Belfast Giants ticked all the boxes for family man Liam Reddox
With every outlandish rumour that flies around the Elite League, there follows the inevitable question that every fan ponders.
Why would they sign in the UK?
Liam Reddox very much falls into that category. As a 100-cap veteran of the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers and a legend with Swedish giants Vaxjo Lakers having spent eight years as their captain, he's not the first candidate you think of as somebody who moves to the Elite League.
Normally somebody leaving Sweden looks to Germany, Switzerland or Austria for their next challenge, and even then that's generally someone who's a replacement level player in the SHL, not a side's indispensable captain.
But then so many factors come into play for each individual. Liam Morgan cited the Friendship Four as the reason why he wanted to choose Belfast as the location to start his professional career. Similarly, Patryk Wronka was impressed enough by the set-up during the Continental Cup to make the switch from GKS Katowice. Matt Pelech wanted to continue his education and the Giants' link with the Ulster University filled the criteria.
It's the same way the Giants fill their roster every year. The standard of the game in the UK is not at the same level as other European leagues, so to continually attract the European stand-outs, the former first-round draft picks and first-time European movers they need to have incentives that become reasons to join.
For Reddox, he only needed three reasons, and they were sitting alongside him in the middle aisle of their red-eye from Toronto to Dublin last night.
"Family's first for me," he explains. "As we were going through this summer, there were a couple of different places that may have been an option, but we had a few boxes that needed checked off and Belfast checked off all those boxes. It worked for me, it worked for my wife and most importantly it worked for both of our boys.
"At the end of the day it was a pretty easy decision to choose Belfast and Northern Ireland."
Eight years in Vaxjo came to an end over the summer for Reddox when the decision was made that he and wife Ashley needed a change. Son Linden is about to go into Primary 1 and, with his family first ethos, the Reddox family knew they needed to put him and younger brother Lochlan first by taking them to an English-speaking school.
That meant leaving behind a team that had become like a second family to him in order to pursue a challenge that suited the whole family. Vaxjo promptly posted their tribute to the winger, who scored their first ever SHL goal, which took the form of a half-an-hour long video thanking him for his services over eight years.
And with that, Reddox was a free agent for the first time since 2011.
"It's not a summer I want to do every year in terms of being a free agent!" laughs the Whitby, Ontario native. "The dynamic changes when you have a young family, so it was definitely a change from what we're used to.
"We've had a great time at home here, seeing family, friends, and in terms of the training aspect I've added a bit more this summer because wherever I ended up I wanted to show up and start on the right foot. It's been great."
Understandably, he had options. According to Reddox himself there were just "a couple" of options on the table, but one suspects that's him being modest. After all, there aren't many teams across the world let alone Europe who would turn down the option to place a proven quality winger in their line-up, one who has averaged 0.39 points per game in 386 SHL contests.
But then that family-first mantra circles back round again. When weighing up all the offers that had been placed before him, the dual Canadian-Scottish national - born to a Scottish father and English mother - put the rest of his clan at the forefront of his thought process and it all pointed to one destination.
"My son is starting Primary 1, so we thought it was important for him to go to an English-speaking school so he could learn in his native tongue," repeats Reddox, who cited former team-mates and ex-Giants Steve Saviano and Dustin Johner as having sold Belfast to him.
"Another thing was my wife having the opportunity to work. She's been on the sidelines for eight years now, she has a Masters and is a physiotherapist and has had the chance to work when we're home during the summer, but the ability for her to build her resume and get to work now our boys are old enough to be in school, that was an important box we wanted ticked off.
"A lot of our family is over in Glasgow so we're a short ferry ride away from all my aunts, uncles and cousins - that's going to be fun, being closer to family than what we're usually accustomed to."
His Scottish roots and British family are something that Reddox values greatly. Indeed, plans have already been made for the Reddox clan (pun intended) to be at the Braehead Arena when the Giants are in town, albeit very loose ones at this time.
Despite having never played professionally in the UK, the 33-year-old is keenly interested in the game here. He was glued to the recent World Championships, camped beside the laptop and refreshing the live scores as Great Britain stayed up with an improbable comeback against France in what proved to effectively be a relegation play-off.
Representing the national team is in the back of his mind too given he will become eligible due to his British passport, but right now he's only focusing on what he can control and that's doing his part in showcasing the Elite League as best he can to the rest of Europe through some big performances in the Champions Hockey League.
He's been there and done it with Vaxjo, as a one-time finalist and twice semi-finalist with the Lakers, and now he has his sights set on bringing more recognition to British hockey with Belfast. It may not be with deep play-off runs in the premier European competition, but there's no doubt some excellent results would turn heads.
"We've made quite a few good signings and the team looks like it'll be good to compete at the highest level - I'm not going to say we're going to win the Champions League but we can certainly turn heads like the other teams from the Elite League have done before us, which is really important for UK hockey," he opines.
"We need to show up and have our best games because it does attract other players when you see good results in the Champions League, when you see what happened during the World Championships. That's really important for the game in the UK because the better quality of players we can attract to the league, the better it will be for the fans and the game.
"There's some really good quality this year but hopefully we can continue to get some great hockey players noticing the EIHL and wanting to come over."
While Belfast ticks all the boxes for Reddox and his family, it's a two way street. In Reddox, the Giants tick several of their boxes too as the final part of the 2019/20 roster puzzle: experience, talent, an engaging personality and someone who embodies what they stand for both on and off the ice, in and outside the rink.
Heading into their debut CHL appearance, they've just added a player who has been to the semi-finals twice and the final once with Vaxjo. They've added a two-time SHL champion and a man who has already won over the fans with his social media posts before he's even set foot in Northern Ireland.
Put simply, they've added a winner, and not just in terms of hockey achievements.
"It's just the culture that the Giants stand for. Not only do they want to win on the ice, but the impact they have in the community which is something that, as I've gotten older, I've appreciated more," explains Reddox.
"The ability to connect with fans and people in the community and help them in any way. We're put on a pedestal, professional athletes. We have the ability to change someone's day, and that's something I hold close to my heart.
"I try to have a positive impact on people, not just on the ice through entertainment but off the ice through good deeds."
On the ice, he'll have a big impact too, of course. His numbers figure to take a sharp increase on the four goals and seven points from last season, while there's certainly time on the powerplay to compete for down the left-wing as he, Smotherman and Ciaran Long compete for two top-six berths.
And while the CHL is capturing all the imagination, particularly in the first few weeks of the season as the opening four games of the Giants' campaign, there's still the bread-and-butter of the Elite League to occupy the thoughts of most of the season. Even more importantly, there's three domestic titles for Adam Keefe's men to defend.
"I have a pretty good idea of the standard, I've played in the Champions League and every year we seem to have drawn a British team! We've drawn Cardiff twice and Glasgow (then Braehead) and they have great hockey players too," says Reddox, who admits he has been looking around the league at what other teams are doing.
"The SHL may be a little deeper from line one to line four, but in terms of the quality of players I don't think it's going to be entirely different. I don't expect to come over to the UK and walk the league, it's going to be a challenge.
"From what I know it's going to be a more North American style league, more physical, maybe a little bit slower than Sweden. I just want to get over there and be a piece of the puzzle to a group that has a chance to win."
So that circles back nicely to the overarching question to all of this: why would an NHL centurion and SHL veteran decide to play in the Elite League?
"A chance to win. That's why you play hockey, to win," says Reddox.
"With what Belfast stands for, they want to try and win every year, they're competitive every year. Although they lost a few pieces, from talking to Steve (Thornton) and Adam (Keefe), they weren't content with what they did last year, they want to continue to push the envelope and be a team that has the ability to bring in trophies every year.
"That was very exciting to hear as a player who has won in the past and wants to continue to win. I know what a winning atmosphere creates and that's a lot of fun and memories that last a lifetime."
Time to go create them then.
Belfast Telegraph Digital