The Belfast Giants have stunned fans by parting company with Elite League title-winning coach Paul Adey.
Just a week ago Adey was on the brink of leading the club to the most successful season in its 14-year history, but Giants management failed to agree a new contract to bring him back to the Odyssey and that has led to a parting of the way.
It is understood that talks over a new deal for the coach broke down between last Sunday’s Play-off final defeat to the Sheffield Steelers and the announcement of his departure last night.
“We had great success. We only lost six out of 52 games in the league and got to two finals,” Adey told the Belfast Telegraph.
“Percentage wise I look at the amount of wins we had and it was a fantastic season.
“I would like to thank the players and the fans for their support this season as well as the Odyssey Trust and Todd Kelman for giving me the opportunity to coach here.
“I don’t think anybody can complain about the season we have had.”
It seems, however, that despite winning the league by 23 points it was the team’s failure to add either the Challenge Cup or Play-off title — which would have surpassed the achievements of any previous season — was a factor in Adey’s shock exit.
It is a case of deja vu for the Giants as almost exactly 12 months ago former coach Doug Christiansen quit the club within 24 hours of losing in the Play-off final.
Adey’s departure is, however, much more of a shock, given that the Giants made history by winning the league earlier than any other team in the Superleague or Elite League eras.
He was also just two games away from a historic treble success, only to the lose Challenge Cup final to Nottingham in a penalty shoot-out before an overtime defeat in the Play-off decider.
The success also saw Adey named Coach of the Year by both the Elite League and the UK Ice Hockey Journalists.
Adey was the seventh man to coach the Giants in the 14 years that the team has been in existence — and four of his predecessors will be in the mix to take over from him.
Dave Whistle, who led the team to Superleague and Play-off success as the first coach, is now with the Cardiff Devils. He was keen on the job this time last year and could be tempted into making an emotional return to Belfast.
Rob Stewart, who was Whistle’s assistant before taking over from him in 2003, has also worked alongside Christiansen and Adey.
The former fans favourite asked to be considered for the main job 12 months ago and is again likely to throw his hat into the ring.
Steve Thornton left Belfast in 2010 after leading the Giants to the Play-off title in order to take up employment outside of the game, but he has always maintained an interest in returning to the game.
And a dramatic return to the Giants for Christiansen can’t be ruled out. He is currently out of work after being sacked by Sheffield earlier this year and his record with the Giants — two second placed finishes either side of winning the league in 2012 — means that despite his shock exit his stock is still high among fans.
Former Giants player Dave Matsos, who had a successful four-year stint as coach of the Sheffield Steelers, was in the running last year and he will also be a contender this time around.
Whoever the new coach is he will start with a solid base of players who were part of the Elite League title winning squad.
Top goalscorer Kevin Saurette, the club’s all-time leading scorer Colin Shields, Great Britain defenceman David Phillips, plus forward pair Evan Cheverie and Darryl Lloyd have all committed for another season.
The Giants are also waiting to see if veteran defenceman Robby Sandrock takes up the second year option on his contract.
By Stuart McKinley
With so many former crowd favourites and Belfast Giants legends in the running for the job, it was a big shock when Paul Adey was appointed as coach of the team last year.
His departure less than 12 months later, however, is an even bigger one.
The 2013-14 Giants were a great attacking force. They played with speed, flair and an amazing never-say-die attitude that made them arguably the most attractive team ever to don the teal and red jersey.
Less than halfway through the season it became a matter of when they would win the Elite League title rather than if.
There are ifs and buts surrounding last Sunday's Play-off final though. IF Craig Peacock and Adam Keefe had been fit and on the ice the Giants may well have beaten Sheffield rather than losing 3-2 in overtime, BUT they weren't and they didn't and that, it would appear, impacted on the coach's future -- or rather the lack of it.
Should we really be surprised though? The world of sport is so unpredictable -- Adey's appointment as Giants coach in the first place, ahead of the likes of Dave Whistle, tells us that.
A coach leaving a club in the aftermath of a league title success isn't normal though -- unless you are in charge of Real Madrid, when winning the league is almost automatically followed by the sack.
Much as the Giants are a big player in UK ice hockey, they aren't Real Madrid, but there is a pulling power in Belfast and there will be plenty of interest in the job.
The task for the new coach, however, is mighty. Adey won the league at the first time of asking and the challenge will be to repeat that.