Photo: James Assinder
10by10 reaches its conclusion as we have our final preview piece. Last, but certainly not least, is newly-promoted Cardiff Fire. Returning forward Sam Smith gives us his take on the season ahead.
This year is going to be an exciting and interesting season for us all at the Cardiff Fire. It will be our first in the all new 2nd tier of British Hockey which we are all looking forward to. However, this will present a considerable jump up from the NIHL 2 standard of which we have played since our inception.
I think we remain open minded as to what our expectations will be for this season. We will, at the very least, look to compete within this new set up although I think we would be kidding ourselves not to expect a few hiccups along the way. I imagine there will be a period of stabilisation for us, with guys on the team finding their feet and adjusting to the new level of play, for some this will be a lower level to what they’re used to and for others, this season will be their first taste of professional hockey. The same could also be said for the organisations within the league, for teams such as Swindon, Basingstoke, Peterborough etc. this will be a step-down and for others, such as ourselves, a BIG step up. So, the challenge and change will be felt both on the ice and off the ice. Cudd (Mark Cuddihy) has a history assembling tight-knit and arguably over achieving teams, and I see this season being no different. There is no doubt this season is going to be a big test and at times challenging for us all, but we are certainly looking forward to turning a few heads this year and setting a strong foundation for things to come from the Cardiff Fire.
One thing Cardiff does have on its side is a fantastic track record of producing good hockey players which will help aid our transition into the 2nd tier. We have been lucky enough to attract guys such as Devils legend Nicky Chinn, Alex Symonds and Callum Buglass back to Cardiff as well as having some fantastic youngsters coming through who will hopefully make some noise this coming season. I think bringing these guys back this season has been a testament to the work Mark Cuddihy has put in and shown his ambitions for the club. We have a real opportunity to add to the already thriving hockey scene here in Cardiff, which now offers hockey at every level available in UK ice hockey. The Devils are now one of if not the best club in the country and the partnership we have signed with them is fantastic and will present an incredible opportunity for kids to develop through our organisation and use the Fire as a key stepping stone in that development. The likes of Callum Buglass, Tamas Elias, Michael Stratford, Sam Bryant and Lewis Davies can look to use this platform and make that next step up into the Elite League. Having this clear path for progression will hopefully attract more exciting young players to our club. This makes it imperative to have experienced guys like Chinny, Mark Smith, Symo and Myersy who have been there and played at the UK’s highest level and can help, aid and enhance their development which will, in time, benefit us all.
Cudd has made some exciting additions and joining our club we have, firstly Nicky Chinn who needs no introduction. For Cudd to be able to bring Nicky in is a massive win for us even before we have stepped on the ice. He one of the best players to ever come out of British hockey and his name not only in Cardiff but across the country adds weight to any roster. Cardiff fans will love having Chinny back on his home town ice and the experience he will bring to our changing room will be invaluable! I grew up watching Chinny play, and it will be a real honour to lace them up with him this season.
Alex Symonds is another massive signing for us, Symo has Elite League experience and was arguably the best British defenceman in the EPL before he hung them up a few seasons ago. The hockey world is a better place with the Symonds family around, and we are over the moon to have Symo back playing hockey in Cardiff (I imagine his Mum, Donna is equally as excited as we are!). He is not only a great team guy but an excellent player who will eat up a lot of minutes for us on the back end this season.
Callum Buglass is another player who will surely be essential to our success. Callum is on a two-way with the Devils and returns to Cardiff following three seasons with the Swindon Wildcats as well as suiting up with the Devils for a few games. Although only 21, Callum has been around senior hockey for some time now and he will be a go to guy for us this season, and it will be great to see him develop and put himself in prime position for a full-time job with the Devils next season.
Cudd hasn’t forgotten that Cardiff fans love a scrap and brought in Brad Watchorn who is bound to be a fan favourite. I’ve heard this guy will fight anyone and anything and is pretty damn good at it as well. He is a professional MMA fighter, so I think it’s safe to say we are glad to have Brad on our team!
We also have Michael Stratford joining our team. I played with Mike when at Swindon and he was a great to have around and has a great attitude towards the game. He has come through the Okanagan Hockey Academy in Swindon, and he is a player who has enormous potential, he is big and skilful, and we are hoping he will make a significant impact on our club this season!
We have some great experience in net with Joe Myers, Luke Takel, James Whiting and newcomer Lewis Davies who I’ve only heard great things about, and again, is one to watch for the future. The addition of Mike Brabon to help with these guys not only completes a coaching staff many teams would dream off but gives our tendy’s the help and advice of an experienced goalie who again has Elite League level experience.
Off the ice Cudd has brought in Mark Smith who is a huge addition to our club! (shame he can’t play!!) Famous for blocking shots with his face, Smitty will bring so much experience and knowledge to our team, he has played in the ECHL, CHL, NCAA and EIHL so having him behind our bench will be a massive boost. Another exciting addition Cudd has made is Sam Motton from Xtreme Edges joining our coaching staff. Having Sam onboard will add an enormous up side to our program and having a full time skating coach is something not many teams in the UK can claim. Skating is such a big part of the game these days, and Sam is doing amazing things with Xtreme Edges, his knowledge and experience will only help us all develop and add to our games (Not too many bag skates though Sam…)
We have some great returnees and exciting young forwards. We are all very excited by having Tamas Elias back, he was second on our team in points last year and got better and better as the season progressed. I know Cudd, and the rest of the coaching staff will be expecting him to pick up where he left off from last season. Sam Bryant is another great young talent to come through the Cardiff Junior system and another guy who got better and better last season. He got a few games in the Elite League with the Manchester Storm last season, and he and Tamas are two guys who could potentially push for Elite League u23 spots in the next few seasons. Watch this space!!
We are all very excited to get things going and are hoping Cardiff hockey fans will get behind us and give us the support we need during our first season in this new look NIHL. We hope to see you all at IAW for our home opener against Invicta, September 16th!!