Ben Blood has thanked the ‘awesome’ Cardiff Devils fans during the build-up towards their opening Elite League home match against Nottingham Panthers this Saturday.
Panthers have opened their campaign with three successive wins, beating bitter rivals Sheffield Steelers 5-2, and come to Cardiff in confident mood.
Captain Jake Morissette and his Devils have been on Champions League duty and now turn to their opening domestic League match.
Big defenceman Blood, a physical presence who patrols the blue line with a steely edge, has gone toe-to-toe with new Devils team-mate Mark Louis earlier in their career, but says: “We’re the best of buddies.
“We are the best of friends. I love it here in Wales. Cardiff is a great city and the Devils fans are awesome.
“My job is to play hard D, I am vocal in the locker room and I play a hard-nosed game. I also like to have positive energy and put out positive vibes.”
Blood is one of four new players in the Devils team, while they are still intent on adding one more high quality defenceman.
That may take time with head coach Andrew Lord watching developments in North America, but there will be a new arrival at some stage.
There is no rush because the versatile Josh Batch has joined the D-corps with great success, adding a physical, hard-hitting dimension.
Mike Hedden, Stephen Dixon and Charles Linglet are the other new players to the Devils team, who take on Panthers at home on Saturday before entertaining Milton Keynes Lightning on Sunday.
Star forward Joey Martin is back for his fifth season with Devils, having scored 93 goals with 168 assists over the last four seasons.
Martin is one of three Devils players from Thorold, Ontario along with Hedden and Sean Bentivoglio.
“I love the winning culture here in Cardiff,” says Hedden. “It’s great to play alongside Joey again and a character like Benti.
“Elite League hockey is on the hockey map and getting better every year.”
Fans favourite Martin is delighted to see Calder Cup winning player Hedden in Cardiff and says: “He’s a special kind of guy. Fans love him and he competes hard.
“Everybody at Cardiff Devils is addicted to winning. It’s a great feeling after a long season to lift a trophy after working so hard. We’re going for it all again.”
Devils turn from their Champions League fixtures to focus on Elite League and Challenge Cup fixtures.
They play Panthers on Saturday before facing Milton Keynes Lightning at home on Sunday on a match being broadcast live on FreeSports.
“We need 60 minutes in both games,” says Lord. “After our games in the CHL, we have to keep going, pushing the pace and I think our game is much better than it was a few weeks ago.
“The systems have been installed into the new guys and the players that stayed are familiar with it again so we’re looking for line chemistry again.
“Due to injuries, we had to juggle and adapt a different style of play, but we have to start getting that down more.
“I hope we can stick with Nottingham in this game coming up. We’d better. We saw them in pre-season and they were fast, physical and play with a lot of pride.
“Their coach has them all on the same page. While we’ve seen them once , we’ll be ready for them and I think it’ll be a great game.”
Nottingham Panthers roster:
Goalies: Michael Garnett (import), Sam Gospel.
Defencemen: Tim Billingsley (import), Joseph Hazeldine, Tommy Hughes (import), Steve Lee, Guillaume Lepine (capt, import), Dylan Olsen (import), Jaynen Riesling (import), Joshua Tetlow.
Forwards: Oliver Betteridge, Tyler Riggs (import), Jacob Doty (import), Robert Farmer, Alexander Guptill (import), Kevin Henderson (import), Mark Hurtubise (import), Justin Kovacs (import), Robert Lachowicz, Brett Perlini (import), Luke Pither (import), Jon Rheault (import).
Remaining Elite League fixtures during September:
Friday 14: Belfast Giants v Dundee Stars (7pm)
Saturday 15: Cardiff Devils v Nottingham Panthers (7pm); Belfast Giants v Glasgow Clan (7pm), Sheffield Steelers v Manchester Storm (7pm), Milton Keynes Lightning v Coventry Blaze (7pm), Fife Flyers v Dundee Stars (7.15pm).
Sunday 16: Coventry Blaze v Nottingham Panthers (5.15 pm), Manchester Storm v Glasgow Clan
(5.30pm), Guildford Flames v Sheffield Steelers (6pm), Dundee Stars v Fife Flyers (5pm), Cardiff Devils v Milton Keynes Lightning (6pm).
Tuesday 18: Guildford Flames v Fife Flyers (7.30pm)
Wednesday 19: Belfast Giants v Nottingham Panthers (7.30pm)
Saturday 22: Nottingham Panthers v Glasgow Clan (7pm), Fife Flyers v Belfast Giants (7.15pm), Milton Keynes Lightning v Guildford Flames (7pm), Cardiff Devils v Coventry Blaze (7pm), Manchester Storm v Sheffield Steelers (7pm)
Sunday 23: Sheffield Steelers v Cardiff Devils (4pm), Dundee Stars v Manchester Storm (5pm), Coventry Blaze v Milton Keynes Lightning (5.15pm), Guildford Flames v Glasgow Clan (6pm), Belfast Giants v Fife Flyers (4pm)
Wednesday 26: Nottingham Panthers v Cardiff Devils (7.30pm), Sheffield Steelers v Dundee Stars (7.30pm)
Friday 28: Belfast Giants v Dundee Stars (7pm)
Saturday 29: Coventry Blaze v Glasgow Clan (7pm), Manchester Storm v Milton Keynes Lightning (7pm), Dundee Stars v Belfast Giants (7pm), Guildford Flames v Cardiff Devils (6pm), Sheffield Steelers v Nottingham Panthers (7pm)
Sunday 30: Milton Keynes Lightning v Dundee Stars (5.15pm), Coventry Blaze v Sheffield Steelers (5.15pm), Guildford Flames v Nottingham Panthers (6pm), Cardiff Devils v Glasgow Clan (6pm), Fife Flyers v Manchester Storm (6.30pm).
Cardiff open their domestic fixtures with a full strength team, although coach Lord remains intent on adding a top quality defenceman to his group.
He is ready to wait until the right man becomes available.
Devils are now focused on playing Panthers at home in Cardiff Bay on Saturday, followed by Milton Keynes Lightning in the Challenge Cup the following evening.
Coventry Blaze then play at Ice Arena Wales on Saturday, September 22.
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Remaining Devils fixtures in September
Saturday 15: Cardiff Devils v Nottingham Panthers (7pm, EL)
Sunday 16: Cardiff Devils v MK Lightning (6pm, CC group C)
Saturday 22: Cardiff Devils v Coventry Blaze (7pm, CC)
Sunday 23: Sheffield Steelers v Cardiff Devils (4pm, EL)
Wednesday 26: Nottingham Panthers v Cardiff Devils (7.30pm, EL)
Saturday 29: Guildford Flames v Cardiff Devils (6pm, CC)
Sunday 30: Cardiff Devils v Glasgow Clan (6pm, EL)