Last summer, Canadian Kelman, 40, swapped capital cities in search of a new challenge and soon impressed the Devils fans, delivering their first piece of silverware in eight years. He said: “We have probably had more success than we thought we would have, we wanted to win something but everyone wants to win”. He admitted: “We weren’t really surprised that we won the Challenge Cup, but it wasn’t expected for sure”. Since his arrival Kelman wanted to transform the running of the club, and said: “It was my first year in Cardiff and coming in we wanted to change the way everything operated, the way we ran the team, we really changed the whole culture in a short period of time”.After winning the Challenge Cup in his debut season, Cardiff Devils’ manager, Todd Kelman, reflects on a busy year at the helm of Cardiff’s ice hockey team. Kelman arrived in Cardiff after a lengthy spell at the Belfast Giants where he played as well as coached. The Giants retired his number 44 jersey and he was a huge fan favourite in the Northern Ireland capital. Kelman said: “My whole life was there, I played there and my jersey was retired there so they were the only team I ever really worked for”. He added: “I absolutely loved it there, they never thought I’d leave and I didn’t really think I was going to leave either, but then the opportunity came here in Cardiff, a chance to join up with some friends from back home who believe in what we are doing and here we are almost a year later and I am very happy with my decision”.
Kelman claimed that whilst most clubs have five months to organise a team, the Devils had less than four weeks to assemble a competitive squad. “We put together a team in four weeks whilst most teams have five months to do that, I had a coach in Andrew Lord who did such a good job in recruiting and that’s why we have been successful”. Kelman is thankful for the efforts of Andrew Lord, who scored in the 2-1 Challenge Cup Final win, he said: “He was the best coach in the league last year and he also had to play, if tomorrow he broke his leg and could never play again he’d still be a guy I want to coach this team”.
The Devils have recently announced the signings of Leigh Salters and Guillaume Doucet, from Braehead and Nottingham, respectively. Cardiff have also retained the services of Joey Martin, who topped the league for assists last year. “Salters is the complete package, he’s one of the biggest, he has a scoring touch like no other, he was fourth in the league in goal scoring, he can fight and he’s intimidating”. Kelman also said: “Joey led the league in assists last year and he was so consistent, he was either scoring or setting up, we really wanted to get Joey Martin back”.
Many British ice hockey fans would relish the chance to see an NHL game played in the UK. With the NFL securing three more fixtures at Wembley this season, Kelman, who was the 144th overall pick by the St Louis Blues in the 1994 NHL draft, dismissed the possibility of the hockey league crossing the Atlantic for a game. “The NHL plays so many games and the only place that could really host a game would be the O2 and I just can’t see it being big like basketball or football. He added: “The NFL makes sense as they play one game a week, the O2 wouldn’t work as it’s not ideal for hockey, there’s a big hole in the middle of the floor for concerts and they would have to fill it with artificial ice and cover it with real ice, so it wouldn’t uphold for the sake of a couple of games”.
Looking back at the past year, Kelman admitted it’s been a “Cinderella season” for the Devils. He said: “The fans are so happy to have a team to cheer on and then to win something was almost like an added bonus, and now we are expected to win all the time which is a good thing”. Kelman praised the “incredible” Devils fans by adding: “They deserve a winning team, you see a lot of fan bases that expect a team to win and Cardiff are one of those fan bases who love their team regardless. Seeing the way they are and the way they support is incredible so hopefully there is more to come and more to celebrate”.
With over four months until the start of the new season, the Devils look to have a busy offseason period, with recruitment and player analysis taking place. “For us, you never feel like the offseason is long enough, we are trying to sign players but the weeks seem to fly by”. Kelman also said: “There’s really no offseason for us, it goes from playing games to building a team, so that’s what our focus is on now”.
It promises to be a busy summer for the Devils as Kelman and Lord look to create a competitive team and bring more success to the Welsh capital. The Elite league season gets underway in September, with the fixtures yet to be announced, a priority for the Devils will surely be to defend their Challenge Cup trophy.