Welcome to the new 1-on-1 “Face-Off” segment here on Murph On Ice! We will bring you Murph’s conversations on a regular basis with some of the best hockey minds in the business!
Murph had the pleasure of chatting with the driving force behind hockey excellence in Belfast recently for this first feature. Enjoy his interview with Giants legend Todd Kelman.
Todd Kelman has been the full-time General Manager of the Belfast Giants since April 2007. He also had a great career as a player in Belfast, and is the franchise’s all-time leader in games played, appearing in 419 games and is the top scoring Giants defenceman of all time.
Murph On Ice – Thanks for joining me to chat hockey here on the new website Todd!
Todd Kelman – No problem Murph, my pleasure!
MOI – As a GM in the Elite League, what are the biggest challenges you face in keeping the product on the ice in Belfast at the highest level possible?
TK – The biggest challenge right now is getting the bums on seats in order to maintain the top level team we have had over the last few years. People are very selective about how they spend their money these days and there is no second chances for grabbing those valuable entertainment £££’s that people are willing to spend. We have to ensure that we provide high level entertainment with top quality professional players that makes it worth the price of admission. If we lose a customer or send someone away with a bad experience, it is unlikely they will be back to give us another chance.
MOI – When you talk to foreign players about coming to play in Belfast, what is the reaction you get about hockey in the UK Elite League?
TK – A few years ago we used to get the usual reaction of “they play hockey over there?”, but now I think we have done a good job of putting our league on the international hockey map. We had NHL players come to the Elite League during the lock out and we hosted the Boston Bruins last season, so now players know about this league before they get here. Players nowadays have the opportunity to research the place before they arrive, and we make it easy for them. We have a special website for incoming players to show off everything that Belfast and the Giants has to offer.
MOI – When you look back on your career as a player on this side of the pond, what are your favourite memories from your Giant days?
TK– Definitely my biggest thrill as a player was winning the playoffs in 2003. That was the best Giants team in history and probably my favourite group of guys I ever played with. After that, the 2 league titles I won as a Giants player were awesome, and as a GM, winning the playoffs in 2010 was a big thrill.
MOI – Of all the guys you played with in the Elite League over the years, who are the top 3 guys to have played over here?
TK – Theo Fleury, Jason Ruff and Paul Kruse. All 3 of them for different reasons were probably too good to be playing in the UK, but for whatever reason they ended up here. Theo was my hero when I was a kid, Ruff was the best player on our team when we were the best team in the Superleague and Kruse was the best Captain I ever played with. He knew how to lead, quietly but with authority.
MOI – You mention Theo Fleury, he was of course a high profile addition to the Giants in 2005/06…Any special memories of his time in a Belfast jersey?
TK – The whole season with Theo was magical. Playing with him made me understand why he was able to play in the NHL and dominate for so long. He was so talented, and remember we saw him at the end of his career. He did things with the puck then that the rest of us couldn’t fathom. His stories were great, it was a surreal experience playing with him. So many guys hear stories about Theo and what type of person he is or was. We got to know him as one of the boys. He was committed, he worked hard, he pushed all of us and made us better players. He was the most intense player I have ever seen. We won the league because of him, no doubt but besides the championship, it was so much fun getting to hear his stories all season. He can tell a good story and he has a lot of them.
MOI – The Odyssey is a fantastic rink, for those who haven’t been to a game there yet, give us an idea of the experience in Belfast on game night?
TK – We are lucky to have such an amazing building to play our home games at. We have tried to market our games as an entertainment product because we know not everyone understands our sport, but we know people all like to have fun. You are going to have a good night out at a Giants game, because there is plenty going on besides the game itself. We have prize giveaways, cheerleaders, great music, video screens and a great atmosphere because of the passion and enthusiasm that our fans bring to the Odyssey every home game.
MOI – The fans in Belfast are a passionate bunch! What’s the hockey community like overall in Belfast?
TK – Very committed and very supportive. Most teams talk about how their fans are loyal when they win and lethal when they are losing. I know our fans expect us to win, but they understand that we aren’t going to win every game, they just want us to compete and put the effort in. It makes a difference when you have a great support behind you and I think we have awesome fans.
MOI – And finally, how has the season been thus far, and what can the Giants’ fans expect the rest of way in this campaign?
TK – Hopefully we can keep winning and someday soon get back to full strength. It seems like every year we have a load of injuries right from the start and the same has happened this year. We have yet to play a game at full strength, so hopefully when we do, we can get on track and continue the way things have been going lately.
MOI – Thanks again Todd, good luck the rest of the way, and I’ll see you at the Odyssey for a game soon.
TK – Thanks for having me Murph! Take care.
“Face-Off” is a regular feature here on Murph On Ice. Keep an eye out for Murph’s next 1-on-1 as he talks all things hockey with TSN Radio Host James Cybulski.
You can follow Murph on Twitter @MurphOnIce