The Devil Went Down To Cardiff: How the Cardiff Devils earned back your trust

“Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste.” – The Rolling Stones, Sympathy for the Devil.

5jmehRiiThe opening line of the The Rolling Stones’ 1969 classic Sympathy for the Devil could very well be written for Todd Kelman, a man who – with the help of a few key players and staff – has turned the Cardiff Devils into a position of power from a probable laughing stock of the Elite Ice Hockey League.

Kelman, who was a late round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, headed overseas for his hockey career after a solid performance with Bowling Green State University. Apart of the original Belfast Giants lineup that started the EIHL, Kelman retired from the game in 2007 and accepted a GM role with the Giants. Kelman thrived in his new role behind the scenes having managed the teal squad to numerous championships – six trophies including the 2014 EIHL championship. With that much success, one has to wonder what it was that made Kelman go from teal-green to red.

Devil red.

The 2013-2014 campaign of the Cardiff Devils was devastating. Shady owners are not surprising in the hockey world. Most players will see one or two in the course of their career. Some will leave the game unscathed, others will leave battered and bruised from the head games and financial turmoil.

web-belfast-hockey14nw2
Todd Kelman. (Photo: Kelvin Boyes, The Globe and Mail)

I don’t know all of the ins and outs of what was going on behind the scenes at the Cardiff Bay Arena but I’ve been around the hockey block a few times to get a bit of a grasp of what was transpiring.

Canadian goaltender Dan LaCosta could have been a part of a great and long era with the Devils. After suiting for a few games in the NHL, AHL, and ECHL and even apart of the CIS with the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds, LaCosta was well versed in the ups and downs of professional hockey. However, nothing could have braced him for being refused pay of almost 4500 pounds after being injured in play.

The man being accused, (and it’s never been proven it was him for the record) of refusing payment was former Owner and GM Paul Ragan.

After countless PR screw-ups and if I remember correctly, fans staging protests, the bright light in Cardiff was slowly diming. Attribute that to the play on the ice with the Devils finishing a distant 9th, thus not entering the playoffs, something big needed to change to win back the fans that had no doubt turned their backs on what was now a disgraced name. Out of nowhere, Ragan sold the team.

To a bunch of Canadians.

owners_1
Brian, Craig and Steve. Proud new owners. (Photo: Terry Phillips, walesonline.co.uk)

Four Calgarian businessmen, Steven King, Brian Parker, Kelly Hughes and Craig Shostak saw a valuable investment in the Devils and fellow brass Neil Francis brought the aforementioned Todd Kelman into the mix. It would have been a no-brainer for Kelman to jump ship. Have a stake in a franchise and be able to run it and make the decisions exactly how you want it.

With four solid business oriented men and one solid hockey head at the helms, the Cardiff Devils were now looking to put honor back in the name. After many solid seasons with Belfast, fans could trust Kelman right away without having to earn it. His resume speaks for itself.

“Yes, I’m living at a pace that kills.” – Van Halen, Runnin’ With the Devil

No other line in David Lee Roth’s 1978 opus could describe the 2014-2015 Cardiff season. With promise, a sense of pride and trust in the brass in charge of the squad, it was time for the players to hit the ice with pedal to the floor. They did just what Roth said.

Skating with a pace that kills.

A much younger pace.

martin_2
Joey Martin. (Photo: Terry Philips, walesonline.co.uk)

A 26 year old, Joey Martin, from Thorold, Ontario, quite shockingly flew under everybody’s radar in mainland UK media and over here in Canada. The former captain of the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers connected for 83 points in 62 games. Leading the league in assists got him a spot on the EIHL First All-Star team and a contract extension.

Morissette. (Photo: Terry Philips walesonline.co.uk)
Morissette. (Photo: Terry Philips walesonline.co.uk)

Jake Morrissette, a small forward from British Columbia was awarded the “A” on his jersey for the last and upcoming campaigns and he filled into his role swimmingly. In 64 games, he only took a total of 16 minutes in penalties and combined that with 73 points. It’s his best EIHL season yet and at 32 years old, it’s his best since his Junior A days in the BCHL.

The biggest part of the roster no doubt comes in the form of goaltender Ben Bowns. In the best and most exciting campaign of his career, Bowns backstopped the Devils in 62 games and ended the season with a 2.56 goals against average. That’s insane.

Did I mention he’s British?

Bowns. (Photo: Terry Philips walesonline.co.uk)
Bowns. (Photo: Terry Philips walesonline.co.uk)

Bowns picked up some big accolations to add to his resume including British Netminder of the Year and for his performance at the Worlds representing Great Britain, he earned himself a silver medal and best goals against average of the tournament. This kid is going to be a key part of the Cardiff Devils in the Kelman era and should not be ignored.

With these components and a couple of other talented players and maybe tough guys, (David Clarkson’s, yes THAT David Clarkson, brother Doug racked up 209 penalty minutes), the Devils combined an incredible mix of talent which led themselves to third place in the EIHL standings and took home the Challenge Cup. Not a bad change from the depression of last year.

Success comes in the form of good leadership as well. Kelman giving Andrew Lord double duty as player-coach proved to be a smart and cheaper decision. Lord excels at his post to invigorate his fellow players and it shows. Another key piece of the Devils puzzle for next season.

So after all of this, what’s next?

It’s an exciting time to be a Cardiff Devils fan. A brand new, city-funded arena is being the built for the Devils to call home. It also comes rent free which is a huge quality to have in the finance department. The fact that the city is on board and is giving the team major support is a big deal; the city sees growth and that the Devils are a profitable organization.

And they are. They could be a huge destination for Wales in general and showing the EIHL that they won’t back down. Cardiff will come for that number one spot.

Now that the puck, if you will, is in the proper hands, there’s nowhere to go but up for the boys in red. In just one year, Todd Kelman turned this team into a contender. So Cardiff fans, there’s only one thing left for you to do.

                “Shout at the Devil!” – Motley Crue, Shout at the Devil 

(Photo: Richard Murray)
(Photo: Richard Murray)
Advertisements

One on One with Mark Smith of the Coventry Blaze

By Ed Kimberley
Coventry, England

(Photo: Helen Brabon)
(Photo: Helen Brabon)

I caught up with Coventry Blaze defenceman Mark Smith ahead of the 2014/15 campaign. No stranger to the Elite League, Mark, a native of Edmonton, Alberta will be entering his 6th season on UK ice. So far Mark has logged 241 regular season games and 14 playoff appearances with Edinburgh and Blaze rivals, the Cardiff Devils.

Ed Kimberley – Mark thank you for taking some time out of your day to catch up with us, this will be your 6th season in the EIHL, how will you be spending your offseason and how much are you looking forward to pulling on a blaze jersey for the first time?

Mark Smith –The off-season for me has been rather quiet.  Just been staying busy with going to the gym and developing an eBay habit.  Got a few weddings to attend here in the UK coming up as well, so they should be fun.  My wife and I will be heading back to Canada for July also, so I’m looking forward to catching up with all my family and friends.  We have a few road trips planned in Canada as well, which will be a good time. I will also look to get on the ice back in Canada as much as I can.  Aside from that, I am really looking forward to getting the season started with the Blaze.  Obviously big rivals with Cardiff, so it may be a little strange at first, but nonetheless I am really excited for the season, and seeing some of the signing Marc has made it looks like we will have a really competitive team this season.

EK – Coach Lefebvre has described your play as “very good defensively” and you’ve been described by Neil Francis as “consistently great on the ice.” How would you describe your game?

>MS – I would describe my game much like Marc has.  I try to be as sound defensively as I can and really pride myself on being solid in my own zone.   With that in mind also I feel I to have the capabilities of chipping in offensively whenever I can.  Basically I am going to do whatever I can to help the team win.  If that means blocking shots or taking a hit to make a play, I’m going to do whatever has to be done to help the team be successful.   I just try to prepare myself as best as I can before hand and work as hard as possible on the ice, and that is what I try to give every game.

EK – A bit of a lighter question for you, coach Lefebvre said he “didn’t expect a whole lot of offense” from you, now as team mates (albeit in more games) you outscored Marc in Edinburgh, do you hope to surprise both your new boss and the fans with offensive contributions?

(photo: Helen Brabon)
(photo: Helen Brabon)

MS – I am well aware of the expectations Marc has of me, and I am a defensive minded D-man, but with that in mind, as I alluded to in the previous question I do feel I have the capabilities to chip in with decent numbers given the opportunity.  As for outscoring Marc up in Edinburgh, I was quite shocked at that with him being the offensive dynamo he his.  Jokes aside though, I will bring a solid defensive game, but I feel that I will pleasantly surprise people with my offensive contribution.

EK – Marc made an immediate impact behind the bench, carving some key victories to help the Blaze reach the post-season. How important was his return to the helm important for you in signing in Coventry? How did the deal come about?

MS – Knowing Marc and playing with him previously was a huge reason for choosing to play for the Blaze.  I know the kind of person he is and what he brings to the rink every day and I am excited to be apart of that.  I approached Marc if he was interested in having me in Coventry and I got an almost immediate response from him that he wanted me there.  The professionalism from him and everybody within the organization has been fantastic, and I know I will enjoy my time playing for the Blaze.

EK – Although there is a long way to go in the offseason, the team look to have a strong leadership core with Egener, Goertzen, Tait and Cowley, just how important is it to have guys like these on the roster?

MS – It is massive to have a veteran presence like we have on the team.  It is those kind on guys that will do all the little things that need to be done to win games.  That kind of approach to the game is contagious and will rub off on the younger and less experienced guys on the team.  Having those kind of players also makes everyone around them raise their level of play.

EK – Having played numerous games in the Skydome over the past 5 years, how does it feel as an opposing player when the fans turn it into a fortress? And, be honest, did you ever hear the chirping from the block behind the away teams bench?

(photo: Helen Brabon)
(photo: Helen Brabon)

MS – The fans in Coventry do bring a great deal of passion and create a great atmosphere.  And I absolutely heard the chirping that goes on from behind the bench.  I don’t think I personally ever acknowledged whoever is doing it, but I think they gave up heckling me after a couple years cause I ignored them.  But it is pretty funny at times as there have been some pretty good exchanges between them and some of my teammates.

EK – Again Mark, thank you for answering a few questions and we look forward to seeing you come August/September time. However I do have one final question for you….. Rangers or Kings?

MS – No problem, Anytime. I cannot wait to get started in Coventry and in answer to your question. Not sure if this counts now with the Kings being up 3-1, but I am going to say Rangers.

March’s Note: Wrong answer Smith!

Don’t write off the EIHL

Dan LaCosta (Photo: Michael Cooper Photography)
Dan LaCosta (Photo: Michael Cooper Photography)

Some of the clubs in the United Kingdom’s Elite Ice Hockey League have started to maintain an unfavourable reputation. A reputation that if not rectified or least, simmered down a bit, can place a bleak shadow on the whole league itself.

The Cardiff Devils are the second squad to have players come out with the antagonizing revelation of management not fulfilling their contracts in the sense of not being paid. Of course, it’s not really all that surprising in the hockey world. Players get screwed over all the time, it’s no secret. This however seems to lie further down the line in the EIHL.

Earlier this spring, the Hull Stingrays came under fire with the same predicament. In fact, the team itself seems to have imploded with players refusing to come back and signing elsewhere. Granted, they do have the right to seek employment somewhere else but as management, if you had quality players who were producing night after night you would think one would try to keep them under wraps and paying them what they were owed.

The hockey world is a very small community. Players talk. Coaches talk. Fans talk. Of course, the main item for discussion amongst fans is why? Why aren’t these contracts being upheld? We’ll never find out the definite answer but there’s a much deeper reason then just not having the money.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not singling the EIHL out. This happens in leagues all over the world, the LNAH, the Central league, the East Coast league, I could go on forever. It’s just the players in the EIHL have decided to bring this issue to the spotlight.

1011973_10151571105053732_1488936880_nIs there any way to stop it in the UK? Well, a player’s union would help but we are FAR from that ever coming to fruition. I enjoy the hockey of the EIHL, I really do and personally, I have yet to find a team in the league that rubs me the wrong way. However, the more I hear and the more players come out, certain clubs will now always have a stain on themselves in my eyes.

On a lighter note, in the grand scheme of things this black cloud is just a blimp on the radar. Do you think this kind of thing didn’t happen when the NHL first started out? Of course it did. With the invention of computers and social media, it’s just thrown in our faces for views and tweets and likes. You have to remember that the league is still in its infancy and the powers that be still have a lot to learn.

There’s lots of potential for the EIHL. The hockey is good, the fans are rabid and with the right business model along with time, it can be a cash crop.

We just have to be patient.

EIHL Round up: First Steps for the Dundee Stars, Coventry Blaze, Fight Night in Nottingham

By Ed Kimberley
Coventry, England

We have had 2 weeks of games now in the EIHL and although teams are still finding their feet, one in particular has stood out, the Dundee Stars.

dundee-starsUsually one finds the Stars propping up the league but this year is another story altogether. In their first 4 games they have chalked up 4 wins. This itself is no mean feat but considering Dundee have half the budget of those they have beaten, (Sheffield, Coventry, Braehead and last years “grand slam” winners the Nottingham Panthers) necks are snapping to look at them as they skate by.

They are a team that stifles others really well and have a strong defensive core. Although they focus on protecting underrated netminder Dan Bakala, Dundee has defenceman Roy Rawlyk. In 4 games played, Rawlyk is tied for top points scorer on the team with 5 and has been extremely impressive at both ends of the ice. Bakala. also in 4 has posted a 1.75 with a .959 save percentage. Impressive for a goalie in only his 2nd year pro. Their offensive strength comes from counter attacking plays, often fed by a Rawlyk first pass. Incidentally Rawlyk won the Gardiner Conference player of the week last weekend. The Stars will almost certainly not finish the league without a loss or two, but they are certainly looking to upset Gardiner Conference favourites Braehead Clan and make a case for their first appearance in Nottingham at the playoff finals weekend. Continue reading “EIHL Round up: First Steps for the Dundee Stars, Coventry Blaze, Fight Night in Nottingham”

Protect The Net: Cardiff Devils and Dan LaCosta

By Ed Kimberley
Coventry, England

When Cardiff signed 3rd round pick and former Columbus Blue Jacket Dan LaCosta, the EIHL world spat out whatever it was that they had in their mouths at the time in either: joy, disbelief, excitement or worry that he will be a bit good.

LaCosta with the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL.
LaCosta with the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL.

In two consecutive games the star goalie was ran by two different teams, from two different countries, playing in two different leagues, leaving him with a concussion that will see him sit out 2-3 weeks. I don’t condone running of goalies at all. I find it a deplorable tactic that is an acknowledgement, intentional or not, that the goalie is causing you trouble and you need to try and throw him off his game. This might be quite important psychologically for LaCosta who said that he was strongly considering retiring before the season and being able to study for a Masters Degree led him to sign in Cardiff. I played a bit of hockey and I remember a Latvian goalie I played with got run in an incident that broke his helmet. He was fine but I never saw him ice again. He said “I have a wife and kids, I don’t need this shit.”

LaCosta is clearly thinking about his future. He sat a year out after a failed try-out in Austria and went from being on the cusp of playing in the NHL to going to the CIS to play and study. Now no doubt Dan has poise, you don’t keep an NHL shutout without having a calm head on your shoulders but at this point he might be worried and especially for a goalie who according to one scouting report that “lacks rebound control” this might not be good. Continue reading “Protect The Net: Cardiff Devils and Dan LaCosta”

Fighting in the Elite Ice Hockey League: Part Two

By Ed Kimberley
Coventry, England

index2What does this mean for the EIHL fighting mix? Teams need tough guys but they need to be able to do something more than be an out and out fighter. Just as an example I will use the Coventry Blaze from 04/05 then 05/06. In 04/05 they won everything, and had a lot of fights with Payette, Wade Belak etc. year after they employed Graham Belak who like his brother was a big fighter with a lot of AHL experience that never quite made the NHL and Dave Kaczowka. Both had NHL contracts at some point in their career. Kaczowka was quickly cut and although Belak carried on, he injured his back and didn’t look as imposing as his brother despite this fight with one of the toughest ever players Mel Angelstad:

Jeff Hutchins (now coach of the Dundee Stars) made his EIHL debut for the Blaze that year and had 16 scraps. Now looking at it from my point of view, Graham Belak who played D despite chalking up most of his career as a Forward was an experiment that didn’t work. Although he could clear the crease, it was clear he didn’t have the defensive talents of his brother. Kaczwoka couldn’t do much else but fight and even then the only win he chalked up in the EIHL was vs Shawn Maltby of Sheffield, not known for his pugilistic talents. He lasted all of 3 regular season games and both Kaczowka and Belak would have commanded quite a wage bill. Although Kaczowka was replaced by pacey winger Dan Welch it seemed too many cooks spoilt the broth. Did the Blaze need to spend that much on Belak? Later the Blaze would sign Jason Robinson who split that year between London and Sheffield, if they hadn’t had signed Kaczowka, hypothetically got the cheaper Robinson for Belak they could have had enough money to sign another scorer who could’ve made a difference while Hutchins and Robinson carried the fighting load.

Players that come to the EIHL can generally get a new lease of life as a player, enforcer or not. Brian McMillin comes to the Blaze this year following a career where he was pigeonholed to be a checking 3rdliner. Last season he led the Allen Americans to the playoff championship, and won playoff MVP with 12 goals in 19 games. This year the Blaze want him to carry offensive responsibility. Also Hull Stingrays star forward Jereme Tendler came into the league after a 30pts in 60games season with the Corpus Christie Ice Rayz and he scored the most goals in the EIHL last year (43). In regards to tough guys there is no better case in point is Brad Voth, who was one of the most talked about players in his time with the Cardiff Devils. Every other team wanted to sign him year after year but he stuck with Cardiff. He came to the UK in 05/06 for his skills with gloves off and despite this racked up 220pts in 322 games. Not bad for a guy signed as an out and out fighter. A conclusion for me is that if a team in the EIHL are singing a tough guy, he needs to be able to do something else other that fight. Continue reading “Fighting in the Elite Ice Hockey League: Part Two”