WE are not even a fifth of the way through the current Elite League season, but already the question has to be asked: Can anyone stop the Cardiff Devils?
Their latest Champions Hockey League campaign may have failed to produce any wins and the hoped-for progression from the group phase, but, domestically at least, there seems to be no stopping a side targetting a third straight regular season EIHL title.
Andrew Lord’s team may not yet sit top of the standings – in part because of their latest European adventure – but it is surely only a matter of time.
They currently lie fourth, two points adrift of current leaders Nottingham Panthers, but with six games in hand.
At the weekend they sent a further message of intent to their rivals, first putting struggling Sheffield Steelers to the sword in a 7-1 win that was never in doubt after a dominant opening period saw them go 4-0 up with a little over 10 minutes played.
Just under 24 hours later Fife Flyers – the only team close to matching the Devils form-wise – arrived in South Wales having climbed to top spot the previous evening after a 7-5 home win over Nottingham.
But Todd Dutiaume’s side were swiftly dispatched back up to Scotland licking their wounds after a 7-2 defeat.
At least Tom Barrasso’s Steelers were able to recover from their fruitless trip to Cardiff, edging out Manchester Storm 4-3 at Sheffield Arena on Sunday night, a scoreline that, as visiting coach Ryan Finnerty admitted afterwards, slightly flattered his players.
In contrast to the previous night when they were hit by a four-goal salvo from Cardiff inside 11 minutes, it was the Steelers who came out the quickest back on home ice, Jordan Owens’s first-minute opener on a rebound from close-in being enhanced by Tanner Eberle’s sixth-minute short-handed strike, the 24-year-old winger benefitting from a neat feed off Josh Pitt on a breakaway.
Pitt himself made it 3-0 just after the halfway point when pouncing on a rebound from a Ryan Martinelli shot, before Storm got on the board two minutes later through Chris Auger.
It is tough to stay positive when the bounces aren’t going your way but we have a good group of guys. This is a big relief and hopefully we can build off this winSheffield Steelers’ Steffan Della Rovere
Justin Buzzeo restored the three-goal lead at 48.58 after good work from Steffan Della Rovere behind the net and although Manchester again hit back quickly, this time through Shane Bakker, the Steelers prevailed, lifting themselves off the bottom of the table, despite a late power play goal from Storm’s Mike Hammond.
Afterwards, Della Rovere – the Steelers’ lone scorer on a forgettable night in Cardiff – admitted it was a relief to bring an end to the team’s six-game losing streak.
“We played well as a group (against Manchester and established a game plan early on,” he said. “It was nice that we bounced back after Saturday night. Against Cardiff ... they are a very good team. We came out flat and they jumped on us early.
“Butagainst Manchester, we came out strong, everyone was skating well and we played the systems the way that Tom drew them up.
“It is tough to stay positive when the bounces aren’t going your way but we have a good group of guys. This is a big relief and hopefully we can build off this win tonight.”