I can’t remember watching a more exciting pre-season fixture in ice hockey or football than Cardiff Devils v Poprad HK at Ice Arena Wales.
Slovakian speedsters Poprad powered into a 5-1 lead, helped by some poor work defensively from Devils, but by the end the visitors were hanging on desperately at 5-4.
Josh Batch, who switches effortlessly between forward and defence, caused mayhem in front of the Poprad goal and while the Slovaks were trying to shift him captain Jake Morissette scored their fourth goal.
Great Britain international Batch wasn’t given an assist on that one, but boy did he deserve one.
There were two minutes left when Morissette scored and Poprad were subjected to an avalanche of pressure I have rarely seen. The puck was smashed, flicked and fired at the away teams goal with blocks, saves, deflections and pure bad luck denying Devils.
Poprad held on for the win, but I’m still not sure how they did it. The fans were ready to erupt into celebrations as Devils peppered the Slovak goal.
“We’ve had a good pre-season so far, playing a big, physical Nottingham team who gave us a hard test,” said head coach Andrew Lord.
“Poprad provided good Champions League prep. They have a ton of speed. On Saturday our first two periods were good and the third wasn’t.
“This time our first period performance wasn’t great, but we had a good second and a great third. We need to find that consistency.
“We came out flat and didn’t have our skating legs, while Poprad were playing up tempo. I liked our compete, our commitment to battle back and it was great when everybody in the building seemed to be getting behind us in those last six or seven minutes.”
Cardiff Devils are 11 days away from their first competitive match and their home defeat against Poprad HK underlined how much progress they still have to make.
Their match against Slovakians Poprad was far closer than the score suggests and Devils have a team which looks, if anything, even stronger than their teams who won Elite League titles in each of the last two seasons.
But there is work to be done over the next week or so before they take on Red Bull Salzburg in their opening Champions League fixture on Thursday, August 30.
Head coach Andrew Lord has kept the core of their roster from 2017-18 when they won the League and play-offs championship, adding five quality imports.
Lord is without two quality D-men in Andrew Hotham and Tyson Strachan, who have both opted to retire from playing at the top level, but they have brought in Tom Parisi and Ben Blood onto their blue line unit. Both are high end defencemen.
Mike Hedden, Stephen Dixon and Charles Linglet are the forward additions with Devils adding extra speed and firepower to an already powerful team.
Parisi did not play against Poprad because he flew in this weekend, but he was introduced to fans on the ice before face-off, while Devils were also without injured trio Justin Faryna, Linglet and Welsh winger Matthew Myers.
— Cardiff Devils (@cardiffdevils) August 19, 2018
All three would be big losses to any team, but thankfully they are all close to being able to return.
At least one of those would have been playing now if the season was at a later stage, but Lord won’t risk any of them in pre-season fixtures.
Luke Piggott and Toms Rutkis both had regular ice time as Devils mixed and matched their forwards, while the defensive parings were Mark Richardson and Josh Batch, Blood and Reddick, Mark Louis and Gleason Fournier.
Parisi, who will make his debut against Coventry Blaze at Ica Arena Wales next weekend, is likely to slot in alongside Richardson, who has spent the last few seasons pairing up with Hotham.
Batch will return play on the forward line, making way for American Parisi.
Scorers, Devils: Stephen Dixon 1+1, Mark Richardson 1+1, Jake Morissette 1+1, Joey Martin 1+0, Layne Ulmer 0+1, Gleason Fournier 0+1, Joey Haddad 0+1, Matt Pope 0+1, Ben Blood 0+1.
Poprad scorers: Samuel Takac 2+1, Joona Erving 1+0, Marcel Petran 1+0, Radomir Heizer 1+0, Simon Karlson 0+1, Patrick Svitana 0+2, Patrik Hoys 0+2, Jan Tovoda 0+2, Stefan Fabian 0+1.
Period scores (Devils first) 0-3, 2-2 (2-5); 2-0 (4-5).
Shots on goal: Devils (on Vosvrda) 5+9+12=27; Poprad (on Bowns) 8+10+5=23.
Penalties in minutes: Devils 8+2+6=16; Poprad 8+6+8=22.
Men of the match: Devils, Stephen Dixon; Poprad Samuel Takac.
There are five North American import players on defence for Devils with 10 among the forwards.
Cardiff Devils signings for 2018-19 so far:
Netminders: Ben Bowns, Thomas Murdy.
Defencemen: Tom Parisi (import), Ben Blood (import), Bryce Reddick (import), Mark Louis (import), Gleason Fournier (import), Mark Richardson.
Forwards: Charles Linglet (import) Josh Batch, Stephen Dixon (import), Toms Rutkis, Mike Hedden (import), Layne Ulmer (import), Matthew Myers, Justin Faryna (import), Jake Morissette (import), Sean Bentivoglio (import), Craig Moore, Matt Pope (import), Joey Martin (import), Joey Haddad (import).
Players no longer playing for Devils: Andrew Lord (retired from playing to become full-time head coach), Andrew Hotham (retired), Paul Crowder (to Fife Flyers), Drew Paris (Karlskrona HK, Sweden), Tyson Strachan (retired), Patrick Asselin (retired).
Tickets for Saturday’s home match against Coventry are available ONLINE HERE, call 0800 0842 666 or book in person at the Arena reception.
Cardiff Devils early fixtures and results list, including pre-season matches and Champions League group fixtures.
Saturday 11: Nottingham Panthers 5, Cardiff Devils 5
Sunday 12: Cardiff Devils 3, Nottingham Panthers 6 (Panthers won 11-8 on aggregate)
Saturday 18: Cardiff Devils 3, HK Poprad 2
Sunday 19: Cardiff Devils 4, HK Poprad 5
Saturday 25: Cardiff Devils v Coventry Blaze (7pm, pre-season)
Sunday 26: Coventry Blaze v Cardiff Devils (5.15pm, pre-season)
Thursday 30: Cardiff Devils v Red Bull Salzburg (7.30pm, Champions League)