There are many French men who have left their mark on our capital city. Whether it be Arsene Wenger building his dynasty at Arsenal, Raymond Blanc serving up mouth-watering food from his Soho restaurant, or former LSE CEO Xavier Rolet wowing finance, the French have often performed well on the London stage.
Under the bright lights of the historic Alexandra Palace last night, the Devils' very own Gallic wizard of the ice Baptiste Frioux skated out against Streatham Chiefs for his final competitive appearance in the red and white jersey. If Sankovian Technologie stats are to be believed (who dares to doubt?), the former Lyon forward had already bagged 125 points in 50 games for the Devils prior to face off – impressive stuff.
The game started with the Chiefs pushing hard, boosted by some youthful legs recruited by long-time Coach Jimmy Gardiner. An uncharacteristic slashing penalty by Dumas Maguile gave the visitors an early powerplay on which they scored. A slick passing move down low eventually fed the puck to the on-rushing Hua Yao stepping in from the point, and he slammed the puck past Matty Hodgkinson to the delight of the Chiefs bench.
It was 2-0 soon after, as Richie Crowe intercepted a stray clearance out of defence on the right wing, skated in at the angle and roofed the puck past Hodgkinson before wheeling away in celebration.
It had been, as the French would say, a merde commence.
There was however, to be no panic in the Devils ranks despite a frustrating flurry of saves from Chiefs netminder Sveicers, who peaked with a stunning diving glove save from Terry Wong in the crease.
A lesser player would have crumbled after such a denial, but Wong shrugged off the robbery and struck soon afterwards on the powerplay. There was nothing funny for the Chiefs defence to enjoy as a now straight faced and determined Glenn Wool and line mate Chris Phillips created carnage in front of net, leaving Wong the simple task of batting the puck out of the air and down into the goal. No biggie for TW.
The Devils had a few more chances in the opening period, but also lived dangerously at the other end causing Hodgkinson to earn his spurs between the pipes.
The second period could be described, from a Devils perspective as merde chaude.
The Frioux, Gorelik and Donnelly show proceeded to serve up a display that could be beamed on to the stage of the Moulin Rouge and still not disappoint the crowd waiting for dancing girls. It was now hockey sur glace sexy time and the blue helmet was leading the charge.
The Devils evened things up at 2-2 as McCracken kept the puck alive at the point and fired it across to Donnelly in the slot. The Devils #17 flicked his wrists deftly, carving open the Chiefs defence to the waiting Frioux in front of net. A drop of the shoulder and shuffle bamboozled Sveicers and Frioux made no mistake with the finish.
The go ahead goal on the next powerplay was even sweeter than a Ferrero Rocher, Kinder surprise and a crème brulee rolled into one. Donnelly again finding Frioux, however this time the Frenchman’s saucer pass was expertly tapped through the goalie’s five hole by Gorelik’s shaft. A smile as wide as the Svislach river beamed across his face as he hugged Frioux’s blue helmet.
The Devils had momentum behind them and it was soon 4-2 with more highlight reel stuff. Frioux and Gorelik again passing well down low, before feeding the puck out to the top of the circle where Maguile was ideally placed to skate in and blaze a one timer into the corner of the net.
The Devil started the third period lacking a little focus and were punished as Crowe snuck in behind the defence to break alone down the left wing, before finding the bottom corner with his shot.
With only one goal in it, the Devils needed to put the game to bed and so they did. With who else but Frioux the architect, as he jinked through the Chiefs defence before slotting the puck across the net to the waiting McCracken to poke home for 5-3.
The Chiefs pulled the goalie in the dying minutes as they pushed forward, but the Devils held firm. Donnelly was rewarded for his sterling display as Maguile’s clearance hit him straight in the balls, but nothing could dampen the evening as the buzzer sounded on another Devils win.
For Frioux it was a four point final appearance in a Devils jersey and a fitting send-off ahead of his game of honour next week. Wenger left a legacy of the Emirates stadium, Blanc left a legacy of dull BBC cooking shows and the Devils reports don’t have the bandwidth to research the achievements of Rolet at the London Stock Exchange.
But what we do know is that Baptiste will leave our club without a superb player but also a good man whose temperament on and off the ice made him a pleasure to have here. On a more positive note it’s now one less blue helmet on the team. Corey... The pressure is on.
London Devils: Scoring
Terry Wong (G.Wool, C Phillips)
Baptiste Frioux (T.Donnelly, C.McCracken)
Eugene Gorelik (B.Frioux, T.Donnelly)
Dumas Maguile (B.Frioux, E.Gorelik)
Christian McCracken (B.Frioux)
London Devils: Penalties
Dumas Maguile – Slash
Chris Phillips – Hook
Rowan Phandler –Tripping
Baptiste Frioux – Tripping
Christian McCracken - Slash
Devils South and Devils East West played out a twelve goal thriller at the Lee Valley Ice Centre in a hard fought but disciplined encounter, officiated by Jurijs Solovjovs.
Both teams were without their star names for this encounter with the hard-core of both squads left to battle it out for glory. Indeed every new face that entered the rink pre-game was afforded a hero’s welcome as respective Captains Richard Veinot and Bob Chebator nervously waited to see who would show up to boost the numbers.
The figure skating judges yet again dampened the pre-game mood by leaving their stage up on the team benches forcing both sides to use gates in the end zone.
To add insult to injury, the white booted ice wasters had left their publicity material all over the rink like slugs leaving a trail of slime. This had an effect on the players as a pull up banner of Belgian skating star Loena Hendrickx caused eagle eyed Eugene Gorelik to lose focus and he was last on to the ice for warm up as a result.
Experienced East West Captain Chebator had been scouting the South’s warm up and quickly decided action needed to be taken to nullify their (in his opinion) biggest threat. Noticing that both teams would likely agree not to have a long change and stick to the same end, Bob insisted that each squad swap benches instead, thus avoiding his team having to defend the dreaded Zamboni corner for three periods.
An agreement was reached and the game finally faced off as East West tested George Alley early on, with efforts from Gorelik (who was now focused again) and Chris Huston.
It was the South who took the lead as Gennadi Yufit outmuscled his opposite number on the face off in the offensive zone and laid the puck back to Dave Carr on the point. A quick shot squeezed into the near post past an unsighted Beast to make it 1-0.
Five minutes later it was 1-1 as Christian McCracken wheeled behind the net and found Chebator out front alone in the slot. The American had time to look over his shoulder at the scary kickboard at the other end of the rink, before finding the bottom corner of the net with his shot.
The South scored again almost from the restart as Veinot intercepted a pass out of defence to tee up the man previously known as ‘New Chris’ at the left hand side of the net. Enter Chris Phillips, no longer the new guy and no longer wearing the infamous Devils jersey with a Belgian flag on it (a jersey no doubt now being sought by Eugene to wear in tribute to Hendrickx).
The Devils #76 stepped inside and fired bar down past Beast with a fine finish.
East West pushed to get a goal back before the buzzer but could not find a way past Alley and their poor luck was highlighted in the final moments as Chebator was sniped by the red line (a good pal of the Zamboni gate kickboard he had dissed earlier).
The second period started in style for the South as Yufit went on a mazy skate through the East West defence, wheeled round the back of the net and jammed the puck in past Beast’s near post for 3-1.
The East West needed a boost and they would soon receive one, as Carr tripped Gary Reid on the blue line with a one handed fishing expedition that floored the farmer and immediately raised Jurijs hand.
The resulting powerplay yielded a goal as Gorelik was left standing with at least six seconds to pick his spot past Alley from the slot.
The South hit back immediately as Yufit again dangled his way through the zone in almost a carbon copy of his first goal, but this time it was Ian Williams who jammed home the rebound with Beast left to fume.
There was a moment of concern as the period ended when Veinot and Gorelik collided like atoms at the Large Hadron Collider and wiped each other out. Both took a few minutes to recover, as they lay on the ice like victims of the Legion of Doom in their pomp.
The third period saw East West tinker with their lines putting Gorelik, Huston and Chebator together in a bid to claw their way into the game.
It was the South who started brightest again however, as Flinn lead a breakout to Phillips who put Veinot through. The sniper waited for Beast to commit before finding the roof of the net. It was a goal of real quality and Veinot soon made it 6-2 with a breakaway effort to give East West a mountain to climb.
South needed to keep things tight in the following shifts but conceded immediately as McCracken ghosted in from the point unmarked and picked his spot to reduce the deficit to three goals.
Chebator made it 4-6 with a smart finish from a Gorelik pass stepping in from the boards and then Che Guevara fan Jon Foster sniped from the point to tee up a dramatic finish to the game.
The South had a few good chances to kill off the contest as both sides threw caution to the wind, but it was East West who would complete their comeback with three minutes remaining.
A big shot from Chebator tipped by Huston flew past Alley and sparked scenes of celebration on the far bench. There was still time for either side to find a winner and Chebator had a breakaway to clinch glory, but Alley denied him with a massive save at the death. The score remained 6-6 which means the two teams remain level at the top of the table whilst the North effectively must win both remaining matches to make the final. -DC
Devils South: Scoring
David Carr (G.Yufit)
Chris Phillips (R.Veinot)
Gennadi Yufit (I.Williams)
Ian Williams (G.Yufit, D.Carr)
Richard Veinot (A.Flinn, C.Phillips)
Richard Veinot (unassisted)
Devils South: Penalties
David Carr - Tripping
Devils East West: Scoring
Bob Chebator (C.McCracken)
Eugene Gorelik PP(C.McCracken, C.Fonte)
Christian McCracken (C.Huston, C.Fonte)
Bob Chebator (E.Gorelik, C.Huston)
Jon Foster (E.Gorelik)
Chris Huston (B.Chebator)
The Devils made it back to back victories over the London Rangers with a 7-4 win at Lee Valley in a game that was much closer than the score indicates. After a hard fought 4-3 win in game one, the Devils knew the Rangers would be out for revenge and were rocked pre-game by the late withdrawal of Mike Fox-Higgins (editor's note: he fell asleep on the sofa).
Cheeky cockney stopper Shane Kemp was drafted in between the pipes and new boy Rowan Phendler was handed his first competitive start in Devils colours. The pre-game locker room was quiet, almost too quiet. Was the lack of chat to avoid giving away tactics to any bugs the Rangers may have placed in the room, or to simply avoid a mention in the match report? It was likely to be the latter, however veteran Richie Clark did do a rather elaborate stretching routine on the dirty floor before leaving towards the ice. Clark’s pristine white Devils jersey turned as filthy as a Kiev strip club in an instant – not that we would know anything about such venues, just the stuff we have read on the internet.
Anyway, the match faced off with the Rangers dominating from the start. Influential forward Kelley in his custom maroon pants and lid was controlling the play forcing Kemp into big saves early on. A breakaway from Kurera saw the puck cannon back off the crossbar and then Clarke hit the post to put the Devils on serious alert. Kemp was increasingly busy yet not showing any rust from his two month break.
With eight minutes to go in the first period the Rangers finally got the goal their pressure deserved, as a turnover by Bitustoyl allowed him to skate unopposed over the blue and rip a perfect slapshot into the far corner of Kemp’s net.
The Devils needed a spark, in fact they needed the equivalent of a massive fork inside an industrial toaster. Out of nowhere the equaliser came, as Christian McCracken weaved his way past two Rangers players and pulled the puck back to the waiting student Phil Holbrook to tap home. The Devils were now rolling and McCracken had proven there were two maroon-clad players who could make things happen when required.
The second period saw the Devils come out harder than a Dumas Maguile pectoral muscle.
The constant energetic fore-check from Bob Chebator and Baptiste Frioux - who were doing double time in the absence of Fox-Higgins, was causing problems for the Rangers' rear guard and the end result was three quick goals for the Devils.
The first came as Rangers' goalie Sveicers attempted a lofted clearance, only to see Devils veteran Dan Maze channel his inner LeBron James to rise up like an eagle and catch the puck, before dropping it to the ice and smashing a one-timer through the stopper’s five hole. It was part NBA Jam, part NHL 96 and a true collector’s piece.
The second, and the Devils' third came after the tireless Frioux dispossessed a Rangers defenceman to the right of the net, cut inside and nestled the puck under the diving Sveicers.
A difficult few minutes of play for the Rangers was capped off just soon after as James Mulligan tapped the puck over the line after a Phendler shot squirmed behind the goalie's pads.
At 4-1 up the Devils were cruising but Lee Valley isn’t the best place to cruise in all fairness, especially at night.
The shell-shocked Rangers grew back into the game and pulled a goal back as Kelley made himself space wheeling across the slot before picking out the bottom corner on his backhand with a great finish. The Rangers then reduced the deficit to one goal just a few minutes later as a big point shot by Scott Johnston was tipped mid-air past Kemp.
It was well and truly game on. Holbrook pinged a puck off the Rangers' post causing the referee to signal a goal. Thankfully the Devils didn’t argue (or celebrate) the point and it was taken away almost as soon as it had been given.
With only one goal separating the two teams at 4-3, the 3rd period promised to be a cracker. Kemp’s motivational pep talk seemed decent enough until the point he tripped over a loose lace and nearly stacked it by the bench. The Devils would start the period on a powerplay with the Rangers sitting a roughing call.
The early extra man advantage paid off almost straight from the restart as an excellent PP dictated by the cool, calm and composed pair of Maguile and Clark on the blue line, eventually teed up Frioux in the slot to shoot high past the diving Rangers' keeper to regain the two goal cushion.
It was a crucial goal and inspired the Devils to pour forward for more. Holbrook got his second of the night to make it 6-3 shortly afterwards, tapping home another loose puck on the line after Frioux's shot on goal squirmed free of the pads.
The Rangers were not best pleased and kept coming hard, leading one of the forwards to pick out a battle on the boards with Maguile with predictable consequences – a loss.
The game was effectively sealed with ten minutes remaining as Frioux again burst down the left wing, stopped on a dime in front of the goalie and then picked his spot to make it 7-3.
It was the last action of the game for the Devils prolific number 54 as he skated off to rest a sore groin. This being the last injury the Frenchman needed with a Bodean's Cup crunch clash ahead, plus a countdown departure from London with a swanky Manor House apartment at his disposal. Farewell love making may have to take a back seat for the hat trick hero this week at least.
The Devils killed off the rest of the game but it was the Rangers who would have the final say thanks to another point shot by Johnston that bounced off a Devils' players skate and into the net.
Both teams shook hands, cracked open some ice cold Polish brew and sat at the opposite ends of the rink skate hire in typical (and traditional) fashion. The next game in the series will take place at Alexandra Palace at the end of April.
London Devils: Scoring
Phil Holbrook (C. McCracken)
Dan Maze (unassisted)
Baptiste Frioux (unassisted)
James Mulligan (R. Phendler, B. Frioux)
Baptiste Frioux (J. Mulligan, D. Maugile) PP
Phil Holbrook (B. Frioux, F. Walshe)
Baptiste Frioux (R. Clark)
London Devils: Penalties