Lightning In A Bottle: Paul Bissonnette Returns, And Cardiff Toss A PR Thunderbolt

But you have thrown the gauntlet down
Only one who wears the crown
So I will gladly hunt you down
And I’m gonna stomp you into the ground”

Saliva: “Hunt You Down”

A normal Friday night in late October is not the time you expect your world to be rocked. Particularly not if you’re an EIHL fan. By now all the big, anticipatory signings have been made, the excitement of opening weekend has been and gone, and the grind of the season has been settled into.

The natural order of things is slowly, slowly beginning to be set, and there are the beginnings of working out how teams fit in and whether or not this is going to be a “good” year.

I wrote yesterday about the excellent work being done in Braehead, and the positive feeling they’ve generated this season as a result. Another team that’s been doing that in spades and who I could have equally written exactly the same article about is the Cardiff Devils…the Todd Kelman and Andrew Lord-inspired revolution in South Wales this season has been something that I held high hopes for in the Devils team preview in preseason, but it’s happened even more quickly than anyone expected, with Kelman bringing in clever touches like a fan shuttle-bus service to Cardiff centre (numbered 666, naturally), excellent PR touches such as changing the office phone number of the team to also end in 666, and generally galvanising the Red Army to once again be proud of their squad.

Even if this was all he’d done (and “all” seems to unfairly minimise the scale of the turnaround achieved in Cardiff in just a few short months) it would have been impressive, as on the ice Andrew Lord has built a hard-nosed, committed squad who love playing in Cardiff, love interacting with their fanbase and play a style of hockey that’s a joy to watch. After a few teething problems early in the season, the Devils have well and truly found momentum to the point they’re now getting their biggest crowds in 12 years.

In short, Cardiff and Braehead are both teams that are showing the way in British hockey at the moment.
Now, though, Todd Kelman & the Devils ownership have taken it up a level. They’ve hurled a genuine thunderbolt into the British hockey landscape and shook the EIHL to the core-and in the process come up with a signing that may have incredibly important long-term ramifications.

Oh yeah-and if things go their way, they just might have signed the biggest game-changer to be seen in the EIHL in a long while while Todd Kelman has added to his reputation as a genuine British hockey wizard.

In convincing Paul Bissonnette to return to Cardiff straight from the NHL after becoming a free-agent, Kelman and the Devils have achieved the kind of PR strike that British hockey can only dream of. I wrote back in 2012 that Bissonnette to Cardiff pt 1 was the most important EIHL signing ever.

Two years later (give or take a few weeks) Biznasty is back in Cardiff. And his signing has caused a social media earthquake that sees his name trending on Twitter in the UK, British hockey fans incredibly excited, the North American hockey media suddenly focusing its attention, however briefly, on Britain and the EIHL suddenly having one of the most well-known personalities across the hockey world fly, literally, into their laps.

This story is only made better for Cardiff when you hear that Bissonnette turned down offers from other EIHL teams to return to South Wales-in fact he openly approached the Devils and said, effectively…”do you guys want me back?”

Let’s get this clear-this is just NOT something that happens to the EIHL. Established NHL players do not simply turn round and say “well, I need a contract-can I come and play in Cardiff?”. Or, for that matter, Sheffield, Coventry, Nottingham or any other team that likes to consider itself the traditional first-in-the-queue when it comes to marquee signings.

Paul Bissonnette, in action for Cardiff the first time round (pic-Al Goold)

NHLer Paul Bissonnette, in action for Cardiff the first time round (pic-Al Goold)

Bissonnette is coming into Cardiff on a rolling contract while he still hunts for a deal with an NHL team. He could not make it to South Wales at all or he could be in Britain all year-the Devils have been careful to make it clear that should the 29-year-old from Welland, Ontario be offered a deal by an NHL club, he’ll be immediately released from his Cardiff contract. Assuming that that doesn’t happen before he gets to play for Cardiff, he’ll arrive in the UK around November 2nd according to the official team Twitter, for a planned debut in a huge home tie against Nottingham.

The Devils, as you’d expect, are milking this for all they’re worth. And who can blame them? What Todd Kelman and the Devils ownership have achieved is something that British hockey can only dream of-they’ve managed to make one of the biggest PR coups not just in Devils history, but in EIHL history. They’ve signed a name with incredible presence in the hockey world-one with nearly 600,000 Twitter followers, loved by the hockey media and a true fan’s dream in terms of character and playing style.

More to the point, they’ve also signed a power forward who can make a team that’s already very, very good indeed truly dangerous-a bruising, committed player who still holds the record .for fastest scoring-rate in the EIHL from his last time here (at a shade under 2 points per game) on a team that wasn’t as good as this one.

In the context of the NHL Bissonnette might be a PR gift who’s known for his mouth and off-ice activities as much as those on it-and that’s impressive enough. In the context of the EIHL, he’s a true game-breaker of a like that’s rarely seen in the EIHL.

The Devils now have a player joining them with a massive personality, a can-do attitude and a love for the game and any team he plays for that makes any attempt to market him almost superfluous-he does that himself.

Let’s make something clear to those of you who still need convincing. In EIHL marketing terms, Bissonnette is an atom bomb among a league of fireworks. He’s the biggest thing to hit this league since Theo Fleury-and as I argued last time, probably bigger.

For Cardiff to get that to happen once as they did in 2012 is special-when you combine the returning personality and skills of one of the most marketable players in the NHL with a team and organisation who have proved that they know how to use such a gift, as Kelman does, you have genuine lightning in a bottle.

If you’re looking for a way to make British hockey more accessible and well known, there can be no better situation to hit the sport, no bigger marketing opportunity, no better pairing, then Kelman and Bissonnette.

The EIHL is already massively excited, and they should be.

This is the biggest thing to happen to both Cardiff and the EIHL in many, many years. And, unlike previous opportunities, this time Cardiff have the perfect situation and support to take advantage in ways that few would have thought possible before.

This is the kind of marketing opportunity that Todd Kelman loves-and for that reason alone, fans of the Devils and indeed British hockey should be very excited indeed.

Buckle up. Both on the ice and off, Cardiff suddenly became THE team to watch in Britain, wherever you are. The player isn’t even here yet and already the PR benefits to both Cardiff and the league have been huge. Just imagine what Kelman, Bissonnette and the Devils could do for Cardiff and the EIHL when he gets here.

There’s no Biz like Biz-Nasty-especially when it’s coming back to Cardiff. And British hockey cannot wait.

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