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Basingstoke Bison boss Doug Sheppard says English Premier League title is the aim this season
It was a case of so near and yet so far for the Herd last season as they finished second in the league and were knocked out at the semi-final stage of both the play-offs and EPL Cup.
The 2013-14 season gets under way this weekend – and having set his sights on winning the title that Bison fans crave so much, Sheppard, pictured above, is in no mood to hide his ambition.
“Last year, we were competitive but we came up a bit short,” he said. “It is definitely the plan to go one better and we have got the team to do it. That is the goal and what we are working towards.
“The league is a lot longer and really sorts out the best team. You need a bit of luck and for your guys to stay healthy, but it’s a test played out over seven months, while the play-offs or the cup can be won by a team that hits form at the right time.
“We want to be in contention for all three trophies again and, hopefully, this year we will come hot at the right time.”
These are bold claims, but Sheppard has recruited well over the summer.
Losing top netminder Stevie Lyle was undoubtedly a blow, but the signing of home town favourite Dean Skinns will have eased fans’ fears.
Slovakian Miroslav Vantroba and Joe Baird will bolster an already strong defensive unit, while Tomas Karpov, Tim Burrows, Nicky Chinn and Aaron Connolly give Sheppard more options in attack.
“I am more than happy with what I have got this year,” the Bison boss added. “All of the new guys have fitted in well, not only on the ice but in the locker room as well.
“There is a good vibe and we all know we are here to win trophies. There’s no question we are stronger than we were last year. We have definitely upgraded our squad and will be difficult to play against.”
The Bison will be looking to get their season off to the perfect start on Saturday, when the Swindon Wildcats make the short trip to the Basingstoke Arena (face-off 6.30pm).
The Wiltshire side will be out for revenge after being dumped out of the play-offs by the Herd last season, and there has been plenty of movement between the two clubs over the summer.
Skinns and Baird have joined the Bison from Swindon, with Lyle and defenceman Alex Symonds going in the other direction as the Wildcats look to improve on the seventh-place finish they achieved last season.
“On paper, Swindon are a really good side,” Sheppard said. “They have brought in a lot of big names and will be tough to beat.
“We have got to expect close games every night though. We have to turn up, be as competitive as possible and play our A game, or we could be in trouble.”
Saturday’s game is the Bison’s only fixture of the opening weekend and, like many of the early games, it also counts towards the EPL Cup.
One of the Herd’s strengths last year was their form at the Basingstoke Arena and Sheppard wants that to continue.
“We had an outstanding home record last year,” he said. “The fans play a part because they are the loudest in the league and make for an unbelievable atmosphere – so we want to carry on winning for them.”
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