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.


The BOTW Podcast – episode 55

The 2016/17 season ended and…well, the world apparently exploded.  Since the last podcast we’ve had Doug Clarkson write his open letter to British hockey, the EIHL have gone conference crazy, GB won promotion and now it seems that the EPIHL is well and truly going the way of the dodo as the 7 remaining teams were told to head for the EIHA run “National Ice Hockey League.”

So who better to talk about the NIHL with Anthony than two experts. Carol White, media spokesperson for NIHL 1 North’s Billingham Stars and Pro Hockey News’ NIHL 1 South correspondant and former Streatham and Oxford defenceman, Dave Carr join Anthony so to go over the big issues that the 2nd/3rd/whatever tier of British hockey faces.

Remember to subscribe to The BOTW Podcast on iTunes HERE (go on, leave us 5 stars) and make sure you let us know what you like on Twitter or the BOTW Facebook page once you’ve listened.

The BOTW Podcast; the news, action and views from the EPIHL and all levels above, below and in between.


Goodnight and Good Luck – Matt Towalski

(c) 5 Hole Photography

It’s been a bit of a mad week this week. Unless you’ve been living in a hole or just insanely busy, you’ll have noticed that British hockey has started spiralling out of control. I’ve put publishing this piece back twice already and when I sat down to try and write it properly, I just could bash out the same thing that I usually do. However a player with a long and storied career deserves the same treatment that we’ve given every other player to leave the Bison organisation since 2011 so we’re just going to go a bit more freestyle in this piece.

Perhaps Matt Towalski knew something that we didn’t. From a personal perspective, it was somewhat disconcerting to sit down and look at Matt’s statistics and read he was retiring. Matt Towalski is a couple of months older than me so to read of anyone around my age retiring was a bit of a shock to the system. Does this mean that I’m old now?

From a hockey perspective it makes a ton of sense. Matt Towalski has played a high energy, really hard nosed game for a very long time. You didn’t sign Matt Towalski to score tons of points (his EPL best totals for a season was 34 points back in 2008/09) but he was a grinder, an agitator, a salt of the earth middle to lower order forward who would go and do anything you wanted him to.

From Slough to 7 seasons at MK with one playoff and one league title to his name before a more storied end to his career where he went to Slough whose star in the EPIHL was fading to Bracknell who just ran out of resources to joining the Herd midway through last season and ending up with a league winners medal and creating space for Tomas Karpov and Alan Lack.

We all have our traits that make someone our favourite players whether they be flashy or skilful but one of the best traits that any hockey player can have is consistency. It’s something that the writing here across the last few years at BOTW has made a point of it. When players are consistent, when teams are consistent, they win and the 2015/16 Bison team were perfect evidence of that as were this season’s Telford side. The Bison won 14 games out of 17 down the stretch to the point where they won the title. Telford didn’t lose a league game after early February. That talent for a player to play to the best of their ability as much as they can is what won Dan Davies this site’s player of the season.

However if we track back to the start of the campaign when the Bison weren’t consistent as a unit there were two players who maintained that level that was needed. One was Shaun Thompson who left as he felt he needed to play more of “his game”. The other was Matt Towalski. Where others were looking lost, he made things happen.

As the season went on and the rest of the roster warmed up and settled down, you started noticing Towalski less apart from the odd spectacular goal (he had deceptively good hands). He and others might argue that was somewhat the point, that he’s a depth guy but it’s that depth that has made the Bison so good over the last few years. Yes, Tomas Karpov or Ciaran Long or Rene Jarolin get the plaudits but the title win wouldn’t have happened without Thompson, Towalski, Lack and Lackey to provide that support. Those MK teams in the mid to late 2000’s had spectacular imports but what would they have been without Towalski, Wales, McPherson and Jamieson running about?

Whatever bizarre future lies ahead for the Bison is very much up in the air, the Bison have joined other clubs in applying for the NIHL 1 South along with others according to the club, and if we’re honest we can sign guys to be depth guys. What needs to go on record though is that you can put anyone in the shirt but the quality and capability will always differ. You knew what you got with Matt Towalski; he’d tug at your shirt, he’d hack you, whack you, maybe give you a little dig in the ribs, you could almost set your watch by the holding penalty he’d get but it’s that effort, that consistency that you can never fault.

The future of many clubs appears to be up in the air but Towalski has chosen his and with all this uncertainty, others may well follow. Greg Wood already has citing the recent chaos as part of the reason. What we can celebrate is a guy who gave everything he had for the clubs that he turned out for.

Congratulations Matt on the career and all the best for what comes next.


The State of our Game – Doug Clarkson’s letter to British Hockey

Former Cardiff, Dundee and Telford forward Doug Clarkson recently retired from hockey after the end of the 2016/17 season. Doug recently announced that he wanted to publish an open letter to those who run British hockey about his thoughts on how things are run. He asked BOTW to help out, we accepted and we present this to you now, without editing on our part.  They are Doug’s thoughts, rather than those of BOTW but we feel that it was in everyone’s interests to publish this given recent events.

 

Dear Sirs

(c) 5 Hole Photography

Having now retired from the game I love, I am writing this letter in the hope that the people following in my footsteps by playing hockey professionally will be ensured of the best possible experience. A career as a professional sportsperson is short, and can pass by without you ever realising what opportunities you might have missed, or how things could have been improved.

I want to start by saying that the time I spent in the UK was, hands down, the most fun and rewarding time I have ever had playing hockey. It was an amazing experience both on and off the ice. I played for great teams, met amazing players and people, and was lucky enough to leave the game on my own terms, and on the back of my career season!

As hockey players, we are used to being liked and disliked, jeered and praised in equal measure. It comes with the job, and most of us embrace it. But, in all of that madness of a game, weekend or season, the fans always deserved our best. They are the ones parting with their money to watch us play, and to pay our wages. I prided myself in always giving my best, every game and every season. From my experience of hockey in the UK, most other players took the same approach.

Sadly, however, the unwavering support of the fans, and the efforts of the players, is not enough to help hockey grow and thrive in the UK. Great games and strong attendances are an important first step, but they are arguably just papering over the cracks in the system. As a league and sporting governing body, I believe that the fans and players are being let down, and that the situation will not change any time soon unless action is taken.

My first issue is with the league structure itself. Hockey in the UK is not a mainstream sport – I do not think it has the resources or the capabilities to operate with a number of different leagues run by separate, independent governing bodies. As I understand it, the EIHL, SNL and EPIHL are operated and governed by separate organisations, with what appears to be little (if any) cohesion between them.

Why is there not one governing body, with a system in place where player development is a priority? You can still have the high quality hockey by having teams operate with a ‘farm system’, which will only help young players to develop and play, to the point where the leagues can start lowering the import levels but without compromising the quality of the on-ice product. It might even be possible to get help from the IIHF, which has helped other countries grow and sustain local, home-grown talent.

For a sport that is still trying to develop, I cannot see how the current approach is beneficial in the long run. I would like to see a more central governing body – an overarching board that has ultimate responsibility for the development of the game in the UK. Is this something that is being considered?

The issue of the GB National team still confuses me. Whilst, as a dual national player, I would have been honoured to represent GB, I am concerned that the home-grown talent will never thrive whilst that is still permitted.

The GB team looks strong at the moment, and some of the more recently eligible inclusions have added a great deal of skill to the squad. However, this has clearly been at the expense of British talent. Two excellent players have recently been cut from the GB squad, arguably at the expense of dual nationals. I feel strongly that this is not the message that GB ice hockey should be sending.

This decision, when combined with the EIHL increasing import levels in a short amount of time, is only going to hinder the longer-term development of British players. The current system feels short-sighted to me.

If the British players don’t play, either at club or international level, they don’t develop, and the next generation of young kids will shy away from making a career out of hockey. I understand that coaches are answerable in the ‘here and now’, and that that results in a moral conflict of sorts. I get why they would not want to sacrifice short-term results (against which they are judged) for a longer-term and more sustainable program.

I would argue that the GB team at the moment will be the best it will be for a while. When the Mark Richardsons and Jon Weavers are done playing, the gap left will be huge. I would like to see this reviewed to ensure that GB hockey has a bright long-term future, and would welcome clarification on what steps (other than limiting EIHL team to the number of Brits over the age of 23) are being taken to nurture young GB talent..

My final concern surrounds the image and reputation of hockey in the UK, both domestically and internationally. Sadly, there are people involved in the game, some of whom are ‘high ranking officials’ at clubs or in the league, who have no background in playing or managing hockey, and who offer little else to compensate. Others lack the professionalism to be in a position to influence the league in a positive way.

Whilst I appreciate that you don’t need to be a player to understand and love the game, I strongly feel that clubs should be led by people who understand both the game and the need to be commercially minded and professional.

I think it is really important that clubs engage with, and employ fans, particularly as there is no substitute for passion. That said, senior officials of large sports clubs are not brought it because they are fans. Chief Executives of large corporates or charities are not there because they like the brand or the cause their organisation is promoting. They are there because of their commercial skills, and the value they can add.

Until clubs, and the league, realise that they need shrewd business people (with a love of hockey, of course) at the helm to be able to grow this league, I fear that any progress made will be minimal.

Take the new Cardiff ownership for example. They come across to me as passionate hockey fans, which is great! But they are, first and foremost, successful business people, each and every one of them, and the team is doing well as a result of this combination. In contrast, one of the larger clubs continues to employ an individual in a key role whose inappropriate actions and comments appear to be constantly swept under the carpet.

If you were to review the forums, or ask the fans whether their conversations focus more around the commercial success of Cardiff, or the inappropriate actions of this individual, I am confident it would be the latter. Players, coaches and owners hear of these situations, which cannot be good for the league. It was not long ago that a well-known, former NHL player described the EIHL as a ‘beer league’ – this reputation will not disappear, and the league will not grow whilst unacceptable incidents continue to be tolerated. I would be interested to know what steps are being taken by the league to hold club officials to a particular standard, rather than relying on the clubs to take the correct action.

As I mentioned above, I am retired now, and am excited to be starting a career in coaching young hockey plays. The changes I am proposing have no bearing on me in any way, and I hope people realise that the purpose of this letter is not to criticise for the sake of it, but to ask for clarification and to try and raise awareness of what I believe is holding back hockey in the UK. It is terrible to see the wasted potential.

As I said above, I loved my time in the UK and I think the British born players and the fans deserve to have a league that is progressive, exciting and effectively operated. I feel strongly that the image of the league needs to be one of developing British talent, together with other young players just starting out. This will raise the standard at grass-roots level, and will hopefully ensure that hockey in the UK becomes a reputable and appealing alternative to the AHL and the other European leagues.

In short, I believe that better development, a more professional and structured approach, and the right people making decisions will only result in positive changes.

I look forward to your response.

Doug Clarkson


Curtain Down 2016/17

Banners On The Wall officially closes the book on it’s 2016/17 season and all its generalised insanity. This is Curtain Down.

Playoffs: A thank you to Ben Norris for the travel and the company as well as Becky, Paul and Sam Shipman for their hospitality again. It says something about how well brought up a small child is when they sit you down to pick out toys that you might find useful for your child. Same goes to Isaac Coles who continues to be equal parts of his parents, Stu and Kerry.

The weekend had some unusually un-hockey-like fan behaviour at the weekend but featured some very good hockey. Whilst the Bison result was not the one we wanted, it was an entertaining one and arguably the best for its quality since I’ve started going to finals weekends. Any side that can score 15 goals in two high pressure games like that deserves to win the trophy so congratulations to Milton Keynes on their success and all the best to them and Guildford going forward into the Elite League for next season.

It was a strange experience not being involved in the podcast stuff this year following the demise of the Manchester Phoenix though the fans still travelled and their chant of “we’ve got no team but we’re still here” was a lovely and poignant moment of the weekend.

If nothing else, I ate so well this weekend. The recommendation is Nashaa’s curry house and Wagamama’s were so late getting me my food that I got a chicken katsu curry for free!

The season: As I mentioned above, this season has been wacky and that’s been on both a micro and macro scale. That said we’ll try and focus on the Bison themselves as we’ve talked on here a fair bit about the rest of it.

On the ice, the season gets a B- as a grade. The title wasn’t successfully defended, no semi finals of the cup but a really good and productive second half of the season combined with a really good charge into the playoff weekend. For the most part this season the Bison have played hard, physical hockey hand in hand with skilful hockey. On their day they were unbeatable and played a brand of hockey that was entertaining and value for the money that people paid.

Tactically at times and with the recruitment, Doug Sheppard had issues this year. The near revolving door of import defencemen in the first half of the season before the return of Joe Rand and the addition of Dan Scott on the back end but Sheppard has shown again that when he gets it right that the Bison on the ice that they will (and did for the most part) challenge for titles.

This is of course coupled with the fact that the facility that the team currently play in is substandard. I mentioned at Christmas that the Bison offer entertaining hockey in spite of their facility than in conjunction with it. Planet Ice as an organisation need to improve the situation for players and fans in the Basingstoke Arena as a matter of urgency though I think they do know that. The issue is that everyone involved needs to see some action irrespective of any potential new development at Leisure Park and I would encourage Planet Ice to make a statement as to what will be happening with the rink over the summer to improve things ahead of 2017/18.

Thank you: This will always start one way; thank you Emily for always supporting me in this. Here’s hoping the little one likes the ice rink because I don’t think they really have a choice, do they?

A thanks again goes to Grant King of 5 Hole Photography for allowing me to use his photos on here. Grant genuinely has become one of the best hockey photographers in the country on a par with anyone British hockey can offer. Please remember to always credit him if you tweet or share an image.

John Neville and Graham Bell continually allow me to get on with this without seeing BOTW as a threat to the Bison organisation but as someone holding up the mirror to it to try and help it get better in ways. I make no bones about the fact that I love the club and as a hockey fan I support the Bison at heart and I think they realise that. Hopefully it comes through in the writing.

The members of the British hockey blogger and podcast union deserve their thanks for their continued support over this past season and a massive thank you to all who appeared on the podcast this season.

My other friends at rinks across the country are wonderful but a special mention must go to those that I see every week in Basingstoke. They put up with my ranting, my raving, my yelling at clouds (thanks Eleanor) with good grace and continue to keep me honest. May we have many more days together sat in the sunshine, laughing together.

BOTW going forward: So, for those who don’t know or didn’t get it from what was written above, I’m due to become a dad in July. It’s exciting and terrifying in equal measure. The plan for BOTW is to keep going. Hockey writing remains my release so I want to keep going. I realise that this means I have to adapt on the fly as my priorities in life change however BOTW retains a place of being known for producing quality content within British hockey and if I can then I want to keep that going. There’s also hopefully some exciting podcast news coming soon as well.

When news comes, it’ll be here.

Keep safe,

Anthony


Running with the Herd – Bison vs Telford Tigers 8/4/17

EPIHL Playoff Semi Final

Basingstoke Bison 2-3 Telford Tigers

Roehl pp ………………….Clarkson x 2 (1pp)

Jarolin ……………………..Jones

Out of gas:

Banners On The Wall has always tried to be a place where the analysis is fair but make no mistake, this place has always been partisan. When asked in the run up to this game how I thought it would go, I tried to be rational and sensible. I tried to call it down the middle and was accepting of the fact that there were ways that the Bison could lose this game. Then Saturday evening rolled around, the nerves kicked in and I was shouting with the rest of them. I was also disappointed when it was done.

However, done it is and ultimately it was simply the fact that the team gave everything and ran out of energy. In what was a really evenly matched and tightly fought contest, the massive 5 minute penalty kill from the Aaron Connolly game penalty for boarding emptied the tank. The Bison ran out of steam and ran out of ideas. There’s no shame in that. The Bison needed a big final 20 minutes, gave everything they had and sadly came up short. That’s hockey.

On the BOTW Podcast I said that the one thing that the Bison needed to do was be good defensively and keep their discipline. The moments that didn’t cost them. The one massive penalty yielded the game winning goal and the two of the other three defensive lapses saw goals scored but actually the defensive corps had a good game I thought. Tomas Hiadlovsky will likely want the first and third goals back but made a string of decent saves and recovered well from being run by Jason Silverthorn in the early stages of the game, a penalty that led to Roehl’s goal.

With regards to Roehl, whilst he had a good game I feel that Vanya Antonov was robbed of man of the match. All of the Bison’s best work came through the line of Antonov, Rene Jarolin and Joe Miller. They were a constant threat and the Tigers struggled to deal with that combination all night. Jarolin’s goal in particular was a thing of beauty; a tic, tac toe manoeuvre that put the Slovakian behind the Tigers defence where he proceeded to remove Jon Baston from his shorts.

The issue for the Bison going forward was that the other lines just never really quite found their stride during even handed play. Connolly’s penalty meant that the lines had to be shuffled and they still just couldn’t find a way through against a well drilled Tigers side who did a good job off running out the clock.

The fairy tale ending was in sight when the Bison got a late powerplay but sadly the powerplay that has been the failing of the Herd on occasions just couldn’t lift itself. The tank was empty and the season was done. We’ll obviously go into the season in greater depth in Curtain Down but there was no reason for the Bison to be ashamed of that performance. It was effort every shift and played in the right spirit, it was Bison hockey.

A word on our opponents:

This was a good and a bad match for the Telford Tigers. It was good because they played well, played their systems to perfection and saw the game out once the had the lead. The bad comes from the fact that they had to work so hard to achieve that win that it no doubt played into the fact that Milton Keynes thumped them the following day. However we’ll cover that later this week.

This particular game was one where you saw why Telford won the league; they found the ways to make breakthroughs where others don’t. They went 1-0 and 2-1 down but found ways to get back into the tie. Whatever feelings you have about the off ice antics in Telford, the team on the ice on Saturday found those margins needed. They found those gaps that they needed. Sadly one of them was through Tomas Hiadlovsky.

Doug Clarkson got man of the match and this was actually spot on for me. Clarkson did his job to perfection on the night. He was a physical threat when needed, he was a scoring threat when needed. The game winning goal was the sort of goal that the Canadian has scored all season which was a nice one timer from the hashmarks that managed to make it through the 5 hole of Hiadlovsky. From there all he had to do was help get in the way. I can’t always say I liked the way Clarkson played, even in this game, but credit where it’s due to a man who played with a smile on his face. I wish him the best in retirement.

Jon Baston would come back to haunt the Bison in this one. Having had something of a slow start with the Tigers, Baston certainly found his stride on Saturday night where he made save after save in the clutch. In the last minute with the game on Derek Roehl’s stick, Jon Baston took it away and saw Telford into the playoff final.

Obviously this report is written after the final and what happened there. However as for Saturday night, we have to tip our hat to them. Much like when the Tigers beat the Bison 4-2 in Basingstoke, they found a way to outlast the Herd over the course of 60 minutes. The other discussions surrounding the Tigers are not for here. This one is about the game. They won it, more power to them.

Lowlight of the night: Jason Silverthorn is the best player in the EPL this season, there was no reason to run the goalie in the first few minutes of the game.

Highlight of the night: Jarolin’s goal, it was better than Bakrlik’s for me.


The BOTW Podcast – episode 54

Here we are, the final weekend of the season for most of us in British hockey.

We look briefly at the EIHL playoff weekend and the NIHL 1 South all star team before giving you an in depth look at the EPIHL playoff weekend at the Coventry Skydome.  The teams, the records, the keys to the game and more.  Also Anthony throws out his all-star selections.

Remember to subscribe to The BOTW Podcast on iTunes HERE (go on, leave us 5 stars) and make sure you let us know what you like on Twitter or the BOTW Facebook page once you’ve listened.

The BOTW Podcast; the news, action and views from the EPIHL and all levels above, below and in between.