemen who did just that then you’d be caught out very easily. A more than solid skater and useful with the active stick, Mogg is a defenceman who gets in your way rather than levelling you at centre ice but that works for him and for teams. Never afraid to jump into the play when required, he’s probably not as the quarterback of a powerplay but certainly able to contribute 5on5 or on special teams.
Having headed back to the Czech Republic recently, Karpov spoke to BOTW from his Prague home late on Tuesday evening. I asked him his reasons for leaving. I asked him “why now?”
“I’ve been in Basingstoke for 5 years. I’ve had a lot of success and met a lot of great people but within myself I think I need a change. It’s a great place to be but my studies (at Winchester University) are finished and I just feel that I want to change my environment.
In some ways it’s impossible to blame Tomas for any of that. Given the changes going on and the end of his formal education, it’s as good as a time for a change as any and whilst we might not like that, we should respect that. Karpov had worried whether everyone would understand his rationale. I took a moment to retort that this is sad but it’s one of hockey’s comings and goings, “it is what it is”. There’s a pause on the line then finally a noise of agreement then another pause; “yeah, it is what it is”.
The focal point of a large chunk of the Bison’s offence is now missing and that will arguably be the hardest bit to replace for the Bison. Similar to Antonov, it wasn’t just the goal scoring but all the bits that came with it. A natural centre, Karpov’s playmaking ability was second to none at this level and that’s what the Bison will miss most going forward.
Karpov once told me that he overthinks things on the ice and I think that’s probably a fair assessment. Sometimes he does try to do too much himself but that’s the reserve of players in his position; when you are the go-to guy and the team need you, you have to do something. Thankfully for the Bison, more often than not it was the right thing. When you consider that bar Mogg’s mention above, Karpov has the winning goal on every other trophy of the Sheppard era, the Bison lose more than goals and playmaking here.
People in Basingstoke were prepared for change but given that so much has come at once, it seems a tough pill for many to swallow. Newer fans won’t remember the move from EIHL to EPL when only 1 member of the roster (Kurt Reynolds) remained with the club. Whether we see such a drastic roster shift will depend on the plans and persuasive skills of our new coach.
Whilst the ownership make it clear that they wanted to get the right man, some sort of break down has resulted in a trophy a year winning coach leaving. Planet Ice need to accept that the state and longevity of the arena has likely played part in that and that it’s also likely part of the reason for these 6 departures.
I don’t think anyone reasonable blames the players for going. People are upset, naturally. We also have to accept that with Sheppard going that a large chunk of the roster was going to go as well and, as said in the pieces on the departure of Connolly and Scott, this is the time for a reset if the man steering the ship is leaving. The nature of it though feels brutal and that’s what strikes fans in North Hampshire. Whilst I won’t share the ferocity of Dan Scott’s social media post, more surely needs to be said for 6 guys, let alone when one is arguably one of the club’s finest netminders and one, one of the most successful players in a Bison shirt in recent memory.
We’re heading into No Man’s Land where reasonable analysis is going to be tricky. The hope is that the ownership have appointed the right man and not just an available man or a popular man to help calm the disquiet. They got it right with Doug Sheppard. Tomorrow, we examine their latest selection.
Thank you gentleman for all you did in this jersey. Go well and (just for Tomas), don’t tell the monkey.
Having covered the departure of Dan Scott yesterday, the time has come to do the second goodbye of the weekend as we bid farewell to Aaron Connolly.
What have we lost?
What haven’t we lost? Under Doug Sheppard, Aaron Connolly became the engine and the heartbeat of the Bison on the ice. The 20 year old who became an alternate captain in his first season with the team after the departure of Joe Miller transitioned to being the leader of the team after Nicky Chinn left the club and never looked out of place despite his age. Aaron Connolly turns 25 at the start of next month.
On the ice the Bison lose one of their forwards who is able to do a bit of everything. Aaron is more than capable of doing his duty in his own zone but his strength this past season was finding his attacking feet again. 2016/17 saw a drop in personal numbers but 27 goals and 49 points in 31 league games is a superb return and made him the team’s third top scorer. When you have a player who can play top line scorer and be physical, losing him is not a good thing.
Where has he gone?
Connolly revealed his reasons for moving on though not where in the release from the Bison. Like Scott, Connolly is rumoured to be heading to join the London Raiders though this is yet to be confirmed by player or club.
Who replaces him?
Nobody on ice yet but who replaces Aaron as captain will depend massively on who the coach is and who is signed. I venture that the new man in charge will either go for an experienced veteran who joins or one of the roster who from last season who is convinced to return. I don’t expect the next Bison captain to be in Connolly’s mould.
Bison fans are obviously very sad about this news. The captain, the heartbeat of the team, its engine and probably the most popular player on the team has left the club. The coach going was bad enough but the front and centre vocal presence on the team is going as well. If Sheppard leaving and joining Bracknell wasn’t enough of a sea change then this is the confirmation that the club is heading in a different direction, one that we don’t know right now.
There’s been talk amongst some fans that I’ve seen of retiring Connolly’s jersey to which I’d say is premature. When Connolly nears the end of his career we should arguably look back and consider it given the legacy he has left at this club but he’s so young that he doesn’t remember Ed the Duck on CBBC. I appreciate the sentiment that people are expressing but there’s a lot of road left on the highway of Aaron Connolly’s career.
I don’t think a player has been this popular with the Herd fans since Brad Cruikshank. Those who remember the Canadian will see the similarities; would go through a wall for the jersey, talismanic when needed, would put the team on his back and always had a smile for the smallest fans, intimidated by the size of their heroes but would always take time to say hello to them.
Aaron Connolly leaves Basingstoke having made memories and history however time marches on. People, sport, lives; none of these things stand still and ultimately all of these things have come together to see one of the club’s favourite players of the 21st century take his leave of us for pastures new.
I’ll end on a brief story; for a couple of years now, Grant King the club’s photographer has let me use his shots on here as desired. Technically I should ask permission every time but Grant has always said that I can use whichever shots I wanted provided I credit him and keep the watermarks in. I’ve always been more than happy to, he’s a talented dude. Grant has also never asked me to use specific images. Being a professional, he’s got his favourites but he’s always let me choose which ones I thought fitted what I was writing.
However late yesterday I got a message from Grant where, for the first time, he asked me to use one of a selection. He felt that the skipper deserved the very best and had a couple of his favourites that he wanted used. I was happy to oblige. I also traditionally put the image at the start of the piece but I’ve put it at the end because it’s fitting. Grant sent me three but I’ve chosen this one because it’s a fantastic picture and one that I thinks sums up tons of feelings all at once. It’s a celebration of a job well done, it’s a salute for support and it’s the wave goodbye.
Thanks for everything, Aaron and just for you; bar dizzle.
The Bison threw two departure announcements at us in one go. We’ll get to the other one on Sunday but today we bid farewell to all star defenceman, Dan Scott.
What have we lost?
Doug Sheppard had reportedly tried to convince Dan Scott to sign in Basingstoke for a while before Telford’s financial instability during the final EPL season saw the Kent born defenceman finally make his way to Hampshire. In a team like the Bison’s which consistently allowed the fewest shots and goals, Scott was arguably the standout defenceman. Able to use his size as well as very rarely being caught out of position, Scott has a booming shot. The Bison’s first powerplay unit steadily became a task to tee Scott up for a one time shot from the hashmarks to the right of the goalie. An asset to any blueline corps at this level, Scott is also never shy to get stuck in and defend his teammates as needs be.
Where has he gone?
Scott’s new club has not been announced by is heavily rumoured to be heading to London Raiders. There always remains a chance of him going back to Invicta, nothing is ever confirmed until it’s confirmed, but BOTW’s understanding is that Scott is bound for Essex rather than his home county.
Who replaces him?
We don’t even have a coach announced yet so Lord knows who replaces Scott on the blueline.
It feels something of a moot point to say someone was a popular player on last season’s Bison team. Whether scoring loads of points or a bit part player, the fanbase rallied behind the team. With that being said, Dan Scott was a very popular on this Bison side.
People talk about hockey lacking characters in this day and age. When I first started watching hockey in the mid 2000s, it always seemed that the people that got associated with that moniker were not, traditionally speaking, the best of players; the sort who were good rather than really good and got by on being a bit quirky.
The above obviously doesn’t apply to every player. Dan Scott’s certainly a quirky guy or at least a noticeable one. Very rarely seen without a smile on his face, he seems to possess more natural rhythm than most hockey players I’ve met. The thing with Scott is that at EPL and NIHL level, he is a very capable defenceman. He ticks all the boxes in terms of what teams need from a number one or two defenceman. Scott can log big minutes whilst minimising mistakes, he does the important things that defencemen are meant to do first and foremost. He makes it hard for players to get around him and whilst not the fastest player on the ice, he makes up for that slight lack of speed by being really good with the active stick, see the playoff semi-final for evidence of that. The fact that he’s also able to add some attacking output to his arsenal makes him all the more valuable for teams that can secure his services.
Scott’s tenure with the Bison wasn’t a long one but it certainly was a profitable one for both parties, certainly in terms of the success that both sides got as a result. In some ways given Sheppard’s departure, it’s a natural point for many players to leave as a result. The pivot in the middle has gone and after so much success, it’s time for some guys to try other things or try to make hay whilst the sun shines. I doubt that Dan Scott is earning massive money playing second tier British ice hockey so we take his statement on social media at its word; it’s just time to move on.
The changes have begun.
Thanks for everything, Scotty and all the best.
Off the back of a season where he coached the team to three trophies and 6 trophies in his 6 years in charge, the Basingstoke Bison announced the decision of the club’s Director of Hockey Operations, Doug Sheppard to refuse a contract for 2018/19 and leave with immediate effect.
When asked Sheppard would not comment on the club’s press release mentioning that he refused a contract, nor on rumours of a reduced budget influencing his departure or where his next appointment would be, only saying that he had options to consider. Sheppard was quick to thank an array of people when BOTW spoke to him this afternoon. “I have to thank everyone, fans and volunteers. I do have to thank Plant Ice for the opportunity but it was the players that made it all happen and they’re the reason why we had so much success. We also had great off ice staff and I don’t want to try naming everyone because there’s too many people to thank. I leave with nothing but really good memories. It was a really good ride.”
Sheppard leaves the Bison after a second spell with the club. His first during the club’s Elite League tenure saw Sheppard join in 2004 and become player/head coach in 2006. Sheppard played 156 league, cup and playoff games for 165 points. At the end of 2006/07 the Bison’s operating license was purchased by David Taylor, then owner of the Bracknell Bees who wished to make changes including appointing Ryan Aldridge as head coach. Sheppard was offered the chance to remain as a player but instead left and joined Sheffield Steelers.
Following two playoff and one EIHL league with the Steelers, Sheppard spent a two year spell at the Slough Jets including 2011/12 as player/coach. After a cup and a playoff triumph in Berkshire Sheppard was enticed to return to Basingstoke, now in the English Premier League after Steve Moria’s contract was not renewed.
From 2012, Sheppard would play another 176 league, cup and playoff games for the Herd scoring 161 points until hanging up his skates to concentrate on coaching. Sheppard coached the Bison to their first trophy success in over a decade in 2014 with the side’s capture of the EPL over the MK Lightning, a second placed league finish as well as the Herd’s 2014 playoff weekend success where they defeated Manchester Phoenix in the playoff final to secure a famous double in the 25th season of Basingstoke hockey.
After a disappointing 2014/15 the Herd rebounded, with Sheppard coaching the Bison to the club’s first league success since before the club changed its name from the Beavers and ending a 23 year wait with the 2015/16 EPL league title.
Following the 2016/17 season and the demise of the EPL, the Bison were accepted into division 1 south of the National Ice Hockey League where Sheppard oversaw the Bison become the premier side in the new order of second tier hockey. The Herd were pushed to the final weekend but won the league title on goal difference after scoring 18 goals in two days. They followed that up with by winning the southern playoffs and then winning the national playoff weekend, defeating Telford 4-0 in the final to close out a memorable season.
For whatever reason, Planet Ice’s announcement on the departure of Sheppard has the news that the rink has passed whatever sort of survey was needed to allow the club to continue next season buried within it. Doug Sheppard or not at the helm this is a resolution, even if only a brief one, to allow the club to run in the 2018/19 season. There will be a title defence by the Basingstoke Bison
The future that the Bison face is one in a building that now can hopefully get some much needed attention given that surveyors have confirmed that it can continue but this team will be different. If all you have ever known is Doug Sheppard hockey then the big surprise starts now.
We all knew that players would leave. This site has long made a point of reiterating that this is the norm in minor league hockey. However we now must be prepared that some of our core players will now also likely leave the club. Depending on where Sheppard has gone they may well follow him to a new location. The Basingstoke Bison as we know it, the team that won the title last season is now a thing of the past.
If we turn back the clock to the end of 2011/12, some will remember how that season ended. The Bison had a 6th placed finish and were knocked out in the playoffs by the Sheffield Steeldogs; the surprise package of the season led by the goals of Janis Ozolins and an up and coming netminder called Ben Bowns. (Wonder what happened to him) BOTW was just about a year old and I wrote what, at the time, was my most literally critical piece about the club. I questioned the direction of the organisation as the club seemed to be stuck; stuck for a direction, stuck for a purpose and stuck accepting mediocrity. I genuinely didn’t know what the focus or the goal of the club was. The club responded by hiring Doug Sheppard.
As they say, the rest is history. In similar farewell pieces I’ve made a point to not trawl through all of the history of a person’s interaction with a club but we find ourselves again at a crossroads for the Basingstoke Bison as a club. The torch is being passed again to the next person to lead this organisation that many readers of this site love and many others at least begrudgingly respect.
The club is, again, in limbo. Despite the news that the club will play the 2018/19 season, home ice requires some urgent attention to make it an acceptable venue to welcome hockey players, officials and fans in to on a regular basis. This is coupled with the fact that ice sports participants and supporters find themselves in an unusual position where they need to keep attending the rink to show a lack lustre and seemingly blind local council and set of councillors that Basingstoke needs to keep any sort of facility there.
I threw a quick poll out on to Twitter and the majority said that the club should retire #28 for Doug Sheppard. If you also read social media or forums then you’ll see that the rumours are already in overdrive. Sheppard is going to Bracknell, he’s going to the Elite League, this player is leaving, that player is leaving; silly season is well and truly here and we understand that this is out of the blue and has caught the organisation off guard. Sheppard had signed players for the upcoming campaign already which only adds to the confusion.
Bison fans have to prepare themselves not just for changing faces but a changing style and changing outlook. We do not know who will be taking over and this change might see the club needing to step back before it can step forward again.
That bigger discussion is for another day. This door closing is someone’s opportunity. The person who has that opportunity has to step into some very big shoes left by the most successful coach in the modern era of the Basingstoke Bison.
Doug Sheppard was many things; the quiet man, the hard worker, the boss, the tinker. He left you jumping for joy as well as sometimes scratching your head. Why did we struggle to beat Peterborough so often? Why did he change the line combinations every couple of minutes? Why did he sign Kris Melachrino? Did he ever speak to the agent who recommended Jakub Barton ever again?
Aaron Connolly ruined at least three of his suits with alcohol. He took a solid foundation and pulled the club to the highest point it could muster. He was also accommodating to everyone who wanted to speak to him. He always knew that being a coach of a team was more than just drawing up hockey plays but about the people side of it. Whoever has secured his services have got one of the very best.
All the best, Doug. Go well.