The new home for the Cardiff Devils is now complete, the 17 million pound arena is open and up and running, so it seemed like the perfect time to visit South Wales again. I remember during the eighties visiting Ninian Park (former home of Cardiff City). In those days following football carried a health warning. On arrival at Cardiff Central you simply kept your head down for the rest of the afternoon, visiting a pub was never considered and keeping one’s mouth firmly closed was advised. In the nineties however, I went on several occasions to the Wales National Ice Rink. This was in the centre of Cardiff and was actually demolished in 2006. It was much more welcoming and I witnessed some cracking games against the Nottingham Panthers; I recall also the excellent atmosphere there.
Over the years the Devils have had some problems to deal with; ownership, finance and home ice being the main issues and they were actually declared bankrupt in 2001. You would need to go back to 96/97 when they last won the league title (ISL). More recently though there is clearly a refreshing change running through the organisation, last season’s Challenge Cup win was followed up with another final appearance this season losing only to an overtime goal by Evan Mosey (Nottingham Panthers). Also the team has enjoyed an excellent campaign in the league, which was going down to the final game. With the off ice problems now in the past the club can look forward with some confidence, especially with having Todd Kelman as the General Manager.
My wife and I decided on a two night stay in Cardiff, this allowed us to see the final and deciding game of the season and of course visit the new arena. We decided to let the train take the strain, except at £72 return it was more like a strain on our pockets, good job we had a railcard and for this trip some Tesco vouchers, at least that make it reasonable. We opted for the Marriott Hotel in the centre of town, excellent location and at £79 per room there were no complaints.
The new arena is situated next to the Big Blue Tent (BBT), I actually never made it there but friends have assured me the sightlines were poor at best. Getting to the arena from the centre of Cardiff is not that user friendly, walking is difficult and takes the best part of one hour, you can take a local train to Cogan, its probably a 15 minute walk from there, we were short on time so decided on a taxi (£8.50). I had ordered 2 tickets by phone and needed to collect them from the bar area, they are not yet up to speed with the administration side. On collection it was Todd Kelman who recommended the pizza van outside for food. He is quite hands on with all things happening with the Devils it seems. He was not wrong; cooked in a proper oven while you wait the pizzas could not be faulted. As we sat outside to eat we watched the usual Hockey players warm up, football, to rid themselves of the bus legs, Panthers players were not always in control of the ball though, also there is something strange when players try to head the ball with baseball caps on….
We decided to have a beer at the ice arena, as the nearest pub is quite a walk away. From the bar you can see the second ice pad and get a view of the new facilities. It is all very impressive. Speaking to some of the local fans they informed us the BBT will be gone in April, a new hotel will be built, in fact the whole area is under development as part of a £250 million project.
Block 10 row D would be our seats for the evening, it was a stretch to see the far right hand corner looking through the players benches, decent overall view though, the Jumbotron showed the entrance video which was not bad, perhaps the acoustics need equalising somewhat, there are bound to be a few teething problems to start with.
Now on the night there would be a need to stay tuned to everything that was happening in Kirkcaldy. Steelers would need to lose up there if the Devils were to stay in with a chance of the league title however, everyone was struggling to get a phone signal but eventually news came of a 2-goal Sheffield lead. The Devils could only concentrate on their game at that stage and after an end-to-end first period Douchet fired them in front with a shot from the outside which found its way past Wilkman. In the second period Salters tipped in number two to put the Panthers on the back foot, to their credit though they were playing quite well going forward and forced Bowns into some good saves before Waugh stepped in to reduce the arrears with a nice finish.
At this point Panthers were looking good before deciding to hit the destruct button. Firstly Farmer was called for a stupid retaliation penalty and with Bowns off for the extra skater the Devils scored on the delayed penalty, Haddad netting from an angle. Now if Wilkman was a little disappointed with a couple of the Devils goals he will be distraught if he sees the 4th one again, scored by Fournier. I was surprised at this stage that Wilkman was not replaced. In the 3rd period the Devils became very nervous, firstly credit Wilkman with 2 fine saves to deny them a 5th goal, but Farmer and then Kolnik scored to bring the game back to 4-3. The Devils held on though for a deserved win, they would in the end finish runners up as the Steelers claimed their 9th league title with a 3-1 win in Scotland, how do they do it? The Devils deserve much credit for a terrific season. Andrew Lord has done a fine job as player coach and you have to feel they will be a force in the seasons ahead.
We decided on a walk to a local pub for a couple of glasses to allow us a chance to digest the evening, a really good experience we felt. It is recommended that should anyone have an opportunity to visit the new arena they most certainly should do so, we will definitely be back.
Just a few thoughts on the Nottingham Panthers. The CC is already in the trophy cabinet as we know and credit to the organisation for that. However, the league title was never really in their sight. It is always easy in hindsight to look at the reasons why but yet again injuries to key players have hit the team; defensively I never thought the balance was quite right. On paper they certainly look a very good side and have shown it at times, perhaps there is little need to make too many changes, finding consistency though like in any sport is always the key.
To conclude we again have to say many congratulations to the Sheffield Steelers, back-to-back league titles their 9th overall, a tremendous achievement.