Peter Russell, who was once Devils coach Ed Patterson’s ‘eye in the sky, returns to South Wales on Saturday intent on sending shock waves through Challenge Cup circles.
Devils have swept into the cup final for the last three seasons, lifting the trophy twice, and are in supreme form after their 4-3 Champions Hockey League home win against Swiss elite club HC Davos.
Scot Russell, though, is a highly experienced hockey coach, having steered MK Lightning to a trophy double last season and Great Britain to a World Championship gold medal and promotion.
The man from Ayr, on the West Coast of Scotland, spent a couple of years in Cardiff, working as Devils full-time director of junior development from 2004, working alongside Shannon Hope and Jason Stone during sessions, and later became player-coach Patterson’s bench coach and ’Eye in The Sky’.
Head coach Russell brings his MK Lightning team to Ice Arena Wales in Cardiff Bay on Saturday evening, having recruited a team capable of causing a stir in Elite League and Challenge Cup hockey.
Lightning have signed former Devils players Guillaume Doucet, Denny Kearney and Carl Hudson, while they also include ex-Nottingham netminder Miika Wiikman and Matt Nickerson, who played for Belfast Giants last season.
During his time with Devils more than a decade ago, Russell sat high in the stands watching matches before reporting back to Patterson on good and bad points seen from his vantage point above the ice.
“I was out on the ice for Elite League team training sessions and during matches I was up in the stands,” said Russell.”I told Ed Patterson where things were going well and where they weren’t from my view.”
Russell’s coaching career has been a huge success so far. He is Great Britain head coach and is close with Cardiff’s home-grown international players Mark Richardson, Matthew Myers, Ben Bowns, Thomas Murdy and more.
Together they were part of the GB group who won the World Championship gold medal in Belfast last summer.
Now Russell is leading Lightning into their first Elite League campaign. They won two EPL trophies last season before making the step up to top flight hockey along with Guildford Flames.
The first competitive match of their 2017-18 season is Saturday’s cup clash in Cardiff Bay.
“Clubs like Cardiff, Sheffield, Nottingham, Belfast and others are like the Man Uniteds, Chelseas and Man Citys of football, the biggest teams in the country with big budgets,” said 43-year-old Russell.
“That’s part of the challenge, and for Lightning fans it’s great to get to see those teams as well. They want to see good hockey and they’re going to see the best hockey you can get in the whole country.”
Lightning are joined by Coventry Blaze, Guildford and Manchester Storm in the League’s Patton Conference and Russell says: ”We are in a really good conference. It’s going to be highly competitive and you play all the other teams as well four times,” said Russell.
“It’s like the jump from the Championship to the Premiership, a crazy jump, a really hard jump. That is going to be tough, but we have a really good group (of players).
“There’s a real buzz and a there has been lot of change, but you have to embrace change sometimes. We have great fans and want to keep them busy, excited.”
Russell’s playing career between the pipes took him to Ayr Raiders, Medway Bears, Dumfries Border Vikings, Blackburn Hawks, Slough Jets and Paisley Pirates.
He later played Castlereagh Knights, Paisley again and then ended his career at Nottingham, Panthers.
Russell became GB’s most successful junior coach, having won four gold, one silver and two bronze medals in 11 tournaments while in charge of the U20 and U18 teams.
Now he combines his duties with MK Lightning with a role in charge of the senior GB team. The evidence shows he is enjoying big success in both jobs.
Devils coach Andrew Lord has put the Davos victory out of his mind – and his players are intent on doing the same and focusing on this weekend’s Cup matches against MK Lightning at home on Saturday (7pm) and Guildford Flames away the next evening.
Lord will have to make a decision on who to leave out of his team. Devils carry an extra import player, one more than can play in any one Elite League match, but has been able to use everybody in CHL fixtures.
Cardiff’s player-coach could step back himself for the opening Challenge Cup clash of the season, but there are big decisions ahead and he has talked to the Devils group about that.
Their first Elite League fixture is at Sheffield Steelers on Saturday, September 16 before Nottingham Panthers are in Cardiff Bay on the Sunday (6pm).
Ticket information for all Devils’ home matches is available online via the Cardiff Devils official website or by phoning 0800 0842 666. Tickets can also be purchased in person from the main reception at Ice Arena Wales.