Dai Sport is heading into Europe with Cardiff Devils. Ice hockey journalist Terry Phillips is with the team for two huge fixtures. Head coach Andrew Lord and his team earned two sensational Champions Hockey League results at home, beating Czech team Mountfield HK 3-2 plus Austrians Graz 99ers 4-3 after penalties last weekend. Now, Devils are in the town of Hradec Kralove for the return with Mountfield this evening and then switch to Graz, the second biggest city in Austria, to play 99ers away on Saturday.
Two of the club owners, Steve King and Brian Parker plus family and friends, have flown from Calgary for Cardiff Devils highly anticipated Champions Hockey League double over the next three days.
They have joined hundreds of Devils fans who have made the trip to support reigning Elite League play-off champions Devils Europe. First up are Mountfield HK in the Czech Republic at their ČPP Aréna rink this evening – and on Saturday Devils will be in Graz, Austria to face 99ers at their Eisstadion Liebenau home.
We sat down with coach Andrew Lord for an exclusive one-to-one interview at the Viola Arena, talking CHL, Elite League, former captain Jake Morissette, testimonial Devil Matthew Myers and more.
The Dai Sport Lordo interview:
Question One – TP: How pleased were you with the way player recruitment went over the summer?
Answer – Lordo: “Recruitment went exactly how we hoped it would. We identified a a few areas we wanted to get better in. Physicality was one, while we also wanted to be a little bit faster plus a little bit younger.
We checked all those boxes with the players who came in.
Our aim was a to ensure we had more speed and energy up front. Masi Marjamaki and Blair Riley really do that, while Mike McNamee is right up there on skill level.
Defensively we wanted one really good, skilled and well rounded D-man. Sean McMonagle certainly ticks that box.
We needed a bigger body, a player who is aggressive in his play and I am extremely proud of that signing. We stayed really patient on that one. We reviewed a lot of guys and could have gone for one, but we waited and picked the best one in Sam Jardine.
I am really excited about that.
It was relentless during recruitment because there were so many players. Players come to Elite League from everywhere, there is no direct pipeline from anywhere. There is a need to review players from everywhere and look at all avenues.
I enjoy the process, but it is pretty crazy. All the teams are looking and you can’t have the same of everything. There is a need to find the right balance.”
Question Two – TP: How much of a part do the four Devils owners, Steve King, Brian Parker, Craig Shostack and Kelly Hughes play in the recruitment process?
Answer – Lordo: “That’s one of the fun parts. We have a great relationship between us and everybody in the group plays a part – Todd (Kelman), the owners, Franny (Neil Francis) and I talk a lot about recruitment. Franny is a good sounding board.
We all know each other well and trust each other.
It would be pretty lonely for me if I wasn’t able to talk through these decisions. They are big, huge decisions when you bring a player to a different country, spending money to do that.
We carry out all the research needed, talk about budgets and what we need. I enjoy that, it’s a fun dynamic.
I don’t know how many teams in pro hockey are set up that way, but the way we work is extremely helpful to me. I am extremely fortunate and have tons of respect for all of them.”
Question Three – TP: When you reflect on the last five years with Devils what are your thoughts?
Answer- Lordo: “It’s been five years with the owners after my first year.
“I’m extremely proud of what we have done as an organisation. The years have flown by and it’s crazy to think how far it’s come, but at the same time it is so busy now with improvements to the game in terms of technology and video every day is so packed and I rarely look at the big picture.
Right now I am focused on our next matches.”
Question Four – TP: How much do you analyse performances during period breaks?
Answer – Lordo: “We do video analysis during the breaks and determine whether we can make adjustments in the short time-frame that will work. Is it going to cause confusion is a key question?
On a lot of occasions we do make adjustments and it works, but a lot depends open who you are playing.”
Question Five – TP: What are your thoughts on Elite League standards going into the new season?
Answer – Lordo: “EIHL is getting wild now. It’s gone crazy over last couple of seasons and jumped to a completely different level of play.
All the British players have improved, Great Britain’s World Championship success at the World Championships spurred that on and, overall, the quality of imports has taken a massive jump.
It’s incredibly interesting. Every team in EIHL have good, good players and all teams can compete every night.
I believe the league can gain a bit more notoriety now and I would love for that to happen. We need to see bigger sponsorship deals at league level.
If teams work together in helping to achieve that it would be helpful.”
Question Six – TP: What are your thoughts about the Champions Hockey League?
Answer – Lordo: “In CHL we can be highly competitive. We are not veterans of the event, but two years ago we were like a fish out of water.
Then a year ago we were much better. We didn’t come away with wins, but we were right in there during the majority of games and that boded well for us this time.
The extra speed we have helps and everybody is genuinely really excited about playing in CHL matches. We knew what to expect this time and players are used to the longer training camp.
It’s fun and cool testing yourself against these great teams.”
— Steve King (@Tacosteve10) September 5, 2019
Question Seven – TP: Do you enjoy this early stage of the season?
Answer – Lordo: “I love all parts of the season, but this time is fun because we have been implementing our whole game plan systematically.
A month for now when I tell somebody he is not on the penalty kill any more that changes the dynamic a little bit, but the time we spend preparing is really good.”
Question – TP: Were the players in good shape when they arrived for Devils’ training camp?
Answer – Lordo: “I was pleased with how the players came back. They were all fit and ready to train. All five new guys came in ready and in good condition, good shape.
Our returning guys have a lot of pride and know what to expect now.”
Question Eight – TP: What are your feelings about Devils captain Jake Morissette retiring from playing to become an Actuary? After all, you have been friends and colleagues for many years.
Answer – Lordo: “Sad, too bad. Yes, he is a little bit older, but he could still have played for a couple of years. It’s always a challenge knowing the right time to stop.
Nobody is making insane money here and unless you get into coaching or something guys have to move on at some stage. It comes down to to a personal decision – ‘Do I want to spend another year or two and delay that or is it time?’
I wouldn’t say he was ready, but he could see his overall life and his plans going forward. We are going to miss him dearly. I certainly notice he’s not around, but we had a pretty good run with Mo leading the team.
He is staying in Cardiff and we have been extremely good friends for a long time. It will be nice for him and I to get back to being good friends and not have that work relationship. That will be good for us.”
Question Nine – TP: The club are looking after Evan Mosey, who suffered an injury playing for Great Britain and may miss most of the season. You must be pleased about that.
Answer – Lordo: “Evan is working hard doing great rehab every day, moving along. His leg is in good shape and the surgeon is happy. All signs are positive, but it’s long process. He’ll keep chipping away at it.
I’m hopeful we may get a look at him this season, but at the same time we are realistic and don’t want to rush him. It is crucial we don’t do that.
The recovery process for Evan is long term. It’s been huge to come back this season, but my dad had that injury and we’ve had a few players with the same injury in the past. It does take time. It does.
Putting a rush or pressure on him would not be the right thing to do. He has been phenomenal. With his attitude he’s gonna be an interesting piece for us over next few months with his energy, silliness and love for the game.
Evan is a cheerleader for us right now and that’s great. It’s what we do and we like having him around.”
Question 10 – TP: How easy was the decision to appoint Joey Martin captain following Jake Morissette’s decision to retire? Was Blair Riley, who wore the C for Belfast, a contender?
Answer – Lordo: “It was a no-brainer.
Riles is new to the team. If we didn’t have 15 returning guys I bet he would have been in the mix, but for us it was Joey all day long.
That came from myself, the players, owners and Todd. Joey is going to do great. He does a bit of everything.
He leads by example, just like Jake did. He has a feel for the guys and cares about them personally.
Joey has a lot of honour towards ice hockey, a great person who loves the game and loves our club. I am excited for him.
He was always mature, but he has really matured even more over his years in Cardiff, grown as a person and in confidence.
Joey is simply a great overall leader.”
Question 11 – TP: Welshman Matthew Myers has his testimonial this season. What are your thoughts?
Answer – Lord: “It’s cool, amazing. Something Matthew deserves.
He’s a force and sticks to his strengths. A hard worker in the game and has a lot of fun. He provides good energy for us. He adds leadership as well through his experience
Our Brit corps is something that maybe people forget. It’s all of them – Duggie (Sam Duggan), Rutter (Toms Rutkis) and the other guys.
Every one of them have bought into what we are doing, really care and keep improving.
We talk about Elite League and how much better it’s getting, but it’s not as if any of them have fallen away.
They are all potentially making even more of an impact.”
Question 12 – TP: What is Thomas Murdy’s overall role with Devils this season?
Answer – Lordo: “Thomas is a busy man with Devils. He is our kit man and back-up goalie to Ben Bowns. It’s great for us that he has bought in and helps us in any way he can.
He is a big part of what we do.”