Ten Teams Ten Days 15/16 IV: The Cardiff Devils: All Hell Let Loose

Build me a future, splendid and graceful.
Make it better by design.
Perfected strategies, applied technologies.
A brighter future for a darker age”

VNV Nation: “Streamline”

INTRO

Last year the Cardiff Devils were a revelation – the success story of the EIHL. Under the vibrant, dynamic coaching of Andrew Lord and Neil Francis the Red Army marched up and down the country reclaiming their place at the top end of British hockey. A Challenge Cup victory and narrowly losing out to Sheffield and Braehead in an enthralling title race on the last weekend was just reward for a team that reignited the Red Army’s passion for hockey in a way that was probably beyond even the new owners’ wildest hopes.

This year, the Devils have built with one aim in mind-the league title. They’ve kept the nucleus of the team that made them so successful last year, but Andrew Lord has honed his roster to give the Devils even more of a bite this season – this is a squad that’s looking to do great things.

But can it? Let’s take a look.

NETMINDERS

#33 Ben Bowns, #43 Michael Will

When you’ve got the GB starting goalie coming off a season where he established himself as one of the elite netminders in the league along with one of the best British backups as your netminder tandem, you probably don’t need to do much tinkering.

The main question in Cardiff this off-season wasn’t so much who they’d have in net season but how long a fight they’d have to sign him, and it was a relatively short wait before the pride of Sheffield, Ben Bowns, returned to the Welsh capital. Bowns is big, fast and agile, and possesses reactions that a cat would envy. This year he’ll once again be the last line of defence for a squad and coach that are both fully confident in his ability, while coming off another excellent World Championships that has made the national starting job his to lose. “Riding high” might be an understatement.

Backing up Bowns once again is Mike Will, who is more than comfortable in his role and makes a good case for being the most solid backup in the league (although Dan Green might have something to say about that)

DEFENCE

#2 Carl Hudson,  #17 Mark Richardson, #22 Tyson Marsh, #24 Andrew Hotham, #41 Josh Batch, #45 Callum Buglass, #74 Trevor Hendrikx

Again, no new names here. The Devils run with exactly the same goalie and defensive unit that did so well for them last season-the only difference this year is the invisible but incalculable one made by the fact this defensive unit knows itself inside out. In Andrew Hotham the Devils have last year’s Defenceman Of The Year. Hotham is an offensive force, with 20 goals from the blueline last season leading the league by some distance.

The next most prolific D? His team-mate, Carl Hudson, showing that this team have the offensive side of things covered.

Tyson Marsh is an inspirational captain, quietly going about his work at both ends of the ice, much in the same fashion as Mark Richardson, who rivals Sheffield’s Ben O’Connor for the title of best British defenceman. Josh Batch and Trevor Hendrikx provide the meat and defensive presence – both are big bodies who love to throw a fearsome hit and play strongly in their own zone, while 19-year-old Callum Buglass rounds out the group again.

FORWARDS

#12 Guillaume Doucet, #14 Zach Hervato, #16 Chris Jones, #18 Brent Walton, #21 Luke Piggott, #27 Joey Haddad, #42 Leigh Salters, #47 Jake Morissette, #57 Chris Culligan, #71 Andrew Lord, #88 Joey Martin, #91 Tomas Kurka.

The Devils forward group keeps everything that made it excellent last year, and then makes it even better. It’s Lord Hockey 2.0, with the same emphasis on skill and power as complimentary skills rather than absolutes, but with better players brought in in each role. For Jesse Mychan, read Zach Hervato. Doug Clarkson? Leigh Salters. Matt Myers? Tomas Kurka.

This group is like last season’s with the weaknesses and rough edges pared away. In Joey Martin it has one of the best playmakers in the league, in Leigh Salters one of the best power forwards.

Oh yeah, and to add to the killer instinct provided by the likes of Brent Walton and Joey Haddad, it also has one of the most dangerous goalscorers in Guillaume Doucet. That’s one hell of a terrifying top line…potentially the best in the league.

The biggest thing about this Devils forward group, though, and also the most important factor in how exciting it looks, is that it doesn’t have a top line like most other EIHL teams.

It has three of them. Seriously.

The top nine forwards in this squad could probably be mixed and matched in any combination Andrew Lord and Neil Francis can devise and would still combine equally well and provide an equal mix of speed, power and skill. That kind of depth is almost unheard of at EIHL level. The versatility of Chris Culligan means that there will always be options and competition for places too-Culligan is the very definition of an underrated workhorse.

Couple that with the fact that this is a unit built to thrive on its own ice that also has proven its ability on the wider ice-pads, and you have one hell of a group.

POTENTIAL LINES (F)

Leigh Salters – Joey Martin – Guillaume Doucet

Tomas Kurka – Andrew Lord – Brent Walton

Joey Haddad – Zach Hervato – Jake Morissette

(Chris Culligan) – Chris Jones – Luke Piggott

POTENTIAL LINES (D/G)

Andrew Hotham – Tyson Marsh

Mark Richardson – Carl Hudson

Josh Batch – Trevor Hendrikx

Ben Bowns/Mike Will

PLAYER TO WATCH – LEIGH SALTERS (LW)

The big winger from London, Ontario has already established himself as arguably the league’s premier power forward in his two seasons in the EIHL, combining the tenacity and attacking snarl of an angry bulldog with the striking ability of a cobra around the net and no mean skill. At 6’4 and 225lbs he’ll be a holy terror whether in the tight confines of the Big Blue Tent or the slightly wider area of the new Cardiff Ice Arena later in the season.

He is the battering ram that will make space for Joey Martin and Guillaume Doucet to weave their magic, while causing no mean amount of havoc in front of the net himself. Carl Hudson and Andrew Hotham will be licking their lips at having him screen opposition goalies for their hard and accurate point shots, too. This could be Salters’ best season yet.

COACH – Andrew Lord (2nd season)

The Devils player coach, along with his faithful “Hand Of The King” figure Neil Francis, are one of the strongest coaching duos the EIHL has seen in many years. I recently argued that Lord himself was the best coach in the league, and this is a view that he could only solidify further this season. Lord and Francis are a perfect duo with complementing skillsets, and Lord himself appears to have a gift for building motivated, tightly connected teams. He’s also a very useful two-way forward who can lead by example.

Many say that player-coaches are an example of how the EIHL is a league that still can’t be taken truly seriously by the “big” leagues in European hockey, but Lord bucks that trend. Along with Omar Pacha now and Sylvain Cloutier before him he’s a perfect example of a player making an almost seamless transition between playing and coaching. The sky is the limit for him after his rookie season.

SUMMARY

This may be slightly controversial – but the Devils have never had a team with more potential in the EIHL era than the one they have right now. Andrew Lord has built the Erhardt counterpart to Ryan Finnerty’s Braehead Clan – a squad that took the lessons learned from going all the way to the final weekend before losing the league title last season and used them to make themselves better. Few if any teams in the EIHL can boast the chance to roll three first lines like the Devils can, and at the back the defence and goalie know each others’ play inside out.

The culture Andrew Lord has instilled in the Devils is also deeply ingrained in this team – the coach knows his players and the players know the coach. Even the new players are EIHL-blooded and Tomas Kurka has played for Cardiff with Andrew Lord before. That chemistry is the kind of advantage that doesn’t necessarily show up on the stats sheets and will mean that the adjustment period that may slightly hamper other teams early on in the season is minimal.

Last year saw the Devils explode back out of the hell they’d fallen into the previous season.

This year, they’re ready to finally (potentially) break that EIHL title drought. All the ingredients are there.

The Cardiff Devils are an army on the march, ready for battle.

Ready to paint hell red.

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