Building the Herd – Tomas Karpov

#44 Tomas Karpov

Position: Forward

Born: Benešov, Středočeský kraj, Česko

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 25th May

Photo copywrite to 5 Hole Photography – remember that all of Grant’s photos are available to buy at and will make great birthday presents or momentos for hockey fans. Grant is great, support Grant.

Building the Herd – Dan Davies

#47 Dan Davies

Position: Forward

Born: London, England

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 18th May

Dan Davies (left) had a productive first season in Basingstoke and has signed on for another campaign.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

Banners On The Wall took a break over the previous weekend. Some family stuff combined with the fact that the NIHL South 1 lost its marbles again led us to take a step back and wait to see if anything happened before progressing. As it seems that stuff has gone quiet, we’re in a position to properly welcome Dan Davies back to the Herd.

Soon to be 28, Davies capped an impressive first season in Basingstoke by being named the 2016/17 BOTW player of the year. Generally used as a centre for the duration of the campaign, Davies tallied 10 goals and 39 points in 50 games whilst adding 4 assists in the Bison’s 7 playoff encounters.

Davies began his hockey in London with Haringey. The London senior side were known as the Greyhounds so Davies played for the fantastically named Haringey Whippets in the under 16s leagues before moving across to Slough for the later part of his underage hockey career.

The stats then throw up something of an anomaly for Davies as no numbers exist for him on Elite Prospects between the end of 2004/05 and the 2008/09 season when he suddenly reappeared in Bracknell, splitting time between the Bees in the EPL and the Hornets in the then ENL. 25 EPL games yielded 5 goals and 8 points but his ENL numbers of 50 points in 26 games were impressive enough for Slough to come calling.

Davies moved back to The Hanger in 2009 and former junior Jet would spend 4 and a half years at the Hanger to great success as his time in Berkshire would yield 2 EPL playoff titles and one EPL cup. 240 regular season games with the Jets saw Davies chart an impressive 241 points.

The 2013/14 season has been discussed at great length on BOTW for the many player movements that happened at Slough. Davies, who was an alternate captain for the Jets at one stage during the season, was another player who moved north to join the new order in Telford, leaving just after the halfway point of the season in mid-December.

Davies and the Tigers pressed on from 2013/14 into the 2014/15 season and dominated the EPIHL, winning the league and cup at a canter before coming unstuck in the playoff semi-final against Peterborough. In the double winning season, Davies had 17 goals and 36 points in 48 games.

The 2015/16 season was something of a contrast as the Tigers faltered. Davies also had injury issues, icing in just 37 games but still managing 27 points from the season. After an empty handed season in Telford, Davies decided to return to the south and joined up with coach Doug Sheppard.

Did you know that Dan Davies got 39 points last season? I didn’t remember till I sat down and looked at the stats for him. In some ways because he falls into that archetype of “hard working hockey player”, I sometimes wonder if Dan Davies gets lost in the shuffle. It wasn’t intentional but with a family visit this weekend and the rest of the league going mad around us, even his welcome back piece got pushed slightly to one side.

However someone somewhere clearly notices his efforts. The setup for the BOTW player of the season is such that I don’t just pick my favourite player with my biases that I have on hockey players. It’s why there is a fans nominating process then I get the panel together to pick from those; to try and take out a chunk of my own influence as to who deserves the recognition and that we give a fair, well rounded result. Despite arguably not being the highest scorer or the biggest hitter or the flashiest or the fastest, Davies got the most fan nominations then the majority of 1st votes in our panel vote.

Dan Davies is a package player. He’s one of those players that Doug Sheppard likes who is able to do a bit of everything. Superb passing, a really good two way game combined with being able to both grind and score, it’s the work ethic of Davies that got the appreciation of fans wherever he’s played. Where we praised Joe Rand for not taking a shift off, we need to attribute the same quality to Davies who has played up and down the lines in the space of a season as well as taking significant first powerplay and penalty kill time in the process.

The problem is that we genuinely now don’t know what’s happening. Davies and Antonov were not paired together last year though you venture that they’ll both be on the top two lines between them with Davies maintaining his role in the centre. They’re the only two forwards and the new league format lasted a grand total of 2 weeks. Even the PIHL as a concept lasted longer than that.

Irrespective of that, we know what we’re getting from Dan Davies which is effort, energy and some decent execution. If Ciaran Long returns then I expect Davies to play alongside him but if Long is heading elsewhere then what Davies needs is that natural scorer for him to put the puck onto the stick of. Give him a Rene Jarolin style player that clicks with Davies and points will follow.

Welcome back, Dan. You are allowed to drink the beer…I mean, trophy.

Building the Herd – Ivan Antonov

#19 Ivan ‘Vanya’ Antonov

Position: Forward

Born: Москва́, Росси́йская Федера́ция

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette, 18th May

Vanya Antonov returns for another season in Basingstoke.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

After covering the return of the one defenceman from the Bison’s announcement, we move on to the forwards and the return to the Herd for 2017/18 of Russo-British forward, Ivan Antonov.

More commonly known as Vanya, the 20 year old came to Basingstoke with much fanfare last summer and continued his impressive senior hockey career with an 18 goal and 38 point season, regularly mesmerising audiences with his stick handling and speed.

2016/17 was Antonov’s first season away from Bracknell where he had played all of his British junior hockey. Having debuted for Bracknell’s under 16’s team, the Stingers as a 13 year old, Antonov regularly played above his age group in junior hockey. In his last season of solely playing with juniors in 2012/13, he scored 69 points in 17 games at under 16 level and 32 points in 13 games at under 18 level, combining for 49 goals across the two age groups.

On hitting 16 and becoming eligible to play senior hockey, Antonov was immediately used by both Bracknell senior sides as he made his NIHL debut with the Hornets and his EPL debut with the Bees in the same season. Vanya managed to an impressive 4 goals and 5 points in 22 games in the EPL whilst scoring 4 goals and 6 points in 7 NIHL games. His playing time at under 18s with the Drones was limited that year as Antonov only managed to appear in 9 games in which he scored 38 points. Antonov capped of 2013/14 by appearing for both GB under 18s and under 20s in the same season.

As the EPL became his bread and butter, Antonov would play one more game of under 18s in 2014/15 scoring 2 assists and that would spell the end of a fantastic junior career with 175 points in 76 games. 2014/15 saw a real coming out onto the senior stage as Vanya tallied 41 points in 43 games.

Lukas Smital gave Vanya the alternate captain’s A for 2015/16 in what was a tough year on and off the ice for the Bees. Financial issues were causing issues which saw squad building be a challenge for the Berkshire side. Alongside Smital, Antonov was a focal point of the Bees offence as he put up 65 points in 51 games before opting to move to Basingstoke.

I can’t be the only person massively surprised by this move, can I? Two new teams into the Elite League from the old EPIHL, one of whom in the same county as where Vanya Antonov attends university and he’s ended up back at Basingstoke. The majority of the Bison fanbase, including myself had assumed that Paul Dixon had one of the best young players on his way to the Elite League.

Yet, here we are and I’m sure all Bison fans are delighted. Why Antonov is back in Basingstoke could be for all manner of reasons; fitting things around university, Vanya feels he needs more seasoning before he steps up to being a full time hockey player, maybe he didn’t even get an offer from anywhere else. I don’t genuinely believe the last one is part of it but circumstances have certainly conspired in the Bison’s favour on this one.

The question with Antonov remains his size. It is quite clear that the young man is not about to suddenly grow 6 inches in height so the discussion turns to whether he will bulk up at any stage. If he bulks up too much to win some more of those physical battles, does he lose his speed and his edge over other players?

For this writer, Vanya Antonov needs to be Vanya Antonov and just play. At 20 years old and arguably 15-20 years of hockey ahead of him and given how good he already is, I don’t see the need to start radically trying to change his game. He does need to be a bit smarter with his physical battles and how he can be most effective in the corner battles but nobody signs Vanya Antonov to be a checking forward.

As one of the most naturally gifted players in the league last year, the bedding in process in Basingstoke has finished and hopefully this change of league will see Antonov press on and become a really dominant offensive force on a team that is regularly challenging for silverware. He’s got lightning speed, impressive hands, a really impressive shot and superb vision on the ice. He’s got the potential to be really special in British hockey and maybe even abroad. The fact it’s another season of him in Hampshire is a nice bonus for us along the way.

Welcome back, Vanya.

Additional: As this piece was being written, there was some upheaval as Chelmsford, Oxford and Solent all requested to withdraw from NIHL 1 South. BOTW will report as and when it gets concrete information.

Building the Herd – Dan Scott

#13 Dan Scott

Position: Defenceman

Born: Chatham, Kent

Announced as signed: Basingstoke Gazette 18th May

(c) 5 Hole Photography

After a couple of recent departures from the Bison, Doug Sheppard has set the tone with the announcement of three returnees for the Herd for their new venture into the NIHL. The first of those that we’ll talk about is the return of Dan Scott.

25 year old Scott joined the Herd from Telford Tigers after the tumultuous period for the Shropshire club due to financial issues. Scott had been part of the Tigers side that was tearing through the EPIHL at the time, scoring 3 goals and 6 assists for 9 points in 27 games before the Kent born defenceman decided that a change of scenery was required. A long term target of Doug Sheppard, Scott was convinced to move back to the south where he replaced Jan Jarabek who was released due to a disciplinary issue. Scott became immediately popular with the fans in Basingstoke for his no nonsense, physical style of stay at home defensive play. Despite his number of games being limited by a concussion, Scott managed to tally 1 goal and 1 assist in 19 games as well as picking up 2 goals and 1 assist in 7 playoff games with the Herd.

A product of the Invicta junior system, Scott made his senior hockey debut with the Dynamos during 2006/07 tallying 3 assists in the process. In 2008, Scott moved to Northwood School in Lake Placid, New York in the USA for two years to further his hockey playing skills, during which time he made his debut with the GB under 18s and was named captain for their world championships bid in 2010.

After finishing his time in North America, Dan returned to Britain where he signed for Telford and made an immediate impact on the Tigers’ defence. His talents also saw him guest for Coventry in the Elite League during 2010/11 which saw Scott make his GB under 20s debut and led to him signing a contract with Hull Stingrays for 2011/12. His time in the East Riding was productive with 1 goal, 1 assist and 2 points with 16 penalty minutes.

After his time in Hull came to an end, Dan headed back to the south and to Slough where he would stay for the next year and a half. Under Slava Koulikov, Slough had a good 2012/13 and Dan’s 7 points that season were, at the time, a career best in senior hockey for him. 2013/14 didn’t go as well for the Jets as money issues saw a number of players leave. Scott was part of the number that were lured north to Telford due to an improved contract offer in December 2013.

We all kind of know what happened to Telford; the dominant 2014/15 campaign saw Scott pick up league and cup winners medals and whilst 2015/16 didn’t go as well for Telford, they seemed to be on the road to running the table again but the well-publicised issues in Shropshire led us to where we are today.

Dan Scott had the somewhat ignoble honour of being the first person that the EPIHL’s new policy on headshots failed. I actually remember hearing about the decision not to punish Ugnius Cizas for what was a ridiculous elbow to the head because I was walking around Copenhagen Zoo and my wife wondered why I had stopped by a monkey enclosure and was saying “they have to be taking the mick” over and over again. To not punish the Pirates forward essentially implied that Scott instigated the contact by headbutting his opponent’s elbow. Then again, not long after that the EPIHL failed so I suppose the joke was that we should have seen that coming.

Above we mentioned that Doug Sheppard had Dan Scott as a long term target. I suppose most coaches in the league would not have sniffed at signing the defenceman and Bison fans immediately picked up on why Dan is such a valuable commodity as a defender.

He’s arguably something of a cut out player. If you were making a list of what you want your ideal stay at home defenceman to be then most of Scott’s traits will be on that list; positionally sound, good hands, takes the body well, good vision for the pass to start the transition up the ice. If you’re signing a guy to sure up the back end then this is what you want.

To Scott’s credit he came to Basingstoke last year knowing a lot of the team already and he settled in well. He got the Bison’s systems down quickly and made a defence that was already the best in the league better. During the voting for the BOTW player of the year, many mentioned that had Dan been there for a season then they may have got this vote.

It’s hard to add more than we did given we only wrote a piece for Dan about 6 months ago but the reaction that he got when he was in and out of the line-up shows that added bit of quality that fell into the Bison’s lap. It happened with Ciaran Long and Michael Wales. It appears to have happened again. With a league that is going to be a real mix of players and abilities, Doug Sheppard has shown that he’s not messing about by securing what will be a top level defenceman in the Wilkinson Conference, if not the whole of NIHL 1 South.

Welcome back, Dan.

BOTW Extra – Richard Carpenter

For more in depth on the announcement, remember to check out our BOTW Breakdown on the structure of NIHL South for 2017/18.

BOTW Breakdown – NIHL 1 South 2017/18

Following the meeting on Sunday 7th May, it’s a new dawn (of sorts) for the Basingstoke Bison, other former EPIHL clubs in the south of England and the National Ice Hockey League. So let’s give the press release the BOTW Breakdown treatment, shall we? We’ll go through the press release then collate some thoughts at the end.

Following the NIHL South section meeting on Sunday 7 May, the EIHA is pleased to announce that the format for 17/18 season has been agreed after more than 6 hours of discussions.

The applications from former EPIHL sides Basingstoke Bison, Bracknell Bees, Peterborough Phantoms and Swindon Wildcats were accepted and they take the place in NIHL South 1 next season.

So the way forward, for the moment has been decided. Many postulated a bunch of theories that EPL teams would be forced to start in NIHL 2 South or that the PIHL would rise like a phoenix from the flames (too soon?) but the easy option has been taken and all the clubs eligible for the south have been accepted in.

In total there will be 12 teams in Division 1, split into two conferences of six teams.

Conference A

Basingstoke Bison, Bracknell Bees

Cardiff Fire, Milton Keynes Thunder

Oxford City Stars, Solent Devils

Conference B

Chelmsford Chieftains, Invicta Dynamos

London Raiders, Peterborough Phantoms

Streatham IHC, Swindon Wildcats

Teams will play others in the own conference twice home and away, and teams out of conference once home and once away.

From what I understand, the conference arrangement was to stop some of the smaller sides in the division requesting relegation to division 2. We also see the addition of the Cardiff Fire who won the South 2 West conference last season. Slough Jets had also reportedly applied for promotion but the choice was Cardiff or Slough and Cardiff were voted in.

When people spoke of it being a compromise deal, I think that seems to be a fair representation of what we have here. It’s gotten teams together and a structure to work with. That said the conference split will cause some perturbation given who has ended up with whom. I understand the desire to split up the 4 sides that have come in from the EPL to lessen the immediate impact of them coming down but I wonder about the geographical and quality split in the immediacy. Conference two now has 2 former EPL sides, long time league titans Chelmsford and playoff champions Invicta in it. That’s adding in Streatham who are always really competitive and London with a revamped coaching staff under 5 time league winning coach Sean Easton who are also on the verge of a move back to Romford. Conference 2 looks much more the conference of death than Conference 1 at first glance. If the Bison somehow maintain a chunk of last season’s roster then they could have some very lopsided games.

You also have some interesting fixture issues in there. Oxford and Swindon, a traditional local sporting rivalry, will meet twice but Basingstoke and Solent will meet 4 times across the season. Whilst a Hampshire derby and a coaching battle between Doug Sheppard and the league’s coach of the year, Alex Murray is a nice addition to the Bison’s calendar; I don’t believe that Solent’s rink in Gosport could sit every Bison season ticket holder from last season.

Also we do need to name the conferences so how about we name one each for the recently departed Bob Wilkinson and Pat Marsh, two servants of British ice hockey that we lost in the last 12 months.

There will also be an NIHL S1 Cup with two groups.

Group A

Chelmsford Chieftains, Invicta Dynamos

Streatham IHC, London Raiders

Group B

Basingstoke Bison, Bracknell Bees

Peterborough Phantoms, Swindon Wildcats

The initial stage of the Cup will have one home and one away against the others in their group.

For folks new to the NIHL, this cup format is not unusual. In NIHL 1 South, the cup has regularly sat as a separate competition to the league rather than the EPIHL format of recent years where the first home and away game against each side was used. Also, we see a mixing up of the leagues and we get an old boys group and a new boys group so teams get a couple of extra fixtures against sides that they’re used to seeing without suffering from the EIHL’s issue of too many games against the same opposition.

NIHL South Division 2 reverts to a single division of 13 teams, playing one home and one away. Discussions on a NIHL S2 Cup will continue.

Basingstoke Buffalo, Bristol Pitbulls

Bracknell Hornets, Cardiff Fire 2

Chelmsford Warriors, Guildford Phoenix

Haringey, Invicta Mustangs

Lee Valley Lions, Oxford NIHL2

Peterborough Phantoms 2, Slough Jets, Swindon Wildcats 2

There are a couple of bits of news in here to note. Bracknell Hornets have stepped aside to allow the Bees entry into division 1 along with the team previously known as the Peterborough Islanders, now known as Phantoms 2. There are also the additions of a second team from Cardiff Fire and Oxford with the addition of a new team from Guildford, designed to provide a stepping stone on the development route for players in the Spectrum’s junior system. Also I am wondering if Haringey have dropped the name “Racers” but that one can wait.

The meeting also agreed that all NIHL South games ending in a draw after 60 minutes will go to five minutes of 3 on 3 overtime and penalty shots if required.

The NIHL season will begin on weekend of 2/3 September and is scheduled to end 7/8 April.

The issue of post season play will be discussed wider following the NIHL North section meeting which is now scheduled for next weekend.

Aside from the structure, the addition of OT and penalty shots is a big change for NIHL South hockey. Some people like the shootout, some hate it but the addition of overtime to the league is one that I think fans will enjoy. Many will say “what’s wrong with draws?” but the prevailing wind of world hockey is towards such things. I can’t think of another league outside of the NIHL that had kept draws for as long as it had. However given that overtime and penalty shots is new to the league, hopefully they will see sense in adopting a European style scoring system of 3 points for a win in regulation and 2 for a win in OT/penalty shots. Let’s incentivise winning in regulation given we have the chance to do it.

Season seems a normal length which is good and a sensible decision to leave the playoffs off of the table for the moment till our friends in the north have their say. Certainly last season, the playoffs in the north and south were radically different with the north taking the top 4 in the league to a Coventry style weekend format and the south having rounds decided on aggregate score. There will hopefully be some consensus. There will also continue to be rumours of the respective winners from north and south meeting but how they do that within the dates set is anyone’s guess at the moment.

NIHL South League Manager Richard Carpenter said: “It was a long day, a difficult meeting but we’ve reached agreement on the way forward for next season and beyond.

“There are no perfect answers or deals to such a highly complicated situation but we would like to thank all teams involved for reaching a deal today to the betterment of British ice hockey.

“There are wider whole-NIHL issues which will be discussed after the North section next week, but we’re pleased to have carried out this task of integrating the former EPIHL clubs into the NIHL Structure and agreed a format.”

We’re hoping to get a chat with Richard soon about the meeting so stay tuned for that.

The Basingstoke Bison and the Bracknell Bees will do battle next season but instead of the EPIHL, it’s as part of a new look NIHL 1 South.
(c) 5 Hole Photography

So here we are; the chips have fallen for the Basingstoke Bison and we’re now into our third different league since I started watching the club in 2005. The days of proper national hockey for the club are at an end. The Phoenix are gone, we got two seasons of games against the Hull Pirates, no more fights with Sheffield; it’s all change again.

Instead we get some more “evocative” names from Bison and Beavers seasons past to contend with. Streatham, Oxford, Chelmsford, Invicta, this is the reality we face now. There was no magic tonic for the EPIHL or the PIHL, nobody wanted to step up and fill that gap and rather than find a way to go as a 7, all teams took Ken Taggart’s advice and the 3rd tier is now the second tier…again. Dave Carr wasn’t joking on the most recent BOTW Podcast when he said that British hockey goes in cycles.

If we’re honest than ourselves, this isn’t what we wanted. The EPL worked for Bison hockey. The Bison as an organisation could not sustain EIHL hockey, certainly the Bison that finished 2016/17 was too big an organisation for NIHL hockey but here we are, suddenly in the NIHL just over a year removed from winning the EPL.

People will talk about the drop in quality and they’re right to be concerned about that. Particularly for the Bison they’ve not ended up in a conference with any of the traditional powerhouses for conference play and get our extra games against the fellow ex EPL sides from the cup. If Doug Sheppard, for whom recruitment has generally been a strength (we won’t mention Jakub Barton), manages to keep his core together than Conference 1 could arguably be rather lopsided unless some hefty player movements happen.

From a Banners On The Wall perspective, this is irrelevant to us. The writing follows the Bison, the podcast follows British hockey and that’s how we will stay though it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise that this move will mean some people stop coming.

There’s been talk of people not coming because the NIHL is a glorified rec league from some, talk of “plastic” fans going away from others. If people don’t want to come to games, that’s their business.

Some people come a sizeable distance to games and how they choose to spend their money is not our decision. Do I think the NIHL is a glorified rec league? No, and if you believe that it is then I welcome you having that conversation with Jeremy Cornish but I have wondered how many people decrying the standard NIHL competition have watched more than just the inter-league cup games from a couple of seasons ago. I’ve been to some really poor NIHL games. I’ve been to really poor EIHL games too. The worst game of hockey that I’ve seen was arguably recently in Denmark in a league reportedly on a par with the Elite League. It’s a disservice to the good work and improving quality of NIHL 1 South to immediately decry it as not being “up to scratch” when ultimately all these changes mean that we don’t know what will happen.

Teams from the EPL might keep loads of their players, they might not. Aaron Connolly is a Kent born lad, what if he decides that playing for Invicta or Chelmsford is more for him this year than Basingstoke? What if Stevie Lyle thinks that given he lives in Cardiff and he can now feasibly play in Cardiff that he prefers that over Swindon? The shifting seas are going to throw us a few curve balls.

The message from here would be that we understand it’s not what we’re used to, we understand it might not really be our first choice of where to be but here we are, we must try to make the best of it, we must respect the good work that’s been happening here so at least give it a go first before you go elsewhere.

With that being said, it’s on the Bison as an organisation to sell this new place to the fans as well. The club need to be involved in making things better; use the Buffalo and the junior sides as a source for players, adjust their ticket prices accordingly, sort the rink out so it’s at least somewhere closer to fit for purpose than it was in April and a few other bits besides. The club has done best when it works with the fans and that attitude must not change.

This might not be the league we play in the future but the future is now, it’s upon us and we won’t be going anywhere in it whether Bison team and fans, Bison and its conference rivals, NIHL 1 South and North or British hockey in general if we don’t keep finding ways to work together.