By Sion Ford
Thursday night saw Cardiff Devils open their Champions Hockey League campaign against Austria’s EC Salzburg, with the hosts going down 5-2 after a spirited effort, and in spite of the result there is a positive foundation on which to build.
As the lowest ranked team in the competition, a symptom of the gap in quality between continental European hockey and its British equivalent, the Devils were always going to be hoping for the best during the group stage of this year’s CHL. So it played out last night, with the Devils suffering their first competitive loss of the season, albeit against a club with far greater resources at their disposal.
It was a tough first period for the Welsh outfit as Salzburg raced into a 3-0 lead, with goals coming from Dominique Heinrich and John Hughes – in spite of the Devils’ efforts to stay in the game, it was clear that the opposition were of a different calibre to what the Devils are used to.
Salzburg’s play was intense, accurate and slick, their transition from defence to offence was effortless at times. If there were any criticism of the Devils, it would have been that they allowed Salzburg to dictate the pace of play at times during the game, when a bit more physicality (even at the expense of a few penalties against the Devils) would have at the very least sent a message.
After the first break, though, the Devils came back out with a vengeance and an intensity that suggested a momentum shift was underway, especially after they survived consecutive 5-on-3 penalty kills following some harsh calls from the refereeing team. Even after Salzburg eventually increased their lead to 4-0, there was still the feeling that the Devils might get a foothold in the game, and so it proved when veteran Layne Ulmer poked home a pass from line-mate Matt Pope.
The scoreline was to improve again just before the second break, as Mike Hedden finished off an opportunity again created by Pope. The centreman, along with Gleason Fournier and Stephen Dixon, looked to be trying to drag the Devils back into contention single handedly, but the two goals were the best that the men in red could manage.
The third period saw the Devils batter at Salzburg’s door, with multiple chances either being saved by the impressive Lukas Herzog or crucial passes not quite sticking at the pivotal moments. In spite of their efforts, it would be Salzburg who finished the game the stronger, with the scoreline finishing at 5-2 following an emphatic finish from Martin Stajnoch.
Perhaps a result to be expected, but the Devils’ efforts could not be faulted and above all else it is clear that this team is still finding its feet. Although the vast majority of last year’s league and championship winning team has been retained, there is a number of new faces in the roster and it was clear to see that the chemistry and understanding along the lines is yet to fully develop.
Whilst the players will be disappointed to have lost this fixture, there is a lot to take away from last night that will give head coach Andrew Lord encouragement ahead of the Devils’ next fixture in the CHL against Swiss opposition SC Bern. Face-off of that game is at 7pm this Saturday, with another stern test of the Devils’ resilience against high-class opposition to be expected.
Full time: Cardiff Devils 2-5 EC Salzburg