Team By Team Preview 2014/15: Cardiff Devils: Back Out Of Hell

Do you see me now?
Do you fear me now?
You will know my name…”

Arch Enemy: “You Will Know My Name”

INTRODUCTION

Last year couldn’t have been worse for the Cardiff Devils. Horrendously mismanaged, lurching from PR disaster to PR disaster and with a roster or organisational structure that seemed to change every other week, the proud Red Army was reduced to a punchline of a team that had 43 different players (including nine goalies) and 21 different imports dress for them, three head coaches, and vicious infighting amongst fans who supported the ownership and those who could see the destruction being wrought by Paul Ragan and his cronies, including well-publicised non-payment of players both injured and non-injured.

In short, the 2013/14 season was one of the worst in Devils’ recent history, and a roster that could legitimately have contended for honours of one kind or another was never given a chance. Something drastic needed to happen-the Devils needed a saviour like a person lost in the desert needs water.

Fast-forward a summer, and Paul Ragan is gone, Todd Kelman has brought his immense business savvy, personality and drive from Belfast to be the new Devils GM, Andrew Lord is the new Devils coach (making their fourth in a year) and there is a new hope in South Wales-deservedly so. But what does the first team of the Todd Kelman/Andrew Lord era look like? How good is it-and can it really be part of a true rags-to-riches tale to rival Cinderella herself?

NETMINDERS

#33 Ben Bowns, #3 Michael Will

The Devils bold new era begins from the net out. Ben Bowns has long promised to be the heir apparent to the two Stephens (Lyle and Murphy) at the top of the British goaltending tree-and after a breakthrough year last year that saw the 23-year-old from Rotherham be probably the only shining light of Great Britain’s disappointing World Championship campaign and an EIHL apprenticeship served in the shooting gallery that is the Hull net, this is the year, in my opinion, that Bowns makes the leap. He’s been handed the starting job in Cardiff and now has all the chance he needs to cement himself alongside Stephen Murphy as the best homegrown netminder in Britain for years to come. Behind him is someone else who has an eye on making that leap-his GB team-mate Michael Will, who has quietly moved himself into third GB goalie spot with some solid performances for Braehead over the past few years, and will be looking to push Bowns all the way for his starting spot throughout the year.

DEFENCE

#2 Carl Hudson, #5 Callum Buglass (2-way) #17 Mark Richardson, #22 Tyson Marsh, #24 Andrew Hotham, #41 Josh Batch, #74 Trevor Hendrikx

This is a defence built for the (un)friendly confines of home by the Devils. With no players under 6′ aside from the youngster Callum Buglass, and four of the six defenceman being over 200lbs, this is a group built on power. But unlike some teams, Cardiff are very careful not to sacrifice agility or offensive ability while looking for size-Andrew Hotham and Mark Richardson are both top-tier offensive defencemen, while Tyson Marsh was one of the standouts at his position last year even on a struggling Cardiff squad. Josh Batch, Carl Hudson and Trevor Hendrikx provide the defensive grit to back up the likes of Richardson and Hotham…like Sheffield’s unit, this is a well-balanced one that is built with clearly-defined roles in mind-no square-pegs to round-holes here.

FORWARDS

#4 Adam Harding (two-way), #8 Matthew Myers, #16 Chris Jones, #18 Brent Walton, #21 Luke Piggott, #27 Joey Haddad, #47 Jake Morissette, #57 Chris Culligan, #71 Andrew Lord, #80 Jesse Mychan, #88 Joey Martin, #93 Doug Clarkson

This is a very different-looking forward group to the one built in Cardiff last season, but the ethos is a familiar one-make a forward corps who are absolute cast-iron gits to play against in any rink, particularly the tight confines of their home rink. Individually, no player (with the possible exception of Brent Walton) stands out as a dedicated goalscorer-Andrew Lord has built a forward corps based on versatility and grit rather than a group of individualistic flair players, one that he hopes will find itself equally at home on the wide open spaces of the arena rinks and the big Scottish pads as the narrow, claustrophobic environment of the Big Blue Tent. Stand-out names are Walton (prolific in the equivalent-level German 2nd division and Danish leagues), the Joeys, Martin and Haddad (both have proven themselves as talented all-around forwards in the ECHL the past few seasons) and Jesse Mychan (young agitator extraordinaire, he’ll be the one who’ll look to get under opponents’ skins the most). Size-wise, Doug Clarkson, brother of the Maple Leafs’ David, will be the player Andrew Lord hopes can cause opposing goalies sleepless nights with his presence, while Matt Myers, Andrew Lord and Jake Morissette will be the steady, two-way contributors. Young and improving locals Luke Piggott, Chris Jones and Adam Harding will be the ones fighting for spot duty in a forward group very much intended to be much more than the some of its parts. Don’t expect any hugely gaudy numbers here (although there is the talent to provide them)-this is a group that’ll score by committee, just the approach that worked so successfully for the Belfast Giants last season.

COACH: Andrew Lord (1st year)

The Canadian steps in as player-coach for his first taste of being in charge of a team-as the least-experienced coach in the EIHL he’s going to lean heavily on the wisdom of his experienced assistant Neil Francis and GM Todd Kelman, you’d expect. However, if his recruitment is anything to go by, he’s certainly got the ambition to see the Devils succeed, and the support of all at the club-all the rhetoric suggests he’s going to be a popular man at the helm just as Gerad Adams was.

PROSPECTIVE LINES

Andrew Lord-Joey Martin-Brent Walton

Joey Haddad-Matt Myers-Jake Morissette

Doug Clarkson-Chris Culligan-Jesse Mychan

Adam Harding-Chris Jones-Luke Piggott

Andrew Hotham-Tyson Marsh

Trevor Hendrikx-Mark Richardson

Carl Hudson-Josh Batch

Ben Bowns

Mike Will

PLAYERS TO WATCH: #18 Brent Walton, RW, #33 Ben Bowns, G

To be honest, on this Devils team it’s hard to just pick one player-both Joeys (Haddad and Martin) look like potential stars, Jesse Mychan looks and sounds like he’s going to be immense fun to watch, and that prospective third line is among the best in the EIHL on paper. However, to win games the Devils need two things-firstly goals, and secondly, a man at the other end to keep them out. Based purely on record alone, a lot of them are going to come from the 30-year-old winger from Georgetown, Ontario. Walton has scored at over a point a game his entire European career, in leagues equivalent to and better than the EIHL in standard, so he comes to the UK with the expectation of being one of the EIHL’s top snipers. Can he live up to it in a league probably more physical than any other Euro league he’s played in so far?

Meanwhile, at the other end this, more than any other, is a crucial season for Ben Bowns. Without doubt he has the talent to be an elite EIHL goalie and be Great Britain’s number 1 for years to come-this season is the year he gets to show it after serving his starting apprenticeship in Hull. The 23-year-old has the talent to win games by himself, and if he hits a groove he could genuinely push the Devils up that extra level they need to be among the top sides once again-the talent is certainly there. This is his chance.

SUMMARY

After spending last year down in the depths of darkness, this year is bathed in the light of potential for the Red Army. This team isn’t perfect-naysayers will point to the inexperience of its coach, the pressure on its young British goalie and the sheer difficulty of turning a team round from the depths to the heights in less than six months.

But if anyone in British hockey can provide the drive, knowhow and sheer can-do attitude to accomplish such a task, then Todd Kelman has proved he is that man. With a new arena on the horizon and a public fully behind what the new coach and ownership is trying to do, the conditions are ideal in Cardiff for a quick and arguably miraculous recovery.

The EIHL laughed at the Devils for long periods last season. This time round, they won’t be laughing. They’ll be scared.

The Red Army is rebuilt, re-armed and believes in itself again. And that’s bad news for the rest of the EIHL.

The Devils are back. And they’re ready to raise hell.

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