First of all, the big question – why? The big answer – Opportunity.
I am definitely not leaving this team on a bad note, or for any specific reason. There has been no falling out, there was no behind the scenes drama, this is me looking at a new opportunity, that is it. Opportunity is a strange thing. Sometimes it is scary, and this opportunity is a bit of that and a whole lot of unknown, but any of you that know me well also know that I do like a challenge.
People wouldn’t realise this but Steve Thornton was brought in to take over not only the head coaching role but also the majority of the business role of GM. I was moving on to a more commercial role within the larger organisation of the Odyssey. I was still going to be in charge of sponsorship for the team but not involved in the day to day operations of the team. That is one of the big reasons we wanted Thornton in. He is the only guy I know that has as much business savvy as he does hockey smarts. He is the whole package and will take new ideas and continue to build on our success and grow this team on and off the ice.
Speaking of off the ice, we have a great staff that do the majority of things that people probably assume I do. Game night is looked after by a combination of our office staff and the fabulous volunteers that we have. And by fabulous I definitely mean FABULOUS volunteers. From the production team, to the off-ice game crew to the front of house volunteers – you are all amazing. Over the last few years, we relied heavily on this group of volunteers that have done everything and anything we ever asked of them and more. I am really going to miss all of them and the craic we have had over the years. You all have been a part of every championship we have won and it has been a fun ride with all of you.
And not to worry – the guys are already planning for next season and how to make the experience at the Odyssey even better. The real question, who is going to talk over a Burrito race, or scream to the crowd about flying subs or utter those famous words “guess what I smell?…”. Hopefully my job wasn’t reduced to just that, but I am confident they will find someone better to do all of that as well (they just won’t enjoy it as much as I did, I promise).
Seriously though, I never thought I would work for the Belfast Giants for 14 years, certainly I never dreamed I would get to be the General Manager of this great club for as long as I have been.
I want to thank the players and coaches I have worked with over the years in Belfast. As a player I had teammates turn into life long friends and as a GM at times I felt like a mentor, sometimes a leader, sometimes a father (and sometimes a babysitter) but most of all the players gave me a ton of memories and made me proud of every team we have built here over the years for different reasons. Some of those reasons might be championships, some might be the work they did in the community and sometimes it was just about taking a stand.
Pride is a word I will use a lot when I think of the Giants. In seven seasons, we won 5 titles. That is a good run. I am proud of that. I am also proud that we were able to host the Boston Bruins in October 2010. The work behind the scenes on that was incredible. When you have your wife and your friend (and volunteer leader/head cheerleader) cleaning locker room toilets at 3am before the Bruins arrived, you know you had buy in from every one.
But that is what we do in Belfast, people pitch in, people love being a part of something fun, and that is why it has worked here. This place is so tough to walk away from. I feel like I grew up here, not in the traditional sense, but career wise. I came in as a hockey guy and am leaving with business sense that I couldn’t pay for, something that only this experience, first under Jim and then under the Odyssey Trust, could give you.
I have lived here longer than any city in my life. My little boy was born here, my wife and I have made this place home year round. Belfast and Northern Ireland is always going to be a big part of my life and the most enjoyable years so far.
My favorite memories? It’s hard to single out which title felt better when you win a championship together. The league in 2002 was amazing, the 2003 playoff win – easily the best team I have ever skated with – and on both of those teams there are a lot of guys I remain tight with to this day. The year with Theo was unforgettable and that crew of misfits might have been the funnest team I played on in the Elite League era. As a GM, it’s tough to beat the first title I won with Thorts – Challenge Cup in 2009. It wasn’t a feeling of success, it was a feeling of relief. I will never forget it, but him and I both felt it. The playoff winning team in 2010 is the closest group we have ever put together and that is why they won, and then the league title with Doug was incredible in the way we won it and the adversity we faced that season. Last year’s title winning team is the best team we have ever had here in the Elite League era and it showed by winning the league so early. We should have won more, we all know that but that is the freshest title win in my head and I loved those guys, every one of them.
I also want to thank all the sponsors who ever took a chance on this team and stayed on board through thick and thin. We do good work here and we make it fun to be a sponsor, I think you all get that and that’s what the big appeal is. A lot of you have become close friends over the years and I am sure that will continue wherever in the world we are.
To Jim Gillespie, longtime owner of the Giants and the reason why I got to become a GM, you were like a second father to me. The immense respect I held and continue to hold for you can never be properly measured.
To the Odyssey Arena staff, you made it fun to work with you and come to the arena every day. You let me do some crazy things and found ways to make it work and you bent over backwards to ensure the Giants were given every opportunity to succeed. In 7 seasons I still never figured out what the “yellow team leader” announcement meant for me, so apologies for never figuring that out, I am sure it was something important.
To the Odyssey Trust Board and their staff – we can never thank you enough for stepping in when you had to and embracing the Giants. You saved the team and bounced back to lead a team to a championship in year one of ownership, not a bad start. To Robert Fitzpatrick, CEO – you have been a mentor, a friend, a confidant and the one person that I have learned most from over the years. Thank you for making that first phone call and for allowing me into your inner circle. I learned more than you can ever imagine.
My final thought on Belfast is this. I am so proud of the fans here. I am so proud of what you have made this team into. I am so proud of how you stuck by this team and lifted us up during the bad times and how you cheered and we celebrated together during the good times. Belfast is an evolving place, and you have an incredible city, one that players love to live in and are proud to represent. I am proud of the role that the Giants have played in the history of this amazing city and proud of the role I have been honored to play in this amazing team.
As you all know – I talk way too much, and believe it or not – I write more than I talk so apologies for the length of this but it is hard to let go and hard for this to be finalised. But here it is – what I really want to say to all of the Giants fans…
— Love Belfast (@love_belfast) January 11, 2014
I loved my job, I loved playing for your team and I loved being the General Manager of your team. And remember – this team is bigger than any player, any coach, any owner or any GM. This team has always and will always belong to you the fans. The reality of professional ice hockey is that we all eventually move on, whether it is a year, two, or even fourteen. I know in the past I have said that no matter what, this team can never matter as much to all of us that played here as it does to all of you… But I’m telling you from the bottom of my heart, it meant more to me.
OK -everyone that told me to change my twitter pic all year, well I did it. I had to have a reason to change it… pic.twitter.com/53NrqfOnzm
— Todd Kelman (@toddkelman) February 23, 2014