Ten Teams in Ten Days is the 2013/14 Chasing Dragons EIHL season preview, looking in depth at one EIHL team a day from now up until the August Bank Holiday weekend-the last weekend before the start of EIHL preseason. Today we head for the valleys and take a look at the Cardiff Devils.
“I have reason to believe, that I have victories to taste…”
Dashboard Confessional: “Reason To Believe”.
The Cardiff Devils have one of the proudest records in the EIHL-they’ve never failed to reach the Final Four of the playoffs in ten years of the EIHL era, losing in the final in three out of the last four, and never finished outside of the top five-an impressive achievement indeed for a team that’s seen more of its fair share of turmoil throughout its EIHL life. Last season they once again finished fifth, but with Edinburgh only two points behind them the gap was close enough to give the Devils a few sleepless nights near the end of the season. Gerad Adams and Neil Francis are widely viewed as among the best coaching teams/recruiters in the EIHL, and the Red Army are fiercely proud both of their team and their status defending the ice-hockey honour of Wales. So all the ingredients for the Devils to once again have another good season are there off the ice-let’s take a look at them on it.
#30 Dan LaCosta, #15 Joseph Myers
After the signing and then loss of Frank Doyle to Sheffield, who was arguably the best netminder recruited this season, many wondered if Gerad Adams could match that recruitment coup. He not only did that, he surpassed it. Former Columbus Blue Jacket Dan LaCosta has the potential to be the best netminder in the EIHL this season by some distance, posting a save average of over 95% in his four NHL games and hitting the prime of his career at 27 as he comes to Cardiff. Goalies this good simply don’t play in Britain normally in their primes…but LaCosta’s unique circumstances (he spent a season away from hockey in 2010/11 before playing in the Canadian University system the past two seasons, otherwise he could well still be an AHL starter or even NHL backup) meant that Adams was able to snap him up in a deal that means missing out on Frank Doyle may be the best thing that happens to the Devils this season. Behind him, local product Joe Myers once again assumes backup duties.
#5 Mark Smith, #17 Mark Richardson, #20 Brad Plumton, #22 Tyson Marsh, #41 Josh Batch, #42 Adam Ross
Some teams like their defence to contain an abundance of flashy skaters and offensive skills. Others like their D to be a hard-hitting group that will punish opposition forwards who have the temerity to enter their zone. The Devils unit is definitely of the second type. In Adam Ross, Josh Batch, Tyson Marsh and Mark Smith Adams has four d-men who love to impose themselves physically on opposition forwards, Marsh is also an asset going forward as a big body and big blue-line shot on the powerplay. Mark Richardson is arguably Great Britain’s top offensive defenceman after taking the crown from the aging Jonathan Weaver over the past few seasons, and Brad Plumton can play both ways and will be a solid secondary blue-line offensive threat, while Batch continues to develop into one of GB’s brightest young stars. This is a unit perfectly built for the friendly confines of the Big Blue Tent while also able to perform on the bigger ice, and will provide Dan LaCosta with a solid unit in front of him all season.
#2 Rupert Quiney, #4 Adam Harding, #6 Ben Davies, #8 Matthew Myers, #11 Mac Faulkner, #16 Chris Jones, #21 Luke Piggott, #23 Max Birbraer, #25 Phil Hill, #55 Gerad Adams, #61 Chris Blight, #71 Andrew Lord, #88 Andrew Conboy.
When you look at the Devils forward lines the two words that jump out immediately are “depth” and “physicality”. The Devils can easily roll four lines of forwards if required, and with the majority of British players locally-born it’s a clear testament to the strength of the Cardiff junior system. However, starting at the top the import star of the group is undoubtedly Mac Faulkner. The King City, Ontario native is one of the most dynamic forwards in the league, scoring at a clip of 1.5 points a game (including 35 goals) despite having last season interrupted by injury-indeed, he was joint-third EIHL goalscorer last season despite playing twelve games less than his rival David Ling. Faulkner is a genuine game-winner, along with his less-heralded but equally good partner in crime Chris Blight. The other massive signing for the Devils this offseason is Matt Myers, who is amongst the best two-way players in the league and gives the Devils an enviable one-two punch at centre with Ben Davies another local product whose stock is rising and becoming more and more skilled each season behind them.
Speaking of punching, the Devils have more than a few forwards who are unafraid of the physical stuff. Gerard Adams, Andrew Conboy, Max Birbraer and Andrew Lord will all ensure defencemen never get a moment’s peace in their own zone with Birbraer in particular more than capable of finishing off an attack too-Conboy too is a very good power forward/agitator.
The depth keeps coming, too…the Devils arguably have the best Brit pack in the league with Phil Hill likely to take 2nd line wing duties and the energetic Adam Harding and Luke Piggott ensuring that the opposition will never get a moment’s rest. Chris Jones and Rupert Quiney will step in as injury cover or to spell the others for a shift or two or to form a fourth line where required. One thing Adams and Neil Francis can’t complain about is the options they have at forward-the competition for icetime will be truly intense.
COACH: Gerad Adams (with Neil Francis)
Adams is currently the longest-serving coach in the EIHL-and he and Francis have evolved into a formidable team both in terms of recruitment and tactics…in fact, they are the reason the Devils have remained competitive season after season in an era of rising budgets and wage bills. They’re amongst the Devils’ greatest assets and will continue to be this season, building a team ideal for their rink every year. This time round, though, like in 2010/11, they’ve built a team to win everywhere.
PROSPECTIVE LINES: FORWARDS
Max Birbraer-Mac Faulkner-Chris Blight
Andrew Conboy-Matt Myers-Andrew Lord
Phil Hill-Ben Davies-Gerad Adams
Adam Harding-Chris Jones-Luke Piggott
PROSPECTIVE LINES: DEFENCE
Mark Richardson-Tyson Marsh
Josh Batch-Brad Plumton
Mark Smith-Adam Ross
Goalies: Dan LaCosta/Joseph Myers
PLAYER TO WATCH: #88 Andrew Conboy
We’ve already touched upon the skills and game-winning ability of the Devils’ top line and suggested that Conboy will be a useful player, but we haven’t looked at just how important the 26-year-old from Burnsville, Minnesota could be. Conboy is a prototypical Gerad Adams player-he’s hard-nosed and has a motor that only runs at one speed-fast forward. He’ll quickly become known to opposition fans and defencemen alike as he comes barreling into the zone looking to flatten anything in an opposition jersey…but 8 and 10-goal seasons while being used mainly as a fourth-liner in the AHL in his career show that he can find the net too, while 216 PiMs in only 49 ECHL games show that he’s not scared of the rough-stuff or the more sandpaper-like aspects of the game.. It’ll be interesting to see just what he can do given more freedom to play than he perhaps has been in the past.
Gerad Adams and Neil Francis have always built workmanlike teams, but this season they’ve built one that looks genuinely threatening once again. The closest the Devils have come to an EIHL title was in 2010/11 when they missed out on the final day of the league season, and this team looks better than that one…in fact, this team looks like the best Devils squad of the EIHL era.
If Dan LaCosta plays as well as he is capable of and Mac Faulkner continues his scoring form, the sky is the limit for this squad. It has depth, grit, and scoring ability all by the bucketload, and the signings of Myers and LaCosta may be the most crucial signings of the offseason. This team reminds me of nothing so much as the Nottingham team from last season-built perfectly for its own rink and more than capable of winning on any ice surface. As an opposition pundit they frankly scare the heck out of me.
In short, Adams and Francis have spent years trying to find the magic formula to push the Devils over the top from a team that can come so close and yet not close enough due to either bad luck or an Achilles heel to genuine league title contenders. They came closest to date in 2010/11. This year, I think they’ve done it.
This could be the year the Red Army finally celebrates an Elite League title. And there probably isn’t a team, coaching staff or fanbase that will deserve it more.
If you’re a betting person, it just might be worth putting a few quid on the Devils this season.
It may be a left-field prediction, but if it all comes together, then I think the Cardiff Devils will be the 2013/14 Elite League Champions.