This season was much about getting the smiles back on the faces of the Bison fans and once again building up the successful brand and both of these objectives were achieved. Steve Moria was given the job of making this happen moving down the M4 after a successful time at Slough as the Canadian once again became player/coach. He returned to his old club for early raids signing up Basingstoke fans' favourite Tony Redmond, who remained his assistant/coach as he had been at the Jets. Another experienced Brit and new captain Nicky Chinn joined along with Moria's deadly offensive partner Italian/Canadian Joe Ciccarello. The other two imports recruits were new to the club and included the Bison's first Lithuanian in Mindy Kieras, the defenceman was a former Milton Keynes man He superbly quarterbacked the defence and powerplay unit all season. The final import was new to Britain and that was Slovakian Ondrej Lauko, who proved to be a real scoring machine ending the year as the EPL's top goal getter. With only Brit Kurt Reynolds remaining from the Elite League Herd, a whole host of home grown players were added from clubs right across the EPL. Forwards Ollie Bronnimann, Andrew Hemmings, Jamie Line, Scott Spearing, Tom Long and Chris Wiggins all joined. On defence Sam Oakford and Sam Zajac were added, while between the pipes had a completely new look with Davey Lawrence and Player of the Year Tom Annetts.
The Bison were back in a league against a lot of their old rivals from years gone by. The eight they had faced before were Bracknell Bees, Guildford Flames, Manchester Phoenix, Milton Keynes Lightning, Romford Raiders, Slough Jets and Swindon Wildcats, while for the first time ever, the Herd met the Sheffield Scimitars. After an opening day defeat at home to Manchester, the Herd enjoyed an excellent seven game winning streak, which was their best start in over a decade. This included a 12-0 home thrashing over local rivals Bracknell as Bronnimann scored the first British hat-trick for a number of years. This game proved to be a fitting tribute on the night which saw the number 12 shirt of Don Yewchin the founding father of the club retired - only the second in the club's history.
However, an injury crisis then hit the Bison during November and December which was to end their hopes of making the semi-finals of the EPL Cup. They tried to cover for missing players with Tyrone Miller having a spell at the club, but there was just too many all at one time During that time was the famous hole in the net penalty shoot-out loss to Guildford. Moria's pin point shot found a rip in the netting and went straight through. The player/coach even turned to celebrate what he thought he had scored the game tieing shot after Nathan Rempel had netted. Moria was allowed to take it again by referee Joy Tottman, but his second attempt was saved and when Lauko failed to convert past Mark Lee the game was lost. Earlier the Bison had raced to a 3-0 first period lead thanks to goals from Steven Fisher on his debut and a Moria brace. Guildford hit back with two goals in the space of 35 seconds from Rempel and Paul Dixon, only for Andrew Hemmings and Fisher to make it 5-2 at the second buzzer. The Flames then stole the final 20 minutes as Neil Liddiard, Gary Clarke and Rempel all netted to send the game into overtime. Having taken until September to chalk up their first win of 2009, a year later in 2010 it took the Bison just two days to record a win which was their first victory of the campaign over the visiting Manchester Phoenix.
Tony Redmond playing as a forward as Ciccarello was out of the line-up scored the Herd's second at 10:44 to add to Tom Long's earlier goal. It took Manchester until 11 minutes from time to get on the scoreboard from Andre Payette, but that was as close as they got. By the end of January, Shaun Thompson had returned to the Herd after being released by Hull. His addition offset the loss of Ciccarello to injury as the Bison enjoyed 12 straight home wins to start 2010. The form of goalie Annetts was also a big reason for this as the shot stopper took his chance with both hands when given the nod to start against Slough returning a 37 shot shut-out. A month later he also helped the Bison to a 3-2 penalty shoot-out home victory over eventual champions Milton Keynes. This was a close contest from start to finish as Adam Carr's early strike was cancelled out by Moria, only for Lukas Zatopek to make it 2-1 at the first buzzer. Sam Oakford tied the game a minute before the end of the second session and then for the next 26 minutes Annetts and Barry Hollyhead repelled the forwards of both sides. That left the game to be decided by a penalty shoot-out and Moria scored first only for Carr to equalise. With no further scoring it went to sudden death and on the ninth shot Bronnimann scored and it was left to Annetts to save Nic Poole's attempt to seal the win.
The Bison certainly had a better end to the season, closing the gap on their rivals, but in the end had to settle for fifth spot in the league equal on points with fourth placed Guildford and one behind Manchester in third. It was however, easily enough to mean they made their first play-off appearance for many years. However, that proved to be a big disappointment as the red-hot Flames side dished out a 6-0 first leg quarter-final victory in Basingstoke, the only time all season the Herd were to be blanked. The return saw the teams share a 2-2 draw, but the damage had been done. Despite the final weekend blip, there were loads of positives for the Bison and their fans as they headed into their second season in the EPL.
The Bison just missed out on silverware in their second season in the English Premier League as the Herd's dreams of lifting their first trophy in 11 years were ended when they were beaten in the EPL Cup final by Slough. Steve Moria remained as player/coach and a large core of the team both in the import and British department returned. The only new member of the foreign legion was Slovak Viktor Kubenko who was another great find by Moria as he ended the season as the club's leading goal scorer as well as winning the Players' Player award. So that left the Herd with an import quartet of forwards Moria, Kubenko, Ondrej Lauko and defenceman Mindy Kieras. On defence Carl Graham was drafted in from Bracknell and Ricky Skene returned from Guilford having previously played in Basingstoke in season 2004/05. With solid defencemen Kurt Reynolds and Sam Oakford back for another year it gave the Herd a five man defensive unit which became six late on in the season when Basingstoke-born Daniel Lackey was added to roster. This meant assistant/coach Tony Redmond switched back to a forward and joined second year Bison players Nicky Chinn, Ollie Bronnimann, Andrew Hemmings and Chris Wiggins.
Bronnimann had a great year as he scored 34 league goals the most by a Brit since Tony's brother Kenny Redmond's 36 some 18 years previous, while power forward Wiggins topped the penalty minutes charts for the second year running. New additions were Callum Best from Bracknell and Ciaran Long from Swindon, but for Long a shoulder injury at Christmas while playing for Great Britain under-20s saw Moria draft in Ben Davies from Cardiff to cover for his lengthen lay-off. On the netminding front home town goalie Dean Skinns returned after five years away joining initially as back-up, but by the end of the season he had wrestled the starting job away from Tom Annetts. The Herd lined up in a league which saw Telford Tigers replace the Romford Raiders, while Sheffield changed their name from the Scimitars to Steeldogs. The other seven teams remained the same and they were Bracknell Bees, Guildford Flames, Manchester Phoenix, Milton Keynes Lightning, Peterborough Phantoms, Slough Jets and Swindon Wildcats. The season opened with a 4-3 defeat in a bad tempered game with visiting Manchester which saw 116 minutes of penalties dished out of which 84 were picked up by the home side.
The following night, the Bison recorded their one and only shut-out of the season as Annetts turned away all 27 shots he faced in a 6-0 win in Telford. The Herd made a solid start to the campaign and then were shut-out in Milton Keynes, but the following night back on home side gained quick revenge with a 4-3 victory. That was a the first of 12 straight wins which moved the Bison up into third spot in the standings. Game 13 proved unlucky as despite coming back from 3-0 down to tie the game 5-5 they lost at Swindon 7-6. In January the Herd suffered an injury crisis which was to see them have to settle for fourth spot by the end of the campaign.
Meanwhile in the EPL Cup, Basingstoke were given a stiff semi-final draw against league leaders and eventual champions Manchester. The task of reaching the final looked even slimmer when they lost the home game 3-2. However, two days later in the return leg, the Bison got off to a great start as in the opening five minutes Kubenko and Best had both found the back of the net. Curtis Huppe kept the Phoenix in touch, but Lauko made it 3-1. Once again Manchester closed the gap, but a Kieras strike 23 seconds before the first buzzer gave the Herd a 4-2 advantage on the night and on aggregate 6-5.
It got even better in the middle session as Bronnimann scored only for Joe Miller to reply and then Lauko made it 6-3. The home side then dominated the final 20 minutes of the tie, but could only score once as the Bison booked a final date with Slough. The first leg at home could not have got off to the worst possible start as Adam Calder scored after 10 seconds and they went onto edge the game 3-2. The second leg proved another tight encounter played in front of a packed crowd and the Jets always kept their noses in front with Joe Greener and Doug Sheppard scoring unanswered goals in the final period for a 4-2 victory on the night for a 7-4 aggregate success.
So that left just one trophy for the Bison to chase and that was the play-offs where they faced MK. Confidence was high in the camp after victories both home and away in the final month of the season over the Lightning. Unfortunately in the first leg away at MK, saw the home side race to a 3-0 lead after just eight minutes. The Herd battled back and by the end of the night trailed by a single goal losing 3-2. In Basingstoke after two periods the Bison led 3-2 to leave the scores level on aggregate going into the final 20 minutes. It was Herd's hearts that were broke as two goals from Monir Kalgoum the second an empty netter in the final minute sealed a 4-3 win on the night and a trip to Coventry for MK.
Steve Moria's third EPL year in charge of the Basingstoke Bison was by far his most difficult as the Herd suffered their worst ever injury crisis in the club's history. So much so that four players Matt Lawday, Ryan Sutton, Rob Tambellini and Chris Beal all made their debuts for the Bison in a game at Sheffield on the last day of February, as seven Bison players were ruled out due to injury, suspension an work commitments. Then amazingly they only lost 2-1. Going into the season, Moria was the lone import to return and was joined by three new players to Britain in Czech Republic centre man Daniel Volrab, along with Slovak forward Marek Dubec and defenceman Mr Jazz Hands himself Marcel Petran.
However, soon into the campaign Dubec was replaced with the return of Viktor Kubenko which added much needed scoring to the team. A large majority of the British core of players remained as Nicky Chinn, Tony Redmond, Sam Oakford, Kurt Reynolds, Chris Wiggins, Dean Skinns and Ollie Bronnimann all returned. More offensive punch was added in Manchester's Joe Miller who did not disappoint ended the season as the club's top goal scorer. Liam Chong who had scored for the Herd the previous season as a guest arrived full time from Invicta and also played well on defence. The final two new British forwards were Jacob Heron from Milton Keynes and Craig Tribe from Bracknell who chipped in with goals from the all Brit line. Under-18 Bison Cameron Wynn stepped up late in the campaign when injuries dug deep and certainly looked one for the future. Highly rated Dan Harris was added to the defence which saw Redmond once more move back to the blue line. Wightlink goalie Matt Colclough stepped up a league, but did not look out of place alongside first Skinns and then from Christmas Stephen Wall who joined from Peterborough, while Basingstoke's under-18 goalie Connor Standing was added to roster and trained with the team all season.
The season proved a rare occurrence as the Bison lined up in the EPL against the same nine teams from the previous year in Bracknell Bees, Guildford Flames, Manchester Phoenix, Milton Keynes Lightning, Peterborough Phantoms, Sheffield Steeldogs, Slough Jets, Swindon Wildcats and Telford Tigers. The Bison started their league campaign with a 4-3 home win over Bracknell followed by an overtime loss in Manchester in which Moria scored the most bizarre goal of the season. He won a face-off, but hit the puck so hard and via a deflection ended up going past Colclough into the Bison net! After an indifferent start to the campaign Dubec was released and Kubenko returned with a bang scoring a hat-trick in his first game back as visiting Swindon were beaten 5-2 after shipping five unanswered goals. The Herd then enjoyed a run of six straight wins including their only shut-out of the season when Colclough turned away 36 shots in a 3-0 victory at Manchester. That was followed by four losses on the bounce including a penalty shot defeat at the hands of bottom side Telford, which proved to be the last game for Skinns as he was replaced by Wall. The new goalie suffered a debut defeat at the hands of his old team Peterborough, but 24 hours later, Wall helped the Herd to victory in Swindon which moved them up two places to sixth.
After four straight home losses that run was snapped with a 5-2 victory over eventual champions Guildford on New Year's Eve and January then proved very fruitful for the Herd as won six out of eight and had a great run on the road of seven straight wins and they looked in a good position to move up the standing. Unfortunately, then all their injuries came at once with defencemen Oakford, Reynolds and Harris all sidelines the defence was reduced to just two recognised defencemen in Player of the season Reynolds and Petran. Reinforcements arrived on the blue line in the shape of forwards Chinn and Chong.
The Herd battled on bravely, but short bench eventually took its toll they lost what was their 1000th league game to visiting Peterborough and it did look like they would slip down from sixth, but an overtime loss in Guildford and a penalty shot victory in Sheffield secured the spot. It only remained to break another four game losing streak at home with victory over Guildford to complete a clean sweep over the champions on home ice. So moving on to the play-offs and having missed out in the previous two years, the Bison now back to full strength were determined to make it to Coventry. Sheffield stood in their way and in a real hard hitting 120 minutes of hockey all the goals in the first leg in Basingstoke came in the first 10 minutes as the visitors shaded it 2-1. This was despite being out shot 17-2 in the final period as Ben Bowns faced 56 shots. The return in Sheffield proved just as close, but the Steeldogs once again edged it 2-1 as Bowns faced another 39 shots, while the Bison gave-up 48 shots over the two game series.
Sunday July 17, 1988 saw the first ever ice hockey match take place in the town. The Basingstoke Beavers as the team was called in those days warmed-up with a pre-season friendly and thrashed the visiting Bournemouth Sharks 27-2. The clubs imports were Canadian duo Don Yewchin and Gary Douville and between them they scored 17 goals, the first being after 10 seconds from sharp shooter Yewchin. He was the club's ice hockey co-ordinator and built the team from scratch with a netminding duo of 16-year-old Neil Peters and Stuart Thomas one year younger.
Nicky Drew an experienced forward with a work rate second none was an early signing from the Southampton Vikings. The south coast ice rink was then forced to close on the eve of the 1988/89 campaign and another five Vikings joined the team in forwards Ivor Ambridge, Darren Adams and Simon Coleman, along with defencemen Iain Cooper and Mark Ashton. Yewchin did not just look locally for players as Chris Anderson the club's top scoring Brit in their first season and blue liner Steve Howliston arrived from Sunderland, and both were great characters.
Londoner Tyrone Dewale also became a favourite, always ready to joke with the fans. In the opening English Cup match there were goals galore, as the Beavers were beaten 16-14 by the visiting Oxford City Stars City. This after the home side looked to be heading for a dream start as they led 12-9. The following night, the club recorded its first competitive win at Chelmsford 7-4 in the same competition, where they failed to make the final.
In their first season, the Beavers played in the English Division One along with the Birmingham Eagles, Bracknell Bees, Chelmsford Chieftains, Humberside Seahawks, Oxford City Stars, Solihull Knights and Peterborough Titans. Each team was allowed a maximum of two imports and one reclassified player - an import who qualified to play for the Great Britain national team, but the Beavers just had the two imports. The club's first ever league game played at the Playground as the ice rink was called back then, was against the Solihull Knights, a second team to the Barons. Basingstoke opened the scoring thanks to Yewchin after 27 seconds on their way to 9-5 victory. A week later, the first away game at the very unique Birmingham ice rink, saw the Beavers a goal down after only 12 seconds and never recovered losing 15-9.
That season Basingstoke were the new boys on the block and the local derby games with their older neighbours the Bracknell Bees were certainly all action affairs as the crowds packed in to watch. The Berkshire side's imports at the time were Darin Fridgen and Jamie Crapper, who did the damage time and time again. Unfortunately for the Beavers they would have to wait another year to beat their deadly rivals. Along with the matches with the Bees, two other games stick in the memory of that opening season. The first was in early January, when the Humberside Seahawks (based in Hull) on the road to winning the league crown came to town. The Beavers who were to finish fourth in their first season, looked to have turned the form back upside down as they led 5-3 by the middle of the contest. However, soon after referee Dave Cloutman was forced to leave the game having been hit in the face by a puck, but returned to give the famous goal that never was. The puck hit the side netting, but the home protests that followed saw Humberside given a 5-on-3 powerplay and from there they managed to take the lead and go onto win the game 9-8.
Two months later, this time in Peterborough, the team went goal crazy winning 30-8 against the second team to the Pirates. This re-wrote the club record books in one night. Yewchin helped himself to 11 goals and Douville collected the most ever points in a league game with 18 split evenly between goals and assists. When Peterborough visited Basingstoke the following March, Yewchin went one better netting 12 in a 27-3 victory. The season ended with Basingstoke in Hull for their final away game of the season and in fact the Beavers took the English Division One trophy with them on their team bus so it could be presented at the end of the mat ch. That proved to be a great evening, the Beavers failed to spoil the party and Seahawks fans celebrated winning the title. Basingstoke were celebration as well at the end of a fine first season on which they could build on.
The one thing that sticks out in memory of the second season of the Beavers, was their first victories home and away against arch rivals the Bracknell Bees. The team from down the road had downed the new kids on the block convincing every time in the first season, but now it was pay back time. From the first season import Don Yewchin remained, being joined by another Canadian forward Tim Salmon - the man of the magical curved stick. He was a great play maker and had already bagged a number of scoring records while at Ayr and Telford.
In the English Division One in which Basingstoke played, every team was also allowed what was called a re-classified player. This was an import who had a British passport and so defenceman Kenny Duncan joined from Medway Bears. His party trick while playing was to smile at an opposing player before crunching them into the boards. There was also a further influx of former Southampton Vikings players, with first year Beaver Darren Adams, being joined by brothers Jamie a hard hitting defenceman and netminder Jason.
Martin Jeneway also joined and was to have a major impact on the play-offs at the end of the season, but more of that later. Tim Steadman a true entertainer arrived from Oxford and is best remember for a strip similar to one from the movie Slap Shot in one of the breaks of play in Basingstoke.
The season opened with the Autumn Cup and the most memorable game was when the Bees came to town in late September. This was a head on clash, with two players from each side in the sin bin after just 65 seconds. That set the tone for the rest of the game and in the end it ended 9-9, which was Basingstoke's best result yet against Bracknell.
The seven team league saw Basingstoke face Bracknell Bees, Chelmsford Chieftains, Oxford City Stars, Romford Raiders, Sheffield Sabres and Sunderland Chiefs
A month into the campaign and the Bees having already beaten the Beavers in the league arrived in town again. A close first period saw the home side edge it 3-2 and by the start of the last 20 minutes it was 5-4. That belonged to the Beavers as they scored six without reply as Yewchin took his tally for the game to six and it was left to Duncan to score goal number 11 as the roof came off the building. At the end of the game there were wild celebrations as if Basingstoke had won a trophy.
It was a big monkey off the back of the team, as for once Darin Fridgen and Jamie Crapper had come off second best. The league season itself saw Basingstoke battling to try and make a top four finish for a play-off spot, but when the British Ice Hockey Association decided in February to change it to the top five, the Beavers were safely in the mix.
Basingstoke having finished fifth in the league started as underdogs for the play-offs, but their secret weapon was to use Jeneway to man mark out of the game the oppositions top scoring import.
This ploy worked a treat and the Beavers got their campaign off to a winning start 5-2 against Oxford. Next up was a visit from league champs Bracknell. Once again it was a brutal encounter, but the home side skated away to a 4-3 success.
By the time Basingstoke arrived in Bracknell a place they had never won, victory would secure them promotion. Once again it was an all action clash with honours even at the first break 1-1. Both teams scored again, before Mick Stafford took a double minor penalty for hooking and then punching Chris Anderson after the whistle. That proved very costly as the Beavers scored twice on the powerplay. The Bees then failed to convert a 5-on-3 powerplay early in the final period, which saw Steadman skate out of the penalty box and score.
The Bees hit back, but when Darren Derkson tried to stop Salmon with punch he missed by the Basingstoke forward did not to make it 6-3. A goal two minutes from time completed another great night and left the Bees yellow and black army in silence. Worst was to follow as the Bees missed out on promotion the following week when they lost to Romford, but when Streatham pulled out of the Heineken Division One, Bracknell gained promotion.
After winning promotion the year before, the Beavers was now in Heineken Division One, which was then second tier of the game in Britain. The number of imports they were allowed increased from two to three and they were also allowed a re-classified import as well. Basingstoke kept their two imports from the previous year forwards Don Yewchin and Tim Salmon and Kenny Duncan once again filled the re-classified slot on the roster.
The addition import spot went to a new defenceman to this country Rob Stewart, who unfortunately lasted just two games, before being the first import in the club's history to be cut. However, it did not do him any harm, as he went on to have a brilliant career in this country playing most notably for Romford, Bracknell and Belfast.
His replacement was all-action, hit first and ask questions later, Canadian defenceman Mike Rowe. The big man gave the team the physical edge they needed on the blue line. He went onto rack up a club record for a league campaign of 239 penalty minutes from 39 games. Rowe is also famous for bending one of the supports for the Plexi Glass in a check in the Basingstoke rink, which was there for many years after until the Plexi was replaced.
The Beavers did not get off to the best of starts being in a very strong Norwich Union Cup group, with premier division sides Ayr Raiders, Murrayfield Racers one of the top teams of the day. Also in the group were the Cleveland Bombers, who included a certain Kevin Conway playing his first ever game in Basingstoke. The only team in the same division as the Beavers, were the Trafford Metros, so hence the team drew just two of their eight group games and went out of the competition
Next up was the league season and the 11 team division one, found the Beavers up against the Humberside Seahawks, Slough Jets, Bracknell Bees, Romford Raiders, Telford Tigers, Swindon Wildcats, Trafford Metros, Medway Bears, Glasgow Saints and Lee Valley Lions.
The campaign did not start well with four straight defeats as the team was basically the same as the year before, except for the addition of Andrew Sparks and struggled to come to terms with the step up. So reinforcements were sought and into the line-up came speedy small forward Nicky Iandoli along with Romford team mate rugged defenceman Jim Johnston. Stephen V Johnson arrived from Cleveland, and was later replaced by Mark Salisbury from Lee Valley more about him later. Other signings included veteran Swindon goalie Joe Dunn to replace Jason Adams, while Norman Pinnington joined late on in the season from Telford.
Game number 13 of the season proved a lucky one, as the team finally got off the mark with a victory over Slough. Netminder Charlie Colon, a future head coach at the club stopping a much bigger scoreline as he faced 64 shots in a 7-4 victory. From there the Beavers started to pick up points and moved in the top six which would have secured an end of season promotion play-off. Some of that was due to the arrival of new bench coach Bob Korol and the former Telford Tiger man returned to his old stamping ground for the most memorable game of the season.
Shropshire had not been a happy hunting ground for Basingstoke and in the previous meeting when these teams met the Tigers had roared to a 15-4 victory. This time around it was a different story as the Beavers ran out 13-7 winners, but it was during the final period that a little piece of history was created by Mark Salisbury mentioned earlier. Having already scored a hat-trick either in the game, he added another three goals in an astonishing 19 seconds spell - the fastest hat-trick ever in the league. That took his tally for the game to six another record which still stands for a British forward.
As the league season came to a close the Beavers needed to beat Medway to secure that top six finish, but that game was lost. Swindon then pipped them for sixth spot by two points beating league champions Humberside in one of their final games. That left the Beavers to settle for seventh, which was not bad for their first season at this level. Earlier in the season everyone would have been happy with that, but by the season end it was a bit of a disappointment.
The best season to date for the Beavers saw them finish third in the Heineken Division One, as well as pick up another piece of silverware winning the Southern Cup.
With the departure of Don Yewchin the ice hockey co-ordinator for the first three years of the club's existence, it was left to rink manager Paul Biffen to build most of the team for the season with new coach Peter Woods recruiting just one player new Canadian defenceman Mark Marentette.
Biffen used his Telford connections and signed free scoring Canadian Kevin Conway, his retired shirt hangs at the end of the rink. So he could link up again with Tim Salmon, the pair had re-written the record books while in Ayr and Telford. The move proved a good one as the new signing scored a century of league goals that season.
The team as in the previous year had three imports all mentioned above along with a re-classified player, an import with a British passport which was filled once more by Kenny Duncan. The British side of the roster, saw Nicky Iandoli and Andy Sparks remain and they were joined by three experienced forwards in Kenny Redmond from Telford, Steve Nell from Swindon and Brian Wilkie from Cardiff. The very offensive minded Dave Rapley's season was cut short by injury and was replaced by stocky blue liner John Burnicle. In the netminding department Neil Peters remained the top dog, while Chris Newton started the season to be replaced by John Matassa, who picked up an assist on his league debut.
The campaign started with high hopes in the Autumn Trophy. The Beavers travelled to Streatham to face the Redskins in the first game in their new re-opened rink and despite playing a team from the league below they could only draw.
Worst was then to follow as they found the Swindon Wildcats too hot to handle and were left needing Blackburn to beat Trafford to send them through as the best second placed team to the last four. To Basingstoke's relief, the result went their way and that set up a semi-final clash with the Milton Keynes Kings. The away leg saw the visitors arrive minus Duncan and top Brit Nicky Iandoli suspended and by the end of the first period were 4-1 down. Netminder Newman was pulled and replaced by Peters, who then shut-out the Kings for two periods, as the Beavers hauled themselves back into the tie leaving it all square at 4-4.
The return in Basingstoke proved to be one of the best games of the season as the home side led 2-0 after five minutes, before MK's Troy Kennedy scored twice in 19 seconds to tie the game. However, by the first buzzer the Beavers led 4-2, only to see it wiped out again, they edged ahead by a goal, but once again the visitors came back to make it 5-5 at the second period break.
That left the semi-final to be decided in one 20 minute period and the visitors had two goals disallowed, before Conway scored with a penalty shot to give the home side the lead again with 11:45 left. However, the Kings were not to be denied a trip to Sheffield and scored twice more to lead for the first time on the night at 57:37, which proved to be enough to book their final place.
The league campaign saw Basingstoke up against Fife Flyers, Slough Jets, Telford Tigers, Swindon Wildcats, Romford Raiders, Milton Keynes Kings, Lee Valley Lions, Blackburn Hawks and Trafford Metros.
The season opened with a 20-8 win over Trafford with British forward Sparks scoring six times and the team hit 21 in Blackburn later in the season as they comfortably cruised to third spot. The second week of the season, saw the Basingstoke Sports Trust take over running the team after Crossland Leisure went bust.
The Beavers' best league series was with runners-up Slough, while the home games with Fife were brilliant and the away ones awful. Hopes were high as the side made the play-offs coming up against their arch rivals Bracknell Bees who finished ninth in the premier division, along with Swindon and Slough
However, the Beavers were not helped by the departure of Duncan before the series and they ended up winning all their three home games, while losing all three on the road. It was a disappointing end to the season, but the club did have some silverware in the campaign, after winning the Southern Cup. The competition between premier Bracknell and division one rivals Slough and Basingstoke, saw the Beavers win at home to Slough and then draw 10-10 with Bracknell in Amen Corner.
This set up a winner-takes-all clash in Basingstoke when the Bees came to visit for game three of the series. With the home side minus two of their four imports Duncan and Salmon things did not look promising and when Darin Fridgen scored twice in the opening six minutes it looked even more bleak. Back came the Beavers from Conway, only for Fridgen to score again, but the turning point of the game was when Conway scored shorthanded before Kenny Redmond made it 3-3 at the first buzzer. With another 20 minutes played the game was still locked at 6-6 and everything to play for Redmond edged the home side in front again, only for Matt Cote to equalise with one of those superb individual efforts. It was then Nell who put Basingstoke ahead again only for Jamie Crapper to tie the match at 8-8 at 51:33. From there in a thrilling finale both teams had chances but it was Nicky Iandoli with a goal 53 seconds from time that win the match to make sure the Southern Cup was heading to Basingstoke.
If ever there was a poll for the best ever team in Basingstoke then this season's would probably end up top of the pile. It was Canadian Peter Woods second season in charge and he made three changes to his import line-up, defenceman Kenny Duncan had already departed to Canada, while fellow blue liner Mark Marentette was not retain.
The boldest move was not re-signing forward Tim Salmon, a major figure in the team's progression in previous years. That proved to be the right decision as the Beavers enjoyed their best season to date. Only Kevin Conway remained of the imports and he was joined by Rick Fera from Trafford and Mario Belanger from Durham to give the team some awesome firepower. Fera's long flowing hair and beard meant he got a lot of stick from opposition fans, but he finished the year as Player of the Season for the Heineken Division One.
Belanger was a true flair player more known as 'Super Mario'.
If the forwards caught all the limelight, it overshadowed two major signings on defence. Canadian blue liner Russ Parent was simply a class act, while experienced British goalie Jeff Smith joined from premier division Cardiff. Another notable British signing, was a fresh faced ginger haired guy from Glasgow Tony Redmond. He linked up with older brother Kenny and finished the year as the team's top Brit.
As the season started nobody really rated Basingstoke with a squad of 13 players and only three defencemen. How wrong they were to be. The Beavers had to qualify for the Benson and Hedges Cup due to their league position the previous season. They then swept all before them with a perfect group record, which included doubles over premier division sides and eventual champions Cardiff as well as Bracknell.
That set-up a quarter-final clash with Nottingham Panthers and the home game saw Dan Dorian inspire his side with six goals in a 10-7 victory. The following night in Hull, due to Nottingham's Ice Stadium being out of action the Lace City side raced to a 5-0 lead. The home side then changed their netminders and the Beavers surged back to lead 6-5 at which point the goalies were swapped back. Any hopes of Basingstoke victory were then dashed thanks to the controversial dismissal of Nicky Iandoli for kicking, as the Panthers won the game 8-7.
The following week, the league campaign started which was the club's third in the Heineken Division One and saw them up against Lee Valley Lions, Medway Bears, Telford Tigers, Slough Jets, Romford Raiders, Swindon Wildcats, Milton Keynes Kings and everyone's favourites for the title Sheffield Steelers. Luckless Lee Valley was the first team to come to the Playground as the Basingstoke Arena was called then and were beaten 28-5 as the home side racked up 110 shots on goal. They were to beat the same side later in the year 27-2 - the club's biggest ever home victory.
The first weekend of November saw a double header with title rivals Sheffield. The first game proved a non contest with Basingstoke winning 14-3. The following night Basingstoke duly skated away to a 8-7 victory. When the Beavers returned to Sheffield again the game was billed the 'Clash of the Titans'
A crowd of 8,972 packed into the Sheffield Arena for what was the Steelers last chance to keep themselves in the title race. With the home side having signed former Beaver Salmon, the fans eagerly awaited a clash with former team mate Conway, but both missed the game due to injury. A tight first period saw the scores locked at 3-3 with Tony Redmond scoring twice for the visitors. The middle session saw just one goal a piece as Parent netted on the powerplay and Sheffield hit back shorthanded. The last 20 minutes saw the Steelers blown away as Redmond completed his hat-trick, Anthony Page and then Fera also found the back of the net. The final nail in the Sheffield coffin was when Steve Nemeth was dismissed for spearing Belanger. The Basingstoke import after receiving treatment returned to help set up Fera and Steve Nell with powerplay markers to make it 9-4, before Sheffield scored a late consolation.
Basingstoke clinched the HD1 title in Gillingham on February 14 1993 with a 7-4 victory over Medway Bears.
So with the title in their pocket, next was the play-offs, which saw the Beavers drawn in a group with the Durham Wasps, along with Swindon and Romford. After beating Swindon 10-4, next up was Durham at home. The pride of the north east had been Heineken premier division champions the previous year and were rated as one of the top sides of that era. In 1989, the Wasps had won the Norwich Union Cup in Basingstoke and who would have thought the Beavers would be playing them just four years later and beating them 6-0 was unthinkable, but that was exactly what happened. Basingstoke led 3-0 at the first break and scored two goals in 19 seconds in the middle session, before adding another in the final 20 minutes. More notable was Smith produced the first ever shut-out in the club's history turning away 29 shots.
Wins over Romford and Swindon followed and Romford beat Durham 8-3 as the Wasps due to penalty trouble ran out of players and the game was abandoned with 3:27 left. This meant that a home Basingstoke victory over Romford would assure them a place in the top flight of the game the following season. It was a strange game as the Beavers led 6-0 in the final period, but three quick goals got the visitors back into it. The home fans started to panic and in the end the victory was a relief - not the celebration it should have been, as Basingstoke earned their place in the Heineken Premier Division.
This season saw the Beavers take their bow in the top flight of the British game for the first team in the club's short history. Canadian coach Peter Woods who had masterminded Heineken division one crown and play-off success the previous year, had left to take up a coaching position with top Norwegian team Trondheim. So the job of guiding the team in their debut season in the Heineken Premier Division went to former Romford head coach Troy Walkington. He brought with him the Raiders leading scorer of the previous season Dave Whistle who went on to have great success as a coach with both Bracknell and Belfast. He was the only new addition of the four imports replacing Rick Fera who went to Solihull as his brother was coaching that team. Therefore Kevin Conway, Mario Belanger and Russ Parent remained. In a bid to try and improve the skills of the British players only three imports were allowed on the ice at anyone time. This caused problems especially if team's had an import goalie, but more about that later. New to the team was Mark Slater a real no nonsense defenceman and that was putting it mildly. Also added was likeable forward Cassie Dawkins joined from Peterborough.
The campaign got off to a good start as Basingstoke were early leaders of the league and also made it through to the last eight of the Benson and Hedges Cup for the second year running. The main reason for this was thanks to a 11-5 victory in Bracknell in the third game of the series as Whistle and Belanger both netted four times. The other two victories came against division one Swindon winning 17-10 at home as Dawkins scored four times and Whistle bagged 11 points including eight assists. Having narrowly lost to Bracknell in the return fixture, victory in Swindon would guarantee Basingstoke a quarter-final slot and that was achieved with a 15-6 win. Unfortunately that meant the Nottingham Panthers were next up and in a close contest the first-leg in front of the Sky TV cameras was lost narrowly 3-2 and the Beavers trailed 2-0 in the Lace City until they scored twice in the final two minutes to set up a fanatic last 60 seconds. The league this time around was made up of 12 teams with the top eight making the British Championship play-offs and the bottom two heading for relegation play-offs. So the Beavers were up again eventual champions Cardiff Devils, Fife Flyers, Sheffield Steelers, Nottingham Panthers, Murrayfield Racers, Durham Wasps, Whitley Warriors, Humberside Hawks, Bracknell Bees, Peterborough Pirates and Teesside Bombers.
The Premier campaign got off to a good start, but soon changes were made as netminder Jeff Smith and defenceman Drew Chapman both left. In came young goalie Richard Baxendale from Slough, while the rugged Grant Slater arrived from Murrayfield and Nicky Iandoli returned from Romford. However, the season did not go too well after the B&H exit and even included a wasted trip to Sheffield where the team bus and a coach lot of fans made it to snow covered Sheffield Arena only to be told the match was off. So there was time for a snow ball fight and then the long trip home. The club were then hit in late December by the resignation of coach Walkington and rink manager Paul Biffen took charge for the trip to Cardiff where a very depleted team due to Great Britain under-21 commitments, suspensions, a car crash and illness, left him minus five British players. So it was no surprise the team lost 13-7 and Rick Brebant equalled the club record for goals against Basingstoke with eight. Canadian netminder Lloyd Clifford took over temporary charge of the team and helped to get then back on track including a great win in Kirkcaldy against high flying Fife 9-6. Then at home to Murrayfield coming from 10-8 down, to win 11-10 with three goals in the final 10 minutes.
By February, Beavers import in their first season Gary Douville was at the helm and the club looked set to secure a top eight play-off spot. However, that was to be cruelly taken away from them as Conway broke his leg in Hull. The following game Clifford made his debut as a netminder and due to the three import rule on the ice, every time there was a penalty he swapped places with British goalie Neil Peters. In total that was four times in the 6-5 win over Teesside. The loss of Conway proved costly as it ended the team's play-off hopes and the team had to be content with ninth spot. This on reflection was a great achievement in the Beavers first year with the big boys, but a little disappointing as they looked on course for a top eight finish.
The club's second year in the Heineken Premier League again proved to very successful one, as the Beavers even spent a few weeks at the top of the pile. Once again the import line-up was changed with three new imports to this country in Chris Brant, Stan Marple and Mike Wagstaff. Brant nicknamed 'The Chief' was a native Red Indian and had one of the hardest shots in the league. Marple was a stocky defenceman who is best remember for his success at Guildford after leaving Basingstoke. Of the previous year's imports, top scorer Kevin Conway remained as the team's five year Brit and Canadian Russ Parent was also still in the line-up. Other notable additions to the team were Canadian born, but former England internationals speedy winger Chris Chard and his brother Phil, while in goal the Beavers had the services of Bill Morrison. The Scottish-born goalie had grown up in Canada and won his fight to be classed as British and so guarded the pipes for Basingstoke from late on in the Benson and Hedges Cup group games.
That Benson and Hedges Cup campaign proved a disappointment as the Beavers one of three Heineken Premier division side's along with Cardiff and Bracknell, were joined by division one teams Slough and Medway. Basingstoke drew with eventual group winners Cardiff twice and won all their home games, but it was on the road that they had problems as defeat in Slough 8-1 and then in Medway 3-2, saw them finish level on points with Slough. However, the 8-1 loss proved to be costly as the Beavers had only won the home game 7-6 so they were knocked out. In the league, Basingstoke faced the Sheffield Steelers, Cardiff Devils, Nottingham Panthers, Edinburgh Racers, Durham Wasps, Humberside Hawks, Peterborough Pirates, Whitley Warriors, Milton Keynes Kings and Bracknell Bees. The team's fortunes were a lot better as they opened the campaign with a draw followed by four wins to top the table in October. An injured to Parent saw him replaced for three games by Finnish import Jan Lahti, the first ever non North American import to pull on a Basingstoke jersey. Results started to dip and by December and things came to head after the team suffered a club record 19-3 defeat in Hull to the Humberside Hawks.
Brant was the man to go and was replaced by Canadian Barcley Pearce. He made his debut in the most eventful game of the season, a Boxing Day clash with the Cardiff Devils - which lived up to its billing. In a great contest, the Beavers took the first period 3-2 and then despite Pearce scoring, the Devils tied the game 5-5 after 40 minutes. The visitors then took a two goal lead, but back game the home side as Chris Chard and then Wagstaff levelled the game again by the 50th minute. The Beavers then grabbed what turned out to be the game winner at 58:37, thanks to Parent, but that was only the start of the fun and games in a game of few penalties.Tempers became heated and with seven seconds left, Cardiff's Doug McEwen charged the Beavers' goalkeeper which saw Marple stick up for his goalie. That was only the warm-up bout, as on the final buzzer everything kicked off as Ian Copper started using Phil Chard as a punch bag and once again Marple was on hand to stick up his team mate banging the Cardiff Devils players head on the ice. While that was going on Cardiff's Shannon Hope was skating around the rink trying to pick a fight with anyone, eventually order was restored and referee Dave Cloutman sent both teams to their dressing rooms. The outcome of the altercation was six game penalties of which Marple and Hope picked up two each. From that Marple had to serve a four game suspension, he returned only to suffer a season ending knee injury in January and was replaced by the more offensive minded Lee Saunders.
The defenceman soon became a fans' favourite after he clashed with Nicky Chinn on his debut in Cardiff and needed stitches to a head wound. As the season came to close, the Beavers recruited another import forward in Brendon Flynn who also made his debut in a Cardiff, as the team cruised to seventh place in the league. During the season the Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council awarded the contact to run the team for the next five years to Civic Leisure. Their first decision was one of the most bizarre in the club's history as they replaced coach Gary Douville for the play-offs and brought back Peter Woods who two years earlier had coached the Beavers to the division one title. Being that late in the season he was unable to change any of the players and the side failed to make it to Wembley. However, but they did finish third in the group thanks to wins at home over Durham and Edinburgh as well as draw in Durham. So the fans went into the summer with high hopes for the club's third year in the top flight.
Some would say the most significant thing about this season happened before a puck was even dropped as the club changed it names to the Basingstoke Bison. It had been originally Bisons in line with the University of Manitoba Bisons formerly coached by then Basingstoke boss at the time Peter Woods. However, when pointed out to the club by the Basingstoke Gazette that Bisons, did not exist, the name was shortened to Bison. The club also changed its colours to yellow from red. On the ice the team were in their third season in the Heineken Premier League and Woods brought in a host of new talent mostly being re-classified imports who could play for Great Britain, and from the previous season only Kevin Conway and Russ Parent remained. In came Richard Little from Durham a big forward at the time for the league. Merv Priest who became a firm fans favourite arrived from Murrayfield. He was born in Leicestershire, but grew in Canada making him another re-classified import. Two more GB internationals in Rick Strachan from Milton Keynes and Whitley's Scott Morrison were signed, as well as Dan Sweeney a major part of the success of the Wightlink Raiders. One import new to the country was defenceman Mark McCoy.
The netminding duo was all Scottish affair as Colin Hamilton joined Bill Morrison. The Benson and Hedges group stage saw the club suffer their first ever shut-out in the club's history, coming at Bracknell, but despite this they still made it to the last four. It was at a cost as they lost defenceman Andy Einhorn to a 26 game suspension for allegedly kicking Chris Brant. They looked in good shape to make the last four when they won the quarter-final home leg 5-4 over Nottingham having led 3-0 and 4-2. The return leg in the Lace City saw the Bison awarded a penalty shot after just 98 seconds, which Conway missed, but they still took the lead as Morrison scored shorthanded and Little made it 2-0. Nottingham clawed their way back and led 4-3 only for Chris Chard to tie the game again at 45:35. Randall Weber gave the Panthers the lead again and then Simon Hunt at 57:43 put the Panthers in front for the first time in the whole tie. An empty netter 42 seconds from time, finally sealed the Herd's fate.
In the premier division, the Bison found themselves up against Sheffield Steelers, Cardiff Devils, Nottingham Panthers, Humberside Hawks, Fife Flyers, Newcastle Warriors, Milton Keynes Kings and Slough Jets. Their best win of the season came against visiting Nottingham as they trailed 5-1 after 27 minutes. The Herd then got into a full stampede, as Little score twice by the end of the second period. The final 20 minutes, saw Strachan and Conway netted, before Morrison snatched the game winner at 59:10. On home ice the Bison's form was good, but on the road they only won two games all season. There were changes a foot in the team as Scott Morrison and Sweeney both left, back came Mike Wagstaff from Murrayfield and a new no nonsense forward in Doug Sinclair. He clashed with Cardiff hardman Mike Ware on his debut and in a famous radio interview when asked if would do it again that weekend when Cardiff were in town, as cool as you like he said: "If it happens again I'll sort it."
Kevin Forrest was another player to join the Herd and was just hitting form when he broke his leg in a freak training accident. As the season went on the Bison were hit by an injury crisis which at one point reduced the team to eight skaters. Defenceman Christian Keogh arrived and made his debut in a game in which Tony Redmond broke his hand and missed the rest of the season. The final wave of replacements saw Swede Tomas Granberg and fellow Canadian forward Darcy Anderson arrived. Despite all the set backs the club finished seventh to book a play-off spot and back to full strength they turned the form book upside down in their opening game. Priest hit a hat-trick as Basingstoke beat visiting league champions Sheffield 5-2. That was followed up with a draw in Nottingham and then a home victory over Fife 5-3. That meant a win over Nottingham in their final home play-off game, would book the team a place at Wembley in the British Championship semi-final.
The game did not start well for the Bison, as the visitors took a 2-0 lead, but the Herd hit back with Parent scoring and then 69 seconds later Chard netted the equaliser. The Bison fans were on their feet celebrating, but that was soon changed to anger as Chard was cross checked head first into the boards after he scored by Marc Twaite. Tempers flared as you would expect and both Panthers Gareth Premak and Anderson were dismissed, but even more bizarre was the fact that referee Lehtonen dished out more penalties on the home side for the incident. This gave Nottingham a four minute powerplay which put them back in the driving seat as they scored and went onto take the match 5-2. Further away defeats at Fife and Sheffield ended their hopes of making the final Championships at Wembley. So leaving the Bison to get ready for the new dawn of the Superleague.
It was all change for the start of the 1996/97 season with the false dawn of the Superleague. This was a franchise based league where teams applied to join from areas of the country. This meant that there was no longer promotion and relegation, which would be a relief to the Bison come the end of the season. There was also no limit on the number of imports any team could have and so most teams signed 20 plus players. Even with big rosters this still had an impact on the British-trained player, which were to become a rare breed in the Superleague in the years after. Teams were built on who could spend the most money and that was always going to leave the Bison at a disadvantage.
The inaugural season was made up of eight teams included the newly created Ayr Scottish Eagles, along with first champions the Cardiff Devils, Sheffield Steelers, Nottingham Panthers, Newcastle Cobras, Bracknell Bees and the Manchester Storm. This meant every team made the end of season play-offs and with no import limit Bison coach Peter Woods was able to build on a core of returning guys Kevin Conway, Merv Priest, Richard Little, Rick Strachan, Bill Morrison, Mike Wagstaff and Doug Sinclair. Arriving in Basingstoke, was Blake Knox a small feisty forward, along with Darren Hurley who was never afraid to drop the gloves. They were joined by hard working forward Jamie Black, along with smooth skating defenceman Steve Brown. Also new to the blue line by the rugged Jason Weinrich and Dwayne Newman. Richard Gallace joined the netminding team. The only Brits were Tony Redmond and Andy Einhorn.
The Benson and Hedges campaign started well with a 100 per cent record in the group stage with victories over Superleague rivals Bracknell and Premier League sides Guildford and Medway. The draw for the quarter-finals was kind to the Herd, as they once again faced the Bees and repeated the group stage victories. That set-up a semi-final against Ayr and hopes were high of a place in the final after the Herd returned from Scotland 2-0 winners. This was thanks to a brace of goals from Knox and a 34-shot shut-out from Gallace. The second-leg on home ice got off to a dream start as Little scored after just eight seconds. Ayr then equalised on 70 seconds, only for Supporters' Club player of the season Priest to make it 2-1 at 2:10 in an all action opening. However, that was as good as it got for the Bison, as they trailed 6-3 at the first break and that soon became 8-3 on their way to a 9-4 defeat. The league campaign opened with a 3-0 reverse in Nottingham and by game seven in front of the Sky cameras the Herd were still searching for that first win when Newcastle came to town. That long awaited victory still looked out of reach as the Cobras led 6-3 at the first buzzer. For the start of the second session, Morrison who had faced 15 shots was pulled and never played for the club again. Gallace took over in net and turned away all 22 shots he faced in the middle period away, while Knox, Brown, Conway and Priest all scored to make it 7-6, which built the foundation for a 10-8 victory. That started the team's best run of the season as that was followed by 7-4 victory over Cardiff the future champions, with Little helping himself to a club Superleague record of four goals and two assists.
Another memorable game of the season was a local derby game against visiting Bracknell which saw a world record achieved. That was by Bracknell netminder Mark Bernard later coach of the Bison as he collected four assists in the 9-6 victory. The Bees cage man picking up helpers on goals five, six, seven and nine. It was a game of high emotion the Bison fought back from 4-1 down to lead 6-5, only for former player Dave Whistle to benefit from a lucky bounce off the boards to tie the game and from there Bracknell never looked back. While the Bison's home form was okay in the league, on the road it was different story and the tenth away defeat on the trot, condemned the team to wooden spoon spot in the Superleague. The first time the club had ever finished bottom in any division. The play-offs gave the Bison fans something to cheer about as they managed to finished third in their group ahead of Bracknell, but behind Nottingham and Sheffield.
That was after an overtime win over the Bees thanks to Priest's late winner. That was followed up with a draw after overtime in Bracknell and an overtime loss in the House of Steel. As summer arrived the Bison fans hoped for a much better campaign come the following autumn.
The second year of the Superleague saw the same eight teams do battle and once again Peter Woods was in charge of coaching duties and a large core of the wooden spoon side of the year before remained. Jamie Black, Kevin Conway and new boy and fan favourite Greg Gatto proved to be the most effective of the Bison forward line. Also back for the Herd were Merv Priest, Steve Brown, Rich Little, Darren Hurley, Patrick Scott and Rick Strachan. New into the team cam feisty hard working forward Graham Garden. From near neighbours Slough the robust and so often a thorn in Basingstoke's side Joe Stefan. On defence, the smooth skating and likeable Mike Shewan arrived along with two giants on the blue line in Shane Dungey and Jason Kendall.
The team also had a new netminder in Sonny Mignacca, but his stint was cut short by injury. The lone Brit on the team was Joe Baird. By the middle of the Benson and Hedges Cup, Blair Scott rated by Woods as his best ever signed had joined the Herd. The B&H Cup this season had a new format with two groups of six, the Bison finished third in the south group so making the quarter-finals where they faced Newcastle.
The away leg saw the teams fight out a 1-1 draw as Garden scored the lone Basingstoke goal. The second leg was just as close after one period as Little equalised for the Herd again. However, the damage was done with three goals in the second session as the Cobras ran out 5-1 winners. On the final buzzer, the home side's Blair Scott and Cobras hard man Rob Trumbley and Carmine Vani were dismissed as tempers frayed. In the league the Bison opened up with a 1-1 tie with Sheffield and then they drew 3-3 with Cardiff before beating Manchester 4-3 in overtime thanks to Conway's winner. Injury to Mignacca in November saw Richard Gallace as the lone netminder and his first three games saw him reel off three wins. The most impressive was against the Sheffield Steelers. The first period started with the teams swapping goals as Ron Shudra cancelled out a Hurley striker. However, by the first buzzer the Herd led 6-1 as Black, Brown, Matt Sharrers, Garden and Priest all found the back of the net. Piero Greco was pulled from the Steelers net, but the goals kept coming as Shewan, Gatto and Brown again all found the back of the net, while Shudra and Tony Hand replied. By the 44th minute, Conway had increased the lead to 10-3, before late strikes from Ed Courtenay, Ken Priestlay and Nicky Chinn gave the scoreline a less one sided feel.
That was one of the most memorable games for the Bison that season which proved a frustrating one as they lost 38 games by two goals or less. They suffered six overtime defeats as they were only beaten in 60 minute relegation time 13 times, just one more than fifth and sixth placed Sheffield and Bracknell - as the Herd had to settle for seventh place in the Superleague. As the season came to close the team picked up their only Stanley Cup winner every to play for the team when former Montreal Canadiens goalie Andre Racicot arrived in town. The final months of the season proved a testing time off the ice as the Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council who owned the Bison's franchise in the Superleague decided to pull the team out of the top flight. This was because the operations of the team Civic Leisure at the time would no longer pick up the heavy losses incurred in playing a team in that league. At the time it looked like Basingstoke would never play in the top flight again, but they were back in 2003 for the inaugural season of the then new Elite League.
With all this happening off the ice the players were unsure of their futures and that was reflected in the play-offs where they only picked up one point. The Superleague dream was over, but to be honest it was more of a nightmare and in hindsight it proved to be the right decision.
After two years in the Superleague, the summer of 1998 saw the Bison moved down to the British National League and the first idea at Basingstoke was to build a team around a Great Britain under-21 team with just imports. It sounded a good one on paper, but was never going to work and was soon ditched. However, the Herd had to re-build and the man brought in to do that job was former Milton Keynes Kings coach Don Depoe, a friend of departing boss Peter Woods. He recruited former Bison Brits in Tony Redmond, who ended the year as team's top points scorer, Chris Chard and Anthony Page, while local players Alec Field, Joe Baird and Adam Cathcart all got their chance. Three other new signings like Field, were GB under-18 internationals that year and they were Gary Clark from Sunderland, Solihull's Jake Armstrong and Chris Bailey from Kingston. Only one import from the Bison Superleague team remained that being Rick Strachan winner of the Defenceman of the Year at the end of that season. Elsewhere all the rest of the foreign legion was new to the club except for returning fans' favourite Rick Fera, who never lived up to his previous spell with the club.
Also joining was former Bracknell Bees hard working forward Mike Ellis from Germany and super sniper Steve Smillie arrived from Kingston. New to this country was the likeable Mitch Grant, along with defenceman Haken Klys and netminder Bjarne Levison both from Sweden. The final import for the team was to make an explosive debut and that was Chris Crombie - a true power forward and the top goal scorer for the team that year. The Canadian became an instant hit with the fans, as he dropped the gloves at the opening face-off in his debut game, with Milton Keynes' Norman Pinnington earning both 2+2+10 penalty after just four seconds. Crombie's debut was in a vital English Cup game as the Bison tried to over turn a 4-1 defeat on the road in MK and they very nearly did it. They hit the pipework four times as they won 5-3, but it was not enough to book a final place. In the league, the Bison came up against the Slough Jets, Guildford Flames, Peterborough Pirates, Fife Flyers, Kingston Hawks, Telford Tigers, Edinburgh Capitals and Paisley Pirates. The team's first shut-out of the season came in early December, as netminder Levison ensure that the Paisley failed to spoil the tenth anniversary game, where former import Mario Belanger was one of the guests as the team won 4-0 to remain top of the league.
The Christmas Cup saw the Bison in a group with Guildford, Slough plus Invicta, Chelmsford and Swindon from the English League premier division. The Herd produced a great record of nine wins from 10 games, to pip Guildford by a point to first place in the group and then booked a place in the final thanks to a semi-final victory over Edinburgh. There they met Peterborough and in the first-leg in front of a capacity 1,800 crowd in Basingstoke, the Bison threw everything at visitors goalie Dan Dennis, a netminding display described by his own coach as his best performance of the season. Crombie scored the lone Bison goal, while strikes from Randy Smith and Ted Russell gave the visitors a 2-1 lead, as Basingstoke lost for the first on home ice that season.
In the return game, the following night in a packed Peterborough. Nathan Rempel scored assisted by former Beaver Andy Pickles and then Matt Beveridge extended the lead to 4-1 on aggregate. Rempel added his second of the night to make for a four goal lead, before the Bison hit back as Strachan and Chard both scored and the visitors then piled on the pressure. The Herd's chances were dashed when Crombie was dismissed after clashing with Rempel - which was a running battle throughout the two games. Man of the final was Dennis as he won both man-of-the-match awards. Returning to league action, the Bison were right in the title race. Depoe felt one last change would bring silverware to Hampshire and lined up a new signing in another gritty forward in the mould of Crombie in Darby Walker. Unfortunately, the Basingstoke management did not allow him to make the change with Fera and that almost certainly cost the Bison the league title. Walker went onto play in the Superleague and no one could handle Crombie at this level, so two players like that would have been amazing. Without the switch the Herd had to settle for second spot in the table losing out to champions Slough with former Bison netminder Richard Gallace and future Herd coach Charlie Colon in charge.
The Jets were the only side to win in Bisonland in the league and in total beat Basingstoke three times out of four to take the title by three points. The final competition of the year was the play-offs and the Bison cruised into the semi-finals, but had to settle for second place in their group behind Guildford. That set-up a clash with Slough in the finals last four in Hull and it most remembered for an incident just four minutes in when Basingstoke forward Page took an elbow to the face which broke his nose and saw him stretchered off the ice semi-conscious. The elbow belonged to Jon Rempel and referee Moray Hanson gave him just to two minutes for his actions. However, Slough received the wroth of all the other fans at the play-off weekend for the rest of it. With import Fera already missing, Depoe had to re-shuffle his lines again and Slough got home with a 3-1 victory with the last goal being an empty netter. It was a sad way to end such a good season described by Depoe as the best ever by a first year team.
The high spot of this season was when the Bison won the club's first trophy in six years, when they were crowned Benson and Hedges Plate winners in December 1999 in Sheffield. The Herd would have added more silverware to that, had it not been for Fife Flyers who beat them in the finals of both the Christmas Cup and the Play-offs. The Bison had a new man at the helm as captain Rick Strachan moved up to take over as player/coach from Don Depoe for the club's second season in the British National League. He was once again voted Defenceman of the Year. The success the previous season saw a core of guys return in imports Mike Ellis, Player of the season Wayne Crawford, Mitch Grant along with Brits Tony Redmond, Joe Baird, Gary Clark, Alec Field. Additions to the team early on were Mark McGrath and Cam Law, both who failed to make an impact and were soon replaced by Jeff Daniels and Dwayne Newman. Other new Canadians were ex-Bracknell Bee forward Peter Romeo, who equalled the club record with five goals in a Benson and Hedges game and then there were new to Britain forward Dru Burgess a brilliant play maker and hard hitting defenceman Duncan Paterson. Strachan showed his faith in British goalie Joe Watkins and the gamble paid off, while a young Brit Danny Meyers was also given a chance to shine.
The season opened with the Benson and Hedges Cup where the Bison won their group over Slough, Guildford and Solihull to earn a place in the Challenge Round. This was a brand new thing in the competition for 1999 and saw Basingstoke pitted against the bottom team in one of the Superleague groups for a place in the quarter-final of the cup. In the Bison's case it was the Sheffield Steelers who came to town, and edged out the Herd 4-1, no bad considering they had twice as many imports! Having won their group, Basingstoke were seeded into the semi-finals of the B&H Plate where they came up against Fife in the semi-final. In the first-leg in Scotland the Flyers led 2-0, but the visitors came back to take the game 5-3. They then completed the job with a 3-3 tie on home ice. That set up a trip to Sheffield to face the Slough Jets in early December, but it was not all plain sailing for the Herd, as fortnight before the game both Grant and Newman were injured. So in came Brian Mason and Greg Gatto. The holders of the Plate, Slough won the first period 1-0, but the Bison drew level thanks to a goal from Baird, but then lost Peter Romeo who was injured. The Jets then had Mark Galazzi stretched off after tangling with Gatto. The final 20 minutes saw the Herd take over the game as gold award winner Ellis scored twice. Then Daniels and Strachan with an empty netter made sure the Basingstoke could start to celebrate long before the final hooter.
In the league, the Bison were looking to go one better than the year before and take the title. Standing in their way were the Fife Flyers, Guildford Flames, Hull Thunder, Peterborough Pirates, Slough Jets, Solihull Blaze (the forerunner of the Coventry Blaze), Edinburgh Capitals, Milton Keynes Kings and the Paisley Pirates. The Bison were always among the leaders as Watkins recorded two shut-outs and two shared shut-outs with Field, but in the end had to settle for third spot. Before that in the Christmas Cup, the lethal BCD line of Burgess, Crawford and Daniels were at their best scoring goals as easily as ABC. In their semi-final encounter with Guildford, the Flames hopes went completely up in smoke as the Bison fans enjoyed a great start to 2000 with a 7-2 victory at the Spectrum quickly followed by a 7-4 success on home ice. The eventual league runners-up being out classed. That set-up a final against Fife and the first leg in Scotland ended 3-3 with Burgess, Crawford and Daniels getting one goal each. The return game in Basingstoke proved just as tight as Fife took the lead twice only for Daniels and Ellis to equalise. Then just when it looked like the game would be decided by sudden death overtime a controversial call by referee Dave Cloutman gave Fife a powerplay and Ted Russell grabbed the winning goal with a man advantage to break the Bison hearts.
As said earlier, the league campaign saw the Bison finish third and by the end of it, Canadian captain Grant was ruled out due to injury and was replaced by former London Knights import Debb Carpenter, a real fast skating forward who made his mark despite only having a short stay with the club. The Bison's play-off group proved to be a tight one as Basingstoke, Guilford and Solihull all finished on eight points, with the Flames being the ones to miss out on a semi-final place. In a best-of-three semi-final, the Bison saw off Peterborough with two straight wins as did Fife over Solihull to set up another meeting between these teams. The final was a best-of-five series, the Herd lost the first game in 6-3, then thanks to a great performance from Stephen Murphy they were edged out 2-1 on home ice, the goalie facing 45 shots. The third game again saw Fife win 2-1 in Scotland to take the series. So the Bison missed out on the season's last piece of silverware, but could celebrate a Plate success and two other finals which was not a bad year's work.
The Basingstoke Bison celebrated another season of winning silverware as they retained their Benson and Hedges Plate crown - the first and only team ever to achieve the feat in what was the last year of the competition. The trophy haul for the Herd would have been a lot larger, had the Guildford Flames not pipped them to the league and play-off crowns. In the summer of 2000, the local council decided that Planet Ice should take over running the Basingstoke Ice Rink. They were one of two bids the other being from John Nike who wanted to make the Bison a farm team to the Superleague Bracknell Bees. Their first job was to find a new coach as Rick Strachan was heading back to the Superleague to join the Cardiff Devils. That they did as Charlie Colon stepped up from bench coach to head coach, with Mike Ellis as his assistant. The starting netminders job saw Bees bound Joe Watkins replaced by fellow Brit Stephen Foster, who won the players' player award at the end of the campaign. On defence, all star defenceman Matt Cote moved down from Superleague Bracknell and formed a great partnership with Cardiff-born James Manson. The hard hitting Neil Liddiard also joined the Herd, while Brian Mason who had covered for injuries the year before earned a full spot on the roster.
The forward line saw the return of Rich Little from Slough, but the star of the offensive was Albie O'Connell. With the introduction of sudden death penalty shots to decide drawn game, O'Connell's lethal finishing made him the penalty shoot-out king only being denied once. Other players to play their part during the season were Swedish defenceman Peter Nyman, import forward Mark Finney who played one game and was dismissed for fighting and that was the last Herd fans saw of him. Canadian forward Rob Douglas also joined as did a young British forward Jonathan Phillips from Milton Keynes. The season started with the B&H Cup campaign and Basingstoke booked their semi-final place in the Plate competition with a 3-2 victory in the winner takes all game against Coventry. That saw the Herd face the Fife Flyers and the first leg was lost in Scotland 2-1. The return at Basingstoke proved just as tight as the Bison took the game into overtime leading 3-2 after 60 minutes. It was left to Little to score an overtime winner past former Bison goalie Bill Morrison who was guesting for the Flyers to book another trip to Sheffield. This time to face the Guildford Flames. Just a fortnight before the final tragedy nearly hit the team as Mason and Colon were involved in a head-on car crash. It left Mason with broken ribs and Colon with a bad neck injury.
A week later and Dru Burgess suffered a knee injury so Wight Raider's Nyman and Jason Coles were drafted in for the final, which saw Colon's first appearance back behind the bench after his car accident. The Herd opened the scoring from Joe Baird as for the second year running he scored in a B&H Plate final and then Jeff Daniels made it 2-0. The Flames hit back to tie the game with five minutes left thanks to Wayne Crawford - a winner the year before with the Bison. However, it was all in vain as Little made sure the Plate returned to Basingstoke as he scored at 54:18 to secure a 3-2 victory with Basingstoke netminder Stephen Foster winning the gold award facing 39 shots. In the British National League, the Bison were up against the same nine teams as the previous year, with the Solihull Blaze now called the Coventry Blaze, otherwise it was the same as the previous year with Guildford, Fife, Peterborough, Hull, Slough, Milton Keynes, Edinburgh and Paisley. The Herd were tipped at 10-1 for the title, a race they were in right up to the wire and they came into the final weekend knowing they could still win the title.
However, a Saturday night loss against Fife 6-2 was then followed up with 5-1 defeat in Guildford as the Flames took the title. Looking back a defeat a fortnight earlier when the Flames won 5-0 in Basingstoke was probably where the championship was lost, when Douglas made his debut for the injured Little. The play-offs saw Basingstoke make the semi-finals through a group which included Slough, Fife and Hull. This after somehow losing to Fife on home ice, the Bison recorded their first win in Kirkcaldy that season the following night with a 4-3 success. That set-up a semi-final with Peterborough and the first leg away saw the Herd 2-0 down after two periods, but goals from James Manson and Dru Burgess ensure the tie was level going into the second game. The other talking point from the first leg, was a mass punch-up at 57:38 which saw 11 players sent to the sin bin. It was sparked off after Foster checked Jesse Hamill, which Mark Pallister took exception and O'Connell jumped in to protect his goalie. It took referee Michael Evans 20 minutes to sort out the penalties, as along with the four players at the centre of incident, four more Bison players and three Pirates were given two minute game misconduct penalties. The super charged home leg the following night was won 3-1 thanks to a brace of goals from Ellis and a single from Andersson. That booked a final place against Guildford, but the season ended on miserable note as they lost the first leg 7-2 and then the second game 5-2.
After winning a trophy in both of the previous two seasons, the Bison were unable to complete a hat-trick of silverware winning seasons. Even if on paper the Herd looked to have their strongest British National League side to date. Added to the firepower of Dru Burgess, Mike Ellis and Rich Little was the return of Chris Brant to where he started his British career and a very experienced sharp shooter from Slough Derek Higdon. Also into the fold came top scoring British forward Gary Clarke who bagged 30 goals in 44 league games in a rare season away from Milton Keynes. Another new Brit to the team was future head coach Ryan Aldridge. Also on the British side of the roster Jake Armstrong returned to the forward line, while Richard Hargreaves and Andy Pickles started the season in Basingstoke but ended it playing on the Isle of Wight. On defence, the Bison still had the flamboyant Jimmy Andersson and the man never afraid to block a shot with his body Matt Cote. The season started for the Herd with the Findus Challenge Cup with Basingstoke drawn in group with fellow BNL side Slough Jets and English Premier League sides Invicta Dynamos and Romford Raiders. As expected the Bison breezed past Romford and Invicta, but drew at home 3-3 with Slough so to setting up a winner takes all clash at the Jets' Hanger home for a place in the semi-final. That proved to a real nail biting game as Basingstoke's new back-up Dean Skinns made a dream debut in the game. He was called into action unexpectedly when Stephen Foster became ill at the end of the second period. So the 16-year-old was given a baptism of fire as he took his place in the pipes with the score at 2-0. The teenager completed the job with a shut-out, and just for good measure his side added a third goal.
A week later, Foster played his last game for Basingstoke, being replaced by Norwegian international Robert Schistad. The semi-finals of the Challenge Cup were in Nottingham and the Bison arrived in the Lace City, minus captain Mike Ellis and cup-tied Rob Lamey to face the Coventry Blaze. Everything looked to be going to plan as Basingstoke built up a 3-0 lead by 41:11 thanks to goals Higdon, Burgess and Little. However, the Blaze turned up the heat and Claude Dumas, Stephen Cooper and Mike Shewan all scoring to send the game into overtime. The Bison came closest to winning it in the extra five minutes, as Brant missed a breakaway chance. So the game was decided by a best of five shoot-out. Burgess failed to get his shot away and then Steve Roberts scored to make it 1-0 to the Blaze. The next round of shots saw Higdon and Dumas have their efforts saved, as did Andersson and Steve Carpenter. Bison's Brant then tied the shoot-out scoring past Ian Burt, only for Hilton Ruggles to make it 2-1 straight away. That left Clarke with a must score penalty and he did not disappoint, but the Bison cheers were short lived, as Coventry captain Steve Chartrand scored the final Blaze shot to book a place in the final where they lost to the Fife Flyers.
In the league, the new kids on the block the Dundee Stars, joined Coventry, Fife, Guildford Flames, Hull Thunder, Edinburgh Capitals, Paisley Pirates, Peterborough Pirates, Slough and the Cardiff Devils. It was the in different league form that soon cost Brant and Higdon their jobs and into the side returned fans favourite Chris Crombie and useful British forward Nick Cross from cash strapped Slough. However, the best signing the team made was more by accident as Canadian forward Dustin Lattery had just been in Britain looking for a team and made his way to Basingstoke. They signed him and the forward picked up 20 points in the last 14 Bison league games. In the end, the BNL campaign saw the Herd beat off last season's champions Guildford and Hull to claim fourth spot, as new boys Dundee coached by Tony Hand took the title.
That meant the Bison made the end of season play-offs and were drawn in a group with champions Dundee, Guildford and Milton Keynes. The Stars from Scotland made a clean sweep of the group on their way to the play-off title. That left second spot and a semi-final place to be battled out between local rivals Basingstoke and Guildford. What's more the sides met on the opening weekend of play-off campaign, the Herd took first blood winning at the Spectrum 3-2, but at a cost as they lost Lattery with concussion. The return 24 hours in Basingstoke saw the Flames avenge the defeat winning 3-0 and in the end that really left the Bison with no way of qualifying unless they had beat Dundee, which they failed to do. The 3-0 defeat with Guilford summed up their season, as they had out shot the home side heavily, but failed to convert it into goals.
A new face, but one of the most well known in British ice hockey in Steve Moria took over the player/coach in Basingstoke for this season, as Charlie Colon took on the new role of Director of Hockey. Moria joined from Superleague Nottingham, but was best remembered for his time at Cardiff. For this season a lot of the previous squad remained, in the likes of imports Mike Ellis who topped the scoring charts in all competitions, Chris Crombie and Matt Cote, while Brits Neil Liddiard, Ryan Aldridge, Dean Skinns and Nick Cross also continued to pull on Bison jerseys. New to the country was Canadian hot shot Peter Campbell, who was the top goal scorer in the league, joining him was French/Canadian Benoit Cotnoir who lasted to November, when he was replaced by Dwight Parrish who joined after the Manchester Storm went bust in the Superleague. Another new player to these shores was netminder Scott Hay, the goalie being dismissed four minutes from the end of his debut game against the Guildford Flames after getting involved in a fight with the Flames' Nicky Chinn. The Herd won the game over their local rivals 4-2 and Hay was an instant hit with the home fans. The import line-up was completed by Daryl Lavoie an offensive defensemen who struggled in Basingstoke after a good year in Hull and AJ Kelham who was drafted in early in the season and due to injuries and stayed longer than expected.
On the British side of the roster the Bison made the great capture from league champions Dundee of talented Paul Berrington and moving up from the English Premier League Isle of Wight team was hard working Marc Levers. As mentioned earlier the season opened with a 4-2 win over Guildford in the Findus Cup, but it came at a price as Moria suffered a knee injury which was to sideline him for six weeks after a knee-to-knee check with David Clarke. The rest of the Bison's Findus Cup group was made up of Coventry Blaze, Cardiff Devils and the Solihull MK Kings. The Herd won their final two games of the series to give them nine points from their eight games one behind Coventry, but they were pipped to a semi-final place, by Guildford who won their final two games to take the group with 12 points. In the British National League, it was Coventry, Dundee, Guildford, Cardiff, Edinburgh Capitals, new boys to the league the Newcastle Vipers, Hull Thunder and Solihull MK Kings that stood between the Bison and league glory.
The injured Moria returned to the Herd in late October and a month later Parrish joined and for the whole season the Bison chased top two pair Coventry and Dundee. They suffered a narrow overtime loss 2-1 to the Blaze in the first game of 2003, where only netminder Jody Lehman stood between the Herd and victory. A fortnight later, Basingstoke produced their best comeback of the season to down the Dundee Stars in Scotland for the first time in seven attempts. The Bison trailed 3-1 at the midway point of the game, but Moria closed the gap to one by the second buzzer and Crombie then tied the game early on in the final period. Further goals from Berrington and Crombie completed a memorable 5-3 victory and dented the reigning champions hopes of retaining their crown. Later, in the same month the British defencemen Neil Liddiard wrote his name into the record books as he picked up seven assists in one game a new record for a home grown player and only two behind the all time record. That helped him to be the top scoring Brit for the team that year. That was in the game in Hull, who by January due to money problems were an all British outfit. Hence the Herd won 13-3 thanks largely to a 6-0 middle session in an Arena so often a fruitless hunting ground for Basingstoke over the years. Despite a good record in the league, in the end the Herd had to settle for fourth spot for the second year running so leaving the play-offs as their final goal for silverware.
The Bison were drawn in group with new champions Coventry, an in-form Cardiff side along with Newcastle. Basingstoke hopes were not hoped by a punishing schedule which saw them start with three games in four day. Their opening game saw Cardiff record their first win over the Herd that season and that was followed by defeat in Coventry and the heartbreaking loss in Newcastle, with the winner coming 19 seconds from time. That left the Herd behind the eight ball and they never recovered, just collecting one win over Newcastle at home which booked them third place in the group. The only consolation for Basingstoke was that Coventry and Cardiff went on to make it to the final, where the Blaze took the play-off crown. As the dust settle on another season, it was revealed that the Bison would once again be returning to the top flight of the game as the Superleague had collapsed and a new Elite League was being formed. It was little ironic considering only four months earlier, Planet Ice bosses had to squash rumours that the Herd would be dropping down to the English Premier League for the 2003/04 campaign.
It was all change for this season as only player/coach Steve Moria and back-up netminder Dean Skinns remained from the previous year's British National League squad as the Bison got ready for the inaugural season of the Elite League. The completely new look team had a completely new look on the ice with green being introduced into the uniforms giving the team the look of the Minnesota Wild. Into the Herd came the very skilful Joe Ciccarello from Superleague Bracknell, who formed a great partnership with Moria. The third member of the top scoring line for the Herd that season was Blake Sorensen who arrived from Solihull. Elsewhere on the team, there was the first ever player from the Czech Republic in super stick handler Martin Filip and the first ever Austrian in hard working Christian Widauer. There were also a couple of Finns in defenceman Kim Vahanen and Markus Takala. Added to that were uncompromising American defenceman Chris Slater, giant blue liner Dave Geris and new Bison captain Phil Roy, but the major import signing proved to be Curtis Cruickshank. The Canadian shot stopper had a superb first season in Britain, returning a 92.2 per cent save rate from over 3,000 minutes between the pipes and rightfully was voted on to the all star team and was also runner-up in the player of the season.
On the British side of the roster, Richard Hargreaves was the club's top home grown player, while teenager Shaun Thompson improved all season and James Hutchinson slotted into a five man defence. The new Elite League saw the Bison face the likes of Sheffield, Nottingham and for the first time Belfast, Manchester and London Racers along with Coventry and Cardiff who also moved up from the disbanded British National League. The Challenge Cup group games were the first of the season as each team play each other home and away which saw the Bison miss a semi-final place finishing sixth. The first of those games was the season opener in Nottingham where due to paperwork problems saw four imports sit out the game. So Nicky Chinn guested and even bench coach for the season Luc Chabot had to lace up his skates as well. Despite this the Herd lost just 2-1, with Cruickshank showed his worth straight off the bat, the following night tried legs told as the Bison lost 10-4 to visiting Belfast. A week later and with nearly a full squad as only forward Matt Reid was still to arrive, saw Basingstoke enjoyed their first Elite League win beating Coventry 3-2 as Moria, Ciccarello and Slater on his debut scored.
November proved a great month for the Herd, as they gained revenge for that early defeat by Belfast as they crushed them 7-2. A game which saw Filip and Widauer both scored. That was followed by a 5-2 win over Nottingham on home ice as Ciccarello bagged Basingstoke's first Elite League hat-trick. That was quickly followed by a 6-2 road win in Nottingham, the Herd's first win in 20 attempts at the Lace City. Soon after that defenceman Slater departed as he not settled in and Takala was released, they were replaced by solid blue liner Doug Schueller and former fans' favourite Darren Hurley. As 2003 came to a close the Bison had taken at least a point off every other team and were in a three way battle with Cardiff and Manchester for the play-offs as the top six made it out of the eight team league. Early in January, Dean Skinns became the youngest goalie in Elite League history at just 19 to record a victory as the Bison beat the London Racers 5-4 after overtime. The teenager got the start after Cruickshank was injured the night before and when he was pulled with a minute to go his team still trailed 4-3.
However, Reid grabbed a late equaliser 24.9 seconds from time and then Schueller scored the winner 13 seconds into the extra period converting a Filip rebound. The following month, a four point weekend proved a great way for new Czech forward Jaromir Kverka to start his Basingstoke career, as he replaced Reid who walked out on the team to return to North America. Kverka helping his new side to their first ever win in Belfast and then a 4-2 home win over London which saw 16-year-old Shaun Thompson score to become the first player of that age in over a decade to find the net in the top flight of British ice hockey. As the season came to a close the Bison faced a winner takes all clash with Manchester which they looked set to lose trailing 3-0, only to tie the game and have to settle for a draw after overtime, as in those days their were no penalty shoot-outs.
A victory in Coventry 5-3 was followed, but defeat at bottom placed London 4-0 dented the Bison's hopes. That was further compounded by a 5-2 home defeat against Cardiff and the play-off hopes were ended when the team suffered a 7-2 reverse against the Belfast. The Bison had to settle for seventh spot, but collected 20 wins in 56 games and only ended five points off of sixth place and only seven behind Cardiff in fifth. So hopes we high that the following season, that the Herd would move up the standings and make the end of season play-offs.
For the second season in a row only two players remained from the previous season as player/coach Steve Moria left to join the London Racers and in came Mark Bernard. The two Herd players to remain were young Brits netminder Dean Skinns and forward Shaun Thompson, who ended the year as the top scoring Bison Brit in the league. This was despite popular Scottish born forward Tony Redmond returning for a ninth season in Basingstoke and setting a new league appearance record for the club during the year. Most of the imports were new to this country and these included the tallest man to ever wear a Bison shirt in six foot seven inch Jeff Ewasko. The enforcer played from the heart and proved to be a big hit with the fans. There was also the team's first ever Slovakian in defenceman Jozef Lukac, who was to finish the season in Coventry winning three trophies. Captain for the season was Shawn Maltby and he ended the year top points man ahead of leading goal scorer Doug Sheppard. The pair certainly formed a lethal combination and add in Mike Ford it completed a line of real offensive punch.
Jeff Corey a cousin on Bernard was just starting hit form when a knee injury ended his season, while grinding forward Steve Ellis never really got going and was soon released. That fate also fell on Dominic Hopkins as another giant on the team, who was replaced by another young Brit in Greg Wood. The defence was led by the very talented offensively minded Duncan Dalmao and he formed a great partnership with Brent Pope later in the season, which led to Lukac being released. Also on the blue line was free skating Jerry Galway and solid stay at home guy Owen Walter and Brit Ricky Skene. The popular Ronnie Vogel was the Bison's last line of defence guarding the pipes. The season started with a draw with eventual league champions Coventry in a game which also doubled up as Challenge Cup match. The Bison were drawn in a group with Coventry and Sheffield and went out on paper easily, but considering they lost both road games 3-2 and drew at home to the Blaze and lost in overtime to the Steelers. It could well have been a different story.
With the demise of Manchester, as they waited for their new rink to be built, the league was reduced to seven teams as the Herd took on the Coventry Blaze, Belfast Giants, Cardiff Devils, Nottingham Panthers, Sheffield Steelers and London Racers. Like the previous season the top six made the play-off so only the bottom team missing out. An added dimension to the season saw a completely new idea for this season where saw every Elite League team face ever British National League team home and away. The points from these games counted towards the respective leagues, so this meant, the Bison faced local rivals Bracknell Bees and Guildford Flames once again and lost all four games. The Bees winning 10-3 on home ice after taking a 5-1 win from Basingstoke, which helped them to their league title with a team which included five former Bison players and two future ones in Greg Owen and Stevie Lyle. The Flames games saw them win 5-2 in Bisonland and then 2-0 at Spectrum where Miroslav Bielik recorded the shut-out. On a brighter note, other than an overtime loss in Dundee, the Bison won the other nine games, doing doubles over the Hull Stingrays, Newcastle Vipers, Fife Flyers and Edinburgh Capitals.
Every Elite League team lost to their BNL rivals, with Sheffield having the worst record only winning eight games. The early results did not go the way the club would have liked and as changes were made with Ellis departing to be replaced by Pavol Rieciciar. He did not prove to be the answer and despite that fact the side never lost when he scored, that unfortunately only happened three times. The Herd season only really started when Steve Gallace, brother of former Bison netminder Richard Gallace from their Superleague days and new to this country Jason Norrie arrived in the new year. Up until then the Bison had been a one line team depended heavily on the forward line of Maltby, Sheppard and Ford and between them they scored 68 of the Bison's league goals, while the rest of the team managed 60.
With the arrival of Gallace and Norrie, the team suddenly had two lines and ended the year with nine wins, one ovetime loss in the final 18 games. In Gallace and Norrie's home debut game against Belfast were beaten 3-2 as netminder Martin Kempa was dismissed for kicking Ewasko just before the second buzzer. The following month, Shaun Maltby's brother Kirk who played for the Detroit Redwings in the NHL came to town and met with fans, as he watched his brother in action in a 6-2 defeat against Coventry. He was able to come due to the NHL lock-out and rumours had been rife all season that he was going to sign for the Herd. Later in February, the Bison retired the number 10 shirt of Kevin Conway as the all-time leading goal and points scorer at the club returned to Basingstoke and unveiled the shirt, before the Bison beat Hull 7-2. With Gallace and Norrie in the line-up the Bison were a match for anyone, but the damage had already been done as the team won just six of their previous 32 games. They also had the unwanted statistic of eight shut-outs during the campaign as they finished bottom of the pile by 13 points. They finished with 30 points and from that 19 had come from games with BNL sides. On a positive note, Bernard proved a breath of fresh air bringing in many new sponsors and the supporters still had a smile on their faces as they left for the summer break as everything looked to be going in the right direction.
Mark Bernard remained in charge for a second season for the Herd in the Elite League and a good core of the players from the previous campaign returned. That included for once the club's top goal scorer Doug Sheppard and top points scorer Shawn Maltby. Also fellow Canadian defenceman Jerry Galway was back, as was Tony Redmond who enjoyed a great testimonial game during the season. Shaun Thompson who unfortunately was so often the team's tenth forward, moved mid-season to Bracknell to continue his hockey development. There were early signs in the summer, that the season ahead for Bernard was going to be a difficult one, after netminder Ronnie Vogel decided not to return and stay in North American. That left the head coach hunting for new goaltender, which he found in former Fife Flyer Steve Briere. However, that did not work out and he was replaced by Jamie Platt, an American who had impressed at Sheffield and Manchester. He lasted even less time using the Bison to get match fit for a return to North America.
So by November Bernard had once again slapped on the netminding pads and come out of retirement to guard the pipes. Another bitter blow in Bernard's team building came on the eve of the season, as defenceman Mike Rees damaged his knee in his last training session in Canada, before heading to Britain. He had been set to link-up again with top British defenceman Danny Meyers from previous year British National League champions Bracknell. That plan scuppered Meyers returned to Bees by November. Other recruitment went a lot better with four new Canadian forwards joining the team in gritty Jim Shepherd, a new sharp shooter in Greg Chambers, the fast skating John Wheaton and an enforcer the club had never seen the like of before in Brad Cruikshank. His penalty minutes tally of 223 nearly pasted Mike Rowe club record tally of 239. The other import forward slot went to the first Latvian to ice for the Herd in Edijs Brahmanis.
On the defence, in came big solid hitter Ryan O'Keefe and also Mark Jackson the replacement for Rees, while Andy Sande who had played under the name of Andy Einhorn a few seasons before also added bulk and height to the blue line. On the British side of the roster, Dan Green was the new back-up goalie, the experienced Mark Galazzi and the very useful Greg Owen joined the forward lines. A later addition to the blue line was Luke Reynolds, the popular young player did not see that much ice time, but built up a great affinity with the Bison fans. The season opened with the Challenge Cup competition, which for this season did not also count in the league. The Herd were drawn in a group with Cardiff, Coventry and London and despite drawing their opening game of the competition, three losses in as many games saw them finish bottom of the group. Cardiff went on to win the cup beating Coventry in the final.
The Elite League for this season had the additional teams from the disbanded BNL in the Newcastle Vipers and Edinburgh Capitals. The Scottish side gave the Herd their first victory of the year in their opening league fixture of the season. The expanded nine team league also included Belfast, Nottingham, Coventry, Cardiff, Sheffield and London. However, London were not to see out the season due to problems with the safety of their Lee Valley rink. The Bison found it hard to get wins, but the first game in December at home was a memorable one, as netminder Bernard scored the final goal of a 5-2 win into an unguarded Newcastle Vipers net.
A week later in the same building, the Bison suffered the heartache of 2-1 loss in overtime to the Nottingham Panthers. However, before the players left the ice Bernard had a blazing row with defenceman Jackson and he never played for the club again. A run of five losses followed, but then the Bison fans got a belated Christmas present as the Herd crushed the visiting Sheffield Steelers 7-1 on home ice. Jim Shepherd led the way with a hat-trick in that game which saw the home side 6-1 after 40 minutes and by then Jody Lehman had been pulled. Hopes were high that the team was going in the right direction, but instead they set a club record 12 games without a win, despite solid American defenceman Brett Larson joining the team. The only game they did not lose was a 4-4 draw in Cardiff in the second leg of a new competition the Knock-Out Cup. This competition was introduced to make up for the fixtures lost when London pulled out of the league. The team also lost 3-2 in overtime to visiting Sheffield, thanks to a penalty shot winner in the extra period. This was awarded by referee Matt Thompson against Bernard for dislodging the net.
Needless to say the netminder disagreed with him and earned a match penalty which was later down graded to a game The Bison cracked their losing run in great style with a 10-2 victory in Edinburgh and followed that on home ice recorded a 6-5 overtime win over the same team. A week later, champions elect Belfast Giants came to town and a massive turn out from across the water travelled to Basingstoke for a game which won clinch the title. However, the Bison spoiled the party, as they turned the form book upside down winning 4-1. This was thanks to a brace from Maltby and right at the death, Belfast's NHL legend Theo Fleury was dismissed for abuse. A draw against Cardiff 4-4, took the Herd off bottom spot and then their only shut-out of the season in Cardiff made sure of seventh spot. Hopes were high for the play-offs, but the loss of Shepherd did not help and the Bison managed just one win. That was a 3-2 home success over Sheffield, as they got nothing out of games with Newcastle and Nottingham.
The summer of 2006 started with Mark Bernard still at the helm for the Herd, but a dream job of assistant general manager in America, saw him depart to be replaced by captain of the previous year Doug Sheppard as the new player/coach. Bernard had already started the recruitment for the new season, but Sheppard added his own stamp on the team releasing already signed John Wheaton and replacing him with Kevin Bergin, who ended the year as the club's top points scorer. Brad Cruickshank continued his role as the club's enforcer, but now also chipped in with plenty of points in what was a solid offence unit as Greg's Chambers and Owen along with Bergin topped 50 points for the year. Also joining to the forward line was new captain Blair Manning a creative play maker. The return of defenceman Duncan Dalmao as assistant coach along with Mark DeSantis a real gutsy player added some firepower to the blue line. A new big man at the back was Eric Braff, who formed a great partnership with returning Ryan O'Keefe. The British side of the roster saw Mark Galazzi and Greg Wood, the main stays of the all Brit third line, who were joined by returning Gary Clark as he stepped up from the Buffalo in late January.
The Bison opened the season with a Challenge Cup game which saw them lose at home to Cardiff 6-4 and the return was also played in Basingstoke as the Welsh side waited for their new rink to be finished. This time the result was a 3-3 draw, which also was the scoreline in Coventry in the next game in this competition. It was a home loss against the Blaze that saw the Bison knocked out of the competition. The Elite League was now made up of the 10 teams as the Hull Stingrays joined from the English Premier League and the Manchester Phoenix returned as their new rink at Altrincham was ready to use. The other seven opponents for the Bison were Belfast, Cardiff, Coventry, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield. The Herd opened the league campaign with 5-1 win over Newcastle, but by November had slipped to the bottom of the pile. When netminder Nick Boucher asked for his release it proved a blessing in disguise as fan's favourite Curtis Cruickshank returned after being axed by Newcastle. In his first game back he helped the Bison to a 2-1 win home win over Nottingham, which was a the first of a clean sweep of victories in Basingstoke over the Panthers that season. A week later, the new goalie got his first of three shut-outs for the season as Hull were beaten 4-0.
That weekend saw back-to-back wins over the Stingrays and the first away game in December saw the Bison spoil the Steelers party in Sheffield for their 1,000 game. The Herd returned 3-2 winners from Yorkshire, the first time the club had achieved that since 1993, as Cruikshank, Bergin and local Sheffield boy Wood all scored. An edge of your seats 1-0 home win over Manchester followed, only for the Herd to then be shut-out in Nottingham. That was a blip as Basingstoke then enjoyed their best ever run of results in the Elite League as they beat Sheffield again this time 4-2. They went to Edinburgh and returned home 5-2 victors and then beat Belfast back-to-back 3-1 in the Odyssey and 4-1 in Hampshire as player/coach Sheppard hit a hat-trick. By now the Bison were in fourth spot, but in the next game they lost 3-2 in Cardiff and worst still was that Sheppard suffered a broken wrist after a freak accident being hit on the arm by a shot. In came Jim Shepherd to replace him, but the team started to struggle and also went out of the Knock-Out Cup in the quarter-final stage losing 6-5 to the Manchester Phoenix. This was a one off game, after the league had announced that Basingstoke had been given a bye. A packed crowd of 1,300 watched the game in which Greg Chambers scored what he thought was the game tying goal at 52:33, only for referee Tom Darnell to wash it out as the felt Jason Wolfe's net was off its moorings.
With the return of Sheppard from injury, Shepherd was released, but in his first game back, the Bison lost to Edinburgh 4-3. Seven days later, Sheppard scored the game winner as the Bison took the scalp of eventual league champions Coventry. The next home game saw Sheppard slam referee Darnell after a penalty shot loss to the Steelers. The mild mannered forward picking up a 10 minute misconduct penalty during the game, after Cruikshank clashed with Shane Johnson and somehow earned 17 minutes in penalties to two for the visitor in a fight where both players threw down the gloves. Later in the match, Sheppard was left fuming again in the shoot-out. This saw Jody Lehman throw his stick at a Greg Owen penalty shot to stop the Brit scoring. A goal should have been awarded, but instead Owen had to take the shot again and it was saved. Just eight days later, the Bison gained revenge with 3-2 shoot-out win in Sheffield following on from a 4-2 home win over Nottingham. However, as the season came the Herd were unable to nab sixth spot and had to settle for seventh. The position may have been the same in recent years, but with a 50 per cent points haul - it was the club's most successful season in the Elite League so far. That set-up a quarter-final play-off with second placed Belfast and hopes were high of a repeat of the December double-header victory. However, defeat in the first leg 3-1 was followed by a 5-3 loss on home ice to end the season.
The summer of 2007 saw husband and wife team David and Sharon Taylor take over running the Basingstoke Bison to add to the Bracknell Bees. Their first decision was to bring in their Championship winning Bees player/coach Ryan Aldridge to take over the helm of the Herd. That meant Doug Sheppard departed to Sheffield to take up an assistant coaching job there. The Taylors increased the Basingstoke budget, which gave Aldridge the scope to build on a good core of guys as first line forward Greg Chambers, Brad Cruikshank and Greg Owen all returned, while big man Eric Braff remained on the blue line and Brits Greg Wood and back-up netminder Dan Green were also back. Aldridge's first major signing was Great Britain goalie Stevie Lyle, which enabled him then to sign 10 import out skaters. Four of which were import forwards, feisty Derek Campbell, a real flair player Danny Stewart both were new to Britain. Aldridge also managed to get sharp shooter Peter Campbell to return to the club and then pulled out the great signing of Steve Thornton. He joined as assistant/coach and supplied even more creativity to the offence.
Add on to that the signing of high scoring Russian born, but British classified Slava Koulikov the forward lines looked as good as any in the Elite League. The defence also shaped up well with former NHLer Dean Melanson joining along with giant Wes Jarvis and offensive defenceman Kyle Peto. It all looked good for the Herd to do even better than their previous year. The first weekend of the campaign saw a 7-4 win in Manchester with Thornton grabbing a hat-trick and that was quickly followed by home wins over Hull and Sheffield. However, the cash flow at the club was already becoming a problem. By the middle of October, Lyle and Pete Campbell helped the team out as they departed for Belfast and ironically made their debuts against Basingstoke as the pair turned the Giants season around. For the Herd it started a run of losses ended when Green back stopped the Bison to a 5-4 Challenge Cup win over Belfast. That victory booked them fourth spot in a group, which also included Nottingham, Cardiff and Coventry. The Bison's only other point in the competition came with a 4-4 tie with eventual winners Nottingham.
With injuries to Peto and Melanson and no money for replacements, coach Aldridge returned to the ice. By November, the Taylor's had their licence to operate the Bison cancelled and Tomas Enerston took over. His first game at the helm saw a debut for Finnish defenceman Mikko Purontakanen to replace broken wrist victim Kyle Peto and it also saw the return of Curtis Cruickshank to guard the pipes. He recorded a shut-out in a 3-0 win over Edinburgh, which was Koulikov's last game and British defenceman Ben O'Connor also left as the fallout from the Taylors reign continued. Another face changed on the defence as captain Melanson was forced to leave due to a head injury and was replaced by David Vychodil. The C went to forward Brad Cruikshank, a major player in keeping the team together in the dark days earlier in the season. With an upbeat feel in the Basingstoke Arena, the Bison turned over Coventry just before Christmas.
However, it came at a price, as play maker Thornton injured his hand in a fight and only played a few more times in the rest of the season. One game he did play was the superb 6-0 win over the Cardiff Devils in early January in the Knock-Out Cup, a competition which up until then Basingstoke had failed to register a win in. The return leg in Wales saw a 5-3 loss, but that did not stop the Herd stampeding into the final four to face Hull Stingrays. Once again the first leg was on home ice and Basingstoke looked to be heading for an advantage to take to Yorkshire as they led 2-1. However, referee Michael Hicks endeared himself to the Bison fans with a harsh delay of the game penalty and Hull squared the game. The return later in February saw the Basingstoke minus injured trio Derek Campbell, Thornton and Vychodil and after the game was tied at 2-2 at the end of the second period, the Herd skate away with the game winning 5-2.
That set-up a final showdown with the Coventry Blaze who had already secured the league crown. For the third time in the competition, the first leg was in Hampshire and the Bison upset the form book once again taking the honours over the Blaze 4-2. Basingstoke so often nicknamed the Bison 10 then travelled to the Skydome for a league encounter and came away 4-1 winners to keep them level on points with the Edinburgh Capitals with three games to go. Just two days later, the Herd returned to Coventry for the second-leg of the Knock-Out final. A massive turn out from Bison fans saw them have plenty to cheer about as after two periods the match score was tied at 2-2, so overall Basingstoke still led 6-4 on aggregate. However, that final 20 minutes was a bridge too far as the Blaze showed their offensive might scoring four times to take the trophy. The following weekend, Coventry finally got a win in Hampshire, their first since the opening day of the season winning 4-1 and with Edinburgh producing shock win in Sheffield a chance of a top eight place was gone. The Bison had to settle for ninth place and so missed out on the end of season play-offs, but had given their fans a season to remember despite the lack of players.
If the previous season had been a roller coaster year, this campaign was a real white knuckle ride. Which was a real shame as it was the club's 20 year anniversary season, but they had little to celebrate other than survival. The Bison had been close to becoming extinct a few times earlier in their history, but this time only rink bosses Planet Ice taking over the team saved them. On the eve of the season a bolt out of the blue saw Tomas Enerston telling fans at a special meeting he needed Â£30,000 to make sure the team completed the season. A brilliant effort by the fans not only in Basingstoke, but right across Britain, along with a major donation from Cardiff Devils owner Matt Burge made sure the Bison made the start line. A good summer recruiting had seen Ryan Aldridge retain fans' favourites Greg Chambers, Brad Cruikshank and Eric Braff, while returning Danny Stewart was late addition.
New American nettie Kevin Reiter proved to be a brilliant signing and the defence was beefed up with big hitters Jason Goulet and Curtiss Patrick joining along with offence minded Trevor Read and Basingstoke-born Kurt Reynolds. The former Basingstoke junior player making his senior debut via Guildford and a few years in Canada. The forward lines included well known enforcer Jeremy Cornish, solid performer Matt Miller, future captain Brent Hughes and Brits Mark Richardson, Shaun Thompson and Ross Bowers. For the Herd's final year in the Elite League they were up against Belfast, Cardiff, Coventry, Edinburgh, Hull, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield. Unfortunately the late financial problems saw the team start the league campaign short staffed. Netminder Reiter flew straight into Britain and then onto Belfast to make his debut in a baptism of fire against the Giants.
His home debut against Cardiff did not go to plan either as the Herd lost 7-2, but the following night he inspired his side to their first victory of the season in a Challenge Cup game in Wales as he turned away 48 shots in a 4-3 win. In that game the Bison led 2-1 thanks to goals from Hughes and Stewart and then had to kill off a five minute powerplay after Cornish was dismissed for butt ending. Despite this Read extended the lead to two goals by the first buzzer. Even if Cardiff tied the game after 40 minutes, Stewart grabbed the game winner.
However, the storm clouds were gathering as the money worries mounted. The crisis came to a head in mid October, when coach Aldridge quit to be quickly followed by captain Cruikshank as well as number of other players. Enerston made Braff the player/coach with Cornish and Chambers taking over as his assistants. The defenceman's first game in charge saw a 4-1 victory over Hull, but by the last weekend in October, Enerston had disappeared from Basingstoke and the team played on without pay beating the Edinburgh Capitals 7-2. Planet Ice stepped in to run the team and the coaching staff remained the same. The team was now down to seven imports Hughes, Cornish, Read, Chambers, Braff, Stewart and on Miller's final weekend he signed off with two wins. An overtime success over Edinburgh and an amazing 4-1 win in Coventry, where Reiter produced a super human display as he faced 66 shots, while Stewart grabbed a hat-trick. British forward Warren Tait arrived the following weekend as a team of 14 faced the might of Nottingham in the defence of their Challenge Cup. It was looking bleak for the Herd as the Panthers raced away to a 3-0 first period, but by the second buzzer the scores were level thanks to Hughes, Chambers and Tait. Then amazingly, Thompson grabbed the game winner with 12 minutes to play and then Chambers hit the empty net for a 5-3 victory to knock the holders out.
The final superb win of November saw them beat eventual champions Sheffield beaten after a thrilling penalty shoot out. The Bison then booked themselves their first ever Challenge Cup semi-final date following an 8-6 win in Hull. December was more barren for victories, but the final home game of 2008, did see the Bison beat Hull again 5-4. At the time the home fans did not realise that would be the team's last success of the season.
Three days later in the final game of 2008 in Edinburgh, netminder Reiter suffered a bad ankle injury after a collision with Adam Selfishen which ruled one the goalie until early February. This left the Bison forced to use EPL British netminders in his place and they did an excellent job, but could not stop the team suffering a losing streak which also saw them lose to Manchester in the Challenge Cup semi-final. While many players left, the team did add a number of imports in Canadians Mike Olynyk, Corey LeClair joining along with Eastern Europeans Ivo Mocek, Robert Pospisil and Andre Niec, but the last three months of the campaign proved a tough one as the Bison finished unsurprisingly bottom. One bright note was leading points scorer Chambers finished fifth in the league's scoring race despite playing for the Elite's worst team as he racked up 72 points. As soon as the season was over Planet Ice announced the team would be dropping down to the English Premier League for the following season much to the relief of the Bison fans