By Matt Church (@minibusmatt29)
THE SEASON THAT WAS
The summer of 2018 down in Bison-land was most certainly an eventful one. A coach and player exodus (for varying reasons), led to ex-GB international and EIHL legend Ashley Tait becoming the new player/coach of the Bison.
Given only a couple of months, Tait managed to put a solid, if unspectacular (on paper) squad together, which was impressive in itself.
Still, expectations amongst fans were somewhat tempered, and this was understandable given how chaotic the off season had been.
The season started off slowly, an almost entirely new squad, mostly playing together for the first time. Gradually things started to click, and the season finished with a third place finish in the League and a cup final too.
Coach Tait also won Coach of the Year, after performing near miracles since arriving, but no silverware, but a team of ‘misfits’ that were given no hope, had surpassed the expectations of fans here and around the league too through sheer determination and hard work.
The 2018/2019 season may have been my favourite season yet, for that reason alone.
By comparison, this summer in Bison-land has been a tad less disruptive. There were only a few departures, most notably ‘The Doctor’ Dr Russ Cowley, who is almost impossible to replace.
There were also just a handful of additions too, including Oliver Stone and Ryan Sutton. Sam Talbot and Sean Norris are new to the squad, exciting talents signed on two-ways with Slough Jets.
The final new guy, and one to watch, is 16 year old Bayley Harewood, who comes highly recommended by Bison forward and top Brit Adam Harding.
We’re only one-weekend of pre-season in, and it’s far too easy to jump the gun, but the new #17 could be an incredible find.
Playing on a line with Harding and veteran import Richard Bordowski for most of last Saturday, he looked right at home, and that line already has true chemistry.
Another one to watch is new club captain, lucky number 13, Elliott Dewey, a solid, stay-at-home defenceman is heading into a third successive season wearing Bison colours.
He seems a very level headed young man, and whilst becoming captain aged just 22 might be a burden to some, Dewey has broad shoulders (figuratively and literally) and will surely prove an inspired choice for the role.
Heading into a new season, expectations are likely mixed, and rightly so. On the one hand, the Bison have won silverware every other season since 2013/14 and after a trophy-less season just gone, the pattern suggests winning something this season.
But on the other hand, the new NIHL National League will probably be more towards the old EPL standard than we’ve been accustomed to over the past two seasons, no disrespect meant to any teams.
Therefore, achieving league success, or cup/playoff success, will be tougher.
Deep down, there is a chance and we’ll all still turn up every week, believing that silverware is possible this season.
Continuity could be the key because the team know each other far better than 12 months ago. Some teams have signed big names and ‘superstars’, but the Bison are truly a special family, and in the end, that will hopefully prove the difference.
MY TOP LINE
It’s hard to know at this point as pre-season usually involves multiple line combinations, but the Harewood – Harding – Bordowski line that began last Saturday is very exciting. Given time to develop, not just for 16 year old Bayley, that could prove to be an inspired and deadly trio.