The Cardiff Devils kick off their Champions Hockey League campaign tonight with a visit from Austrian side Red Bull Salzburg, and after the mixed results from last years CHL season, the Devils will be hoping to get off to a better start on home ice.
Last season the Devils made the trip to one of the nicest arena’s in all of Ice Hockey but didn’t leave with that great of a memory. A huge 10 – 1 loss to Swiss side HC Davos to open the campaign, and another loss followed in the Czech Republic against Bili Tygri Liberec, but from there the Devils looked to turn their fortunes around.
A lot was said about the strength of the group last year which also featured Vaxjo Lakers who the Devils will face again this year in Group G action, but this year the Devils possibly face an even tougher test than last time out.
While the Devils do come in as the back-to-back league champions, so do Vaxjo, and so do SC Bern of Switzerland, while Salzburg have finished second in the Austrian league the past two seasons, and before that won three straight titles, so it’s one of the most difficult groups the Devils could have potentially been drawn into.
The Devils will be without forward Matt Myers who isn’t expected back in action for a couple of weeks, while it’s unsure whether they’ll be able to call upon returning forward Justin Faryna who hasn’t iced since taking a puck up high in the sides opening pre-season game against the Nottingham Panthers, and new forward Charles Linglet also hasn’t seen to much ice during pre-season so it’s unclear whether Andrew Lord will be able to call upon his new forward who on paper looks like he could be the Devils best player this year.
On the backend as well, it would be all doom and gloom for the Devils following the abrupt departure of Tom Parisi, but with Craig Moore and Josh Batch both able to play forward or defence when called upon, it won’t give Lord too many headaches when picking his lines for the opening CHL game.
Salzburg come in with an intimidating roster on paper, with former NHLer Chris Vandevelde being one of the more recognisable names on the roster, but the Devils will have to be weary of American forward John Hughes who’s put up consistent 60 point or more seasons for Salzburg over the last three campaigns and will be looking to continue to show off his impressive playmaking abilities in what will be his fifth year for the Austrian side.
It’s all change in net for Salzburg, last year’s starting goalie Bernhard Starkbaum has moved on to EHC Kloten in the Swiss second division, while his back up Luka Gracnar, who featured heavily in their previous CHL campaign, also moves on after the club announced the goalie who made his debut for the club when he was just 16-years-old won’t be returning to the squad this year.
In their place are pair of goalies in their mid-twenties in Austrian Lukas Herzog and American Steve Michalek. With two-goalies entering their prime, it’ll give head coach Greg Poss a good headache to have trying to pick who will be his go to guy in their CHL campaign.
Salzburg have a lot of quick forward on their roster that will try to use their speed to beat the Devils defence in the corners to set up plays, but the Devils have shown a lot of smart defence so far in their pre-season efforts, with Ben Blood impressing in his first year with the club, showing that despite his build and track record, he’s more than a big hitting defenseman who’s familiar with the penalty box, playing a smart game, knowing when to throw his wait and when to play the puck, with an active stick to take away passing and shooting lanes that make him an underrated find for Andrew Lords team.
While British teams in the CHL aren’t expected to go far, the Devils did manage two upsets last year against Davos and Vaxjo, and given the unexpected success of the Nottingham Panthers topping their group last season, Europe teams are starting to pay more attention to the rising profile of the EIHL, so don’t expect any of the Devils Group G opponents to take them lightly this year. And following the backlash in Swedish media following Vaxjo’s loss in their visit to South Wales last year, you can expect the Devils to be in for a tough test in their six group stage games, but a test that coach Andrew Lord would be more than prepared for after a long pre-season, and lessons learnt from their last outing in the Champions Hockey League.
Featured image – CardiffDevils.com