Hockey in Cardiff is set for a massive boost when Ice Arena Wales (IAW) opens its doors in 2016.
With two ice pads, ample parking, seating for over 3,000 fans, a gym, six dressing rooms, superb hospitality facilities and sponsor suites, the city’s teams will have a truly world class facility as their home.
While the main media focus has been on the Elite League’s Cardiff Devils finally returning to a permanent rink, Cardiff Fire from NIHL2 South are also eagerly anticipating IAW’s grand opening.
Director/Head Coach, Mark Cuddihy, said: “I’ve had a few tours of the rink and every time I go there it blows my mind. We are all really excited to get in there – it’s going to be a great place to play, train and even for the players and staff to hang out.
Fire are unbeaten so far this season, despite having nowhere to train, as they chase promotion to NIHL1S. Cuddihy says he’s delighted with his team’s performances.
“We’ve had some good tests, so the fact we’ve won all our games is great, we are all pleased,” said Cuddihy.
“Basingstoke have a good mix of young talent and experience, while Bristol are the current league and play-off champions. We played Swindon with some of their OHA and EPL players – they have bags of talent coming through.”
Cuddihy previously coached Cardiff NIHL1 and his links to their team have boosted Fire’s prospects, with some players approaching him about making the switch.
David Sadler and Josh Haslam have been added to the roster in recent weeks and Cuddihy says they’re excited about what Fire are building.
“We didn’t approach any of the D1 players, because we felt they needed to stay in the higher league for their careers and we didn’t want to step on any toes. But we said from the start if they approached us we would jump at the chance to take them as they are great guys.
“We’re looking to build a strong infrastructure. We have a great management set up – Ricky Deacon has been with me for a long time as has Marilyn Parsons, but we have added to that – Dan Blakemore and Jason Proctor have been fantastic.
“The senior players and the experience they bring helps us grow as a club and the long term partnerships we have with companies off the ice are also crucial.
“We’re well on course to meet our sponsorship targets and hopefully we’ll get there with a final push in the New Year.
“We’ve also created a new merchandise line and an online shop which is now live. CH Sports’ help has been invaluable in setting this up.”
The regionalised system in NIHL2S has caused plenty of discussion, with some people arguing against its introduction. Cuddihy, along with Invicta Mustangs, made the original proposal and he thinks it was a good idea.
“A trip between Invicta and Cardiff would cost upwards of £800 – the same from Chelmsford and Peterborough,” Cuddihy said.
“D2 teams in Division 2 are largely amateur and struggle with costs. Players have commitments the following day and may have to take games off or time out from hockey with a large travel schedule.
“The set-up makes the league better and more sustainable. We have cross over in the cup competition so fans get to see the other teams as well.
“I know it doesn’t suit everybody and I completely understand their reasons, but for the league and players it’s just about right.
Cuddihy’s on-ice target ahead of the move to IAW was to be near the top of league at the start of 2016. The new rink will allow the team to train and work on systems as they look to maintain their promotion push.
Some teams have previously turned down their place in the higher league, but Cuddihy says Fire would definitely step up if the chance came.
“Absolutely we would – it’s our aim,” he said. “We know it’s going to be tough and we have a long way to go. Our focus right now is wining the South West League.
“We don’t know much about the East league so we will watch a few games so we’re ready should we make the play-offs.
“As for competing in D1 I think we could do that now. The bulk of my team are all experienced there and it’s a league I know quite well.
“These boys constantly finished in the top half of D1 so I see no reason that would change. I think a few teams in the West could compete with some small additions. We would pick up more players with promotion so it wouldn’t concern me.”