There were a lot of firsts for Medvescak in recent years and this weekend they will add another one. For the first time a KHL team will play in the UK against a local team when the Bears take on the Cardiff Devils, their weeklong hosts.
Two back-to-back games will mark the start of pre-season games for the Devils, last season's runners-up in the League, and will serve as a good test for Medvescak's Head Coach Gordie Dwyer to evaluate his team's progress.
One of the founding teams of the Elite League in 2003 shares some similarities with the Bears this season. Namely, a significant part of the roster has changed during the summer. The Devils have new team for a new season, and a brand new Ice Arena Wales where they will look to get back on the winning track.
Player-coach Andrew Lord will repeat his double role for a third season in a row, and in a sea of new players he needs to train, there will be one familiar to Medvescak's fans.
David Brine was one of the last players to join the Devils. In a couple of days he will be facing off against guys who were his teammates in the last five games he played, wearing jerseys he's very familiar with.
“It's exciting. I've played with a bunch of guys for the national team and against them while I was there. It's a different atmosphere to be playing on the other side of the puck, so it should be interesting. As a professional, you treat every game the same. Obviously, playing against my former team will be a challenge and I’m looking forward to it,” Brine said on his, and his team’s first clash with the Bears, and added:
“I will, of course be forthcoming with the information and will give all the help I can to my new teammates.”
Besides Brine, Cardiff has a few more players who played in the World Championship Division I Group B held in Zagreb. As part of Team Great Britain we saw goalie Ben Bowns, defensemen Josh Batch and Mark Richardson and Matthew Myers as a forward.
Top 3 of the most efficient players of last season have stayed on, and Joey Martin leads the crop with 84 points for the second year in a row. He was also the one who scored the first goal in the new arena.
The Devils, founded in 1986 were a formidable force in their early days, making a quick jump to the highest level of competition in the UK, the Premier Division and winning the League and Play-off Championships three times in a span of five years. They would add another title of each in the late '90s and fall in a bit of a lull which was broken by winning the Challenge Cup in 2006 in a spectacular manner.
The Devils came back after losing the first game 3:0 to one of their fiercest rivals, the Coventry Blaze. On home ice they won the second leg 4:1 to tie the game on aggregate and went on to win the title in the shootout.
Their most recent silverware was once again the Challenge Cup, won in 2015, the first season of establishing the new one game 'winner-takes-all' showdown. Last season they failed to defend the title and finished as runners-up by losing to the Nottingham Panthers in overtime (1:0).
Photo: HC Cardiff Devils