No regrets for fearless Devils

Kent Johnston lines up a shot during the Solent & Gosport Devils' 8-1 defeat at the hands of Bracknell Hornets at Planet Ice on Sunday
Kent Johnston lines up a shot during the Solent & Gosport Devils' 8-1 defeat at the hands of Bracknell Hornets at Planet Ice on Sunday
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Matt Cox scored for Havant. Picture: Keith Woodland

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Paul Fitzpatrick cast his eye over the Devils’ season so far and insisted: We have no regrets.

The Solent & Gosport outfit romped to the National League south division two title last term.

Coached by The News Sports Awards 2012 nominee Will Francis, they were undefeated throughout the campaign, winning 22 of their 24 fixtures and scoring 205 goals along the way.

League glory earned them promotion to the region’s top tier – just one level below the sport’s premier division.

But their first season in south division one has proved to be a baptism of fire.

After Sunday’s 8-1 defeat to Bracknell Hornets at their Planet Ice headquarters – where skipper Kris Abbott netted their consolation goal – the Devils are five points adrift at the foot of the table.

With just two wins from their opening 20 fixtures, the outlook is bleak for the community club – with relegation on the cards.

However, team manager Fitzpatrick is adamant making the step up was the right decision for the team.

While results have not been kind to the Devils, they have shown impressive character and won many friends.

And at the very least, the experience has proved to the club – beyond any lingering doubt – what is required to compete at the higher level.

‘We could have stayed in division two and won every game comfortably for years to come,’ said Fitzpatrick.

‘But the challenge of south division one is what we decided to opt for and I don’t think we made the wrong decision.

‘It has been tough, that’s for sure.

‘But our desire is to keep ice hockey strong in Gosport and our supporters will not stop getting behind the team.

‘The players are learning all the time.

‘And if we can keep them motivated for the remainder of the season – through to the end of March – we are capable of upsetting some teams along the way. Then, who knows?’

The Devils knew this season was going to be tough – even before the final whistle blew on their promotion-winning campaign.

Their rivals all boast hefty wage bills, leaving the Solent & Gosport side swimming against the tide from the off.

Sponsorship will be crucial to the Devils raising their game over the coming years.

But judging by recent experience in a tough economic climate, securing such backing will be tough.

‘Last summer we tried to find sponsors but it wasn’t easy,’ said Fitzpatrick.

‘Every door we tried was closed. A couple of the players found themselves individual sponsors to pay their subs and registration, which comes in at a combined cost of £600 per year, per player.

‘But unlike all the other teams in this league, we have yet to acquire interest in a team sponsor which would allow us to close the gap on the teams above us.’