This week will be one long remembered in South Wales.
After a nightmarish 2013/14 season in which the Cardiff Devils lurched from off-ice crisis to on-ice struggle to PR disaster under the leadership of Paul Ragan-a season that was marked by fan unrest, arguments off the ice and revelations of players being treated like pawns (for the full story on just how bad it got, here’s Cardiff goalie Dan LaCosta’s story) It’s long and very involved, but the short version is that Paul Ragan went as far as refusing to pay money owed to an injured player, to the tune of nearly £4000.
This was the darkest day in a dark season for the Devils. It was the moment that the full extent of just how badly Paul Ragan was running the club came into the light publicly and left no doubt that things had to change before Ragan harmed the EIHL as a whole beyond repair. Fans all over the EIHL were united in saying “enough is enough”-even going so far as to call for action from the other nine EIHL team owners to prevent their brand being harmed any more amongst the hockey world by Ragan’s actions.
Then, on Wednesday, came the confirmation: the Devils were close to being sold. Paul Ragan was finally releasing his grip on the team, and there was much rejoicing in South Wales and hope that the new owner would be someone who could take the Devils forward and repair the damage done to relationships with fans, players and the hockey world. It would require a very good hockey person to do it.
Today, the Cardiff Devils have that person. In fact, they probably couldn’t have found a better man for the job right now.
That man is former Belfast GM Todd Kelman.
If you were outside in South Wales around midday today, you may have heard a mix of screams of joy from South Wales and lamenting drifting across from the Irish Sea on the wind, as Kelman confirmed that he was leaving his post as Belfast GM after 14 years at the club as a player and executive, to take on an ownership and GM role in Cardiff as part of the new ownership consortium, which also contains Canadian financial professional Steve King.
The news has been greeted with universal joy in Cardiff and sadness in Belfast, for a very good and very simple reason.
In getting Todd Kelman, Cardiff are now being run by the man who is very possibly the best GM in the EIHL, bar none.
This is said with no disrespect to any other executive-there are some very good people in charge of clubs all over the EIHL. However, for sheer business savvy, it’s very doubtful that anyone can beat Kelman.
His record speaks for itself. The 39-year-old from Calgary has been a part of UK hockey since 1997, when he joined Bracknell Bees. Joining Belfast in 2000, he has been in the city for every year of their existence, universally respected by Giants fans and players and considered a true legend. After stepping away from playing in 2007, he’s been responsible for guiding the Giants through some tricky times, notably the Chris Knight affair, and has fought against financial problems and uncertainty to make the Giants one of the strongest clubs in the EIHL.
In doing so, he has made the Giants a template for other clubs to follow-thanks to Kelman’s efforts as GM they now occupy a place in the sporting landscape of both Belfast and Northern Ireland that many other clubs in the EIHL would kill for-in fact I would argue that only Fife Flyers can claim to be as woven into the fabric of their home town as Belfast are…and the Flyers have 60 more years of history on their side in Kirkcaldy.
Thanks to the efforts of Kelman and his off-ice team, the Giants have one of the best social media and marketing presences in the EIHL, are courted by local dignitaries every step of the way, and are seen along with Ulster Rugby as one of the major forces for bringing the Northern Irish communities together through sport.
Never mind that, they receive regular coverage on BBC Newsline and UTV and the Belfast Telegraph and News Letter, spreading their name and message not just in Belfast, but all across Northern Ireland. That kind of national media presence is something that teams in England and Scotland can only dream of.
There can be no better man for taking on the responsibility of selling and rebuilding a club whose image and credibility in hockey has taken an absolute hammering recently thanks to the actions of its previous management. Nor can there be a better man for rebuilding a fractured fanbases faith in their ownership and uniting them under the Devils’ banner.
The Giants are still in safe hands with Steve Thornton-in true Kelman fashion this move is made only after arrangements have been made to ensure that the Giants don’t suffer-the kind of long-term thinking that historically has been conspicuously absent from UK hockey.
But today sees the day the Devils once again have the potential to become a true force in British hockey. If Todd Kelman and Dave Whistle work the same magic together on Cardiff as they did in Belfast, then the sky is the limit.
After so many days under a dark cloud, today, the sun has come out again for Cardiff hockey. And Devils fans can smile again.