The Elite Ice Hockey season has reached a critical point, with the Devils still in with a realistic chance of the Ice Hockey Grand Slam, a feat they missed out on so cruelly last season in the playoff finals.
The first stage of this grand slam bid takes place on Sunday when the Devils come up against the Belfast Giants at IAW in the Challenge Cup Final. The Devils will be hoping to retain the trophy they won in this arena last year against the Sheffield Steelers. This is now just a one-off shootout between Belfast and Cardiff and come Sunday night we will know if the grand slam was just another dream or whether this truly could be the year.
In the league, the Devils are currently sitting top of the table on 75 points with their nearest rivals Manchester Storm on 65 points with both teams having played 48 games. In the third position are the Belfast Giants on 62 points, also from 48 games and in 4th place is the Fife Flyers on 60 points but they have only played 44 games. Fife has already been crowned Gardiner conference Champions and although they have games in hand over the Devils you would put the Devils as firm favourites.
The Manchester Storm had a fantastic start to the season, then their form seemed to drop away for a period, however, they were on a terrific winning run when the Devils travelled up to the “Storm Shelter” on Saturday night. Always a difficult rink to play at, and with the home side high in confidence they ran out 3-1 winners, although the Devils outshot them by 42 to 20. Whether you put that down to inaccurate shots from the Devils or a great performance by Manchester stopper Mike Clemente is a matter of opinion.
As has often seemed to be the case this season, when faced with a poor result or performance the Cardiff sides togetherness always seems to show through and these players really want to perform and play for each other and the Red Army. On Sunday night Belfast was in town for a dress rehearsal of the Challenge Cup Final and the Devils ran out 6-2 winners in what was quite an easy game for the home side. As a bonus for the home side Manchester Storms winning run was brought to an end in Guildford. So the side that has been the Devils Achilles heel all season did them a favour. After the weekend fixtures, it was all the same at the top of the league.
Without going into all the Mathematical permutations the Devils need 85 points to guarantee they take the league title, this is only if Fife manages to win all their remaining 12 fixtures. The big must for the Devils is a home win against the Storm on Friday night. If we tuck this win away it will mean the Storm would have to win all their remaining fixtures and the Devils would have to slip up dramatically. The worry for Devils fans is other than the games against Edinburgh and MK Lightning all their remaining fixtures are against conference rivals the Steelers and the Giants. They have to play the Steelers three times and the Giants twice. Such has been the form of both the Steelers and the Giants this term who knows what side will turn up. These will be extremely difficult fixtures to navigate and the Devils will have to see this league campaign out right until the end to be able to lift the silverware.
These remaining fixtures lead nicely on to who will be Erhardt conference champions. That looks like a two horse race with both the Devils and the Giants on 26 points so the remaining fixtures between the two sides are the most important of the season. I don’t think there has been a tighter season. Apart from the Gardiner conference, which I don’t want to get into as it is a little controversial, this is such a tight run into the end of the season.
One bonus for the Devils in the run in is that we don’t rely on one goal scorer. I was quite surprised when scanning the scoring and point charts for this season as the Devils hardly feature in the top positions. This means, of course, we are scoring goals from everywhere which also means we are not reliant on a single player. We have game winners throughout our team.
So in summary:
Must win game Friday night in the Elite league against the Storm,
Must win game Sunday against the Giants to pick up the first trophy,
then get to 85 points ASAP to prevent anyone catching us.
Please keep an eye out for one of the Y-Ddraig’s other writers Oliver Hampson’s Challenge Cup preview when he will let you know exactly what the Cardiff Devils are up against.
Feature Picture Credit: http://www.helenbrabonphotography.co.uk