Cardiff Devils coach Andrew Lord has put his trust in big British defenceman Josh Batch for the new Elite League ice hockey season.
The 6ft 4ins Batch will play a major role for Devils in their quest to earn success in Europe and Elite League.
Guildford Flames were among other Elite clubs keen on Batch, but he has committed to Lord’s Devils, who have also confirmed that Jake Morissette and back-up netminder Thomas Murdy are also returning for 2017-18.
“Josh is a great talent, such size and strength and he is seriously one of toughest players in the league,” said Lord. “He hits hard and is so good defensively that he has earned a major role on this team over the last three years.
“He plays forward and defence, which is a huge asset for us to be able to use him wherever we need him.”
Batch returns for his seventh season as a Devil, the team he broke through with in 2011. Last season with the Devils he scored four goals and added five assists for nine points in 56 games.
He ended the season on a low note when he spent long periods on the bench in the Play-Off final against Sheffield Steelers, who scored an overtime winner which ended Cardiff hopes of winning every Elite trophy on offer.
Batch, a major physical presence on the ice, is the fifth out-and-out D-man to sign for Devils, while Craig Moore is able to operate on offence or defence.
Devils captain Morissette missed more than 20 games last season after suffering a broken foot which required surgery mid-season. He scored 12 goals in 45 games and added 20 assists for 32 points. He had 59 points (25+34) in the previous season and put up 73 (27+46) in 2014-15.
“He is so consistent and probably would have had another 20-plus goals season if he hadn’t been injured,” says Lord. “He plays hard every night. The guys and I know exactly what he is going to bring night in and night out.”
Murdy, who will again by back-up to Ben Bowns in goal, joined Devils last season after three years as number one for Telford Tigers. He played in 14 games, posting a 90.1% save percentage and a goals against average of 2.78. His official record was seven wins and four losses, but it was the key wins when Ben Bowns was injured that kept the Devils in the title race early in the season.
Murdy helped Devils earn five wins in a row, including a key victory over the Sheffield Steelers in October, stopping 22 shots to lead Devils to a 5-2 win.
He followed that by leading Devils to a big win against Braehead Clan three days later, stopping 25 shots 6-2 victory.
His most important game was against Coventry Blaze when Devils trailed 3-1 and he stepped in to stop all 27 shots in a 6-3 comeback win.
“Quite simply, we would not have won the league if it wasn’t for Tom Murdy,” said Lord. “He stepped in and won key games for us and that gave the guys so much confidence in him.
“We don’t care who we are playing in front (of the net). We know whether it is Bowns or Murdy we have a guy back there that will give us a chance to win every night.”
Devils announced the signings after the annual summit in Calgary, Canada when Lord and Todd Kelman met owners Kelly Hughes, Craig Shostak, Brian Parker and Steve King.
Champions Hockey League, game night promotions, ticket sales and more were items on the agenda.
When the meeting finished they were joined by Layne Ulmer and his family, Justin Faryna and his wife plus Todd Kelman’s sister and her husband for a BBQ.
Brian and Sharon Parker hosted this year’s summit at their home in Springbank, just outside Calgary.
The weekend concluded with a pancake breakfast at King’s home before Kelman and Lord flew out.
Devils now have a total of 16 players confirmed for the new season – both netminders, five D-men and nine forwards.
Devils signings for 2017-18 season so far:
Netminders 2: Ben Bowns, Thomas Murdy.
Defence 5: Josh Batch, Mark Richardson, Gleason Fournier (import), Drew Paris (import), Mark Louis (import).
Forwards 9: Jake Morissette (import), Layne Ulmer (import), Andrew Lord (import), Joey Martin (import), Joey Haddad (import), Sean Bentivoglio (import), Matthew Myers, Craig Moore (British u-23), Justin Faryna (import).
Players from 2016-17 roster confirmed not returning: David Brine (signed for Medvescak Zagreb), Denny Kearney (signed for MK Lightning), Chris Culligan (retired from playing, appointed assistant coach at Cape Breton Unionized Tradesmen club, Nova Scotia), Guillaume Doucet (signed for MK Lightning).
Players from 2016-17 roster yet to confirm where they will be playing next season: Andrew Hotham, Scott Hotham, Patrick Asselin, Patrick Bordeleau.
Devils early fixtures:
Saturday 12 Aladdin Cup v Nottingham Panthers (away, 7pm)
Sunday 13 Exhibition match v Nottingham Panthers (home, 6pm)
Saturday 19 Aladdin Cup v Braehead Clan (home, 7pm)
Sunday 20 Exhibition match v Krefeld Penguins (home, 6pm)
Sunday 20 Aladdin Cup, Nottingham Panthers v Braehead Clan (Nottingham, 4pm)
Cardiff Devils will travel to Switzerland and the Czech Republic for their first two Champions Hockey League matches.
They take on HC Davos away on Thursday, August 24 and then travel to take on Czech team Bili Tygri Liberec two days later.
The first home match for Devils in CHL Group E is against Liberec on Thursday, August 31.
Davos travel to South Wales on Sunday, September 3, while Swedish team Vaxjo Lakers are at Ice Arena Wales on Tuesday, October 3.
Devils complete their group matches when they travel for the return in Sweden eight days later.
The top two teams in the group progress to the next round of the CHL.
Cardiff Devils Champions Hockey League group fixtures
Thursday 24: HC Davos v Cardiff Devils (7.45pm CEST)
Saturday 26: Bili Tygri Liberec v Cardiff Devils (3.30pm CEST)
Thursday 31: Cardiff Devils v Bili Tygri Liberec (7pm UK time, 8pm CEST)
Sunday 3: Cardiff Devils v HC Davos (6pm UK time, 7pm CEST)
Tuesday 3: Cardiff Devils v Vaxjo Lakers (7pm UK time, 8pm CEST)
Wednesday 11: Vaxjo Lakers v Cardiff Devils (7pm CEST).