Continental Cup: Cardiff Devils are eyeing their first European Championship triumph

Cardiff Devils have set their sights on victory in the final round of the Continental Cup in France this weekend.

The Continental Cup – celebrating its 25th anniversary this year – is the International Ice Hockey Federation’s European tournament.

It is the second-tier club tournament of European ice hockey behind the Champions Hockey League (CHL), with 18 countries represented this season.

“The players are more than excited,” Cardiff head coach Brodie Dupont said.

The Devils have advanced since the third round in November.

They did it in some style, winning their three group games played at Ice Arena Wales.

The Devils beat French side Angers Ducs 3-1 before beating 12-time Slovenian champions Acroni Jesenice 3-0.

They took first place in the group by defeating Latvian Zemgale Jelgava with 5-2.

It will be another tough weekend for the Devils in Angers, where they again play three games in three days.

On Friday, Cardiff face hosts – and two-time French Cup winners – Angers Ducs, who are third in France’s Ligue Magnus.

On Saturday, they will play against Asiago Hockey, which is an eight-time champion of the Italian hockey league and a member of the International Central European Hockey League.

The Devils finish their final round matches on Sunday against the tournament’s top seed HK Nitra, who are former Slovakian Extraliga winners.

“The Continental Cup brought some confidence”

Since the third round of the Continental Cup, there has been a significant improvement in the form of the Devils in the league.

They have closed the gap on first place – held by the Guildford Flames – in the Elite Ice Hockey League from 10 points to three and are third in the table.

They have won 12 of their 15 games since November.

“The Continental Cup here gave a bit of confidence. We know there is a certain way to play and we proved that,” said Dupont.

“We felt like we dominated that weekend and a lot of that carried over to the league.

“We knew we had to run [in the league] if we are going to have any chance at the top of the table.

“The other teams at the top are playing well too, so you have to at least keep up and win the big games when they come.”

The stabilization of the league form of the Devils was partly down to the recruitment of new players.

With Jake Coughler and Sam Jardine out with concussions, the Devils found themselves without bodies.

They have picked up highly-rated Scottish youngster Reece Kelly, who is on a developmental two-way deal with Bristol Pitbulls and Cardiff, to bolster their defence.

Cardiff then signed 23-year-old forward Rory Herrman to his first professional contract following his graduation from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York State, where he played in the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the highest level of American college hockey.

Mark Richardson in action against Acroni Jenesica
Mark Richardson in action against Acroni Jenesica

The most notable of the recent recruits is Quebec-born forward Stefan Fournier of the Wichita Thunder.

A former All-Star in the ECHL, he is a figure who seemingly made an immediate impact on the Devils.

“Fournier is a very experienced player, I knew him when I played against him in the ECHL and AHL (American Hockey League),” Dupont said.

“He’s actually been following Cardiff for two years now. He’s aware of a lot of the lads that have come here, he knows the reputation here, so it didn’t take much convincing for him to come.

“He’s got that old-school soul and he’s got a bit of flair in his attitude which instilled a good energy in the room.

“Now there are some guys who aren’t big talkers and that’s a good thing.”

Devils disappointed because ‘there is no place in the CHL this weekend’

In early November, the CHL decided that the number of teams that will compete in the 2023-24 tournament will be reduce from 32 to 24.

This meant that the winners of this year’s Continental Cup would not receive one of the five wildcard spots for next season’s CHL.

Devils CEO Todd Kelman said: “Over the last few years the winner of the Continental Cup has gained entry into the CHL. As the CHL has downsized, that means some tough decisions have had to be made.

“We were informed a few weeks ago that the winner of the Continental Cup would not receive an automatic bid to the CHL, which I’m sure all four teams in the final round are disappointed about. We certainly are.

“If we are lucky enough to win the Continental Cup, we expected a place in the CHL, like the other three teams we are competing against.

“It doesn’t take away from the prestige of competing for the Continental Cup title because we obviously want to win it, but we are certainly disappointed that there is no place in the CHL this weekend.”

Despite the blow, the Devils expect their five-day trip to France to be a positive experience for the team.

Dupont said: “It will be good for team-building. You spend so much time with each other, you can’t help but become a closer group.

“You look to do that in training camp, to try to bond the team as soon as possible.

“So to get this opportunity in the middle of the season, especially with how well our team has been together, I think it’s only going to add to our strength.”

The Devils will aim to win the Continental Cup for the first time.

“We will face a different style of hockey, but we will play our hockey,” Dupont added.

“We felt like we competed well last round, but now the teams are better and the stakes are simply one winner takes it all.”

2023 IIHF Continental Cup Final Round Matches at Angers IceParc, France:

Friday, January 13

HK Nitra vs Asiago Hockey (15:30 GMT)

Cardiff Devils vs Angers Ducs (19:00 GMT)

Saturday, January 14

Cardiff Devils vs Asiago Hockey (15:30 GMT)

Angers Ducs vs HK Nitro (19:00 GMT)

Sunday, January 15

HK Nitra vs Cardiff Devils (15:30 GMT)

Asiago Hockey vs Angers Ducs (19:00 GMT)

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