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Friday, August 20, 2010

Season Preview: – Cardiff Devils

The Devils haven’t been without their problems over the last few years, moving from league to league, changing owners not to mention having their home rink closed and moving to what is commonly referred to as the ‘big blue tent’.  Last season however, the Devils shipped appeared to be relatively settled and Gerad Adams’ on ice team showed signs of returning the Devils the top, on home ice at least. Away from home Cardiff’s form was less than impressive and their fans will be hoping this years team can replicate their home form in other teams rinks.

Goal
Stevie Lyle returns for another season with his hometown team.  On his day Lyle can be as good as any goalie in the league but consistency can be a problem.  Still he provides the Devils with a solid enough base to build from, and being British allows the Devils an extra import out skater.  The Devils won’t be relying on a single goalie to back-up Lyle, instead rotating a selection of players on two way contracts with other teams.

Defence
Brits Alex Symonds and Mark Richardson both return to the Devils.  Richardson’s move from forward to defence has been a resounding success with Devils fans touting him as the next Jonathan Weaver. While he may not have reached those heights as yet, he is still a talent and rarity of a British top two defenseman. Symonds provides the Devils with a decent 6th defenseman. Also returning is player/coach Gerad Adams who will help provide a physical edge to the blue line. Adding to the toughness stakes is newcomer Justin Sawyer. Sawyer will be expected to take some of the workload off Brad Voth when it comes to dropping the gloves and protecting his teammates.  Completing the defence are brothers Mark and Kenton Smith.  Mark spent last season with the Edinburgh Capitals where he was regarded as their best defenseman while Kenton too is no stranger to these shores having spent a season with Manchester Phoenix. Both should be a steadying presence on the blue line while Kenton will be expected to help out Richardson providing offence from the blue line.

Forwards
The Devils forwards will once again be lead by big bad Brad Voth. Last season wasn’t a great one by Voth’s standards, but with Justin Sawyer signed to help Voth out in the enforcing department, the big man should be able to focus a little more on the hockey, with Devils fans hoping he can get back to being the player that made him so loved in Cardiff, and love to hated everywhere else.  Feisty forwards Ryan Finnerty and Tylor Michel also return and are unlikely to give the opposition much time to catch their breath, while adding depth and scoring down the lines. The talented Max Birbraer is back for his 4th season with the Devils and will be relied upon for scoring (he was Devils top scorer last season) as will Brit Phil Hill who it will be hoped can continue his form of the last two years where he has scored over 20 goals and 40 points each season. Sharing the scoring load is Scott Matzka, who after brief stints in both the AHL and ECHL moved to Europe having a successful career in Denmark. Last season he played in Sweden and Finland, including a couple of outings in the SM-Liga. With that kind of pedigree expect Matzka to be among the top scorers of not only the Devils, but the league. Jon Pelle and Stuart MacRae both come to the Devils from the CHL and while they are unlikely to be big scorers should provide good scoring depth for the team. The line up is completed by Brits Ben Davies and Sam Smith who are likely to make up the numbers and compete for a spot on the 3rd line.

Summary
Devils do look to have improved on last season, the defence looks solid if not spectacular and with players such as Finnerty, Voth, Sawyer and Michel, teams travelling to Cardiff are not going to be in for an easy night. And while they may not have the big name scorers but they have depth in scoring across all three lines, similar to the Steelers championship side of two years ago. The question is can they translate that winning form at home to the road. If they can they could be an outside bet for the title if everything can come together and they can avoid injuries.

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