This has been an interesting exercise in balancing the success of last season with the demands of renewed challenges from rivals, the challenges of the new conference system, retirements of existing players and the new rules on squad formation. With the Devils, Giants, Steelers and Panthers in the same conference, and all of these rising to the challenge of the Devils dominance last season, it was never going to be sufficient to simply retain the same team. But added in to this are the new regulations about imports and Brits: 14 imports (no EU difference), 5 Brits and 3 under 23 Brits. The immediate shake down from this is that, barring a sudden glut of impressive under 23 British players (not likely), is that 4 line hockey becomes more like 3.5 line hockey. And having the luxury of an enforcer role as one of your imports is no longer viable. The ex-NHL enforcer experiment we saw last year with Rosehill, McGrattan and Bordeleau was over before we’d even really evaluated it.
Bordeleau had never really impressed enough to warrant a return – like the girl with the curl in her forehead, he could be very, very good and change games in a shift, but he was too often absent – but in the new make up he would be a foolhardy signing. So this leaves the need for Toughness to be distributed throughout the team, rather than consolidated in one figure. Added to this we had retirements from Culligan (a shame, one of my favourite players), and the Brit rule causing CJ to move on (Piggsie would eventually be retained as a spare brit). In the past Lord has had a tendency to perhaps retain too many familiar places. As a new coach this is understandable, but as he gains in confidence he is gaining a more ruthless edge. Great teams always have a certain amount of turnover, it changes the dynamics and avoids complacency. At the same time it is desirable to retain an influential core who trust the coach, can command the dressing room, and understand the club and fans. These establish a club culture which newcomers then respond to.
Starting at the back there was a no-brainer in retaining Bowns and Murdy. The Devils were fortunate to retain Murdy as a back up as he is good enough to earn a starting place elsewhere, and so this speaks to the nurturing environment they have established. In defence there have been some interesting shifts. The free skating Fournier is retained, the multi-purpose (he can hit, score, stay at home or go forward) Louis also stays as does the key D-man, Andrew Hotham. In his testimonial year, the ever reliable Richardson was always going to be here, but Batch is now listed as a forward. He trained as a forward early on, and my guess is that after being omitted from the GB squad, he feels that playing a utility role may improve his chances, and with Culligan retiring this dual function suits the Devils also. Which brings us onto the new recruits in defence. Bryce Riddick is a pacy defender who can play on specialist teams, and is comfortable two way. Drew Paris looks to be a really good signing, big, powerful and skilful he represents one of the new distributed toughness signings (Batch, Louis and Hotham are all contributors here also).
Moving on to the forwards, the players retained here are as significant as the new signings: Mr reliable Joey Martin was an early recapture, fans favourite Joey Haddad likewise, and Captain Morissette completed the obvious (along with Lord himself obviously). Asselin was the class player of last year for me, and I was relieved to see him return, and Bentivoglio and Ulmer completed an impressive set of returnees from last year. Completing the Brit contingent is Myers, and added to him is under 23 Craig Moore, who like Batch, can play in defence also. Most of the retainees are what we might term ‘skill’ players (with the exception of Lord and Myers). This places the emphasis on more two-way, 3rd and 4th line type players for recruitment. An excellent early addition was Justin Faryna from Dundee. Matt Pope is a power forward who can operate on any line, and Paul Crowder is a useful multi-purpose player who can shield the net and work effectively.
This gives possible lines of:
- Pope Martin Benti
- Haddad Ulmer Asselin
- Mo Faryna Crowder
- Moore Myers Batch
But expect plenty of swapping around of these. I’m excited about this team, in some ways more so than last year’s team. There are a good number of new signings, favourites retained and some new lines and roles to be observed. I expect Faryna and Paris to become fan favourites and Crowder to be the surprise of the season in the way Asselin was last year.