It what was an historic night of hockey, the Cardiff Devils fans graciously applauded their visitors from Croatia, as Medveščak Zagreb of the KHL stepped onto British ice for the very first time.
KHL Vice President George Kobylanski was on hand for the ceremonial puck drop, which Mike Glumac, in his second season of captaining Medveščak, and Cardiff’s Joey Martin, participated in.
With the puck down for on the ice for real, the opening ten minutes witnessed both teams spar like boxers, neither ready to make a decisive move and looking to get a handle on one another.
It was errors that would provide the first opportunities and ultimately lead to the Bears of Zagreb building a first period lead.
A breakout pass 95 seconds in sent Francis Pare away but Ben Bowns denied him any semblance of a chance with an alert poke-check manoeuvre to the delight of the home fans.
Cardiff responded to allowing that half chance with some offensive zone pressure of their own but passes were tipped away or missing intended targets.
Medveščak ‘s goaltender, British born Danny Taylor, overplayed the puck behind his net and almost gift-wrapped the hosts a perfect start but somehow Cardiff contrived to miss the golden opportunity.
The Devils first shot on target came from Gleason Fournier, as he burst into some space down the left wing, but Taylor was way out of his net to deny the effort with a relatively easy glove save.
Francis Pare put in a shift for the entire sixty minutes and his hard work down the right almost resulted in a goal. – Bowns doing well to glove a shot by Brandon McMillan from the top of the left circle.
Just thirty second later with 8:15 to play, a terrible giveaway gifted possession to McMillan who presented Pare with an easy goal to open the scoring.
It quickly became 2-0 with Cardiff guilty of coughing up the puck down their left side and Yann Suave turned provider for Jiri Smejkal to tap home.
The home team tried to half the deficit almost immediately but were turned aside as Taylor made a fine blocker stop to deny Joey Haddad.
The first power play of the game fell to the Bears and despite being a bit too fancy and kept to the outside for the most part, they would eventually make it 3-0.
Mark Katic netting his first of the game after Samson Mahbod and Alexandre Bolduc had gone close.
Cardiff would earn their first power play of the game as the two sides began to take a dislike of one another but rashly gave up a penalty to ensure the middle frame would begin with 4-on-4 play.
The opening two minutes of the second period were fast and furious and the Devils were indebted to Bowns once again.
The Cardiff goaltender turned aside a Pare breakaway effort and then performed daylight robbery to deny the same forward on two, if not three occasions from the blue paint.
Back at even strength, it was the home team who so nearly put their passionate fans into rapture.
A 3-on-2 break ensued but Gulliame Doucet’s rasping drive found the post and not the twine behind Taylor.
Cardiff would find themselves back on the penalty kill shortly after but would survive this time around, the biggest danger coming seconds back at 5-on-5. That man Mahbod in the thick of the action once more but he was unable to handle a fantastic pass from Smejkal.
As the mid-way mark of the game rolled around, the physicality appeared to increase with the teams exchanging some booming hits to the delight of the crowd.
A period of 4-on-4 play saw Thomas Larkin and Colby Genoway came close for the Bears while Layne Ulmer should have had led an odd man rush for the Devils, only to be called offside.
Yann Suave was an offensive threat from the blue line and he set-up Mahbod who somehow tipped his effort wide of net but the fourth goal wasn’t long in coming.
Brandon McMillan made himself a thorn in the side of the devils for the entire game and his strike made it 4-0 after several near misses.
Far from downhearted, the home team so nearly got themselves on the board upon the restart.
Jake Morissette with a terrific backhand effort that brought the best save of the night out of Danny Taylor.
Cardiff had done a good job nullifying a lot of the visitors speed through the neutral zone but the swift Edwin Hedberg was finally able to use his skating ability after a nice transition play from the Bears.
His backhand shot, intended to rattle the water bottle, was well grabbed by Bowns who was having a fine first performance of the season.
The shots favoured the visitors 29-10 through forty minutes and the final frame would begin with yet more 4-on-4 action.
A mere 57 seconds in and surely Cardiff would get themselves on the board. Despite having acres of space and time to measure his shot, Ulmer couldn’t find a way past Taylor.
The Devils grew in confidence from that opportunity and Josh Batch orchestrated a fantastic passing movement but as per the story of the night, there was no killer instinct from the home team when it truly mattered.
With six and a half minutes on the clock, Fournier raced away down the left side and let fly with a rocket of a shot that Taylor applied the merest of touches and was perhaps a little fortunate to see the shot head to safety via a full bodied clang off his far post.
The physicality certainly hadn’t left the game despite some tired legs on the home team and Joey Haddad found himself in the box for ten minutes as once again 4-on-4 play ensued.
With all penalties accounted for, it was Pare v Bowns for the umpteenth time and the goaltender kept his cool to deny the Canadian forward.
As the game began to wind down, a power play opportunity for the Devils would only result in the Bears extending their lead,
Suave was afforded far too much time and space in the left circle and his measured shot beat Bowns.
It was somewhat unjust on the Devils net minder that Medveščak would make it a sextet of goals with five minutes remaining. Unable to cling onto a long range effort from Goran Bezina, Bowns could only present Tomas Mertl with the simplest of tap-ins to end the scoring on the net.
Medveščak Zagreb were certainly full value for their comfortable victory and Yann Suave was awarded the Man of the Match for his impressive performance including a goal and two assists.
Others to standout for the KHL team were Brandon McMillan, Francis Pare, Samson Mahbod and promising youngster Jiri Smejkal.
Cardiff’s MOM was Gleason Fournier and the home team, playing in their first pre-season game of the season had plenty to be positive about despite the lopsided score.
A strong first period performance that was only let down by mistakes of their own making.
The various new signings acquitted themselves well, while creating (albeit a few) really good scoring chances against a KHL team is a good sign.
The two teams do it all again today (Sunday 14th August) with a 6pm puck drop, and there are still tickets available.