In many regards, the world has changed for so many of us and in the almost 18 months since Devils lost to Sheffield Steelers in the 2020 Challenge Cup Final – their final game prior to lockdown – they go in as a very different outfit.
Sure, fans will finally be able to visit Ice Arena Wales and there will be some degree of familiarity for the Devils faithful when they’re finally allowed in on Thursday.
On the ice though, it’s very much the start of a new era and it’s been a long time coming.
When Andrew Lord decided to move on last year, there was the fear that the nucleus of the team who had steered Cardiff through the most successful period in their history would be broken up.
So it’s came to pass as they look to begin a campaign without the likes of Joey Martin, Joey Haddad and Ben Bowns for the first time in a long time.
Your 2021-22 Devils Captain – Mark Richardson 👏
One of the league’s best blueliners for the last decade, this is Richy’s 14th season with the Devils
New coach Jarrod Skalde admitted he wanted to keep Martin, for one, but the likelihood was always there that Devils would look very different to the team that had just nabbed the top of the table spot before the world effectively stopped.
The faces are certainly different nowadays, but that takes nothing away from the quality they’ve brought in to replace the players who can rightfully be labelled club legends.
The defensive area is certainly interesting where Skalde has brought in Brendan Mikkelsen, he of the 131 games of NHL experience from his spells with Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Add to his games in the AHL (just under 400) and success in the DEL with Mannheim, of all teams, winning the title with them two years ago and you’ve got a guy there ready to be the bed rock of the blue line.
Ben O’Connor’s addition is also a very good one, given his experience of the Elite League and after arguably feeling unwanted at Sheffield Steelers, comes into this team with perhaps a point to prove. The World Championships certainly reminded us how good he can be.
Stephen Dixon and Mark Louis will bring the continuity along from the Lord era, along with Josh Batch, Mark Richardson and Sam Duggan while Brodie DuPont and Cole Sanford could upset some opposing D-men with their flexibility in being able to play wide or in the centre.
Bowns’ move to Europe means there are two goalies vying for the starting berth between the pipes as Mac Carruth and Taran Kozun get ready to juke it out. Carruth may be the more preferred option as the man with the experience, but Skalde is keen to get a good look at Kozun too.
The one glaring miss is Matthew Myers, who has left the club and there’s no doubt a Devils team without the much-decorated GB stalwart is going to take quite a bit of getting used to, but bringing back Ben Davies could be shrewd business by the club.
Since leaving his hometown team in 2014, Davies has travelled to Glasgow, North America, Coventry, Melbourne, Guildford and even Manchester briefly, but certainly returns a more experienced player for his adventures.
It’s been six years since he graced the CHL stage and after thriving at the World Championships for GB in recent campaigns, Davies could be ready made for this stage after dipping his toe in with Braehead Clan, as they were, in 2015.
Coming back and straight into a testing European campaign is far from ideal preparation, especially after so long away, but Cardiff have shown themselves to be more than capable of performing at this level.
The one thing they’ve yet to do is reach the knockout stage in this competition. Doing it this year could be a tall order, but it won’t stop them from trying. However the Devils are back and it takes us a step closer to what we’re all excited for…a full return for professional UK ice hockey.