On Sunday night a packed Bison arena saw the Basingstoke men exit the Play-off competition, falling short of getting to Coventry to defend the second half of the 13/14 double. The Bison will technically remain Premier Cup champions as that competition was shelved in 14/15 for the English Challenge Cup competition.
Following an intense battle where Manchester Phoenix slipped their way into the lead in the middle period and held on to that lead until the end of the game a massive deflated home crowd stayed for the post match presentations and to clap their team off the ice for the final time.
The post match presentations included a special presentation to Tony Hand who retires from the game at the end of this season, the presentation made by Bison captain Nicky Chinn. It would be hard to argue against Hand being due recognition as his playing career comes towards its end but the Scot has at least one more and maybe two more games in him as he takes his place on the ice at 5pm on Saturday at Coventry to play the MK Lightning in the second semi-final.
As the Bison left the ice, the fans clapped the team off the ice and the players knew that their season was done. One in the ranks however knew that his career was done and finding out after the Nick Chinn had played his last game I was gutted to have not known before getting home from the arena. The Bison Captain announced his retirement on Twitter following the teams 1 goal aggregate defeat at the end of the quarter-finals. There had been no warning, no pre-emptive announcement like Tony Hand had made, and at the end of the evening the Bison Captain remained in the shadows so as not to overshadow Tony Hand’s presentation, even making the presentation himself to Tony Hand.
Not the way I wanted to end it but we couldn’t have tried any harder. Thanks to all involved in my career it’s been emotional. #bisonforever
— Nick Chinn (@nickchinn27) March 29, 2015
So what have the Bison lost? What has UK hockey lost? A lot is the simple and most accurate way to sum it up. Now in his 40s and in a respectable day job with the Fire Brigade “Chinndross” changed his game a few years back to be a different player to the player who burst onto the scene in the late 80s with the Cardiff Devils. Back then he played a more aggressive game, never afraid to drop the gloves for himself or his team. Indeed his reputation for physicality often unfairly overshadowed his genius on the puck!
In 1990/91 he began his international career, scoring 3+1 from 7 games in the GB Under 20s and as his numbers and reputation continued to grow at a rapid rate with the Cardiff Devils he made his GB senior debut in 1993/94, the same season where his numbers his 100 points in a regular season (51+49). His GB senior debut was a little quieter going pointless in 6 games but the following year his first senior international goal came when he was recalled for the GB team.
The following season he moved from his native Wales to Yorkshire where he started his association with the Sheffield Steelers. In 1998/99 he was back in Cardiff and would also make his final GB appearances with 2+3 from 7 games for his country.
In 2000/01 he signed with Guildford Flames, of the BNL, and that was where I first got to see him regularly as an opponent. We had seen him in Slough before as an opponent when the Jets had been drawn against the higher league teams in the B&H Cup competition. As expected the lower league teams exited the competition after the initial group stage, dropping into the B&H plate but Slough Ice Arena had had its first taste of watching Nicky Chinn.
With his signing in the BNL he became a regular visitor to the Hangar with the Flames but in 2003/04 in a season split with 3 clubs Nicky Chinn first donned a Slough Jets jersey, brought to the Hangar by Warren Rost. He returned for 2004/05 before being re-called by Guildford Flames but such was the professionalism of the man that when the Flames season ended and he could have sat back and enjoyed his summer he returned to help Slough in the post-season play-offs.
After a year in Bracknell he signed with the Jets for Head Coach Steve Moria and spent three seasons with the club. In 2007/08, as club captain, he was the man who lifted Slough’s first trophy in a decade when the Jets fans got to see the EPIHL Play-off trophy lifted by one of their own players.
In 2009/10 Steve Moria left the Jets and took with him Nicky Chinn who traded the Slough “C” for the Basingstoke “C” as the Bison took a place in the EPL. He’d played 2 games on loan with the Bison in 2003/04 in the Elite League but this was the first of two full time spells with the Herd. He continued to be successful despite approaching an age where many players have already retired and he punished his former club with all 3 goals in a shut-out win for the Bison over Slough.
In 2012/13 he spent a season with the Milton Keynes Lightning, as an alternate Captain. It would be one of the least productive spells of his career leading to many writing him off as done. Given the chance to return to Basingstoke and once again wear the “C” he would go on to prove that despite having had an off season the previous year he was in fact definitely not done and would lift not one but two trophies in the season, getting to lift the Premier Cup on home ice in mid March and the EPL Play-off trophy in Coventry in early April.
He was re-signed for 2014/15 and once again led the Bison with the “C” in what would then turn out to be his final season, passing the impressive mark of 500 EPL games in the process.
I had the pleasure of getting to know Nicky Chinn well when he played for Slough. It was an equal pleasure to getting to watch him play regularly for my team, something which I have once again done this season having adopted the Bison. On the ice he is a fierce competitor, off the ice he is a gentleman.
As a young man he played a fearless game. He was strong and skilled and not afraid to use either attribute. He could stick handle a puck with precision with just one hand on the stick while using the other to ward off any over keen opponents. He then had the knack of quickly getting that second hand back on the stick to either bury the puck in the net or lay off a perfect pass and allow someone else to do the goal scoring. He played the game that way, selflessly. He was always happy to allow others to take the credit and glory, was happy to forgo chances for glory to lay off the puck to others to allow them the goal scoring opportunity.
As he carried on the game understandably the frequency of the “extras” faded from the game but by this stage his physical presence and reputation was often enough to get the job done. I recall two instances of the differing styles of physical play. I recall in 2007/08 a very angry Nicky Chinn looking for a scared Andrew Sharp (then of Romford Raiders). Nicky wanted to offer out Sharp but the Raiders man was skating away as quick as he could! In contrast, just in this season, I recall a game at Guildford where Branislav Kvetan had crossed the physical line in the opinion of the Bison Captain. While the Flames man was happy to argue and jostle with Aaron Connolly the minute the Captain arrived and had some words Kvetan backed off and the situation was immediately dispersed.
Taking to the ice with a bit of chewing gum and wearing a visor-less helmet Nicky Chinn gave the impression of being very laid back which is in fact just an impression. He played the game with the very same intensity in his last game as his first and any in between. He played for the team, he played to win and he played to entertain the fans. But his contribution is about more than the very impressive numbers he put up. He brought experience and leadership that we may not see again. His career spanned generations of the sport, it spanned styles of play and in addition to the numbers he put up himself, in addition to the hits he laid off his experience will have benefitted every young player that has had the opportunity to play alongside him.
When the dust settles on 2014/15, irrespective of whether or not Manchester go on to win the Play-offs I’m certain the focus will be on how the Phoenix and the sport move on without Tony Hand on the ice.
Let it not be forgotten than an equally brilliant career also came to an end in March 2015. Nicky Chinn played the game in a very different way to Tony Hand but his contribution has been equal. He bows out with a point per game or greater in the British Hockey League, British National League and English Premier Ice Hockey League. He has 13 international points for his country, he has an impressive winners medals collection across leagues including the prestigious GB Player of the Tournament at the 93/94 World Championships. He has brought smiles to many fans faces as they’ve marvelled at one of his goals, some of his puck control or indeed one of his tilts.
Every career has to come to an end at some time and Nicky Chinn now feels the time has come to call an end to his hockey career. The sport is now that bit poorer for his retirement. A skilled player, entertainer and showman won’t be taking the ice for any team in 15/16. Nicky Chinn has given a lot to the sport over a 27 year senior career and once the sadness of Sunday’s loss fades I hope he will look back over the 27 years with a large amount of pride and satisfaction.