They also hailed long-serving forward Ben Davies as ‘one of our own’. The Cardiff native couldn’t be happier at his hometown club – and can’t wait to take his fans on a trip in the new year.
“We’ve seen how our fans are passionate about European hockey,” he said. “We’ve seen it in the Continental Cup this weekend, in the CHL, and also the traveling fans when the national team goes away. Cardiff hasn’t been in the Continental Cup for a number of years, so it’s nice for us to host the event and have them see some hockey from other nations.”
The Welsh capital takes its sport seriously. Bars throughout Cardiff are decked out in celebration of the Welsh football team heading to its first World Cup since 1958, while the on-going autumn rugby internationals draw big crowds to the Principality Stadium downtown. Now the Devils want to contribute their own international success to a proud sporting nation.
“We absolutely believe we can win this tournament,” Davies said. “I know Nottingham won it a few years ago, and Belfast were in the final so long ago. So this is something we can do. We definitely want to win a trophy and to win in Europe would be brilliant.
“Here in Wales there’s a lot of pride in our sport. You can hear those fans behind us, they’re still singing half an hour after the end of the game. That’s what it’s all about.”
An international perspectiveAside from Europe, the Devils also have an eye on domestic success. Cardiff is currently fourth in the Elite League, with games in hand on table topping Guildford Flames as it bids for a first championship since 2018. The team is also looking to return to the Challenge Cup final after finishing runner up in that competition last season and will hope to defend its Playoff trophy at the end of the current campaign.
Then there are international ambitions. Davies is one of several GB internationals on the Devils roster and his game-winning goal against Angers Ducs is not the first crucial marker he has scored on French opposition. Fellow Brits include goalie Ben Bowns, back at the club after playing in Europe for a couple of years, captain of club and country Mark Richardson, and Sam Duggan, one of the most exciting home-grown forwards emerging through the national program. European experience here can only help with preparations for a Division IA World Championship campaign in Nottingham in April.
“It helps both ways,” Davies said. “We have a few GB players on the team here, so we’ve experienced some different European hockey nations. We’ve seen how they play differently from us in the past.
“And hopefully playing here and in the next round will mean that we can hit the ground running with GB when we meet other countries there.”
If Davies’ fondness for his hometown club is not surprising, the continued presence of a clutch of long-serving players says much about the loyalty that the Devils inspire. Bowns and Richardson have both spent the bulk of their careers in Cardiff after moving from elsewhere in Britain, while Canada’s Joey Martin is a long-serving import who has made himself at home in the club and the city.
“It’s a professional organisation, they do things the right way,” Davies said. “They work hard for us and they expect us to work hard day in day out. That’s why guys want to come back.
“Then there’s the city, I’m biased because it’s my home, but it’s a brilliant city and our fanbase is brilliant. It’s a great place to live, people are friendly. There’s an awful lot of positives.”
The Australian adventureA love of home comforts does not mean that Davies has no intention of playing anywhere else. Now aged 31, he admits he would be interested in repeating one adventure from early in his career.
Unusually – perhaps uniquely – Davies has played at a top division World Championship, and also competed in the Australian Ice Hockey League. Back in 2018, shortly after helping GB win promotion to the Elite pool, he jetted off to Melbourne for four months to play for the Mustangs.
“It was something I always wanted to do when I was a lot younger,” he said of the trip. “The opportunity came up one year and it was a good experience for me and my partner. I look back on it with fond memories. The club in Melbourne was really good to me as well and it’s something I’d look at doing again at some point.”
Australia is not generally noted for its hockey prowess, but the standard of the national championship was better than some might expect.
“The hockey over there was good, there are some really good players out there and I had some great team-mates. The World Championship went on late, then I went straight over to play with the Mustangs, then came straight back to hockey in Britain. It was a good 18 months of solid hockey and it was nice to keep ticking over.
“It wasn’t as intensive a schedule as over here, but I played a lot of minutes and it’s something I really look back at fondly.”
Could Ben’s next fond hockey memory be coming next January at the Continental Cup final?