By Matthew Burgess
The Cardiff Devils will head into next weekend’s quarter-final with the Coventry Blaze in good spirits after concluding their Elite League regular season campaign with a comprehensive 4-0 win over the Sheffield Steelers.
Ben Bowns recorded his second shutout of the season, turning away 41 shots, as the Devils bounced back from Saturday’s 4-2 league defeat in Coventry.
Justin Crandall found the net late in the opening period before Cardiff struck three times in the second frame with Josh Brittain, Trevor Cox and Josh Waller all on target.
Brodie Reid and Blake Thompson each posted two assists and retiring ex-Devil and Team GB stalwart Jonathan Phillips lined up for Sheffield for the final time in league competition.
Knockout play-off hockey is the sport in its truest form and provides the Devils with the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and put a wildly inconsistent league campaign behind them.
A 35-14-5 record and 0.69 points percentage in the Elite League this season meant that the Devils were never truly in the title race. It was only after the mid-season introduction of forward Steffan Fournier did the line-up look balanced and fully effective, with his presence on the third line and power play glueing the team together.
However, just as the Devils appeared they might be peaking approaching the final stages of the season, Fournier’s tenure was forcibly cut abruptly short. The move, completely outside of the organisation’s control, epitomising a deeply frustrating season.
With the team never more than on the coattails of bonafide title candidates Guildford Flames and deserved winners Belfast Giants, both the roster and head coach Brodie Dupont have faced criticism.
The Devil’s power play has been a long-term problem that is still to be addressed, with team finishing the season with the third worst power play record (17.92 percent), whilst there have also been criticisms levelled at the repetitiveness and lack of physicality shown in the side’s brand of hockey, along with the frequency of mistakes on the backend.
Dupont was appointed interim coach a year ago this week, and secured himself the role on a permanent basis after navigating the Devils past the Glasgow Clan and Guildford Flames before defeating Belfast 6-3 win in last season’s Play-Off final.
Roll forward 12 months, and it may well take another play-off victory for Dupont to silence his critics amongst the Devils fanbase.
Quarter-final opponents Coventry will provide a stern test over two legs for the Devils if they are to even reach the end of season showpiece weekend in Nottingham, and failure to qualify will lead to calls for changes in personnel on and off the ice. However, stepping up when it matters most is something which has become ingrained into the club’s identity over the years and it would be foolish to write them off.
Play-off hockey provides the Devils with the perfect platform to showcase themselves, put their shortcomings behind them and re-establish themselves amongst the best in British ice hockey once again.
Friday 7 April 2023
1930 Manchester Storm (6) vs. Sheffield Steelers (3)
Saturday 8 April 2023
1900 Belfast Giants (1) vs. Glasgow Clan (8)
1900 Coventry Blaze (5) vs. Cardiff Devils (4)
1900 Nottingham Panthers (7) vs. Guildford Flames (2)
1900 Sheffield Steelers (3) vs. Manchester Storm (6) – second leg
Sunday 9 April 2023
1800 Cardiff Devils (4) vs. Coventry Blaze (5)
1800 Glasgow Clan (8) vs. Belfast Giants (1)
1800 Guildford Flames (2) vs. Nottingham Panthers (7)
Quarter-Final matchups are a home and away, aggregate-scoring series. The winning team on aggregate advances to the 2023 Viaplay Playoff Finals Weekend.
Featured image courtesy of James Assinder