EIHL Fans Unite: Why The Cardiff Protest Tonight Deserves Your Support

Tonight, we’re seeing an event in British hockey that hasn’t been seen for a little while. An event that could potentially have important ramifications for all EIHL fans, in fact In Cardiff tonight, a group of fans will move beyond the usual expressions of dissatisfaction on forums and attempt the first step in taking a stand for the rights and hopes of the Devils fans, as they stand outside the Big Blue Tent in open and clear protest against the way their club is being managed and controlled under the banner of “Devils Outside”.

This protest, while not unique in British hockey history, is certainly a sign of changing times in the EIHL era. Previouly, while there have been oft-expressed concerns regarding the way clubs and the EIHL have been run, “Devils Outside” marks a watershed-it’s the first time in EIHL history that a fanbase has openly and clearly sent a message to its ownership that lax standards, intrigue and questionable practices (all of which have not exactly been unknown in UK hockey in the past) are not something that they’ll tolerate any more.

It’s also a watershed because it’s the first time that a team ownership has been openly challenged by its fanbase. Certainly, we’ve had cases in the past where tricky questions have been asked at fan forums and on social media (in fact, often) but these have always been isolated incidents or seen as worthy of being ignored by those in the EIHL hierarchy.

All season, Paul Ragan has continued to dismiss the concerns of his team’s fanbase, lurching from bad decision to PR disaster to (even this week) dismissing fans expressing their grievances as a “minority” despite the overwhelming opposite impression being given on social media.

Tonight, Devils fans are sending a message to Ragan that enough is enough. Fans are not commodities, or an infinite resource to be milked for profit as EIHL teams are run into the ground. Tonight, supported by much of the rest of EIHL fandom, a division of the Red Army are taking a stand and saying “we want our club run properly. This is not acceptable.”

Some outside Cardiff are asking why they should care or support what is purely a local matter. In doing so they’re missing a clear and obvious truth.

The EIHL is changing. Many club owners are by and large realising that they need to change the way they do business if the league is to be taken seriously (some are doing so very slowly, others more quickly), and that they need to adapt to a changing sporting landscape for the EIHL to grow.

Many owners are working to change for the better. Questionable practices of the past, self-interest, insularity and seeming disregard for the actual good of the sport that has plagued the top levels of the sport in the UK for years are slowly being squeezed out as owners have to improve their by the increased power of a more discerning and social-media-aware fanbase questioning things in a way that simply hasn’t happened in the past. And that is a good thing.

But in in a league like the EIHL, the fate of one club is often inextricably linked to the fate of all. One badly-run club, one club that consistently puts out PR disasters and appears not to care about the wishes of its fanbase, one club owner who seems to feel that the fans are irrelevant and that sponsors can be treated badly at will, and the image of the whole league suffers as a result.

That’s why it’s important for fans across the league to support Devils fans in their protest tonight. This , for many, is not about ousting Ragan or Pope from the Devils. It’s simply a way of saying to the Devils ownership, and by extension re-iterating to those of the rest of the league (even though most owners are decent enough), that EIHL clubs HAVE to be run well and professionally, and situations like the one currently occurring in Cardiff are no longer acceptable.

The Devils fans standing outside the BBT are not the militia Paul Ragan insists on presenting them as in an attempt to divide the Devils fanbase. Even as late as Tuesday, Ragan has accused a group that has swelled to contain former players, former and current Devils sponsors and many season-ticket holders as having a “personal” agenda, and even trying to destroy the club. He’s even made allegations of fans being “bullied” into protesting despite the organisers making it quite clear at every stage that no-one will be approached or “forced” to protest…indeed even those who will protest are told that if they wish to go to the game after the fifteen-minute duration of the protest, they can do so.

These are not “militia” . They are simply Devils fans whose patience has run out. Who are fed up with the constant changes, PR mis-steps, and having they concerns ignored, and are saying “we want our team run properly, and we want to be listened to by our owners”. And that’s a message that every fan in the EIHL should be sending to their clubs ownership loudly and clearly every time they walk through the doors of a rink.

For the good of the Devils, for the good of your own team, and more importantly for the good of UK hockey, #devilsoutside deserves your support. Please give it to them, stand with the Devils fans wherever you are this evening and let your voices be heard by the EIHL.

As the old song has it-“The times, they are a changin’.” Make sure it’s for the better.

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Murder Most Foul: How Paul Ragan and Brent Pope Have Murdered The Cardiff Devils

The Cardiff Devils as we know them have been murdered. The murder weapon is plain for all to see-a combination of indecision, PR disasters and downright pure incompetence which Paul Ragan and Brent Pope have fashioned into a silver dagger, then driven time and again straight into the beating hearts of Devils fans everywhere.

After a long, painful illness and attack after attack launched on the crumbling edifice of Devils’ fans pride in their team, the death blow for many was dealt yesterday (January 21st 2014), with the announcement that the Devils were releasing yet another loyal servant in backup netminder and proud Cardiff boy Joe Myers, in favour of carrying two import goalies for the rest of the month and then allowing four (FOUR) young netminders to “rotate” behind starting netminder Kamil Kosowski.

Kosowski arrived last week, to replace Phil Cook, who arrived to cover for the retiring-through-injury Dan LaCosta, who while he was injured also had Joe Myers and import Greg Blais cover for him but was still a Cardiff Devil. Since Kosowski’s arrival the Devils have also signed another two import players to make a total of 19 imports who will actually suit up in Cardiff this season (another, Ukrainian Vitali Kirichenko, was signed but didn’t actually arrive, while yet another, Finn Joonas Liimatainen, arrived but only played three games before returning to Finland through injury, though he hasn’t actually left the team yet). The latest two, Latvian Martins Gipters and Finn Markus Rama, aren’t exactly setting the anticipation alight and probably would have been rejected by most, if not all EIHL clubs (including Cardiff under Adams) preseason.

This comes on the heels of a coaching controversy that rumbled throughout the first half of the Devils season, where then-coach Gerad Adams was moved to a playing role only, then moved from playing to “Head Of Player Development” then eventually eased out of the club. I wrote back in November that if things didn’t change, there would be damage irreparably done to the team this season and things would turn for the worse, as PR blunders, arguments with fans and mystifying decisions even then didn’t give more than a taste of what was to come. Former Devil Mike Prpich openly called Pope a “snake” in a Tweet and the release of Adams and Hill brought widespread condemnation of the Devils ownership from all over the EIHL.

Since that article in November, Ragan and Pope have continued to drive the club into the ground inch by inch. Mystifying decisions (such as allowing current head coach Brent Pope to go to Sochi for the Winter Olympics with seemingly no backup plan) have piled on embarrassing losses and PR disasters, while the Devils fanbase has fractured (again in a way seemingly orchestrated by Ragan openly dismissing his increasing number of critics as “a minority”, and even insulting fans and sponsors on Twitter) and discontent fostering on Cardiff forums.

With last night’s news, though, that simmering discontent has exploded and the Devils have killed any faith the majority of their fans have in them. I wrote on Twitter last night that last night’s announcement was “the cruellest, most needless roster move in a season full of them”-and that response was mild compared to some from both Cardiff and outside. As the news broke, UK hockey fandom seemed to unite in support for Joe, with responses universally condemning the move and uniting in full support of the goalie who many consider the best backup in the league.

Here’s the thing.

With the abrupt and barely-acknowledged sacking of Joe Myers (his release didn’t even get its own PR nor did the club wish the player luck, instead preferring to say that “it’s time to bring younger players through”, which is basically code for “you’ve been here ages but you’re crap, see ya”), Cardiff have jettisoned a player who’s given all his hockey life (with the exception of one season) to his hometown team in Cardiff, taken the loss of his full-time backup role in the past few weeks with quiet equanimity, is wildly popular both with former and current Devils, and who also happens to be the brother of arguably one of the Devils’ franchise players and this season’s returning hero Matt Myers. They’ve also finally convinced fans that enough is enough, with the “#outside” hashtag on Twitter today being used by Devils fans to organise a peaceful, non-disruptive but still very clear-messaged boycott of the next home game on January 30th.

Sacking one of your most popular players and the (very close) brother of one of your franchise stars based on a flimsy excuse of “promoting youngsters” while simultaeneously signing a raft of imports (including one today who is coming over and has found someone to cover his teaching job in the hope of getting back to a pro hockey career), while at the same time making a move that has finally convinced some of your most loyal fans to give up on buying season tickets until you’re gone, would be seen as suicide by most owners-to the Devils ownership, with crowds dropping like a brick into Cardiff Bay, a dressing room not sure who’ll be in it from week to week, open fan discontent and former Devils revolting on Twitter and describing the organisation as “one of the worst in hockey”, it’s “the best way forward”.

You couldn’t make it up.

More importantly, the owners have shown that they don’t have any soul or decency left in their bodies when it comes to dealing with the Devils, their players and their fans, and that they’ll seemingly stop at nothing to impose their own will and strategy on the club, even if all the indications right now are that this will kill it as an entity.

That is, if it hasn’t already.

In business, what Ragan and Pope are attempting to do is ruthlessly cutting away most of the organisation bit by bit and reducing its expenditure for the rest of this season, while continuing to make a profit from the assets they have left. It’s vicious, cold-blooded, and it’s killing the Cardiff Devils as a club.

While there is still a Cardiff team competing in the EIHL under the Devils name, they can’t be said to have “killed” the team. But in alienating the fanbase, they’ve ripped the heart out of the Cardiff Devils, and turned one of the most feared, passionately supported and historic clubs in the EIHL into a zombie struggling from week to week, waiting for someone to put it down.

Right now, in many Devils’ fans eyes, that death would be merciful.

Page Turners: Hockey Books You Should Read in 2014

I love to read. And there are few things I love to read more about than hockey. With the Christmas rush over and the long nights of January ahead, now is the time of year when people tend to curl up with books of an evening as they listen to the wind howl outside and count the time until bracing themselves for the next trip to the rink. But the wonder of books is that in the summer, too, when the offseason is dragging and the only ice you can find is in your drink, there’s still a way to get yourself a hockey fix…still a way to find out more about this great game of ours and its culture, educate yourself a little or just pass the time reading about the best sport in the world.

So, with the New Year’s Resolutions still fresh, here’s a bunch of hockey books Chasing Dragons thinks every hockey fan should resolve to read (or read again) in 2014…some of the greatest examples of the written word ever (at least when that word is about hockey) and a few left-field examples, too. Wherever you are in the world, this list contains hockey books that I think should be on every fan’s bookshelf (or, nowadays, on their Kindle), along with Chasing Dragons’ thoughts. Dig in.

1. The Game/Home Game (Ken Dryden)

Two legendary hockey books, written by one of the greatest to ever play the game-these two give a perspective on hockey as “Canada’s game” that few, if any, can ever match. “The Game” is the story of one season in the life of Dryden, a Hall Of Famer and hockey legend, written by the man himself, while “Home Game” the sequel, is a love letter to the sport and its place in Canadian life, written by one of the most thoughtful, eloquent writers (who also happens to be one of the greatest players) hockey has ever seen. These are two of the closest things you can get to a “sacred” hockey book. If you’re a hockey fan and you haven’t read at least one of them…why not?

2. Zamboni Rodeo (Jason Cohen)

A year (the 97/98 season, in fact) in the life of the WPHL’s Austin (Texas) Ice Bats, written by a journalist who spends the season embedded with the team, travelling back and forth across the American south as they enjoy the highs and lows of minor-league hockey. There are many “season-with” books, but few are as good as this one-the drama and personalities of the Ice Bats are brought to life wonderfully by Cohen.

3. Home Ice/Open Ice (Jack Falla)

These two books are truly glorious. They’re the hockey literature equivalent of a warm hot chocolate made by your other half-created with love, warming, and guaranteed to make you feel better about life. “Home Ice” is partly the story of Jack Falla’s own backyard rink, and partly the story of backyard rinks all across North America-how they’re made, what they mean, and the people who use them. “Open Ice”, the follow-up, is a love-letter to the game of hockey (and skating) in eight parts, as Falla writes about great players and his life covering hockey. The chapters on skating the Rideau Canal, Georges Vezina and Hobey Baker are three of the most wonderful pieces of writing ever created about any sport-period. Thoughtful, lyrical and beautiful, these two books will enrich your hockey soul.

4. They Don’t Play Hockey In Heaven (Ken Baker)

I’ve put this one next to Jack Falla because, simply put, it’s one of the few books that equals it both for emotional impact and quality of writing. Ken Baker, a journalist who was a successful college hockey player, decides that he wants to at least chase his dream of playing a pro hockey game-and so he gets himself a tryout with the ECHL’s Bakersfield Condors. What follows is a tale of hard work, heartache, and ultimately triumph, all expressed in Baker’s lyrical prose. I won’t spoil the ending but if you don’t have a tear in your eye at the end of it, your soul is harder than mine.

5. Boys Of Winter (Wayne Coffey)

The whole story of the US 1980 Olympic team, its players, and the “Miracle on Ice” victory against the USSR, told through a minute-by-minute recreation of the “Miracle” itself. I went through this in one sitting. You may well do so too. Don’t start it late at night, because you may not get much sleep before the next day.

6. A Game Of Three Halves (Liam Sluyter)

Throwing in a curveball here…this is the story of the (now sadly-departed) Manchester Storm, one of the biggest teams of the modern British hockey era. It tells the story of the birth of the team, and just how crazy British hockey was in the late 90’s and the Superleague era. An essential read for British hockey fans, and perhaps a glimpse into another hockey world for those of you in North America. (It may be tricky to find nowadays, but it’s worth the search)

7. Tropic of Hockey (Dave Bidini)

Another love-letter to the sport of hockey, this sees Dave Bidini, famous musician and hockey fan, travel to some of the far-flung corners of the world in search of the sport he (and we) love. From China to Dubai to Eastern Europe, this is a glimpse of hockey off the beaten track, and proof that, wherever you are in the world, people love the game with just as much fury and passion as anywhere else. The section on Hungary and Romania is wonderful in itself, but combined with the other two it’s a truly superb read.

8. Away Games (Laura Sullivan)

Part travellogue, part hockey reportage, Laura Sullivan follows NHLers all over Europe and elsewhere as they disperse to continue playing the game during the NHL lockout. Finland, Sweden and Eastern Europe get mentions (as you’d expect) but so do Switzerland, Germany, Holland and (yup) even the UK gets a bit to itself as she spends a little time with Wade Belak in Britain. At 168 pages it’s a book you can rip through in an evening or a day or two at the beach, and it’s an education both on European hockey and how NHL stars spend their time away from the bright lights of the big league.

9. King Of Russia (Dave King)

Interested in Russian hockey? This book’s for you. King (now the Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach) tells the story of his season in the Russian Super League coaching Metallurg Magnitogorsk (including a young Yevgeni Malkin), and it’s a story of team officials carrying bags full of money everywhere, hunting for fresh fruit, silent Russians, culture clash and a league and country that’s still not quite sure of how to adapt to the modern game. A superb insight into how hockey’s played and managed the Russian way, it’ll broaden your hockey mind for sure.

That (for now) should be more than enough reading to keep you going. Even if you only read one of these, you’ll find yourself getting new perspectives on both hockey and (sometimes) life itself.

So, what are you waiting for? Grab a copy, or fire up the Kindle.

You’ll be glad you did-I guarantee it.