Accelerated learning

Davos 10 – 1 Devils

Via Luton and Zurich we travelled to the beautiful alpine resort town of Davos to see the Devils first CHL game. I’ve heard people who grew up in the valleys during the coal mining era talk of holidays to Butlins in Barry Island as a ‘Shwmae holiday’, because you went away and knew everyone there and would walk around uttering shwmae as you passed your neighbour. This was what it felt like when touring the quiet town during the off season. Go to the top of a mountain to take in the view? There’s Neil Francis. Pop into a bar, there are eight fans in Devils jerseys. Walk down the street, there’s Joey Haddad. The 100 or so fans who made their way to Switzerland (via routes out of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World) certainly seemed to make their presence felt.

The Davos team may have finished relatively low down last season, but they are the most successful Swiss team, and their coach, Arno del Curto, is much admired in the NHL. Their rink is a wooden hockey cathedral with excellent acoustics and friendly staff.

We always knew this would be a tough step up, but that was demonstrated with frightening speed. The Devils started confidently but Louis picked up a penalty, then another and we were defending a 5 on 3 PK within the first two minutes and they scored immediately. A second followed and within 4 minutes the Devils were two down and chasing the game. Welcome to Champions Hockey. The Devils continued to pick up penalties throughout the period, with three factors combining against them: their inexperience in European interpretation of rules; the speed of Davos causing Devils players to always be chasing and clipping players; the ability of Davos to draw them into giving penalties.

The second period was to be a lesson in hockey, opening with slick passing to quickly make it three. Wieser in particular, but all of their players looked like they were playing NHL17 on east mode and skating around ineffectual challenges with ease. The goals came with ruthless regularity and at number seven Murdy was swapped in for Bowns (not that Bowns was to blame for any of the preceding ones). After the game had got away from them so early, the Devils had no plan to fall back on, which was expounded by the more sensitive interpretation of slashing and cross checking regulations. At times it looked like Davos were playing a different game by a different set of rules.

The third saw Martin get the Devils first CHL goal, which the fans celebrated as if it sealed victory, chanting “we scored a goal” repeatedly. As we waited for it to end, with a 10-1 scoreline the only take away was that this was all about learning. Davos were undoubtedly superior, but not by that margin, and for the few moments when the Devils were full strength they looked like they could compete. They will need to learn about discipline, maintaining puck possession and dealing with the speed of transition of European teams.

The Devils fans stayed behind for an hour afterwards, singing the new Welsh anthem of “please don’t take me home”, to the delight of the Davos fans. Hopefully the team will take it in the same manner, that it is the experience that was the real value here.

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