Not Dead Just Yet

So much for semi regular, this is just a quick update for those that are interested about things that have happened in the last month or so, most things people may know a lot people won’t.

Ok some people know this already but a lot of people don’t, next Tuesday the 18th I am up for an OSCA for Hampshire, for those of you who don’t know what it is it’s an Outstanding Service to Cricket Award in the Best Young Volunteer category, now as I’m writing this I’ve only just said I will attend the awards night as I really feel I don’t deserve it. Most people who know me know that I’m not good at accepting praise or support at the best of times but this year has been even harder for more to do so, a lot has gone on in my personal life that has had an affect on me mentally and at times has pushed me to breaking point. It’s partly why I don’t think I deserve to be nominated for this award as the job I do isn’t exactly an important one, all I do is sit down, watch a game of cricket, put numbers in a book and go home. There are a hell of a lot more people at my cricket club and no doubt every club that deserve more praise than I do.

This kind of leads on to what has cheered me up a little, 3 weeks ago I was approached by another cricket club who were willing to pay me to score games for them, the only downside being that they are in the arse end of nowhere and I don’t drive. However the offer that was made was head turning to say the least and raised the point that my club “Don’t know how lucky they are to have you”, it gave me something to wind up people at my club over so for the last two weeks saying that I was going to go and the mood changed from “I wouldn’t leave the oak, I wouldn’t burn the oak” to “Traitor, Judas, Mercenary, Easily Replaceable” so after laughing my ass off for a fortnight I feel I should now say that….. I turned down the offer the second it was offered to me. Look I won’t lie for the job I do being paid to do it would be nice but it’s not necessary, I’d feel like a mercenary I made my choice of clubs 5 years ago when I signed up at college for a Hampshire Cricket Board Programme (Yes it’s Greig’s fault I’m here guys). The other hand if this is something that has got me nominated for an award why would I want to go backwards or sideways if there’s a chance all be it a very small chance I could progress further and I don’t mean a higher SEPL team I mean like doing it for counties even internationals. I guess what I’m trying to say is you can stop calling me Judas now because you’re not getting rid of me that easy.

And lastly the bit I wasn’t sure about saying just yet but sod it, I’m staying South for the winter, a lot of people don’t know this but I’m now involved at an ice hockey club hopefully starting September 6th, I will be taking my scoring ‘talents’ to Gosport and be in the DJ booth for Solent Devils games, I was looking at getting involved in a hockey club and as soon as one that was local and wasn’t just looking for 50/50 helpers came up I jumped at the chance and they seem to keen have me anyway, it will cut down on the amount of games I get to go outside of Solent and probably the Indoor Cricket League but I am happy just being involved.

VivaLaNinja

All Aboard The Fun Bus

We are into the second month of the season, the time where teams start to find themselves in the kind of positions in the table that they will be in come the end of August and for us that sees us top of the league unbeaten. The close win on the opening weekend was followed up by two demolition jobs winning by 179 runs and then again the next week by 221 runs, it’s weird being done by 6 o’clock on a Saturday but we’re not going to complain too much, the week after is our first run chase and while we make it a bit more difficult than it should be we still chase it down to win by 5 wickets. 

This week we’re making our trip to the Isle of Wight for the year for an away day in Ventnor and that means two things one we have to catch the ferry early and two the return of the fun bus. The fun bus is something that usually makes only one appearance a season for the pre season tour to Margam but this year it’s on double duty taking 10 players, the umpire and myself there let’s face it, it’s your bog standard minibus, it’s old, some of the seat belts don’t work and there’s an Adam Lallana sticker that the guys stuck on the window 2 months earlier that still hasn’t been taken down, although there’s some irony in the fact that he hasn’t come off since he moved to Liverpool.

The Isle of Wight has been a rare place for our cricket team to go, we always seem to never be in the same league in fact the last time we played a league game was in Ventnor nearly 6 years earlier and we got spanked that day, we arrive at the brilliantly named Steephill ground and I can only imagine it’s named as such because it’s on a steep hill down to the coast, the ground itself is unique and picturesque, with a big pavilion looking out over the pitch, a balcony for the players to watch the game from and a big bar area for spectators, what makes the ground unique is its in possibly the biggest bowl shape I have ever seen, banks at both ends of the ground stretch up about 15 feet from where the pitch is, it’ll make fielding difficult but also scoring runs up the hills, although this is somewhat cancelled out by the fact that one of the boundaries is about 40 feet from the wicket and any well timed glance could be a four.

Low and behold for the second straight week we’ve lost the toss and were bowling first, just as the game is about to get started and there’s actually a crowd turning up, we’ve brought about half a dozen people with us to watch the game and all in all there’s about 50 people in and around the pavilion grabbing a beer and watching the cricket. We start off ok, we’ve kept the openers restrained and they get the score to 79 at the first drinks break and where I got quite possibly the most interesting description of our cricket club by a fan of the opposition in his words 

“You are the cricketing equivalent Chelsea, The papers expect you to win the league, The other teams expect you to win the league and that’s why everyone wants to beat you when they see your name next in the fixture list”

It’s nice to hear things like that because we know we shouldn’t be in this league, it’s not out of disrespect for the Hampshire League but we feel that we got screwed over so we’re making an empathic statement, there’s been no looking at games and thinking that’s going to be difficult, every win has been out in the bank and that we’re simply on to next week. 

We need to start taking wickets, in this league wickets and runs mean points and the batsman are settled, their opener who is also there captain and wicket keeper is flaying the ball to all parts while his partner is a lot more patient and less willing to play shots but when he does play a shot eventually he’s guided it straight in the air to the fielder and is on his way back to the pavilion. The captain goes a while later trying to take the spinner on a he does is smash it back into his hands, the next big chance comes just before the second drinks break, batsman hits it low to the fielder who drops it, they’re going to a run, then they stop as the balls flung back it in, it misses  the stumps and there’s no one backing up so they run anyway, the balls gets thrown to the other end this time and we still miss the stumps, 1 ball, 3 chances for a wicket and somehow they get a run. From there the fielding gets a little more sloppy, the players are finding it difficult with the hill and they’re running between the wickets well, in the end they manage to pile on 281 which looks a commanding score, the opposition scorer turns to me and says that’s the worst fielding display he’s seen this season and I can’t help but feel slightly uneasy about agreeing with him.

Chasing down a total is difficult at the best of times, chasing down a total in excess of 275 is nigh on impossible but the guys are pumped, we want to defend our undefeated streak, it’s something the guys are taking great pride in as they should do. However the worst possible start happens, one of the openers swishes his bat at one down the leg side, the ball lands in the keepers gloves, the finger goes up and his day is done. He’s not happy with it and as he walks back up to the pavilion he’s telling us he didn’t hit it and as he gets to the dressing room, shuts the door and let’s just say lets out the biggest f-bomb the Isle of Wight has ever heard. He’s quickly followed back by his opening partner who’s chipped one to the bowler and we’re 28-2, the rebuild job was on we can’t afford to lose another wicket.

The next two batsman in put on a show, with aggressive running between the wickets followed up with the occasional boundary they put on a hundred partnership relatively quickly and then comes the moment that makes everyone panic for a second, the balls pitched short and gets pulled to the boundary the fielder moves underneath it and then there’s a crack as the ball hits him on the head and he falls to the floor there’s a momentary rush to get a first aid kit and some ice, he takes a few minutes gets up and carries on in the field he jokes around with some of our players and how he saved five runs. A few overs later and the partnership is broken, they put on 167 runs in 30 overs and set the team up for the last big push, there’s a flurry of wickets as they we try and finish the game off and with one over to go we need 9 to win and have four wickets left in hand. 

First ball and the left handed walks round a leg stump yorker….. 9 to win off 5. New man comes in and he can hit the ball, he proved it in our last away game when he came in and scored 15 off 6 balls, second ball of the over and he chips it up the hill and the batsman quickly run two…..7 to win off 4, the next ball gets smashed through extra cover for 4 and the players above us on the balcony start cheering….. 3 to win off 3, its another chip up the hill off the next ball and they try for two once again only this time they’re not quite quick enough and we lose another wicket trying to go for the second….. 2 to win off 2. There is a nervousness around at this point, fans behind me in the bar can’t take there eyes off the game, the players above me have gotten a lot more quiet in the last thirty seconds, the batsman gets ready for the next ball its dropped short and they try a quick single to guarantee a tie but once again they’re not quite quick enough and it’s another run out….. 2 to win off 1 with one wicket left. All of a sudden we’re on the back foot, number 11 and the captain isn’t ready to go out and bat, he’s getting himself padded up while trying to run down the stairs, one of the Ventnor fans comes out from the bar claiming that they’ve won, they can’t believe it but they’ve won. Everyone gets ready for the last ball, a hush falls over the ground as the bowler runs in,  by the time is bowled and the non-striker is already a third of the way down the track running, the captain hits it up the hill they’re going for two, the fielder throws it to the wrong end and we’ve won it….. We’ve only gone and bloody won it by 1 wicket off the last ball of the game, the guys are jumping up and down making the balcony shake above me, the batsman have wheeled away celebrating and the Ventnor players have slumped to the floor hands on knees, a truly unbelievable game that got a truly unbelievable ending.

The day ends with all the players buzzing and everyone back on the fun bus going through a collection of songs as we drive back to the ferry terminal, the boat ride back is made more eventful by what can only be described as a sing off, a choir group coming back to Southampton start signing Rule The World by Coldplay, so what do the twelve drunk cricket guys come back with….. A rousing rendition of Jeruslaem of course that’s actually gets applause from the choir, a great day and a better night to celebrate the streak continuing and we’ll go again next week because it was Saturday night, they were shite, We’re Top Of The League.

One Down, Now Don’t Be A Dick

May is by far the most wonderful time of the year, the days are getting longer, it’s starting to get warmer and the time honoured tradition of British summer time the village cricket season has started. Now anyone who has donned whites and taken to the field knows the excitement that comes around when it’s time for the first league game but in the five years I’ve been at my club I’ve never known such a buzz.

 Fair Oak is a small village just outside of Eastleigh in Hampshire, they regularly run four teams on a Saturday and have one of the best run junior set ups in the entire county. Fair Oak have known better times in recent years but last year were removed from the Southern Premier League due to poor pitch marks, obviously there has been a lot of grumbling behind the scenes and accusations of what’s gone on but what’s done is done. Pitch marks are a broken system in cricket as only three people score them, the two appointed panel umpires give their respective view and the away team’s captain, this is where some controversy lies as away teams will often underscore pitches if the team has lost, however some of the time the low marks are deserved. The truth in the matter is the club made a mistake two years ago, hiring an inexperienced groundsman and no preparation has set the ground Lapstone Park back about 5 years and given the clubs first team a relegation to the Hampshire Cricket League and prevented a promotion for the second team. Obviously everyone involved in the club was angry at various decisions made above them but instead of breaking apart the club has united to prove its better than whatever everyone thinks, 6 months of hard work has gone into the pitch to bring it back to standard, the club forged new links in the community, the parish council agreed to help with funding new equipment and the club chairman also struck a two year sponsorship deal with British Gas, the clubs position off the field was strong now they had to get out on the field and do it.

Saturday comes around and it’s the first league game against OT’s and Romsey CC and for the third year now I’m back behind the bench as the first team scorer, I enjoy what I do, I spend my Saturday afternoons watching cricket and most of the time it goes off without a hitch, mainly because I go by three basic rules for scoring

  1. Don’t make any mistakes
  2. Get along with the opposition scorer
  3. DON’T BE A DICK

Every Saturday I try and go through them in my head mainly for simple reasons, mistakes in a scorebook look horrible and they’re especially noticeable when you use coloured pens. The opposition scorer is in the same job as me they don’t give up they’re day to be treated badly by myself and the third one is easy, if the captain or the players don’t like you then they won’t have you as a scorer and won’t want you anywhere near the team. Now I try not to let stuff get to me usually especially but for the last two and a half years I’ve been living in a personal sickness hell, now it’s nothing contagious but it’s annoying, countless doctors appointments, countless tests and yet they have no idea, until Friday afternoon. The long and the short of it is I’m now Lactose intolerant, not massively sensitive but enough to make life uncomfortable and it frustrates me, that kind of news plays on the mind a lot so much that I slept for about 2 hours Friday night and by the time I get to the ground on Saturday morning I’m tired, cranky and I’m on a hairline trigger, now I don’t realise I’m being crappy with people until it gets pointed out to me later in the day and then thinking back on it I realise I’ve been an asshole, so there’s a lot of people I need to apologise to next Saturday but anyway I digress.

We’re batting first and unlike in the last two years the pitch is playing fine, the batting is a little turgid at times but we are scoring runs at a quick rate. In recent years 170 has been enough to win games but with the pitch being better now we don’t quite know what we need, but the top 5 has all made it to double figures and with 15 overs to go we’re 150 for 3 and looking through the scorebook it’s easily noticeable that we’ve only had a similar score once before in my time as scorer and the was an away game. With 15 overs to go most teams will look to add 100 runs and that’s the target for us as well, unfortunately this doesn’t come to pass, most of the lower order chips in a dozen runs but all get out in similar fashions trying to hit the ball hard and only finding a fielder a promising start somewhat fizzles out to see us only get 227 for 9 when we looked set for a score of 250 plus. Anyone who plays cricket knows that cricket teas are amongst the highlight of the sport but for me it’s now kind of been cancelled out, there’s the trays of sandwiches where most of the stuff that’s left has cheese in…… can’t eat that, there’s a massive victoria sponge with strawberry jam and cream…… can’t eat that either, I settle on a cup of tea that I can’t have milk in and contemplate whether I should tell anyone but I’m still in a state of shock myself at the news and instead keep it to myself as we head back for the second innings. All the players seem confident that we’re going to win but I’m silently nervous in the score box still thinking we are about 20 to 30 runs short but low and behold in the fourth over there’s a suicidal run out and I can breath a little, the batsman who’s out isn’t happy with it, he smashes a boundary marker as he walks off, breaks his helmet throwing it into the floor and takes a good few whacks at a bush with his bat on the way back to the changing room…. It’s safe to say he’s not too happy with that. But after that OTR are batting well, they’re playing clever cricket, great running between the wickets and not playing risky shots and they’re creeping along quietly. They have a 16 year old batsman who’s flaying the ball to all corners he’s cool calm and composed and if he stays in till the end he may win the game for his team, he’s slowly chipping away and is getting support from various partners and he cruises past 50 it’s one of the best innings I’ve seen at our ground and he’s put their team in contention with 3 overs to go. It’s time to start hitting out and after being tied down in the over he swings at one… misses and his off stump is leaning backwards, the cheer on the pitch is noticeable, I breathe a sigh of relief knowing that we have just saved the match, he walks off to applause from his team but is clearly angry that he should have won the game for them. 

In the end they fall 7 runs short, it was closer than the game needed to be and we need to have a rethink of what is a good score at our ground. A win is a win however convincing or unconvincing the victory is, this season is not going to be easy the team is going to have to work hard for the win in every game but I believe this team can do it, it’s one game down with sixteen more to go and i need to remember to not be a dick.

EPL Team of the Season so far

So it’s Christmas and near enough all the teams have played half of their games so what better time to put a little piece together, the original plan was to do this myself but since I haven’t been to as many games as usual this year it left me rather limited in my choices. So I enlisted the help of a few friends in the hockey family to share their thoughts on the players that have impressed them in the first three months of the 2014-15 season, contributions were made from Peter Bradbury, Anthony Russell, Ben Callaghan and Thomas Graham of assorted ice hockey blogs and I will be sure to leave links at the bottom of this page (although the the chances are you’re reading this from one of them anyway).

So the basic rules for the team of the season were, you had to have 2 Goalies, 4 Defenceman and 6 Forwards and the standard EPL rule of 4 imports with the most picked names appearing on the first line and the less so down on the second line and further on down on the third line. Comments made from the contributors will have their initials next to their name as to tell who said what.

FIRST LINE

NM – Stevie Lyle – Swindon Wildcats

The only unanimous pick in the team of the season takes the form of Stevie Lyle, the numbers for Lyle are as impressive as always posting a .924 save percentage and a goals against average of 2.75 that slo includes two shutouts of the free scoring Telford Tigers.

AR – The master on his last ride (so he says) has actually been in fine form for the Wildcats this season. Whilst I joke about Swindon always playing to type, and they do, Lyle offers Swindon the opportunity to win every night and he’s certainly given Swindon that support they need this season if they seek to improve on last seasons finish.

IF this is to be Lyle’s last season in ice hockey he’s certainly going out on a high note boasting the best save percentage in the league is no easy feat and the master of ninja net minding could take Swindon back to the playoff finals once more

D – Tom Norton – Peterborough Phantoms

Norton has returned to the Phantoms this year after his 2012-13 spell at the club and this year has provided ballast to the Phantoms back line, his 17 points from the defence has provided a good contribution to the Phantoms impressive start to this season

AR – Norton cannot be sidestepped in his contribution. Where the goal scorers and teammate Janis Auzins get the plaudits for Peterborough, Norton is by far one of their individually most skilled players and the core of the Phantoms’ defence for me

D – Jonathan Weaver – Telford Tigers

So the first of the Telford players and arguably was one of the biggest signings seen in the EPL, Weaver has scored points wherever he’s gone and is already on 37 points this season which makes him by far the highest scoring Defenceman in the league this season. His ability to score and play as a shutdown Defenceman has been to key to making Telford the meanest defence in the league.

BC – Since dropping down Weaver has helped the Tigers to the summit of the table, the occasions I’ve seen him his puck control has been phenomenal and the Tigers are lucky to have him

F – Tomasz Malasinski – Swindon Wildcats

This one might be the bias pick in this but Malasinski has proven himself to be one of the better sharpshooters in the EPL this season and currently lies second in goals scored with 23, the Polish international has provided an extra threat to the Wildcats stacked import unit.

TG – Malasinski has really caught the eye, offering a consistent scoring threat to an often inconsistent Swindon team, Malasinski is a top 10 scorer and has already scored three hat tricks and has become a go to player for Swindon

F – Jason Silverthorn – Telford Tigers

I don’t think words can do enough justice for what Jason Silverthorn has done for the Tigers offensive threat this year, Silverthorn already has 50 points this season and is the leagues top scorer with 30.

AR – Without a doubt, the best player I’ve seen in the league this season in terms of individual talent as a forward is Silverthorn. He really should be playing in a higher level than the EPL though Telford fans won’t mind a jot. Although he doesn’t have as many points as Szabo but is a much better player and leader for that Tigers team

Arguably Silverthorn is already a contender for Player of the Year and his leading from the front for the Tigers has been inspirational in their charge for the title.

F – Joe Miller – Telford Tigers

Joe Miller has been a model of consistency for the past 7 years and is a career 1.3 point per game player, Miller often flies under the radar of most fans but usually pops up at the right time to bang home a goal. His 40 points this season is good enough to make him the second highest scoring Brit but his all round contribution on the ice is something to behold

AR – It would be remiss to include Silvethorn and not include Joe Miller in this. Miller is an attacking threat whatever team he is in so putting
him in a Telford team with Silverthron and Szabo in it is like adding rocket fuel to Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren. A player for all situations for the Tigers and in the conversation for best British forward in the league

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SECOND LINE

NM – Janis Auzins – Peterborough Phantoms

The netminder everyone loves to hate this year due to certain antics he has performed in games against the Basingstoke Bison, Auzins posts impressive numbers with a .913 save percentage and a 3.20 goals against average.

Even though he’s contributed a lot to this I find it difficult to not include Auzins’ favourite fan’s view

AR – Yes that’s right, even though I called him out on BOTW a few weeks ago for his antics Auzins makes the list. Whilst I think the Phantoms netminder has a massive attitude issue(and its attitude that has cost Milan Kostourek a place on the list), it’s hard to sidestep Auzins’ contribution to the Phantoms’ rise up the EPL table.

D – Kurt Reynolds – Basingstoke Bison

Reynolds earns his place on this list through his solid defensive play, he may not light the lamp often but gives his all every shift especially when being based to do the job of two men like he currently is for the Bison.

TG – Reynolds is still one of the outstanding British D men in the EPL, a leader for his team and a rock on his own blue line. With the Bison struggling on D due to the loss of Zach Sullivan and Matt Selby’s injuries, Reynolds has had to step up even more than in years passed and I’ve been very impressed with his displays every time I’ve seen him

D – Ben Morgan – Sheffield Steeldogs

The lad from Yorkshire has come good and with a so far injury free campaign has been racking up the points for the Steeldogs and currently sits third in the teams points scored with 25. Since being given the “A” two seasons ago he has been a model of consistency in the often agricultural style of play that the Steeldogs use. Morgan is the possibly the best Defenceman in Sheffield in his solid stand up play and doesn’t take too many silly penalties like the rest of his teammates, if he keeps injury free their is no reason why the Steeldogs couldn’t climb their way up the table.

F – Tom Squires – Sheffield Steeldogs

Squires may have been overlooked by most but halfway through this season has shown he can consistently score among the best in the league, a lot was expected when he dropped down from Hull at the back end of last season but for some reason it just didn’t click, roll forward 6 months and Squires is amongst the top scoring Brits and Sheffield will be looking to keep hold of him for a few more years to come

BC – With the likes of Korhon, Ozolins and Wood on the roster, Tom Squires kind of went under the radar but has consistently been scoring for the Dogs and is going to be key in their playoff run.

F – Ivan Antonov – Bracknell Bees

Now hear us out on this, Antonov has been amongst the most impressive players this season and has been the one bright light in an otherwise disappointing season for the Berkshire side, being only 17 shows he has fantastic potential to be one of the best Brit forwards for years to come

AR – Much like Jaroslav Cesky and Michal Pinc before him, a Bracknell player is one of the hot topics of discussion Antonov was highly touted as a junior and has finally broken out this season on the Bees top line alongside player/coach Lukas Smital. Whilst Bracknell are struggling to score many goals, Antonov has been the scourge of defenders across the league in all situations.

F – Peter Szabo – Telford Tigers

It seems rather odd to have the leagues top scorer not on the first line of this but it’s the way the votes fell. Szabo has been the lynchpin for the Tigers attacking threats, his 58 points mostly from assists has provided Jason Silverthorn and others with the setup man the Tigers needed to take the team to the next level

BC – Telford signed imports known to the UK but their most impressive signing has been the most unfamiliar face in the camp and is the guy leading the league in points

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THIRD LINE

NM – Alex Mettam – Bracknell Bees

This is another hear me out moment hear, how could the team that’s bottom of the table have their goalie be in a team of the season, well it’s due to the fact it’s not his fault, his numbers are eerily similar to those of Janis Auzins a .909 save percentage and a 3.41 goals against average shows that the fault in Bracknell does not lie with the man between the pipes

TG – There are netminder a in the league with more impressive numbers than Mettam but his are more sogiven he is forced to stand on his head behind a very poor Bees D unit. In fact he made the team due to his numbers being slightly lower than the outstanding Latvian Janis Auzins. He made the team because he gives his team a chance to win every night and would get more recognition with a stronger team.

D – Ben Wood – Manchester Phoenix

Ben Wood has grown rapidly in the last couple of years, this is arguably due to playing alongside Robert Schnabel for that spell, while he may not be as good as the big Czech D man was but his defensive play has grown with every year and his imposing build has made him a force on the poor Phoenix blue line

BC – A significantly improved player from last season, Ben Wood uses his size very well and has benefited massively from a couple of years with Robert Schanbel

D – Sam Zajac – Telford Tigers

Zajac is the fifth Tigers player to make this list and after his stint with the Braehead Clan has dropped back down to the EPL to join the Telford revolution whilst being a little small for a defensive Defenceman he plays the position very well and is an excellent shutdown player of the opponents imports

ARM- Rupert Quiney has more points but Zajac is the better player for my money. The former Bison who many used to tell me wasn’t good enough for the EPL has come back from the Elite League and is playing a major role for Tom Watkins’ side.

F – Matt Towe – Guildford Flames

Towe is another name that has probably gone under the radar, he returned to Guildford this year after two years in the Elite League and has provided plenty of assists for the snipers on his team. If the past his anything to go by Towe will be up there amongst the assist leaders come the end of the season and if he does the Flames will be in contention come the end of the season and the playoff finals.

F – Aaron Nell – Swindon Wildcats

The top scoring Brit in the league barely makes the team, the big Brit forward has changed his game this year since rejoining the Wildcats at the back end of last year. Nell has become a bit more of a playmaker this year with 25 assists from his 42 points and while he might not match his contribution of two seasons ago where he scored 115 points he provides a scoring threat on every shift he’s on the ice

BC – A seasoned EPL player now but he’s undoubtedly the best Brit in the league. One of the few British players who can turn a game with a flick of a stick and is performing at a consistent level again for the Wildcats

F – Ciaran Long – Basingstoke Bison

Long has been one of the highlights for the Bison this season in what too many has been a slightly disappointing start. Not one to miss out on making the big play he has turned up whenever his team has needed it and if moved onto a new line with teammate Tomas Karpov could also help start the struggling Czech’s season

AR – This one is probably because I watch him a lot but Ciaran Long is vastly under-rated and if you were putting a roster together, you’d make room for him whatever the team. Able to play as the power forward, do gritty work on the wings, play on the point on the powerplay with his big shot, Long is under appreciated by fans from teams he doesn’t play for. On his day, the king of the shootout will make you pay for underestimating him.

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So there it is, your team of the season at the halfway point. My thanks must go to the people who helped out on this one and as promised if you want to check out the thoughts of those who helped either on Twitter or assorted blogs you can do so at the following

Anthony Russell – (@84arussell) https://bannersonthewall.wordpress.com
Ben Callaghan – (@slapshot6032) http://otprowlblog.wordpress.com
Thomas Graham – (@Thomas_Graham92)
Peter Bradbury – (@peterbrads) http://peterbradssports.blogspot.co.uk

Peter and I will be back in the new year as we go team by team looking at what can be done to improve the EPL teams this season and what the outcome is likely to be come Easter weekend and one team lifts the EPL Playoff Cup

The Magical Mystery Tour part 1

Robbie Burns once said “The best laid plans of mice and men, often go awry”, now I might have changed some of the words around but the point remains the same. When I last posted an article on here some 2 months ago I was thinking I’d be able to do this on a bi-weekly basis, instead it’s been a bit longer and I wanted to do a piece about something I genuinely wanted to write about, don’t get me wrong there were many things I could have written about but I thought it best not to rush anything. So instead I came up with this idea, after two months of pretty solid work I now face the prospect of 2 months of not doing anything at the weekends so why not go to some sporting events and write about it, after all its a tried and tested formula for people to talk about.

So October rolled round and I hadn’t really been to anything since the end of my cricket season in August and after a quick look round of places to go that I hadn’t been and that preferably weren’t too far away that it took half a day to get there and back and in the end settled on a local basketball derby. Now in Southampton there isn’t a lot to do unless you have several hundred pounds to watch the football team every week, the south coast surprisingly has a lot of basketball teams but none have reached the heady heights in Division One that the now defunct Solent Stars did back in the early noughties. See I grew up watching a lot of the Stars play at Fleming Park Leisure Centre back when I was young because it was a lot cheaper than a lot of the other sports around and had a great family atmosphere, but after a while the crowds started dwindling and the club folded in 2007 in the second tier of English Basketball  in the same league as the Worthing Thunder. Worthing were the original local rival just 50 miles to the east the encounters had the usual fiery stuff you’d expect with a lot of away fans making the trip to both games. Now in 2014 and Worthing are still in Division One and two new teams are now playing in Southampton out of what were the old Solent Stars, the team I support Team Solent Suns who are based in the city centre and have strong links with Solent University and the Solent Kestrels who we’ll get to on a later date. I’ve been following Team Solent for 5 years now who currently play in Division Three and in usual fan fashion have seen them get promoted, get relegated, beat teams convincingly and get beat convincingly but watching still gives me the same excitement it did as a child. Being a fan for years I had never been to an away game before and when the draw for the National Cup was made saw Solent drawn away to Worthing and didn’t waste the opportunity to go and support the team, a short train ride to Durrington and I’m there. Admittedly basketball in England isn’t to the same standards as the NBA with teams mainly playing out of leisure centres up and down the land and with the lower league teams not being as well supported as teams higher up the divisions, too my surprise there is a lot of supporters there considering it’s not their usual game night as this is on a Sunday afternoon, unfortunately the only fan there supporting the away team is myself. I hadn’t gone with high expectations I just wanted to see a good game and hope we weren’t beaten too badly, in the end I was pleasantly surprised as Worthing inevitably won 98-79 a scoreline which flatters the Thunder slightly but Solent played well, well above their level and if they put the same level of play into there league games would cruise their division this year. Worthing were lead by Milton Chavis and American brought over for his first senior season in basketball from North Carolina where he had won a high school championship and it was safe to say he was a class apart from anyone else on the court and more than likely going to be the best player in the league this season.

Now to stick to what I kind of started this bloc off with and that’s ice hockey, a few weeks ahead of schedule I went up to Swindon for my first visit of the year to the Link Centre to see the Wildcats play, it has been an up and down start to the season in eerily similar fashion as the start they had last season the Wildcats have been pretty poor at home and magnificent away. For a first trip of the season I went up from Southampton to see Swindon take on the Peterborough Phantoms and the result of my first trip wasn’t the one I had hoped for a 7-2 thrashing, the thing with the EPL this year is it is incredibly unpredictable….. more so than usual, teams seem to be doing better on the road than they are at home and so it proved with the Phantoms visit to the Link. It was very much a smash and grab win for the Phantoms, they outplayed Swindon for large portions of the game and were more than helped out by the fact Swindon seemed to spend the majority of the second period on the penalty kill. Both teams are solid mid table teams this season and Peterborough have taken a good start to the season and run with it, the ever impressive Darius Pliskauskas scored the best goal of the night by deking passed two defence an before slotting home in the smoothest of fashions, it was a rather disappointing way to see the Wildcats lose a lot of the Phantom goals were long shots in on Stevie Lyle the Swindon net minder and then followed in for the rebound. The Link will always be a second home to me, it’s just a shame I live so far from the place and travel can be a right pain sometimes, so the trip back and the week after has been spent mostly going “How did we lose that?” And the simple answer is we had an off weekend, it happens to all teams regardless of sport and this was one of ours you just have to hope you have more good weekends than you do bad ones and you can turn yourself into a championship contender and hopefully in my fully biased opinion the Wildcats will be at the end of the season.

Now this is the first part of a mini almost series of 4 and will see more of basketball, ice hockey and some new looks at the NFL, Football and a WWE house show all in the run up to Christmas, there will probably be other articles at points and in those prepare for some ranting……. Oh yes there will be ranting

Falling in and out of love with Hockey

I originally started writing this article four months ago and to be honest I have found it a lot harder to write about than I had planned. I have always been a ice hockey fan along with football it was the first sport I had really liked.

The first game I went to was a British Super League game way back in 2000 for my then sixth birthday, needless to say I do not remember much of the game but I do remember it being the Bracknell Bees versus the Manchester Storm and it’s safe to say it started the craze, soon after it became a weekly routine of travelling to my grandparents house in Swindon on Saturday afternoons and going to the Link Centre in the evenings with my father and grandfather. Two years of watching Swindon back when they were known as the Lynx and had the high scoring pairing of Ken Forshee and Merv Priest rip the twine on a weekly basis was always a fun way to spend the weekend.

The hockey buzz for me stretched overseas on family holidays twice, in 2001 I went to my first and so far only NHL game, on holiday in New York me and the rest of my family went to see the New York Rangers versus the Buffalo Sabres, the Rangers were a team my dad had supported for years and it seemed only right that I followed suit, to this day I still have a flag I was given at the game and the pennant I brought from Madison Square Garden hanging pride of place in my bedroom. Another family holiday turned out to be the last game I went to, on holiday in Norway we went to watch Vålarenga take on the Stavanger Oilers. The game was a blur of speed and brutal hits and was an eye opener to the different styles of play that exist in the different world leagues.

It all changed in 2004, there was no more trips to Swindon, no more reading about hockey scores in the paper, nothing. It all seemed to fade into distant memory of course there were mitigating circumstances like my family having money problems, my father fell ill for quite a while which meant we didn’t spend much time going to or watching ice hockey. In all honesty after a few years I had forgotten that hockey was even played in Britain, it’s hard to describe what happened to make me forget, there was the fact I didn’t live in a hockey city (Southampton), there was the obvious school stuff basically a lot of things conspired to me not going to games.

It all changed again in 2012, the NHL lockout lead to a shortened season and an offer crossed my eye, NHL Game Center for the whole season only fifteen pounds, I jumped at the chance the first week of the season I watched every game I could. It didn’t really matter who was playing the Rangers, the Sharks, the Red Wings I just watched hockey and eventually something in my brain just clicked, the spark was back, I remembered about hockey in Britain, about those times spent with my dad and grandad and I was determined to go back to watching live games.

After a quick search I found a game to go to, December 2012 I made the short trip to Basingstoke and watched the Bison take on the Sheffield Steeldogs and it felt so good just to be at a game again, to have a programme in my hands, to fill in a gamesheet, hearing the crowd cheer with every goal scored and every fight had it was such an adrenaline rush and I knew I was hooked again. After the game I was back waiting at the train station and it was then I had my first conversation with Anthony Russell, in a half hour chat I learnt a lot from him about hockey, about the Bison and his fanatical support of lots of teams. What struck me the most was his passion for the sport, the fact he would travel from Southampton most weekends to watch games and when he mentioned he wrote a blog about his team it made me more interested. I went through an entire season of articles and read every word and his knowledge of the sport is what really drew me in and in all honesty as a writer I look up to him if I can recount half as much information into my writing as he can I will consider myself a success.

A quick iTunes search a few days later and I found a name I recognised from my past hockey experiences, the Manchester Phoenix podcast, a show obviously dedicated to the Phoenix but also spoke of the rest of the EPL, hearing the ranting of hockey fans in a car park in Altrincham again showed me how passionate British hockey fans are, again I went through the back catalogue, listened to all the podcasts spanning two seasons. I started tweeting into the show and have now even been on the show live from Coventry for the last two years (if you can’t spot me I am one of the annoying southerners).

Going on the show mean I met a good friend in Peter Bradbury, someone who I could talk to about things not just hockey. There are other sports that both of us enjoy like Football, Cricket, Speedway, American Football and others. He puts up with me talking nonsense on his podcast and we spend hours talking about sporting events we’ve been to and listening to the stories he tells me is always a highlight for me, my personal favourite being the time a speedway rider nearly broke his fingers but I’ll let him tell you that one.

Quickly it became clear I was part of a larger hockey family and this year while at the playoffs in Coventry while watching my team the Swindon Wildcats get beat by the Phoenix in overtime I felt the worst I ever had whilst watching one of my teams. I wasn’t confident that we could win the game but when you watch your team lose in the dying minutes its heartbreaking, to have been so close only to have it taken away was cruel but I knew the right team went through. After the game I was expecting the Phoenix fans to rub it in my face but it didn’t happen, they knew the position I was in they had been there before and they were nothing but supportive. It showed that in British ice hockey all the teams fans have a laugh and a joke with each other, when the game is on the friendship is off and when it finishes it’s back to laughing and joking and this is why I am back in love with hockey again.

Now it’s August 2014 and at the time of writing this I am scouring through every teams fixture list to try and find games to go to, I would be lying if I said I went to every Swindon game as for me it is simply not possible, I try and got to at least 10 Wildcats games a year and mix it in with games from other teams. I try and find teams close enough to spend a weekend in one place and watch a game each day the attempt is to go to every rink in Britain’s top two leagues and so far I’m on 9 out of 19. In two years I have gone from an outsider who hadn’t been to a game in years to a member of a larger family with people I am proud to call friends there are more I haven’t named but they know who they are, now let’s just see how far down the rabbit hole goes.