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