Red Devils coach says players should be wary
Canterbury Red Devils coach Anatoly Khorozov expects his side to have a huge target on their backs in this year's New Zealand ice hockey league season.
The Red Devils captured their first national title since 2009 last season with a controversial extra-time shootout goal to beat the Queenstown-based Southern Stampede in the decider.
Canterbury begin their 2013 campaign with a home double-header against the Dunedin Thunder at the Alpine Ice Centre today and tomorrow.
Ukraine native Khorozov, who coached the side last season, believed the other four teams in the league would be out to bring them down a notch and said they would have to be on top of their game.
"It's harder to defend the title than to win it," he said.
"They need to take it up to the next level because the opposition will have a totally different motivation because they're going to be playing the champions."
The Red Devils will again field a formidable squad in this year's competition, with former Stampede forward Brett Speirs joining the team after shifting to Christchurch for work.
Forward Martin Lee, who previously played for the Botany Swarm and in the England national league, is another addition.
The Red Devils have recruited well over the off-season, landing Canadian defence man Terry Watt, and American Ryan Huggett, who have both played in the Federal Hockey League in the United States. Their other two imports include classy Swedish forward Marcus Bengtsson, and 20-year-old Ukrainian Nikita Vasilenko, through Khorozov's coaching connections back home.
Leading the way up front for Canterbury will be outstanding New Zealand forward Chris Eaden, who has justified his reputation as one of the most dangerous attackers in the competition.
Eaden has topped the league's statistical charts in goals and points during the past three years, and will be pivotal to the Red Devils' chances of defending their crown.
He has a goal-scoring strike rate that former NHL great Wayne Gretzky would be proud of, netting 102 goals in his past 61 games.
The Red Devils also feature five members of the Ice Blacks national team, goal tenders Vince Mitalas and Michael Coleman, defenders Stefan Spijkerman and Jamie Lawrence, and Speirs, who won silver at the division two world championships in Turkey last month.
In recent seasons, the Red Devils have been known for playing a high-paced attractive brand of ice hockey and Khorozov did not envisage that changing too much this season.
"We're always very strong offensively. We don't like playing boring, defensive hockey.
"We score a lot and [concede] a lot but that's what keeps the crowd entertained."
Khorozov, a former Red Devil himself, said the standard of the New Zealand league had increased significantly since it was established in 2005.
"Last year was really tight.
"We were the only team guaranteed of making the finals before the last round.
"The level they had at the start of the league to what they have now is a big step up.
Canterbury warmed up for the season earlier this month, with two pre-season victories against the Thunder in Dunedin.
Today and tomorrow's home games both get under way at 4.30pm at Alpine Ice.