Basingstoke Bison 2-5 Telford Tigers
Antonov Silverthorn x2 (1pp)
J. Watkins pp
That wasn’t good. That wasn’t good at all. What a difference a week makes for the Herd who looked so at ease as to having sleepwalked to a 4-0 win against Invicta to then face a sterner test both away and then at home to Telford and last night’s home encounter was one to hopefully, quickly forget.
The Bison had a good first ten minutes but then seemed to lose their way. The combination of Vanya Antonov and Jaroslav Cesky started getting some penetration through the Tigers’ defence but once the Tigers got wise to this and marked them out of the game, nobody else could step up. Combined with some rather poor two way play from the forwards as well, the Bison got frequently stretched and the goals for the visitors, when they came, were because there was no man where there should have been one. The last 50 minutes of the game was a comedy of errors for the hosts.
The Bison massively missed Dan Davies, suffering from an unconfirmed injury. They needed someone to be able to play both ends of the ice and add a touch of quality up the middle and it was lacking last night. Ryan Sutton put in the effort as the second line centre but he is not of the quality of Davies. His positioning saw him on the ice for three of the goals, he struggled to win faceoffs and just generally had a bad night at the office. The same with Paul Petts, suddenly thrust up the lines who took a few very poor penalties and Josh Smith who seemed to not get enough connection on any chance he got.
The burden of failure doesn’t fall with the younger, more inexperienced members of the roster. The senior members of the forward lines struggled as much as the younger ones. Aaron Connolly was uncharacteristically quiet on the ice and on the bench, Grant Rounding seemed to run at defenders with no hope of going through them and for all he tried to create, Tomas Karpov can’t do everything himself.
The only two forwards who seemed to have an impact of any kind were the aforementioned Antonov and Cesky. The combination between the young up-and-comer and the veteran forward was a bright spot of the game for the Herd. They are starting to get a better awareness of where the other one is but were ultimately sat on more and more as the game went on and 2 men against five working more effectively together will never work.
It should be said that where the forwards had a nightmare evening, I thought the defence actually had a good evening. Dean Skinns might want one or two of the goals back but ultimately didn’t get enough help from everyone on the ice. The actual individual defencemen as well I thought played admirably. Stuart Mogg, Joe Baird and Kurt Reynolds all had good games. Dan Scott got caught out for one of the goals but it was because he jumped into the play to try and make something happen where others couldn’t. Scott was also the vocal presence on the bench at the end demanding the players dug deep. Elliott Dewey probably had the best game of any of the defenders; he looked calm, composed and took his goal very well.
In the end, the buck stops with Doug Sheppard on this one. Yes, with no Davies in the line up, it meant a shuffling of the lines but the plan clearly wasn’t working as soon as Telford got their third goal but Telford persisted. The Bison seemed so determined to spread their offence across the lines but rather than try to match Telford’s tactic of a heavily loaded top line then use the superior depth to win, Sheppard’s plan to spread the offence across the lines ended up diluting it and it made the Bison toothless for the majority of the game. The Bison’s bench isn’t massive but a team with 12 skaters came into Basingstoke, bossed the game and didn’t look tired. That’s not acceptable.
Sheppard likes to try different combinations and this writer is sure that different ones will be seen in the cup game against Bracknell. If the performance of tonight is repeated then the Herd’s National Cup campaign will be over before it starts.
The presence of Chris Wiggins at the end of the Bison bench wasn’t lost on this writer either. A fully fit Chris Wiggins does have a role to play in NIHL South 1 where teams will try to use their physical attributes where skill can’t get the job done. Invicta tried it to up their physical game and were matched. Could Wiggins have made a difference on this night? Possibly but for all Wiggins’ skill set, if he is officially added to the line up then he won’t be the answer to the Bison’s issues on this night unless he’s magically turned into a two-way centre or a natural scorer.
A word on our opponents:
This bit might be short as there’s not much to say really. Credit must go to Telford, the better side won this game. They used their small bench to perfection, frustrated the Bison, ground them down and the win was easy for them in the end.
Denis Bell got the man of the match for his 36 save performance but it was a Bison team doing their firing from all angles act. Had I been picking the beers, I’d have given them to Adam Taylor. It would have been easy to give the award on the night to Jason Silverthorn or Joe Miller, even Jack Watkins was arguably in with a shout but for me Taylor was the standout performer for the visitors. With this shorter Tigers bench, Taylor is going to get a bit of ice time and actually that looks like it will serve him well. He’s taking an opportunity given to him by Tom Watkins (who himself had a good rather than a great game) to have the ice time and take his chances. He shot well, passed well, forechecked well; it was an all round performance from the young man.
Telford’s strength in this game was where the Bison were so determined to beat them at their own game, Telford had to just sit back and frustrate their hosts then take their chances. Whilst not a numerous roster, there’s a lot of talent in it. They have a goalie who has started the season hot in Bell, quality on defence led by Jonathan Weaver, quality up front led by Jason Silverthorn and what depth there is, is also very good. Most importantly they’re playing for themselves and the coach. Had the Bison played to their full potential then this game would have been a classic that this new era of the second tier in British hockey needed. Instead it was a frustrating mess for the home fans and the small travelling contingent were sent home happy by this effective and well managed performance. If Telford don’t win a trophy this season, I’ll be shocked.
Lowlight of the game: Most of it but Silverthorn’s second goal was the icing on a very sour tasting cake.
Highlight of the game: Antonov’s goal was alright.
NIHL 1 South
Basingstoke Bison 4-0 Invicta Dynamos
Opening night dynamism:
There’s been lots of speculation over the course of the summer of how the former EPL sides would match up against the NIHL classic teams when they finally came head to head. Many were predicting lopsided games and for the Bison, whilst the scoreline was entirely respectable, this game felt like one way traffic.
The game itself had its moments of drama but this was not a game that the Bison ever looked like losing. The Herd put the pressure on the visitors from the get go and it showed early on and all the way through the game. It was helped in the first period by the Dynamos taking 5 penalties but the overall balance of the game was never in doubt.
The Herd rarely looked like they got out of first gear because they didn’t really need to. This did lead to instances where they fell into the trap of trying to walk the puck into the net at times but also were turned away by a netminder who needed to play out of his skin.
After two periods of running a regular patten of lines, the third period saw the bottom six and especially the 4th line get a ton of ice time. The Dynamos were rarely troubling the Bison net and, because Doug Sheppard will rarely want his team to run up the score, went for resting the top lines ahead of the cup game with Telford and gave the opportunity to the younger players who impressed.
Without Jaroslav Cesky and Hallam Wilson, Bison u18s forward Sam Brooks was added to the line-up and gave a very good account of himself. Usually used on a 4th line with Paul Petts and Josh Smith, Brooks never shied away from the play and almost got himself on the scoresheet in the final period when his line was given a lot of extended ice time.
Vanya Antonov got the man of the match beers for a 1+2 performance. His goal was a really good tip off of a Joe Baird shot but Antonov’s night was more than that. He did try to be a bit too cute with the puck on more than one occasion but Vanya Antonov is really good on the puck and if teams are going to give him the space and time to operate then why shouldn’t Antonov, arguably the Herd’s highest skilled forward, take the opportunity to burn teams if they’re going to give him the chance? The irony for all of Antonov’s skill on the ice was his only goal was that tip in and one of his better shots rebounded to Aaron Connolly to stick home.
It is hard to pick out anyone who had a bad performance from the Bison on the night. It was a game for skill players as well as Tomas Karpov had one of his nights where he wanted to skate round and through everyone. He nearly did though his goal was a superb shot that went flying into the top of the net. Dean Skinns had a couple of moments (Adam Rehak should have scored but we’ll get to that) but was rarely troubled and a 15 shot shutout speaks to that. Stuart Mogg’s goal was fortunate to go in as Damien King lost sight of the puck but it was a bullet of a shot into the bottom corner. The rest of the defence had its moments but didn’t struggle to hold the Dynamos at bay.
A win is a win; the Bison won’t care about their dominance in the encounter. I think the crowd would have preferred the Bison to start running up the score but one game into the season there are bigger things to worry about. This was a good game for giving players ice time and getting everyone up to speed. Telford will be a very different ask than Invicta so this game served that dual purpose. The Bison are on the board in their new league home. The cup now becomes the focus.
A word on our opponents:
We’ll cover the bad and then the good for the Invicta Dynamos from this one.
The scoreline can be painted in a bunch of ways but what happened in the 60 minutes cannot be ignored here. The Dynamos were played off of the ice for the duration of the game, they were held to 15 shots in 60 minutes, the one golden chance they had was missed and the only reason this game didn’t end up with a cricket score is because their netminder was on his game. We won’t touch on why the Kent side had to play in their warm up jerseys because gear mishaps happen to the best of teams.
The game plan was sensible enough and we’ve seen it plenty of times; when you think you are lacking in skill against your opponents, you find ways to frustrate them. The Dynamos plan was to be physical and try to cut off the passing lanes. The problem that they had was they got matched for physicality and didn’t cut off the passing lanes, at times even stepping off and giving the Bison space to operate in. They also took a litany of poor penalties at inopportune moments. When your side is giving up a lot of shots and your keeper is keeping you in the game, why are you taking silly penalties to then up the amount of shots?
Adam Rehak can be forgiven for missing his chance to make the score 1-1 but the lack of creating opportunities on net will cost the Dynamos dearly across the season if they cannot do so against other sides, new to the NIHL or not. The Dynamos are reportedly a different side at home, for their sake I hope so.
However there is some good to be taken from this game. The Dynamos deserve credit for their effort. Some teams would have rolled over and allowed the score to resemble a game of pinball but the Dynamos tried to skate with the Bison for 60 minutes. The team clearly has heart and systems that they are playing to. They didn’t give up the game plan.
50 saves on 54 shots sounds like what it was; Damien King was in the shooting gallery but he was not making lucky saves. King did get fortunate at times but he also made a string of good quality saves and looked composed and confident doing them. In another game, Damien King will be the difference between winning and losing.
The other thing that must be mentioned is the Dynamos fans, they’re a different class in terms of support.
Lowlight of the night: Mason Webster’s crosscheck on Dan Scott was a bit unnecessary.
Highlight of the night: Karpov’s goal was a very pretty shot.
Home Ice: Gillingham Ice Bowl
Last season: 2nd NIHL 1 South, cup finalists, playoff winners
We’re there; the 2017/18 season for the Basingstoke Bison is two days away and given there’s a new podcast out tomorrow, we’re taking the opportunity tonight to look at the Bison’s first opponents in the form of the Invicta Dynamos.
For the last few years in NIHL 1 South, everyone has played second fiddle to Chelmsford and last season the best of the second fiddles was Invicta. The Dynamos have always been there or thereabouts the last few years but never managed to beat the monster.
It seemed to be the same last season as well; despite finishing top of the cup group, Chelmsford beat the Dynamos in the final. In the league, spells of inconsistency cost the Kent side dear as the Chieftains lost 1 game and drew 2 out of 28. The Dynamos put in good performances but finished 18 points behind their Essex rivals when the season ended.
Despite a mild scare against Milton Keynes in the first round, the Dynamos blew Streatham away in the playoff semi-finals with a 10-1 second leg win which set up yet another Chelmsford vs Invicta clash. Whatever Kev Parrish said to his team worked; an 8-3 win in Gillingham in the first leg put enough of a dent in the Chieftains armour that meant even a 4-2 loss in the second leg wasn’t enough. Invicta had killed the grand slam dream.
How they got here:
Since leaving the EPL in 2003, the Dynamos have been stalwarts of the 3rd tier with seven ENL 1 South titles in a row from 2003/04 – 2009/10.
Most people when they think of the Invicta Dynamos over the last few years think of Callum Fowler. Whilst imports have come and gone, Fowler has always found a way to put the puck in the back of the net. Bar half a season at Bracknell which ended when he didn’t get paid properly, he’s Dynamos through and through. In previous years he had been criticised for trying to do too much himself but when you’re capable of putting up 70 and 80 point seasons then you can forgive it to a degree.
It’s a slightly different looking side this season but you have to assume that Fowler and import forward Adam Rehak will likely see time together as the spearhead of the Dynamos’ attack. If teams can’t find a way to suss the combination out then the Dynamos will score goals from the top line.
The new boy:
It’s hard to look past the addition of Bobby Chamberlain for this new. Having been injured then released from his contract with the MK Lightning under something of a cloud, this doesn’t detract from the fact that if used properly that a fit Chamberlain will have an impact in this league.
A classic power forward, we may well see Chamberlain added to a line with Fowler and Rehak but it depends on how Coach Parrish wishes to spread the offence around the forward lines. Chamberlain as a space creator on the top line would make sense and he should be able to put points up with it. He can agitate but he’s not there to just get under people’s skin and I venture that he won’t be used as a third line grinder to crash and bang. Chamberlain has been signed to be the total package.
How will it go?
According to Elite Prospects, the average age of the Invicta Dynamos squad is less than 23 years old. For a second tier side to head into a season with that is impressive in itself. Arran Stawson is the only player aged 30 or above.
That’s not to say there’s not good experience in there. The netminding duo of Damien King and John Dibble have seen enough to be comfortable when called upon. King will be the starter but Dibble is rewarded for his determined performances when stepping in due to injuries last term. He deserves his shot.
Alongside Stawson, Tom Ralph, Harrison Lillis and Ondrej Zosiak are competent defenders that will give some much needed protection to the netminder.
Up front Fowler, Rehak and Chamberlain have the impressive Scott Bailey, a revelation when he joined following the demise of Manchester as well as some good physicality from Mason Webster.
The problem for Invicta is that this roster doesn’t look like it has as much in it as others we’ve looked at so far. Kev Parrish’s record in previous NIHL seasons can’t and shouldn’t be dismissed but there’s gaps in here. Youth and determination is fine and I think the netminding and defensive corps look OK but my big concern is where the goals are going to come from in terms of secondary offense.
Chamberlain will score, Rehak will score, Fowler will score. Say that is your top line; where do the goals come from elsewhere on this roster against some of the teams that we’ve seen already if those players are shut down? That’s the bit that I am struggling to get my head around at the moment when I look at the Dynamos.
It’s also not a big roster; 17 players including both netminders with 9 forwards is not a huge roster and for a club that as famed in previous years for being able to convince players to sign there, the oldest forward is 25 and that’s Fowler. Having a young group is not a bad thing but “where are the veteran level heads?” is my thinking on this.
I don’t want to sound like I am being too down on Invicta here because we all know what the club has been able to do in the past. They can sneak out results, they can find a way to blow games open. It’s the Dynamos way.
The problem this season is that with such a short roster, they appear to be in for more of an uphill struggle than they’ve had the last couple of years. Kev Parrish has apparently been brave in his roster building or he’s made the best of who he could convince to sign for him. However that’s the challenge of coaching; to make the best of what you have. If Invicta manage a top half finish this season then I think Parrish will have more than done his job.
Home ice: John Nike Leisuresport Complex aka “The Hive”
Last season: 9th EPL
We traditionally do our opening night opponents last so we’ll leave them till tomorrow. That means it’s time to have a look at our nearest rivals for the coming season, the Bracknell Bees.
To say the last few seasons, let alone last season, has been tough for the Bracknell Bees has been tough would be something of an understatement. The Bees never looked like finishing 10th last season with a very poor Manchester Phoenix roster in the league. Then the Phoenix went bust and Bracknell were back to the bottom of the pile and missed the playoffs for the third successive year.
8 wins from 48 games and averaging just over 2 goals a game do not make pretty stats but as the fan organised group cobbled things together after the collapse of former licensees PSM, we should be thankful that there’s a Bracknell Bees at all.
How they got here:
The Bees applied for the NIHL in the wake of other former EPL sides. An agreement was reached with the Bracknell Hornets to step down to NIHL 2 and allow the Bees to take their spot in the league.
We’ll get onto the coaching appointment in a bit but if there’s a player you could call a talisman for your team then for Bracknell, it’s Matt Foord. The former London Racer has become Mr Bracknell over the last few years since joining from Swindon. At the forefront of the campaign to keep the Bees going, on the ice Foord is not a flashy player but he’s an experienced one and a very competent one. Able to play forward or defence, in a new look team with a new coach having a player like your returning captain who can encourage guys to go to war with him will be invaluable for Coach Spearing who is 4 years Foord’s junior.
In a team with not much recent experience of winning, a player like Foord will be able to be the steady hand on the ice that is needed to calm those nerves in those tight games that in the past the Bees would have lost.
The new boy:
In the south of England, there are never many “new” players to rosters. Whilst Callum Best did play for Bracknell back in 2010, the Bees are getting a very different player in 2017. After leaving the Bison in 2011, Best went into the NIHL and became a free scoring forward which was capped off by a 90 point season for Streatham in 2014/15. Then, because the ways of Paul Dixon are varied and strange, he ended up as a checking forward at Guildford for a couple of months before heading beack to his scoring ways in the NIHL.
Playing Callum Best as a checking forward these days is a bit of a waste of his skill set. Yes, he can do the physical bit but he’s not there for a two way game. Give him some decent linemates and Best will either find the net or put the puck on the stick of someone who will. It’s not rocket science.
How will it go?
The decision of John Nike Leisuresport to take the Bees back in house after years of licensing the club out to other owners has probably, at least for the time being, saved the club. It meant there would be some changes and the big one from a hockey playing perspective is the removal of long time player/coach Lukas Smital for Scott Spearing.
To say Scott Spearing isn’t liked as a player by fans across the old EPL would be an understatement akin to saying that the River Thames is a little bit wet. Ever since a serious knee injury whilst playing in Basingstoke, Spearing changed his game and became one of the old second tier’s premier agitators. How he will do as a coach remains to be seen. I’m unfamiliar with his coaching work in any capacity but, to his credit, he’s built a squad that will certainly play his type of game. This is a gritty looking side and whilst it was only a pre-season game, it’s a side that beat Swindon at the Hive last Sunday.
Managing to convince Frantisek Bakrlik back to Berkshire is a massive coup for Spearing. Bakrlik, as frustrating as he is talented, is the sort of big name player that the Bees needed. The forwards without him look good rather than great. There’s names that can put the puck in the back of the net but can they do it with the frequency required to be a title contender? If he can be coaxed out of some of his other antics, Bakrlik can put this Bees team on his back. With support from players like the aforementioned Best as well as Alex Barker, Steve Osman and Shaun Thompson then there are goals there but it all needs to click.
I actually like the make-up of the defence. It’s not spectacular looking but it’s a good group. Josh Tetlow will appear regularly when not needed by Nottingham along with the experience of Jan Bendik should see this group do well. I also like Alex Mettam as a goalie and with support he can be brilliant.
The other great advantage is that a bit of closer working with the Hornets should see some of the players signed on two-ways get good experience. I’m particularly interested to see Josh and Ben Ealey-Newman if I can this season.
Where many have said that the EPL sides should finish 1-4 in the new league, many have pinpointed Bracknell as the side that can be overtaken by the classic NIHL sides to take fourth spot. I can see why sides have done this but a lot of it is based on the fact that the last couple of years have been so turgid for Bracknell. Make no mistake; this is a team with a different mentality and structure. Scott Spearing might well be a tactical genius for all we know. It remains to be seen what the long term outlook for this side is.
Are Bracknell the weakest of the old EPL sides? I’d say yes. Are they going to be a pushover? Absolutely not.
Home Ice: Streatham Ice and Leisure Centre
Last season: 3rd NIHL 1 South, cup semi-finalists, playoff semi-finalists
As opening night looms large for the Bison, it’s time to look at another of the NIHL classic sides and what a classic they are. For the first time in quite a while, the Bison will do battle with Streatham IHC.
2016/17 promised a lot for South London’s finest; after a new coach and a PR job over the dropping of their old nickname that was a lesson to any sports organisation, things didn’t start well for Streatham. After naming Nicky Chinn player/coach, something just didn’t click for the newly christened Redhawks on the ice.
The sad demise of the Wightlink Raiders saw the ownership at Streatham take the plunge. Chinn was relieved of his duties and replaced by Jeremy Cornish who brought an array of Wightlink players with him up across the Solent and up the M3.
Something seemed to click for the Redhawks as their fortunes improved after Cornish’s tenure began but it was a case of being the nearly men across the season. Their poor start ultimately cost them as they finished 2 points behind 2nd placed Invicta in the league table who also dispatched them from the cup.
The playoffs started with a nervy 1 goal aggregate win over a plucky Solent Devils side before they came up against the Dynamos in the playoffs. Having drawn the first leg 3-3, much was promised for the second leg in Gillingham but the London side were on the wrong end of a 10-1 hammering and the season was done.
How they got here:
After their return from the wilderness in 2003, Streatham have been members of the then ENL and now NIHL since that time. This will be their first season at a second tier level since the late 1980s.
It’s easy to talk about him because Bison fans will remember him but there’s something of a story to be told about netminder Matt Colclough.
The former Guildford junior made a name for himself under Cornish on the Isle of Wight before switching to the Bison in 2011. Originally the backup, Colclough wrestled the number one spot away from Dean Skinns who suffered a loss in form before Steve Moria recruited Steve Wall to finish out the season.
Many wondered whether Colclough would come back to the Bison, many wanted him back but he returned to the Isle of Wight and a lighted schedule under Coach Cornish and it’s been a fruitful partnership ever since. After Cornish’s hiring by the Redhawks, Colclough was one of the first players to join him in South London.
The test this season is to see how 27 year old Colclough is an improvement on the younger self’s outing into the second tier of British hockey. Colclough is not a perfect goalie but he is a very good goalie. He tracks the puck well, he’s solid in net and that’s why Jeremy Cornish trusts him to do the job. With a decent looking defence in front of him, Colclough will turn the heads of those unfamiliar with him.
The new boy:
If it would be easy to talk about Matt Colclough above then it would be easier to say Ryan Watt here but we won’t.
Adam Carr is a massive signing for Jeremy Cornish. 3 EPL titles, 4 EPL playoffs and one EPL cup as well as having his jersey retired by the MK Lightning speaks of a player who knows how to win and when winning is a habit, it’s contagious.
Whilst it’s likely no surprise to some that Adam ended up in Streatham (his brother Dave is a cult figure with Streatham fans so that likely played a part in his move), he’s not there to be ornamental. One thing I noticed a lot when writing my programme notes for the Bison last season was just how often Carr would pop up and score important goals. He is a clutch player and even better, he’s a clutch player with excellent leadership qualities. With a young group of forwards, Carr is the ideal figurehead for those young players to follow.
How will it go?
I’m not going to lie; the hockey fan in me is excited for this one. The analyst in me can take all teams at face value and break stuff down but the fan in me really can’t wait for that first game against Streatham.
Aside for the admiration that I have for them over their change of name, I like Jeremy Cornish coached hockey teams. I really enjoyed watching the Isle of Wight Raiders and I have a feeling looking at this roster that I’m going to enjoy watching the Redhawks play.
In some ways it’s a roster made for the old NIHL rather than the new one but there’s potential in there to surprise a few teams. Alongside Colclough in net there’s a defence that mixes the experience of newly arrived Michael Farn and Streatham stalwart Adam Wood with up and comers like Brendan Baird and Chris Cooke. Cooke and Baird formed a really formidable partnership on the Isle of Wight so expect those two to be used together regularly for Streatham.
Up front there’s only 10 forwards but it’s a roster built for roles and responsibilities rather than throwing anyone in there to make up the numbers. Where popular forwards like Sean Scarborough, Callum Best and George Norcliffe all headed to Berkshire (the former to the Hornets, the later two to the Bees), Cornish has persuaded some decent players to join the fray. Carr aside, the acquisition of Ryan Watt is the sort of player that Cornish loved on the Isle of Wight; physical with the ability to score. Also the signing of quality scorers like Aidan Doughty from Solent as well as some depth from Brandon Miles and the returning Ben Paynter see Cornish’s willingness to give younger players a chance to shine.
People may look at this Streatham roster and think “mid-table” and I’m inclined to agree for the most part. I think it looks good and I think they’ll compete every night. The one wildcard factor is Cornish himself as a coach. Rumours were when the Bison moved to the EPL that Cornish applied for the job as player/coach and Steve Moria was chosen instead. That was never confirmed but it’s no secret that Cornish likes to test himself as a coach against the best opposition he can. He has a knack of getting players to play beyond themselves. Some would say he’s overly emotional as a coach but he was arguably an emotional player and that served him well. His style has worked for him as well; he has trophies as a coach to show for that. With slightly tougher odds of silverware looming with the introduction of former EPL sides to the league, Cornish will need all his coaching acumen to get that bit extra from this roster. If he manages it then there could be some real surprises in the offing.
Home ice: Peterborough Arena
Last season: EPL 4th place, cup finalists, playoff group stages
We saw them at the weekend but that was a snapshot. What does the season as a whole hold for the Peterborough Phantoms?
Neither the Bison nor the Phantoms could repeat the successes of 2015/16 in 2016/17. All teams in the EPL were blown away by Telford’s on ice strength but it was still a more than respectable season from the Cambridgeshire side. A decent run at the start of the season and results going their way saw them beat the Bison to the cup semi-finals. The new cup format of scrapping aggregate saw them beat Telford at home and rebound from the 7-2 on ice loss in the 60 minutes of the second leg to take their spot in the finals on penalties. The final against long time rivals MK Lightning again saw a split in the legs and a penalty shootout in MK where Adam Carr beat Janis Auzins to keep the cup in Buckinghamshire.
In the league, it was a solid performance across the season from the Phantoms who finished 11 points clear of 5th placed Guildford. The Bison and the Phantoms would battle for third for most of the later stages of the season before the Bison squeaked third place sending Peterborough into a playoff group with Guildford, Telford and Sheffield.
Where Guildford finally woke up and Sheffield were swept away, it was a mixed bag for the Phantoms who finished with a 3-3 record in their 6 games and missed out on a trip to Coventry.
How they got here:
The Phantoms are one of the EPL 4 who have joined NIHL 1 South for this season, joining on the advice of EIHA chairman Ken Taggart as the EPL crumbled away like a good cheese.
There are few better defencemen in the entire NIHL than Tom Norton on his day. The fact the former Nottingham Panthers defender isn’t in the EIHL somewhere is a matter of confusion for many, certainly this writer, but Slava Koulikov and the Phantoms won’t mind that one bit. Whilst many will argue the toss on this one, any discussion on who the best blueliner was in the final two years of the EPL has to include Norton. Positionally sound, adds to the attack from the back end, few penalty minutes, rarely makes mistakes; Norton would walk into any NIHL roster. With a decent amount of experience for a 27 year old, Norton leads the Phantoms from the back and isn’t afraid to jump into the play when needed.
The new boy:
This one is based somewhat off of the game the other night but if Nathan Salem plays like he did in Basingstoke on Saturday then this is going to be an exciting season to watch for the former Telford and Hull forward.
Salem spent the entire game racing around like a rabbit at the greyhound track turned up to 11 and was my pick for man of the match on the night. Salem can score though it appears, or at least it did on Saturday, that Koulikov will want Salem to be a physical player. Certainly his forechecking caused the Bison some issues as he put pressure on players immediately with his speed and tenacity.
How will it go?
We got a snapshot of the Phantoms over the weekend. It certainly was a weekend of two halves for the Phantoms who woke up on Sunday after getting a lesson on the Saturday night. 2 games, 10 goals conceded and shut out on one night isn’t an auspicious pre-season.
However as mentioned above, it’s a snapshot. The team has not had that many training sessions and things will still be a work in progress for them. The changes to what league they’re in have taken an effect on the focus of this Phantoms roster.
Talismanic/utterly barking mad netminder Janis Auzins was a casualty of the drop in imports and only being allowed one import on the ice meaning that Adam Long is the go to netminder this season. Did Long have a bad night on Saturday? Yes. Does he have the ability to last the season and start in this league? Also yes. Long showed in numerous EPL games that he can do the business and that ability won’t have magically vanished in the summer. The difference for Long is the mentality he’ll have to adopt. He is now the man between the pipes. Being understudy for Auzins likely saw him learn well but he’s now centre stage and Phantoms fans are hopeful that he will rise to the challenge.
Otherwise I think this is a pretty decent roster that the Phantoms have put together. Blueline wise alongside Norton there’s the ample talents of Ben Russell, Rob Ferrara, Scott Robson and Ed Knaggs who looked particularly strong at points during the season. Greg Pick isn’t someone I would sign if I was building a side but he works in Koulikov’s systems. Either way, that’s a pretty good top 6 defenders to be heading into the season with.
Up front the additions of Salem and Leigh Jamieson to a strong Brit core and import forwards Ales Padelek and Darius Pliskauskas see there be some good balance in the forward lines. The question will be whether Padelek and Pliskauskas have the legs for the whole season but the reduced game load should help in that market.
The one other forward I’m interested to see progress over the season is Glenn Billing. After a productive season at MK, the 20 year old sees himself on a two-way deal with the Lightning so I am intrigued to see how he is used by Koulikov and how much time he sees, if any, at EIHL level.
Obviously the inconsistency of this past weekend will not be something that the Phantoms want to repeat but understandably this roster will easily contend for all the trophies this season. Good netminding, solid defence, solid attack; provided the Phantoms settle as a roster than there’s no reason that they won’t do a lot of damage. This won’t stop me saying they play unentertaining hockey if I don’t like how they play stylistically (something that copped me a lot of flak last season) but you can’t deny that Peterborough are in contention for all the silverware. Does a repeat of 2008/09’s success lie in the cards?
Billy Glover Memorial Trophy
Basingstoke Bison 5-0 Peterborough Phantoms
An early, quiet statement:
Before we get too far into this piece, we need to remind ourselves not to get too carried away with a pre-season win however it is. It is not set in stone that the Bison will be this good all season. However it was a nice indicator of how the Herd plan to operate across the campaign.
The game was physical in the right way. The first saw a finely balanced period that could have gone either way before the Herd blew the doors off in the second then shut everything down in the third. Once the third goal went in, Doug Sheppard’s team didn’t look like losing.
The scoreline doesn’t flatter the hosts on the balance of the 60 minutes and in the face of an early set back thanks to Antonov’s ejection, the lines were shuffled and the Bison didn’t look back.
Antonov was unlucky to find himself ejected. Whilst the letter of the law was upheld, I find it unfathomable that the EIHA has retained the utterly ludicrous match penalty in the moment for an accidental high stick that draws blood. Yes, it’s a penalty and rightly deserves a sit on the box but if we’re asking the referee to judge intent on the play the rest of the time, why not on high sticking calls as well? An accidental high stick that saw James White return shortly afterwards, blood or no, shouldn’t see any player thrown out of the game. The rule is stupid.
Antonov looked bright to start the game and his original line mates also had a pretty decent performance into the bargain. Dan Davies looked as sharp as ever but one of the revelations on the night was Jaroslav Cesky. To say that some people had been surprised at the Czech forward’s return to Basingstoke would be an understatement but the effort and imagination were there with the former EPL player of the year taking his goal very well, drawing Long down and across his crease before sliding the puck over the line.
For many people, the man of the night was Dean Skinns. The local boy’s return for another spell at the Bison couldn’t have started in better fashion. The entire Bison defensive unit looked sharp all night though in the first pre-season game obviously had its moments of unfamiliarity. Where the odd mistake was evident, Skinns looked dialled in all night and made a string of decent stops in crucial moments. He held firm in the scramble and was picking pucks out through traffic. Hopefully that’s a sign of things to come.
Aaron Connolly took man of the match for going 1+2 on the night for what can only be described as an Aaron Connolly performance. The captain was high energy and was leading from the front. He also took his goal well, being right on the doorstep to beat Adam Long to open the scoring. It was a timely goal coming as it did shortly after the expiry of the 5 minute penalty from Antonov’s removal from proceedings.
We should also mention Paul Petts’ first Bison goal. It wasn’t pretty but they all count and Jaroslav Cesky was on hand to scoop the puck up for the young man.
The first period lead saw the Bison set up their game and as they blew the game open in the second, the swagger that the Bison have when everyone is confident came flooding with it. People were prepared to try making plays, people were shooting more, the confidence was palpable. The only issue that came from it was people being so confident meant that when the Phantoms gave up multiple 2 on 1 opportunities, the pass was never taken when it might have been the better option. However you can’t fault guys too much in pre-season for wanting to get that shooting practice in during the live setting.
The second leg of the Billy Glover Memorial Trophy will be a different ask however the Bison can take a lot of positives from the encounter. It doesn’t count on the scoreboard but it is an early message to the other teams in the league; the Bison are not coming to mess about.
A word on our opponents:
I have deliberately left doing our “Standing in the Way” preview of the Phantoms until after seeing this game. I figured “why not take the opportunity to see them then preview them better?” Then the Phantoms turned up and played a really confusing game of hockey.
In the last couple of years I’ve been critical of how the Phantoms have played when I’ve watched them. I found their style of play dull, uninspiring and I struggled to understand why teams lost to it. I took a lot of flack for it. However the one thing that it always did have was a lot of structure to it. The Phantoms would clog the centre lane and were experts in frustrating their opponents without resorting to rough house tactics. There was none of this from Peterborough this time out and I do have to wonder why.
The first was well balanced as both teams tried to get their footing and whilst their lack of conversion on their extended powerplay (mostly due to a couple of penalties that they took themselves) wouldn’t have been too concerning. However the second period saw them look lost at times and on the back foot as the Bison poured on the pressure. By the time the third period started, it was too late.
Scott Robson got the man of the match and on reflection, he didn’t have a terrible game. I thought Ed Knaggs had a better game on the Phantoms’ blueline. Knaggs looks like he will have a prominent role in the Peterborough defensive unit this season and I am sure he will continue to improve with the extended minutes.
It was not Adam Long’s greatest night between the pipes. Whilst he didn’t get tons of help from his outskaters, there were a couple of goals that Long will want back especially Petts’ marker which seemed to go in slow motion past the length of his right pad before nestling in the bottom corner. I think Long is a decent netminder and he proved that last season when called upon. Slava Koulikov will be hope that this really was Long’s warm up to being a full time starter.
Otherwise, I think the Phantoms have to chalk this up to a bad night at the office as the new roster gets to know each other. Shots were wide, wild or generally easy for Dean Skinns, Pliskauskas and Padelek were quiet most of the night, nothing seems to work and when they put themselves into the hole, there was no way out. One person said to me that the Phantoms were their favourites for the league. They won’t be if they play like that but nobody wins the league on day 1.
Lowlight of the night: See above, the match penalty for high sticks is, again, stupid.
Highlight of the night: Cesky’s goal was the prettiest but Paul Petts’ clearly meant a lot to the young man.