Panthers v Devils 13th September 2014 Preview

With Panthers domestic season opener just two days away, Jono Bullard previews Saturday’s game against Cardiff Devils

It’s incredible to think that Saturday will be Nottingham Panthers tenth game of the season so far and the first against Elite League opposition. Quite rightly, the clubs focus up until now has been on the Champions Hockey League, however the domestic campaign always has been and always will be our ‘bread & butter’ as far as I’m concerned. While it is been fantastic to see Panthers compete against the likes of Lukko Rauma & Luleå, I’m also excited for the start of our Elite League season, especially as there appears to have been an upgrade in the quality of opposition throughout the EIHL.

Panthers opponents on Saturday, Cardiff Devils, have gone through a huge change during the off-season, not just on the ice but more importantly off it. After a torrid campaign last season owner Paul Ragan finally sold the club with one of the new owners being Belfast Giants GM Todd Kelman. The announcement instantly saw a return of the feel good factor to South Wales as Kelman and Player-Coach Andrew Lord set about building a team that would bring the crowds back to the Big Blue Tent.

On the face of it, they appear to have recruited a squad that will perform well on the smaller ice surface of the BBT, a smart move when you consider that the Devils will be moving into a 3,500 capacity Arena next season. However they may struggle on larger ice surfaces and pre-season defeats in Belfast & Coventry would support that theory so far. At home a single goal loss to the Steelers is the only blemish in four games including pre-season. In the six games they have played so far their record is Won 3, Lost 3, Scored 21, Conceded 19.

For me it’s very difficult to assess how the Panthers will approach this game. While they have only won 2 games out of the 9 played so far, it is fair to say that Panthers have been coming up against better quality opposition that can be found in the Elite League, especially in the CHL. Of course much has been made of Panthers extra imports brought in for the CHL but Martin Podlesak, Martins Raitums & Colby Cohen have all left, Mark Lee still hasn’t iced which leaves Nathan Robinson as the only ‘extra’. When you consider that David Clarke is out recovering from shoulder surgery and Chris Higgins is injured it could be argued that Panthers are going into the game somewhat under-staffed.

In saying that though Panthers will still ice a full complement of 12 imports who have had the chance to gel and should have the edge over Cardiff in overall match fitness having played three more games. I’m expecting a fascinating battle in front of a large crowd. It’s one not to be missed.

Cat’s Whiskers TV will be in The Bunkers Hill Inn after Saturday’s game looking for the views of supporters from both teams for our Fanzone feature. Please pop along after the game if you can.

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