Europe Welcomes Back The Elite

August 30, 2018

Europe Welcomes Back The Elite

This evening sees the start of the competitive hockey for one of the Elite League teams who will compete against our neighbours to the east…no further east than Glasgow…and Fife….yup, there you go!

Hello Europe, EIHL calling!

The Cardiff Devils will see the puck drop competitively for the first time this season, in games that matter, and will be hoping to represent the league in the Champions Hockey League as well as Nottingham did last season, meanwhile in November the Belfast Giants will face competing for a third time in the Continental Cup – so John thought, before the vulcanised rubber disc hits the ice in Cardiff Bay, it’s as good a time as any to look at how things might shape up on the EIHL’s 2018 Euro Trip!

Not Just A Flash In The Pan

The last few seasons have seen the British teams really step up their international game and put the league on the map, with standout successes from the likes of the Nottingham Panthers’ championship win in the Continental Cup to Braehead’s first ever victory for a Brit team in the CHL. Combine these stand-out performances with a preseason that (whilst a little contrived perhaps occasionally with regard to the teams brought over for preseason) has seen EIHL teams shine against competition from the likes of Germany, Denmark and North America, it’s perhaps fair to say that the image of the EIHL as the plucky underdogs of European hockey is on its way out, but let’s see how well the two teams in these competitions stack up and might do this year…

Dogged Devils

With a second successful EIHL regular season championship, supplemented by success in the 2018 Playoffs, the Cardiff Devils, arguably are the team to beat in the Elite League, and have been for a couple seasons now.

The organisation have made very few changes from the winning formula of last season, but have suffered their own setbacks with the loss of major summer signing, defenseman Tom Parisi after only 3 days and a long flight from the USA. Their retention of players like goaltender Ben Bowns and centre Matt Pope will go a long way however, as this core of players know how to play together, know how to score goals, and in Bowns’ case – stop them!

Their opponents however will be looking to get a few past Bownsy and they are not teams to be sniffed at, what with all being champions in their own rights! The Vaxjo Lakers (SWE), SC Bern (SUI) and Red Bull Salzburg (AUT) will all be looking to make the best of the Group G, with both Vaxjo and Bern having an idea of what to expect from British opposition, having played Cardiff and Nottingham respectively in last years’ group stage of the CHL.

Key to Cardiff is going to be a good start to the competition, with home advantage tonight against Salzburg and with that, the home crowd. They must capitalise on this and start strong. The Red Army are the 7th skater in Ice Arena Wales, and can lift that team to great heights – and they’ll need to do their part tonight.

All-in-all, what are Cardiff’s chances in the competition? Its a tough one to answer, and I’m not trying to cop out of this! The CHL is so named because all the teams are themselves Champions, but believe me the Devils are every bit the champions that Vaxjo and the rest are – as they’ve proved for the last two years’ in the EIHL. Honestly though, if I was pressed for an answer, I’d have to say any progress to the knockout stages (similar to the Panthers last season) will be a victory, but any wins are victories, if you follow me!

I sincerely hope the Devils do well, and pray it takes it out of them for the domestic run!

Good luck tonight Devils!

Giant(s) Opportunity

Following a stunning Challenge Cup win in Cardiff last season and the results of Playoffs going their way, the Giants will compete for the third time in the Continental Cup, after two reasonably positive showings previously in the competition. This time around, they find themselves drawn into Group E (semi-final stage) of the third round against confirmed opponents GKS Katowice (POL) and Medveščak Zagreb (CRO) and the yet unknown winner of Group B in the second round of the competition. The competition will also be held in Belfast, at the SSE Arena for the first time, on November 16th to 18th, with the winners and runners up progressing to the Super Finals in January.

As opposed to the CHL, the ‘Conti Cup‘ is a competition that, for EIHL teams, is now squarely in the crosshairs as an achievable accolade to walk away with following the surprise run and win the Panthers pulled off two seasons ago. We never like to see the custard pussycats create history, but that was a stunning achievement, which we will never admit to anyone in a Panthers jersey!

Who do we have to go through though? Katowice and Zagreb aren’t names we should take lightly – bear in mind how we got here and that they have done something similar at home, so they belong here as much as the Giants do.
Ktowice are proven competitors, who though without silverware in the last few years, are consistent top-enders in the Polish league table, only just missing out on top spot this year – but securing their Conti Cup spot in the process. Zagreb are the premiere and historically most successful club in Croatia, and a team the Giants will certainly need to be keenly aware of.
Of the teams in the Group B playoff to join the semi final in Belfast, host team Ritten, a team known to EIHL fans, having fallen last season to the Steelers in their group stage final win, are most likely to progress, but face the prospect of additional games and travel, but these Serie A winners and Apls Hockey League runners up should never be discounted….let’s face it, we used to take a win against the Edinburgh Capitals as a sure thing, and look how that went for us on more than one occasion!

The advantage we have: The SSE Arena. As much as I had hoped for a trip to the continent (and not to make too much f a point of it, but it probably would’ve been my stag-do…just saying), the opportunity to progress to the super final is almost in one hand already you have to think, but we’ve seen crowds shy away from games that aren’t the norm…I’m thinking Friendship Four here (which I struggle to get my head around how the arena isn’t packed to the rafters every game by the way), so will we see the arena jumping for our games? You have to hope so. Boomerang Corner – we look to you for leadership on this!

Really though, what are we looking at chances wise for progression to the final? GREAT CHANCES!

This is the best chance the Giants have had to clinch European silverware and it should be grasped with both hands! I mean wre you at preseason in the SSE, did you see that team?!

Is it too early to start with the “It’s coming home” chants?…….

Posted by John for Door14Hockey

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