Standing in the Way – Cardiff FirePosted: 22/08/2017
Home rink: Ice Arena Wales
Last season: NIHL 2 South West winners, playoff semi-finalists, cup finalists
A change of league and a change of format for Standing in the Way for Banners On The Wall’s first full season of covering NIHL 1 South. We start in South Wales with the Cardiff Fire.
Last season, NIHL 2 South was split into western and eastern conferences. Along with the Basingstoke Buffalo, the Cardiff Fire were in the western conference. The Buffalo had a modest season with 3 wins, 2 draws and 9 defeats in their 14 games. The Cardiff Fire on the other hand subsequently won all of their 14 games; a perfect record that was added to with a +67 goal difference.
However the dominance in league play sadly didn’t quite translate into more trophies. The Fire lost the NIHL 2 South cup final to the Peterborough Islanders and then were knocked out in the playoffs by Chelmsford Warriors.
How they got here:
With all the changes, the Fire applied for promotion to division 1 and were accepted which has allowed the club to add a second team into the new, single division NIHL 2 South. The club also announced a formal linking up with the Cardiff Devils, guaranteeing a pathway for young hockey players in Cardiff from u10s through juniors to NIHL and into the EIHL. Defenceman Callum Buglass will be on a two way deal with the Devils this season.
Hungarian born forward Tamás Éliás, trained in both the Swindon and Cardiff junior systems and has been an industrious scorer wherever he’s played. A low penalty minutes, low maintenance forward, Éliás scored at an impressive goal per game rate in the Fire’s dominant season last year on his way to 23 points in 14 games. A player I’ve never seen before, there’s a chance for Éliás to really break out this year if given the opportunity to put the puck on net. He’s up against superior netminders and defencemen this time out so there’s a real sink or swim element to how his season will run. At 21 years old and suddenly thrust into the second tier, I’m intrigued to see how Fire coach Mark Cuddihy plans to use the Miskolc born forward.
The new boy:
This is a total cheat because he’s not really new to Cardiff or any of us but he is new to the Fire. After a brief spell coaching Streatham before finishing last season coaching the MK Thunder, 2016/17 was an eventful year for Nicky Chinn. It certainly wasn’t the most productive for him on the scoreboard and at 45 he will readily admit that he is no spring chicken.
The advantage of Nicky Chinn is adding a hockey brain that is arguably unsurpassable. It’s a big step for the Fire to go from a 14 game season to suddenly playing sides that last year were playing EPIHL hockey and a player of Chinn’s stature, experience and savvy will be invaluable whoever he plays with.
How will it go?
I won’t lie; I stuck the names in a hat and picked out who I would do first. I pulled out Cardiff which was nice because I’ve quietly been appreciating what the Fire have been doing as an organisation for a while. I then realised that on Elite Prospects they’ve only announced 6 forwards, 2 defenceman and one goalie to the roster and the website hasn’t been updated. However I decided to stick to my own rules because even with that minimally announced roster, we can make an attempt as the start is there.
It’s a bare bones roster at the moment but the Fire coach Mark Cuddihy will generally go down the line of getting local players (read Cardiff juniors and extending to Swindon if needed) though he’s shown a talent of drawing those players who have left to come back to their home ice. Alex Symonds is back into the sport and when fit can be a massive asset on the back end. A couple of years ago is was Sam Smith, a former Devils, Blaze and Wildcats forward whom work took the UAE. (Smith also played for the fantastically named Dubai Mighty Camels) He’s now convinced Nicky Chinn to have one more go around the block. Couple this with the depth of talent in the Cardiff junior system and whilst it might not be a roster of blockbuster names, it will be a team with work ethic and determination.
At the moment, with so few players announced, it is somewhat difficult to see where the real attacking threats will be up front. The addition of Brad Watchorn after an on/off ice hockey and MMA career in recent years is an interesting signing to say the least. I expect Watchorn to be more of a grinder and physical threat than an out and out scorer of points.
Ultimately I’ve fallen victim to my own rules of writing this year, though it’s no harder than trying to preview the Phoenix’s roster last year. We know that the Fire will announce more players and many of last year’s roster may well reappear to have a crack at NIHL 1.
I don’t envisage the Cardiff Fire making a huge dent in the league title race. Some will arguably say that they are likely wooden spoon contenders and might be wondering why they didn’t stay in division 2 to chase a third back to back title. However if you’re going to have a go at playing, play at the highest level that you can should be the motto of the best sportsmen and organisations. The Fire are well structured and organised and if they believe they can make a crack at this then let’s allow them to step up to the table and try. In years gone by it was the Bison and the Devils going to battle at the old WNIR and now it’ll be down in Cardiff Bay with the Fire. Let’s hope these games are played in the same spirit.