We move on now to defending league, NIHL1 South playoff and final four playoff champions Basingstoke Bison, as netminder Dan Weller-Evans gives us his take on the season ahead.
Well, I guess there is only one place to begin this year. There is never a dull summer in British ice hockey for one reason or another and it looks like this summer was our turn here in Basingstoke. This piece will be very different to the one I wrote for 482 Days last year.
I will start in May (I think it was), we had an amazing night celebrating Kurt Reynolds’ testimonial, a well and truly deserved night for a club legen after 10 straight seasons with the club through both good and bad times. The hype was just dying down, we had all said our ‘summer goodbyes’ and see you in September for the guys who were heading home to see their families for the summer, we were heading off for a well-earned rest and were going to come back in September to defend our 3 trophies, so we thought …
Out of nowhere we lost our coach to local rivals in Bracknell. Obviously then we knew things were going to change, it was unavoidable but I don’t think anyone would realise how much. Within a couple of days we had lost most of our team, volunteers, back room staff, sponsors and (in my opinion, the most disappointing) fans. Lots of things being posted around social media with unfortunately not a lot of truth or fact behind them, it was a really gloomy time for all involved for us who decided to stay.
Obviously we knew some guys were moving on before all of this happened. Our captain, leader and heartbeat Aaron Connolly and Dan Scott (who may not have worn a letter on his jersey was another leader in the room) decided to move nearer to home and in the NIHL that is totally understandable and we wish them the best of luck over in London with the Raiders. Danny Davies has decided to step away from the sport as well, again we wish him the best of luck in his future career which is looking to be very successful.
As you know, most of the guys followed Doug to Bracknell. Again there is no animosity towards those guys. Obviously we will be rivals on the ice but we are all friends first and remain in contact. For me, every single one of them are top guys and top people and what we achieved together will forever live in the memory in Basingstoke ice hockey and will be extremely difficult to replicate. I won’t go much more into that because we will be here forever and won’t talk about next year’s team much at all!
Finally before I do move on I have to say how amazing our owner John Neville has been throughout this summer and throughout the summer. He asked for patience and the way our summer turned very quickly it makes me very glad that guys were.
After a couple of weeks I had a call from John to say he had appointed a coach, he told me the name and that he would call shortly and had me in his plans. I was instantly excited.
We announced the signing of Ashley Tait as our new player/coach, quite frankly a legend in the British game and someone who has been there and done it at the top level consistently for so many years. He has made an instant impact since coming to Basingstoke, he got to work straight away putting his mark on the team. We have someone who is going to produce points for us on the ice as well as provide advice and leadership for the younger guys on our team. There is no doubt he will lead by example and i know the fans will be excited to see him on the ice as well as the changes he has made off of it.
With Ashley on the ice and playing the games we needed someone on the bench who was trustworthy and would do the job and I don’t think we could have anyone better than Tony Redmond as our assistant coach, a man who has his number 20 hanging up on our honours wall, Tony is someone who has seen the club through both good and bad times and is also someone who takes his time with players and making sure they understand the message the coaches are trying to put across to us.
Both coaches have been amazing with us all summer, we have been preparing for a few weeks now and there is an amazing atmosphere in the room and every single one of us are excited for a fresh start and to get going in a couple of weeks’ time against Peterborough.
Let’s move on to the rest of the playing roster shall we?
I’ll start with the goalies. We have brought in Alex Mettam from Bracknell who I think is going to be a huge pickup for us. From playing against him we knew that we would always be in for a tough night. He is capable of winning games for the team when we’re not having the best night in other departments. We have never played together before but it feels like we have been partners for years and I can’t wait to work with him this season into the future. As for myself I am aiming to take advantage of the clean slate i have been given to hopefully show what i can do on the ice regularly. Between us our aim is to give the Bison a chance to win every game and I’m confident we can do that.
At the time of me writing this we only have one returning defenseman for next season and that’s Elliott Dewey. Dewey was a key member of our success last season and really grew throughout the year when he was given more and more minutes. Like I said at the time of writing this the rest of our defensemen are new to the club. Firstly we have Tommy Ralph who has joined us from the Invicta Dynamos. Tommy is a young, big and experienced player. We have seen him in the EPL with Hull as well as at Invicta. To go with his size he has a good strong shot (as I found out last season). Next we have Adam Jones who has joined us from the Telford Tigers. Again Adam is young but has great size and experience and isn’t afraid of the physical side of the game. He has played in the elite league and has been successful in the EPL and NIHL so he will be a great pickup for us for next season. At the time of writing this we have one more defenseman who has been announced and that’s Chris Cooke. He has joined us from Streatham and is very much the same as the guys I’ve mentioned above. He has played in the EPL with Guildford as well as being successful in the NIHL with various clubs. He has also been captain of the GB university hockey team so will be able to bring some of that leadership experience into our dressing room.
Moving onto the forwards for next season, I have already mentioned Coach Tait so I’ll start with the signing that sent shockwaves through the league and i know certainly got us excited here in Basingstoke. Russell Cowley has joined us for the upcoming season after having a year away from the sport but after seeing him skate with us it looks like he never stopped. He is one of the most successful British players to have played the game and he has his number 17 shirt retired for the Coventry Blaze. Bison fans are going to absolutely love him in a Bison jersey.
We have signed out two imports. Michal Klejna from Slovakia and Richard Bordowski from the Czech Republic. They are both new to the country but have played at a good level throughout Europe and are both experienced players so we will be looking for them to lead our offence this season and I’m sure they will be able to do that. Other than that they are relatively unknown to the British game but from speaking to guys that have played with them I’m sure they will make a big impact in Basingstoke.
I’ll move on to two guys who have joined us from Bracknell, one has been in Basingstoke and was part of the double winning year 5 years ago and one is new to the club completely, Danny Ingoldsby and George Norcliffe. Danny is a player who people hate to play against because he is always in your face and is also more than capable of putting up numbers too. George has played in a few clubs around the NIHL and has been a key part of their offensive play wherever he has been. Again he is a strong guy with a great shot and I’m sure the fans will love him, it looks like these two guys are going to be the jokers in the room this year as they are always having a laugh and lightening the mood before training sessions.
Alex Sampford has joined us from Streatham, he is a Basingstoke boy and many have said they would have liked him on the team full time years ago. He is a natural goal scorer and I’m sure he will get back to that this season after producing good points wherever he has been before. He has played for us before when we were in the EPL and always looked comfortable and scored a few goals too.
Liam Morris has joined us after a few years over in North America. He has put up really good numbers over there and can play both forward and defence. He is someone who instantly excited our fans and I’m sure he will live up that. I must admit i have never seen him play however from speaking to guys who have he is a great addition to the Bison.
I’ll move on to the two guys who were with us last year. Hallam Wilson and Paul Petts. Both guys came up huge for us down the stretch and did anything asked of them throughout the year. Hallam even played in D a couple of times. Both of them are capable of putting up good points this year and they will definitely have a chance to do that this year. They are two guys who are Bison through and through and we are really glad they have decided to stay in Basingstoke. I expect both of them to have breakout years this year.
We have a few youngsters who have been training with us and will play on two ways with us and other clubs in NIHLS2 next season. We have Sam Brooks, Cam Buckle, Oscar Evans who will be with both us and the Basingstoke Buffalo and Rhys McCormick who will split his time with the Solent Devils down on the south coast. All of them are young, hungry players who are all really gifted offensively. I can’t wait to see them get their chance this season which no doubt will happen and looking forward to seeing them progress this year and into the future.
At the time of writing this I believe we still have a couple of players to announce, so I have kept it to what has already been announced. After a long and difficult summer we have seemed to have turned the corner and this new group of guys have a point to prove. At the end of the day we have 3 trophies to defend no matter who is at the club and we will do our best from the very start through until April. I just want to finish with a huge thank you to those who have stuck by the club. We will do our best to make you all proud of your team an your town.
See you in September!!