I need to start this blog with a mea culpa.
A month or so ago I wrote a blog arguing that Braehead’s Drew Miller was possibly a more important signing to the EIHL than Theo Fleury was for Belfast seven years ago.
I argued that, at least in terms of the impact he might have on both the Clan’s prospects AND their chances of winning the title, he was bigger than Theo was for Belfast.
As it happens, Miller has not had the effect on the ice that the Clan might have hoped, at least not just yet. He may be scoring at a point a game (2+4 in 5 games) but as yet the immediate impact that I thought would happened…hasn’t. In fact, none of the NHLers this time round has really impressed/stood out. Matt Beleskey has settled in well in Coventry but not lit the world up. Anthony Stewart has received criticism for looking lazy and uninterested, and Miller hasn’t driven Braehead to new heights. Or, realistically, had the marketing impact one might hope. So now I’m going to exercise a blogger’s prerogative and change my mind. And make a statement that’s sure to spark debate.
In signing Paul Bissonnette, Cardiff have made the best signing for UK hockey ever. Better than Stewart, Belak, Miller, and yup, Fleury.
At this point, I can feel the lynch mob forming. Coventry and Belfast fans will be foaming at the mouth at a fourthliner who’s played 135 NHL games being given higher status than a Stanley Cup winner/Olympic gold medallist (Fleury) & a player who’s a legend in Coventry and part of arguably the best side the Elite League ever saw (Belak).
Sure, Fleury had the high profile and the playing ability. Belak had the ability to make a fanbase fall in love with him.
But Bissonnette has the immediate star power and interest among fans all over the world that is at least the equal of Fleury-and the charisma that will make him the most talked-about player in UK hockey this season and possibly ever.
The 27-year-old from Welland, Ontario may not be the equal of Fleury either in achievement or stats, but in terms of media profile, he’s there. “BizNasty” has his own clothing line and is known as one of the most vocal and interesting hockey players around.
You want profile? BizNasty has nearly six times the amount of Twitter followers the “higher profile” Fleury has (over 340,000 to Fleury’s 57,000). He’s got a name recognisable to anyone who follows hockey in North America.
More to the point, he’s got the kind of wit and personality that makes Devin DiDiomete look like a wallflower, but without the sheer obnoxiousness and love for controversy.
In short, he’s a 24-carat gold, platinum-plated marketing man’s dream.
More to the point, he’s just what the Devils need. Let’s face it, while friend Devin is more than willing to do his thing, he’s a bit of a joke around the league when it comes to his discipline on ice.
Bissonnette is hard as nails, and more to the point he knows how and when to use it in the best way possible. In EIHL terms he’s the very definition of the perfect agitator/power forward.
In short, he’s the player the Devils have been crying out for ever since Brad Voth left.
But more than that, he’s the player British hockey has been SCREAMING for throughout the EIHL era-a charismatic, vocal PR man’s dream of a player who will get British hockey noticed both in the UK and North America in a way even Theo Fleury never could.
One of the most visible, well-known and marketable players in the world is coming to South Wales. The Elite League doesn’t know what’s about to hit it.
The hockey gods have given the Cardiff Devils and more importantly the Elite League the kind of opportunity to increase media awareness both here and abroad that even the Fleury signing would struggle to match.
They need to take it.