By Matthew Burgess
Justin Crandall is looking for a bounce back year as he returns for a third season as a Cardiff Devil.
The playmaker became the latest player to be announced by the Devils this week, with next season’s roster close to completion.
Crandall adds to a core of returning players, who will be looking to put the disappointment of finishing without silverware behind them.
The 31-year-old was one of six players to ice every game last season but saw his production drop as the Devils struggled for consistency.
“Last year was a bit of a frustrating year, number one, for the team and for myself, individually. It’s probably the worst statistical season I’ve had in my career and it’s made me more hungry to get back,” he said in a candid official interview with the team.
“You want to be a reliable guy, a consistent player. Hockey’s an honest game in my opinion, we go through slumps and lulls but if you do things the right way, you usually get taken care of.”
Welcome back, Cranny. One of the off ice leaders of the club and brings high end vision and skill on the ice. Getting closer now! https://t.co/eMXuv4pJV0
— Steve King (@Tacosteve10) July 26, 2023
An impressive debut campaign in Cardiff Bay saw Crandall register 13 goals and 46 assists for the Devils, but his form suffered last season as the team’s middle-six forward lines stagnated, resulting in the winger producing just 23 assists.
With the forward lines misfiring, the Devils’ top-line trio of Joey Martin, Cole Sanford and Trevor Cox found themselves burdened with stepping up to provide the points on a nightly basis.
“We were so fortunate to have Marty’s [Joey Martin’s] line take off and really carry the team,” said Crandall.
“But we learned as the year went on, that’s not a good way to win games, to have one line trying to carry the mail the whole time. I put a lot of that on myself, I know other guys did as well.
“Instead of pushing through it and finding a way to help, we took a step back and kind of expected them to do it and that’s not something I say lightly,” admits Crandall.
“I think there’s quite a few guys that will be hungry this summer, getting ready to be bigger contributors this year as well.”
With four of the 12 forwards currently signed by the Devils for the coming season being new players, Crandall says he expects the new-look roster to be stronger: “I’m going to miss a lot of the guys who aren’t coming back and I wish them the best, but a big lack in our team last year was that ‘middle-six’.
“I don’t know any of the new guys personally but from other guys that do know them and seeing the success they’ve had, we’re going to be an extremely deep team. There’s going to be a number of guys fighting for those top six positions and I think that’s the best thing you can have, is that internal competition.
“As far as I can see, so far, we’ve built a roster that’s going to be a hungry, tenacious and fast team.
“Expect a much more consistent and passionate group this year. There’s a standard in Cardiff and we didn’t reach that last year.”
This will be Crandall’s sixth season playing in Europe, having spent three years prior to playing for the Devils in the Swedish Allsvenskan League, scoring 41 goals and 78 assists for 119 points in that time.
Prior to that Crandall played in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) for the Reading Royals after coming out of the NCAA programme with the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
His experience and track record provides new coach Pete Russell plenty to work with.
“Justin is an experienced pro and brings a lot to the team on and off the ice,” said Russell.
“First of all, his teammates speak very highly of him. He is a real glue guy and just a great teammate. I want this kind of guy in our room.
“As a player he is very skilled. He is a pass first guy with good vision, but he is also a guy who chips in with 10-15 goals per year. He gets into the hard areas and works hard away from the puck.
“He has bite in his game, and I am going to challenge him to use this consistently, play with confidence, use his smart hockey mind and connect with his teammates with and without the puck.
“Every team he has played on he produces offensively, and I have no doubt he will do so again during the coming season.
“What was really transparent to me during our communications was his real hunger to stay on as a Devil and come back this year to Cardiff with the aim of having a big season, firstly for the team, and secondly for him personally. I really like that.”
The Devils start their pre-season campaign at Belfast Giants on Friday 25 August before hosting Giants the following night, in one of six games to be played at the newly-named Vindico Arena.
Tickets for each of the Devils home pre-season games are now available.
Featured image courtesy of James Assinder.