Anthony Russell is a passionate hockey fan with incredible hockey knowledge. We all know my obsession with Germany (if you don’t, now you do and don’t ask why.) and I jumped at the chance to learn more about the game there when Anthony asked to lend me a hand. Even if it is third tier, it’s a good look at seeing where hockey fits in Deutschland.
Along with giving me a great look at another EPIHL team, the Basingstoke Bison, Anthony runs his own blog covering the team and league itself. You can find that here.
March Hockey: Where are you located and how did you get into hockey?
Anthony Russell: I’ll take the second part of that first; I studied German at university which necessitated living there for a bit and I moved over in 2004. I lived in Rostock which is a town on the coast of the Baltic Sea and used to be part of communist East Germany. I walked to the end of the road and saw a poster that said “Neue Futterzeit, Sonntag 19 Uhr, REC Piranhas, Eishalle Schillingallee”. I went along, fell in love with Rostock Piranhas (and I still am) and it’s a love affair that’s lasted 10 years. When I left Germany to come back and finish my degree I realised I wanted to keep watching ice hockey. I had two choices; either get a bus to a train to a boat to go to the Isle of Wight and watch the Wightlink Raiders or get on a train to Basingstoke to see the Bison. That was November 2005 and I’ve been a mutual Piranhas and Bison fan ever since.
MH: What makes you a passionate fan of the Bison and of Rostock?
AR: I’m a sucker for punishment? In all seriousness I’m passionate about both teams for different reasons. I’m passionate about Rostock because they were my first connection to the sport. I fell into that and this weird English speaking dude has been embraced by people and the club. Basingstoke was my choice. I had a choice of a couple of places and that was the one I chose, albeit for convenience because I was a poor university student at the time but I chose them and stuck with it. We have won a sum total of zero trophies (sorry folks, the Oliverra 4on4 tournament doesn’t count) been in 2 cup finals that we lost, been to one finals weekend where we got knocked out in the semi final on sudden death penalties, nearly been bust twice but I keep going back. The sport and this club and the people I’ve met keep me going back.
MH: Does Basingstoke do enough for fan interaction and support?
AR: I think we’re better than we were. When the club dropped from the Elite League to the EPIHL, the relaunch of the Booster Club certainly helped as that conduit for a connection between the fans and the club. They organise events and all sorts. As always, we’ll see what the reality on the ground is from the club itself. The one thing I always think that British hockey would benefit from is what the Germans do have and that’s multiple fan groups. Rostock has 9 recognised fan clubs; they have to meet certain criteria to be recognised and get involved in organisation events and there’s a liaison from the club to the groups. I’d massively advocate different fan clubs under the banner of the Booster Club as a means of keeping things in order and raising money for the club. I appreciate that people may feel that it would make things cliquey but it seems to work for clubs all over the world.
MH: If you could change one thing about the EPIHL, what would it be and why?
AR: I’d get the board of our governing body, the English Ice Hockey Association together in a room and knock their heads together. The EPIHL is designated as a development league which means a variety of things to different people. It means foreign players can’t play in our league if they require a work permit to do so but by the same token they want this entertaining league and it to be all bells and whistles. The EIHA needs to either make this a development league in the truest sense of the word, introduce a veteran’s rule and wage cap and work with the EIHL to get players on contracts like NHL/AHL deals and allow a 2nd tier league to evolve from those who don’t want to be in that sort of thing or it embraces what the EPIHL actually is which is more a version of DEL 2, drop the development tag and allow players from anywhere to play in it. In true British sense we carry on regardless and nothing changes because the status quo apparently works but I can’t help but feel the current system is harming the sport in the long run.
MH: Who is one player to look out for on each team and why?
AR: For the Bison it’s Kurt Reynolds. Sadly he broke his ankle at the half way point last season and it cost the Bison dearly. He has arguably been the best defensive player, British or otherwise for the last 2 seasons.
For Rostock I’m intrigued by Josh Rabbani who played his college hockey at RPI. I’ve watched some vids of him and I’m interested to see how he’ll do for us.
MH: How do you think the upcoming season is going to play out?
AR: For Rostock we’ll likely get to the promotion playoffs and get hammered again because our conference is awful. German 3rd tier play within conference till the promotion playoffs and our league is just so much weaker than the other conferences.
For Basingstoke, I think the EPL will actually be relatively close to what it was last season. Teams have tweaked, us included but there’s not a massive amount that makes me think there’ll be a massive change in the standings from last year. That will get me moaned at by fans of some teams but there’s no evidence for me that teams that finished 6th or 7th or 8th will be 2nd or 3rd at the most.
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