Cardiff Devils Managing Director Todd Kelman has seen quite a few things through the years in all his years involved in ice hockey, but nothing could have prepared him for Covid and its aftermath.
His team have been back in action in the last few weeks, with four Champions Hockey League games under their belt and two pre-season games – both victories – against Nottingham Panthers.
They’ve got a double header with Manchester Storm this weekend as their build up continues, but it looks like things might finally be returning to normality for the Devils boss.
“It certainly feels great to be back,” he said. “The first couple of weeks are normally crazy in any season, but it’s almost like you have to relearn what you have to do when the players come in.
“This is our fourth week at it so we had the baptism of fire of going into the Champions League, which was insane. I’d rather have had pre-season first to have us get used to having people back in the building. We’re feeling comfortable now though.
“I think we did well in the CHL considering. Of course, I would have liked to had a coach and a boat full of players to run those games, but we had one practice before that first game as a full group.
“The last guys arrived on the Sunday, we practised on Monday then the coach was out by Monday afternoon. We had guys playing with each other for the first time against Mannheim and Lausanne who had been training for six or seven weeks.
“It’s a pre-season for all of us right now, not just on the ice and it’s going back to remembering the little things we did on match nights.
“For example, we didn’t think we would have an anthem singer for the CHL, but then we needed one before remembering we needed one just before the first game.
“It was really tough, but what happened against Lausanne was pretty epic and one of those games that everyone will remember for some time.”
The recent CHL games signalled the official start to work of new coach Jarrod Skalde, who joined the club last year, but has had to play the waiting game because of the pandemic.
Skalde’s period away from the bench was extended when he was stood down for the first two CHL ties, against Adler Mannheim and Lausanne due to Covid protocols, meaning Kelman had to take his place behind the bench along with Jamie Elson, there in place of assistant coach Neil Francis.
But, as Kelman explains, Skalde’s route to Ice Arena Wales since his appointment was announced in October last year, has been a testing and frustrating one.
“Jarrod was itching to come last year and he moved from his home in the US to his buddy’s cottage in Canada for what should have been three or four weeks and ended up being there for 18 months,” he said.
“When he could actually come, there was issues with the immigration process, which has been a nightmare and is longer than we thought.
“He was planning to be here at the start of July and only arrived on 10th August, so it has been an impatient time for him, but he’s settled right in now.”
The challenges Cardiff have faced are no different to every other team of course, but Kelman admits the uncertainty of whether anything of last season was going to go ahead definitely didn’t help.
Add to that, changes in personnel to on and off ice personnel has made it a busy time and Kelman admits they may have played their own part in losing a lot of the players that made them so successful under Andrew Lord.
“The hardest part for us what just not knowing what was happening,” he said. “If I knew way back that last season wasn’t going to happen, I would have focussed much more on being prepared for this season.
“Every week, for a time, it felt like we kept saying we were going to be up and running in a couple of weeks. I actually felt busier during the Covid than at any other time.
“We also saw office staff move on and get other jobs and as a club, we helped the players we signed find opportunities to play elsewhere.
“While it was the right thing to do, it’s probably a reason why we now have so many guys move on. It gave them the chance to showcase themselves and were probably offered bigger contracts than we can afford.
“I do like the guys we have and for some them, being thrown into the CHL the way they were has been a real bonding experience for them and brought them together.”
One other piece of news that pleased Kelman earlier this week was the news that Premier Sports would be the headline sponsor of the Elite League in a three-year deal that brings together sponsorship and a broadcasting partnership.
He admits that any deals in the past may have fallen through because of the league, but reckons this new agreement is a surefire winner for all parties concerned.
“It’s been a few years since we had someone come on board as a headline sponsor,” he said. “The financials worked out well and they’re a broadcast partner as well is great.
“They put on a really good show and the production is top notch. Everyone wants to be on TV, but this is a proper deal, with a game a week, the cup finals and play-off weekend, it really is the home of hockey.
“For a time, fans were seeing NHL, KHL, but nothing from our league. That wasn’t because of Premier Sports. That was down to us, but also, we have a value on our league and we felt we had to hold out and reach a level we felt it was worth to be on TV.
“It’s a great deal and a win-win for Premier and the Elite League as a whole.”