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.