CARDIFF, UK – With the new NIHL season just a few days away, Cardiff NIHL Devils defenseman Gareth Dixon believes his team are ready to spring a surprise or two this season.
Another summer of change at the big blue tent has seen Cardiff NIHL Devils Coach Mark Cuddihy draft in no fewer than seven new faces to his roster, whilst waving goodbye to four players from last season to higher leagues.
This excellent record of development is testament to a hockey club who have in the past produced a host of GB stars including goalies Stevie Lyle and Nathan Craze plus the likes of Nicky Chinn amongst others.
When NIHL Devils defenseman Gareth Dixon first appeared for the team in 2004/05, he probably would never have guessed that he would be one of their regulars on the blue line for the next eight seasons.
The 26 year old is known for his solid hard hitting, stay at home style and is one of only six listed players from that season’s roster, including the returning Steven Fisher, James Parsons, Ross Wilkinson and goalie duo Mike Brabon and Ross Piggott. Of those, only Piggott has stayed in the roster for most of the following seasons alongside Dixon.
“I knew pretty early on that I wouldn’t be making a career from hockey so it has always been about enjoying playing and playing with friends for me” admitted Dixon, who had his best season in 2009/10 with 35 points in 33 games.
“I was tempted to try playing at another team when we had no rink in Cardiff but as I was in University I decided that my degree should come first. We’ve always had a pretty competitive team in Cardiff so games have always been enjoyable”
Indeed the Devils have always been competitive at this level thanks to the conveyor belt of quality players that bless the Welsh capital.
“There has always been a good junior setup in Cardiff, the work of the DCF over the last few years has seen an increase in the number of players at younger age groups” explained Dixon, who has only missed one season since making his debut in 2004.
“The more kids that get involved at a young age, the bigger the talent pool becomes and when they reach 15/16 they are looking to progress. Cardiff has always done a good job of giving younger players the opportunity to prove themselves, which has seen a lot of players come through and go on to play at Elite and EPL level”
This season the NIHL Devils lost Adam Harding and Luke Piggott to the Elite league Devils, with Jamie Hayes and Chris Jones both heading to the EPL icing with Swindon Wildcats. Dixon is adamant however that there is more talent to come through.
“We’ve got a great group of youngsters at the minute, our under 18’s team have a lot of players with representative experience. There are about five or six that given the right opportunities could play at Elite/EPL level in the future”
“I think the changes this summer have left opportunities for all of them to step up and become regulars within our team. Based on last year’s performances I think this year could see Josh Haslam make a really big impact on the wing, and I’m hoping Joey Morris and Callum Buglass can continue their development and push for a regular shift on defence”
Cardiff announced more names to the roster this week with popular forward Alan Armour amongst a host of signings from Bristol including Jamie Newton, Steve Osman, James Warman and former player Steven Fisher. Import Robert Sedlak has also been snapped up again.
With the rest of the NIHL adding new blood to their roster it promises to be a tight league this year and Cardiff will be hoping to get off to a good start after tailing off badly at the end of last season.
“At the start of the season we had a great opportunity to make a real impact on the league, but unfortunately for us, the Elite team suffered from injuries and we lost Luke Piggott pretty early on to the Devils and Louis Lockwood to injury” explained Dixon, who made 34 appearances in 2011/12.
“That had an impact on our combinations and when we then lost Adam Harding to the Devils as well, we were down 3 of our top 6 players. From the outside it may seem that we had a bad season from then on, but in reality our team is judged on how well we develop players to progress to the Elite Devils”
“It was disappointing to end the season the way we did but after a summer of reflection I would view it as a success”
The 2011/12 season ended with a disappointing Play Off defeat to arch enemies the Invicta Dynamos, however Dixon cannot wait to get back on to the ice.
“When I first started playing at a senior level it was a pretty much given that Invicta would walk the league” admitted Dixon, who rates his career highlight as icing against the NHL touring team a few years ago.
“The only challenge was whether they would lose a game. Now there are 4 or 5 teams that can all challenge for the title with every team fielding a competitive team. The calibre of player in the league now is a lot higher than before and there are no easy games anymore”
“I think the improvements at ENL/NIHL level are great for hockey in the UK. The teams that have dropped down from the EPL have raised the bar each year and they are attracting bigger names every summer”
“I think we’ll surprise a few teams this year, Cudd has done a great job of recruitment again and we’ve brought in and brought back some proven guys at this level. We’ve lost some big characters and performers from our team but I think it will give an opportunity for younger guys to step up and fill the voids”
“If we can get off to a good start and avoid losing our players I think we could regularly upset the big budget teams”
As for his personal future, Dixon is happy to continue as a key member of the NIHL Devils for the foreseeable future.
“I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a changing room with a number of characters over the years and it’s the off-ice moments that I’ll remember most when I’m done playing” he admits with a smile.
“Although I think there’s more to come this year with James Parsons returning, the guy is a real beauty and it won’t be long before he is coming out with some classic one liners I’m sure”
Cardiff NIHL Devils face off the new season this weekend with a challenge game against the Elite League Devils as they unveil their new line up in front of a hopefully large crowd.
The numbers maybe boosted by a possible friendly toe to toe bout between new NIHL Devils signing Alastair Band (who joined from Invicta Dynamos this summer) and Elite league tough guy and Canadian Twitter maestro Devin Didiomete.
Further details of the game can be found on the official Devils website: http://www.cardiffdevils.com/
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