Sneaking this in JUST before the new incumbent of the Belfast Giants’ head coaching job is announced, here’s a quick assessment of the men whose name is most likely to be called by Todd Kelman in an hour or two as he introduces the new Belfast coach to their fans live at an event in Belfast. 30 second pen pics here we come:
The Hot Tip: Paul Adey
The ex-Nottingham Panther has been named by the BBC as the most likely man to be announced this evening…if it is Adey he’ll be returning to British hockey for the first time since leaving Nottingham Panthers at the end of his contract in 2005-but he knows the game in this country having spent a storied career with the Panthers. Since his time in Britain Adey has coached in Italy and Switzerland, both excellent quality leagues-however he’s only managed to win one trophy (the Challenge Cup with Nottingham) in his 13-year coaching career. Having worked recently in leagues that traditionally provide a much higher budget than the EIHL, it’ll be interesting to see if Adey can adjust to the increasingly higher standard of both coaching and play in the UK game and the rumoured lower budget of Belfastshould he sign-it’s a very different league to the one he left.
The (Almost) Overseas Option: Paul Gardner
After being surprisingly relieved of his job in Braehead after turning a team performing far below expectations around upon coming in mid-season, Paul Gardner is still new enough to the British league to be an unknown quantity-this will be his first season recruiting a team in the EIHL if he gets the job. He is arguably the strongest candidate, with a career spent head-coaching mainly in the AHL, KHL, or DEL. Perhaps what stands out most on his resume though is his several years working under respected coach Barry Trotz for the NHL’s Nashville Predators as an assistant during the early 2000s-anyone who can get to that level is clearly a coach of some ability. Gardner quickly earned a reputation as a “player’s coach” in Braehead and now he’s familiarised himself with the league will likely relish the opportunity to recruit his own players and work with them from the start of the season. Probably the ideal option in covering all bases.
The Former Star: Steve Thornton
Steve Thornton is at home in Belfast-the experienced forward was Giants player-coach for two seasons as well as one of the legends at the Odyssey for his playing exploits-he also won the Challenge Cup in 2009 as Giants coach. A legend of British hockey from his time with Cardiff, London, Basingstoke and of course Belfast, Thornton would be a safe pair of hands and probably a fairly popular appointment with the Giants faithful as well as being well-known to his GM and former team-mate Todd Kelman. However, he hasn’t coached at a high level since he left the Giants, and this may harm his pitch considerably.
The Player-Coach: Ashley Tait
One from out of left-field, this one, but the British star is 37 now and nearing the end of his illustrious playing career. He’s been released by Sheffield despite scoring 51 points and being assistant coach last season, and may be looking longingly at a player-coaching job. Belfast’s budget is reportedly not as big as it has been, and Tait could contribute well to the Giants both as a player and coach now he has experience under his belt. As someone well-known and respected in the EIHL and with the help of contacts from former coaches and team-mates to call on, he may be a very useful option if the Giants are looking to obtain someone who’ll be involved in the team both on the ice and from the bench.
However, stepping into one of the top teams in the league may be tricky as a first coaching job, and would be seen by many as a brave gamble by the Giants new management. However, it’s one that could pay off handsomely, and with Kelman more than active in retaining last seasons key players for the Giants already, there is a foundation for Tait to build on-he won’t be coming in cold by any means.
And, after all, as a player coach his scoring ability even at the age of 37 and status (still) as one of the top British forwards in the league can’t be sniffed at.
The Newbie: Someone New to the EIHL
This one, obviously, is the most intriguing option. Todd Kelman has said he’s received a large number of high quality applications for the job of Giants coach, and with the EIHL coaching hot seats seemingly being passed between those within the league, maybe it’s time for an injection of new blood, maybe even from Eastern Europe…after all, Edinburgh have tried it with Richard Hartmann and the experiment now seems to be beginning to pay off handsomely. Certainly the Giants job is arguably one with far more pressure attached than Edinburgh, but it’s one that any coach looking to make the step up and possibly be noticed by the big European leagues and North America would quite fancy, certainly. It’s certainly something worth considering for the Giants, especially as they move into a new era of ownership.
There you are then-there’s the five men who I think are most likely to be behind the Belfast bench this coming season. However, Todd Kelman has said he’s received more than 30 applications from all around the hockey world, so while we can speculate all we like, we’ll only know when he steps up to the podium later tonight to announce the Giants’ new coach and potentially some new signings too.
Either way, the eyes of the EIHL are currently trained on the Odyssey. Let’s see what they come up with.