TIME FOR EURO IMPACT
It may be fashionable for some to reject Europe and all the benefits that comes with it, but fans of Cardiff Devils and Belfast Giants will feel differently this week.
The Champions Hockey League is back and our top two teams are preparing to take on some of the continent’s high flyers for a place in the latter stages of the tournament.
Belfast are the new boys of the competition and, after their impressive performances and results in the Continental Cup, will go in feeling ready to take on Europe again.
Cardiff, by comparison, are the first team from the EIHL to compete in this competition for a third straight season and are old hands so very much know what to expect.
The fact that collectively, Devils have a combined experience of 177 CHL games to fall back should be a help and that’s without the 14 games of Evan Mosey, sadly sidelined by injury.
Compare that to Belfast’s 45 games of CHL experience, with Liam Reddox making up 34 of those from his time at Vaxjo Lakers and we see in those stats alone the difference of experience.
Sure, Giants have plenty of big game players in their line-up, with a couple of NHL-ers in there and let’s be honest, you can’t get much bigger than that.
But if you ask any of the other EIHL teams and their players about their first experience of the CHL, you’re entering a different world in terms of how you play the game.
The difference in speed is one that keeps coming up, plus little facets of the game that need touched up and tweaked. You’re talking about highly skilled players playing at the highest level consistently.
Adam Keefe will know that and will no doubt have got some feedback from his fellow coaches about what to expect in this particular competition.
Having Reddox to lean on as well will be huge and it’s why Belfast, if they get a great result in their first game on Thursday against Bili Tygri Liberec, they can make an early mark.
For Cardiff, they’ve got their feet well and truly under the CHL table and their focus isn’t so much making an impact, but eyeing up a last 16 spot.
It’s been an education in the last couple of years and having the core of players that know this terrain is key to what can hopefully a successful attempt this time.
Andrew Lord is a coach that learns and he’ll have done his due diligence on the opponents they face. This is a big opportunity for the Devils at this stage.
As for the buzz around the tournaments and the games, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced covering ice hockey and one of my best memories in ice hockey was going with Braehead Clan to Sweden and Germany in 2015.
Seeing so many fans make the journey and make the noise they made at the Vida Arena in Vaxjo and the Saturn Arena in Ingolstadt made a favourable impression on the fans in Sweden and Germany, perhaps even surprising them that the UK had such passionate supporters.
I dare say it was the same when Sheffield Steelers and Nottingham Panthers rocked up on their away trips and for us, it’s a huge thing.
So the very best of luck to the Giants and the Devils this week in four huge games coming up and let’s hope they can fly the flag for the Elite League with pride.
THE FRAGILITY OF SPORT
As a football fan, I’ve been watching with interest the plight of English league clubs Bolton Wanderers and Bury, who both stand on the brink of extinction due to financial mismanagement.
It’s sad to see two clubs, with the history they have in the sport that this is how it looks to be the end and it got me thinking about the ice hockey clubs and the fans left behind when their team goes under.
In the Elite League alone, we’ve seen Edinburgh Capitals, Hull Stingrays and Newcastle Vipers all go by the way side in recent years, not to mention other teams through the years such Manchester Phoenix, Ayr Scottish Eagles and Durham Wasps.
I’m not getting into how these teams ended up being no more, but more how fans compensate for not having their favourite team, for some their first love?
Can supporting a new team really make up for not having the team you fell for originally? Do you just become an interested neutral? Do you just walk away from it altogether?
It’s tough being a sports fan and anyone who’s experienced it will know how Bolton and Bury fans are feeling right now as they face the prospect of something that’s been a large part of their lives no longer being there.
From an ice hockey perspective, we’ve seen too many teams end up as a memory and hope there’s good news for the two football sides going forward.
POST MATCH FATIGUE
Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but does anyone else feel absolutely shattered the day after a game or the day after a double header weekend of games?
Watching and investing in the action on the ice can carry all sorts of different emotions and it’s got to the stage for me where I’m needing an extra night’s sleep to recover.
It doesn’t diminish the enjoyment of it for me and while I’m technically working, it’s great to witness and see the stories unfold so I consider myself to be extremely lucky to do what I do.
But, my goodness, I don’t have the energy levels I had 20 years ago and as I type this, I’m on my fifth cup of coffee for the day in an attempt to keep me going.
The funny thing, there’s seven months of this to come from every weekend and I can’t wait for it. Welcome back, ice hockey!