By Terry Phillips
Ben Bowns is heading to Austria – and Cardiff Devils look certain to sign an import goaltender for the 2020-21 Elite League season.
Yorkshireman Bowns has made more than 400 appearances in six seasons for Devils, but he has now committed to Austrian club Graz 99ers.
That surely means Devils are searching for a first import goalie since Canadian Dan LaCosta in 2013-14.
“The fanbase here will be heartbroken,” said managing director Todd Kelman. “That is just being honest. He is one of, if not the, most popular players we have ever had.
“His impact on ice hockey in Cardiff goes far beyond the success he has had with the Devils.
“Bownsy has been coaching kids nearly the whole time he has been here, even during the season. He has inspired a generation of British ice hockey players and in particular the next generation of goalies.
“It is hard to put into words how much he has done for this club. He played nearly every game for six years and played his best hockey in the biggest games.
“He came to us as a 23-year-old kid who was just happy to be here and leaves us as a proven winner, the most successful goalie in the league over the last six seasons, with a track record that speaks for itself domestically and internationally.
“I am immensely proud of him and I am so happy that he has been given this opportunity to prove himself at an even higher level in Europe.
“He deserves everything he gets, but we are going to miss him, on and off the ice. He is a great goalie, a great teammate and a great person.
“The entire organisation, from ownership down through management, staff and players, are sad to see Bownsy go. But, at the same time, we are so happy for him getting this opportunity in such a great league with a fantastic organisation.”
Devils played Graz twice in Champions Hockey League mate he’s last season, beating them both times with Bowns starring for the Devils on each occasion.
He leaves Devils as the most successful starting goalie in franchise history, leading the Devils to three Erhardt Conference titles, two Challenge Cup championships, two League Titles and two play-off championships.
Bowns has been named to the Elite League’s First All-Star Team three times out of his six years in Cardiff and was also selected as the Elite League’s netminder of the year for three seasons in a row from 2015 and Best British player twice during that period.
His 33 shutouts are a franchise record, including a league leading nine in one season during 2018-19.
He also starred on the International stage, leading Team GB in back-to-back gold medal triumphs and promotion to the top division of the World Championships where they will once again compete in May 2021.
Cardiff Devils signings for 2020-21 so far (10):
Forwards: Mike McNamee, Sam Duggan, Joey Martin (captain), Joey Haddad, Stephen Dixon, Evan Mosey, Josh Batch, Toms Rutkis (2-way contract with Swindon Wildcats).
Defence: Sam Jardine, Mark Richardson.
Players not returning: Ben Bowns (nm), Sean Bentivoglio (retired), Bryce Reddick (to East Coast League Atlanta Gladiators).