It’s been a busy off-season away from the ice for the Cardiff Devils and away from hockey for myself. While the Devils acquired some new faces, I have met some new faces of my own in my new job.
Now I’m more settled into my new routine I feel I’m ready to commit back into this blogging/spouting my opinion to my one reader. So with hockey returning to the Welsh capital (at least a game that ends with an allocation of points) on Sunday night I think now is a good time to discuss my thoughts on this new Cardiff Devils roster.
It was a pretty successful preseason for the team, lengthy as well. It began back with a visit from a KHL side in the UK for the first time ever as Medveskag Zagreb visited our shores in a weekend that was a win for the team despite the two results. Two losses but a showcase of hockey in the UK and great exposure for the Devils, who have been one of the best teams in the UK since the new owners bought the team.
After that, Banska Bystrica came to town and split the victories with one each, and since then, the Devils haven’t lost. One win against Dutch side Tillburg Trappers and two against the Coventry Blaze followed, setting the team up with momentum as they begin their 2016/17 campaign with an away trip to Manchester on Saturday.
So what about the team? Well once again, Player-coach Andrew Lord has kept the core group largely in tact. Ben Bowns returns to protect the net and this time he’s joined by Tom Murdy who joins from EPL side Telford and replaces Mike Will who has moved on to the Guilford Flames.
Straight away the team has upgraded defensively, that’s no knock on Will, I’ve always rated him as a solid EIHL backup and even better EPL starter, so it’s good to see him move on to a bigger role, but Murdy is an upgrade to the back up role.
At 25-years old he’s young enough to still be able to improve and he seems to have a good chemistry with Bowns who will likely be in contention to win his second EIHL Netminder of the Year award (only the second Brit to do so behind Belfast Giants goalie Stephen Murphy).
Moving on from the goaltending situation to the defensive unit, four players have moved on and three have come in.
Trevor Hendrikx has gone to the Braehead Clan, Carl Hudson has gone to Chamoinix-Morzine in France while Tyson Marsh retired and Mark Smith moved on to the Swindon Wildcats.
That left Brits Josh Batch and Mark Richardson as well as imports Andrew Hotham and Gleason Fournier.
Joining them on D this season are Mark Louis and Scott Hotham with local boy Callum Buglass on a two-way deal with Swindon.
Louis is the replacement for Hendrikx who was the Devils tough guy last year, now no disrespect for the now Braehead blueliner, but Cardiff not only improved their toughness with 6’4″ Louis but they also get an upgrade on defense. He’s a big boy but he’s shown he’s a competent in all situations, while he won’t be putting up points at as steady a pace as he will penalty minutes, you won’t see him get burnt past with speed as much as the older Hendrikx.
Hotham is essentially a more defensive minded and right-handed version of his brother, Devils fans know what they’re getting with Andrew, now with older brother Scott in the city they get another point scoring defenseman who can clean up on the back-end, allowing the more offensive defenseman in Andrew and Gleason Fournier to push up whenever they can.
There was a lot of retirements up front this year, and a lot of younger guys. Zach Hervato, Leigh Salters and Ryan Russell all called it time on their young guys, with none of them yet to celebrate their 30th birthday. Hervato fulfilled his dream for after his career as a player as he joins his local towns fire department, Salters was unfortunately left with risking further injury if he continued and Russell became a scout.
Brent Walton was another retirement after a season ending knee injury, while the only forward to move on to anther team is Czech winger Tomas Kurka who joins the Rostock Pirates of the German third tier.
With so many players leaving, Andrew Lord continues as player-coach and has managed to keep the core group together.
Brits Chris Jones and Luke Piggott are back, and while they’ll be lucky to reach double figures in points, their tenacity and willingness to battle in the dirty areas makes them important parts of the unit.
Last year’s leading scorer Joey Martin is back, as well his former EIHL 50 goal scorer Guillaume Doucet. Jake Morissette is back, this time as captain, and looking the best he’s ever been and then childhood friends Chris Culligan and Joey Haddad are back for a third year.
Now to look at the new guys, for a while it looked like too much skill and not enough size on the front end, but keep reading because if you’ve been living under a rock you missed one of the marquee signings of the summer.
Lord seems to appreciate good chemistry, it was impressive enough when they signed Sean Bentivoglio from Italian side Asagio, then they added teammate Layne Ulmer as well, giving himself two-thirds of one line straight away. Both players are quick and skilled and potential first liners for the team, and while they compliment each other beautifully they also have the ability to raise the game of whichever forward joins them on a line, and they look to be great options for the power play unit.
Another forward has joined from Europe and that is Canadian born Croatian international David Brine who last played for Löwen Frankfurt in Germany. Brine suited up 9 times in the NHL for the Florida Panthers in 2007-08. While he’s not the point scorer of the bunch, Brine is a solid two-way centre who should be a key penalty killing forward.
After a year out, Patrick Asselin is back playing hockey with the Devils. The last time he played was in Denmark during the 2014-15 season for SønderjyskE, a team he won the Danish championship with three times. In his last season he was better than a point-per-game with 47 points in 33 games.
Hometown boy (well, man now) Matt Myers is back after a year with the Nottingham Panthers who he has spent most of EIHL career with. A big body and a powerful skater, Myers put up 35 points for the Panthers last year and will likely better that total this year in what appears to be a stronger offense.Embed from Getty Images
With a lot of skilled forwards, some fans (and myself) were worried if the team had the size would hold up for the year, then the Devils made their final signing.
Former NHLer Patrick Bordeleau joins as the heavy weight on the front end to complete the roster.
A career enforcer in the show, Bordeleau will show he can use his hands for things other than fighting when he makes his debut tonight against the Manchester Storm.
On a separate note, with Jay Rosehill and Brian McGrattan also in the EIHL this year, the big boys will have one hell of a show to put on.
So that’s the Devils line up, they begin their year tonight against the Manchester Storm, then tomorrow they play their home opener against Braehead, and with Lords team they should be back in the top two and fighting for the title for the third year in a row.