Last year the Canterbury Red Devils had a trying season, finishing last in the league with a 3-13 record and a goal differential of minus-76.
With the return of Anatoly Khorozov (Head Coach), Jack Lane (General Manager), and Graham Tappin (Team Manager) to the fold, the club’s intentions are clear – no one likes losing, especially not Canterbury. Prior to 2017 they made five straight appearances in the Birgel Cup Finals, winning three back-to-back between 2012 and 2014.
While their local talent (both young and veterans alike) will need to step up in 2018, having a strong contingent of import players will also boost their cause.
Unfortunately one of their star import signing for this season, former KHLer Viktor Zakharov, was injured during the recent IIHF Division 1B tournament in Hungary and has been ruled out for the NZIHL season.
The Red Devils imports for 2018 are as follows.
The English 6-foot left winger came into the Elite Ice Hockey League at a young age, at 24 Venus has already enjoyed eight seasons with 420 games for the Coventry Blaze.
Some of his achievements include scoring the championship-winning goal for the Blaze in the 2015 EIHL playoffs, along with representing Team Great Britain at the IIHF World Championships in 2016 where Venus tallied a goal and an assist for his nation on the way to claiming the silver medal.
Venus also captained Team GB’s under-20 side at the 2014 Division 1B U20 World Championship, leading by example producing two goals and three assists during the five-game tournament. His leadership experience and years spent playing professionally since he was 16 could be great for the younger members of the Red Devils – they now have a great opportunity to learn from a high-calibre hockey international.
Liam Stewart who played for Coventry last season is quietly stoked to see his former teammate playing in New Zealand too.
Venus’ addition to the Red Devils is last-minute after the injury to Zakharov, but a Eliteprospects scouting report suggests he will be a great fit for the club as someone who a strong hockey IQ with the skill set to match. It won’t be long until fans see if he really does ‘tear up’ the NZIHL.
This year both the New Zealand Under-20s and the Ice Blacks have held training camps in Riga, Latvia – the hometown of Vladislavs Balakuns. During their April stay, the Ice Blacks played a warm up game against his HS Riga club before heading off to Spain for their IIHF tournament.
In 19 games this season with Riga, the 6-foot defenceman notched up a goal and two assists, but Canterbury see Balakuns as a solid stay-at-home defenseman who will be able to add maturity, experience and size to their blue line.
The majority of his hockey career has been spent in Latvia, playing 290 games including the post-season, but stints in Belarus and the Ukraine also add to Balakuns’ hockey map.
In recent years he has also played in the Finnish second division for Virkiä – scoring 53 points in 41 games over two seasons with the club – averaging 1.29 points per game. And while he’s been signed by the Red Devils to provide stability at their back-end, I doubt they would be complaining if he also managed to produce those kind of numbers in the NZIHL.
Also hailing from Riga and playing for HS Riga in Latvia’s top division, Piskunov comes to the Red Devils via a recommendation by former NZIHL import Vitalijs Hvorostinins, whom played for Canterbury back in 2014.
This season he scored 9 goals and 9 assists in 20 games for HS Riga and overall he’s played over 160 games in his home country’s top leagues, adding 104 points to his name. Piskunov, which could become a favourite name for any NZIHL hockey commentator to announce this season, has also spent parts of his career in Finland.
The 5-foot-9 forward will bring help experience to a young Red Devils side from his time playing pro in Europe. His signing to the roster is one that coach Khorozov is excited for as he announced on the team’s Facebook page back in February, “Sergey comes highly recommended with an abundance of hockey pedigree, he will be a great addition to the team without any doubt.”
Rounding out a trio of Eastern European imports is Vsevolod Tolstushko. The 5-foot-10 defenceman comes to the NZIHL from the Ukraine with a taste for winning.
During the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons he helped guide his Donbass Donetsk club to back-to-back championships in the top Ukraine league.
In that 2015-16 regular season the Kiev native amassed 59 points, including 45 assists, over 41 games. If he can produce at that rate for the Red Devils he could prove to be a tough assignment for the opposition – they will need to contain his creative ability to set up teammates with high quality scoring chances.
On the international stage Tolstushko has played for Ukraine’s national team through the under-18s, under-20s, and now at the senior level.
Most recently he competed at the IIHF’s Division 1B World Championship, the same tournament that saw Zakharov injured. For his country, Tolstushko has won a gold medal twice (U20 in 2012, WC in 2016) while playing 35 games and scoring 20 points.
With the success that Tolstushko has enjoyed throughout his career, coach Khorozov is looking forward to seeing what he can bring to the Red Devils. “It’s clear that he is a player who loves to compete and he knows the smell of gold. Seva [Vsevolod] plays solid in his own zone and can jump into the play and add points from defence which will suit our team,” he stated.
American import Robert Banks will also be returning to the lineup this season. Playing all 16 games on the blue line last year, Banks tallied 6 goals and 13 assists.
It won’t be long now until Kiwi hockey fans see what kind of impact the Red Devils imports will have. Canterbury’s first game of the 2018 NZIHL season is May 26th against the Botany Swarm.
Previously in Puck Yeah’s ‘Import Report’ series, we looked at who’s joining the West Auckland Admirals and Botany Swarm – catch up here.