The Cardiff Devils punched their ticket to the Continental Cup finals on Sunday [19 November], producing a shutout to eliminate Group E hosts Bruleurs De Loups in the round-robin’s decisive contest.
Team Great Britain netminder Ben Bowns authored a 31-save performance to close the door on the Grenoble-based outfit and lead the Devils to a 1-0 win in France.
“For our team to play three games in three nights with a long day of travel shows the character of this group,” said Cardiff head coach Pete Russell.
“We faced adversity after the first game but pulled together and became stronger as a group. The players were fantastic, and I think this was a great trip for everyone involved.
“It was amazing for our team to be driven forward by the 300+ fans that travelled to France to support us. I feel a real connection between the team and the fans, and we all celebrated the win on Sunday together after the game.”
The Devils were defeated in their tournament opener, falling 5-4 against Kazah outfit Nomad Astana, but bounced back with back-to-back wins over Latvian squad Zemgale Jelgava and hosts Bruleurs De Loups.
Back on home soil, the Glasgow Clan, Fife Flyers, and Dundee Stars produced four-point weekends, while the Belfast Giants continued their descent with another pointless effort versus the Sheffield Steelers and Manchester Storm.
Ben Bowns backstops Cardiff Devils into Continental Cup finals
With that in mind, Luke James presents his ninth all-star selection of the season.
Forward: Cameron Critchlow, Manchester Storm
When the Storm needed an offensive spark versus the Giants, their first line of Cameron Critchlow, Samuel Tremblay, and Stephen Johnson combined on three goals to mount a successful comeback in Altrincham.
Critchlow played an integral role from the wing, scoring twice and tallying an assist as Manchester secured a memorable 4-2 win over Belfast.
Critchlow, who wears the ‘C’ for the Storm, has never been a dominant defensive player in the Elite League, but his offensive contributions continue to speak for themselves. He is quite the player, with 129 points (41 goals, 88 assists) in 205 domestic appearances.
Forward: Mikko Juusola, Sheffield Steelers
When Mikko Juusola was unveiled as a Sheffield Steeler, certain corners of the internet worried that he wouldn’t be able to produce offence in the Elite League.
The Finn is currently playing at a 43-point pace and was a standout performer for Sheffield in gameweek nine, with goals versus Glasgow and Belfast.
Still only 25, Juusola is an excellent two-way player, with the best years of his career ahead of him.
Forward: Kobe Roth, Coventry Blaze
Every once in a while, a single moment of brilliance is enough to fire a player into the team of the week.
Kobe Roth makes our all-star selection because he scored a ‘Michigan’ as Coventry fell to a 4-3 loss against the Flyers on Sunday.
— Elite Ice Hockey League | #EIHL (@officialEIHL) November 19, 2023
For what it’s worth, Roth has performed excellently since his move to the Skydome Arena, with 19 points (10 goals, nine assists) to his name through 17 appearances.
Defenceman: Sean Giles, Fife Flyers
While Sean Giles is only four games into his career with the Flyers, he already looks like a smart acquisition by Tom Coolen.
The American was a stabilising defensive presence as Fife overcame Coventry 4-3 twice in as many nights, finishing the weekend with a plus-one rating through a grand total of almost 50 minutes time on ice.
Giles isn’t a brilliant puck-mover from the blueline, but he defends smartly with his stick, covers the ice with his standout skating ability, and looks the part on the penalty kill in Fife.
Defenceman: Nate Kallen, Glasgow Clan
Nate Kallen is underappreciated outside his home market of Glasgow.
The American, who joined the Clan from Slovak Extraliga outfit Slovan Bratislava this summer, has already produced 10 points (five goals, five assists) in 16 appearances and shows no signs of slowing down.
The 26-year-old, who averages a shade above 23 minutes of time on ice, played a crucial role in Glasgow’s 2-1 win over the Steelers on Sunday, scoring and providing an assist.
Playing alongside veteran defender Jake Bolton on the top pair, Kallen is a savvy player in all three zones who will surely attract greater attention from the rest of the Elite League and beyond if he sustains his current form.
Also of note – Kallen has zero penalty minutes to his name thus far, an incredibly impressive achievement for a high-usage defenceman.
Netminder: Ben Bowns, Cardiff Devils (Continental Cup)
If the Devils are to realise their Continental Cup ambitions, they will need Bowns to replicate his performance from their finals-clinching showdown with Bruleurs De Loups.
While the 32-year-old wobbled in Cardiff’s loss to Nomad Astana on Friday [17 November], he recovered quickly with a pair of standout displays that saw his side advance to the final four of the Continental Cup.
Bowns, in his eighth season as a Devils, remains one of the best netminders in the Elite League (and the Continental Cup, for that matter), allowing Cardiff to ice an extra import skater.
Will the Cardiff Devils win the Continental Cup? Join the conversation in the comments.