Goodnight and Good Luck – Roman Malinik

(c) 5 Hole Photography

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.


Goodnight and Good Luck – The May 2018 Mass Exodus

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.

Dean Skinns:

(c) 5 Hole Photography

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.

Vanya Antonov:

(c) 5 Hole Photography

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.

Josh Smith:

(c) 5 Hole Photography

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.

Ryan Sutton:

(c) 5 Hole Photography

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.

Stuart Mogg:

(c) 5 Hole Photography

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.

Tomas Karpov:

(c) 5 Hole Photography

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.

Final thoughts:

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.

Goodnight and Good Luck – Aaron Connolly

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.

Final thoughts:

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.

(c) 5 Hole Photography

Thanks for everything, Aaron and just for you; bar dizzle.

Goodnight and Good Luck – Dan Scott

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.

Following the departure of Doug Sheppard, Dan Scott becomes one of the first players from the treble winning side to depart the Bison.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

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.

Final thoughts:

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.

Goodnight and Good Luck – Doug Sheppard

The Bison will run in 2018/19 but it will be without Doug Sheppard as head coach.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

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.

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.