The Canterbury Red Devils are on a mission to do what no team has been able to do in the nine-year history of the New Zealand Ice Hockey League (NZIHL) - win three consecutive titles.
Canterbury open their season with a home double header this weekend at the Alpine Ice Sports Centre against the Queenstown-based Southern Stampede.
New Red Devils coach Stacey Rout said the chance to write themselves into the record books by winning a third consecutive title would provide huge motivation.
"The last couple of nights I've sat the trophy on the side of the rink. We had a mini game and played off for the trophy to get that feeling back - the want to win."
Rout and the Red Devils are under no illusion about how difficult it will be to defend their silverware again. He believed the other four sides in the NZIHL were all stronger than last season and would be determined to knock them over.
Canterbury have managed to retain most of their New Zealand players from last season, but will field four new imports.
The Red Devils were able to land the most highly credentialed player to compete in the NZIHL over the off-season, when they signed left winger Vladimir Kutny from Slovakia. Kutny was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2003 NHL draft and also played in pre-season for the Vancouver Canucks in 2006.
Latvian forward Vitalijs Hvorostinins should form a potent attacking combination up front with outstanding Kiwi Chris Eaden, who has scored an impressive 116 goals in 71 games over the past five years.
The Red Devils import quota is rounded out by Canadian defenceman Evan Zych and hard-nosed Hungarian Tamas Lencses, who will miss this weekend's games while he is representing his nation at the inline hockey world championships.
Experienced defender Hayden Argyle will again captain the side, while Brett Speirs, who has played for the New Zealand Ice Blacks since 2004, will be another crucial contributor.
Canterbury have lost Martin Lee from last year's squad, but gained an excellent replacement in assimilated British forward Dean Tonks, who scored 26 goals in 28 games for the West Auckland Admirals over the past two seasons.
Rout said the Red Devils should not have any trouble finding the back of the net, but was demanding more commitment defensively after conceding too many soft goals last season.
He believed their power play and penalty killing units would be a huge factor and said it had been a major focus at training.
- The Press
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