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Lord Takes Leap of Faith to Greenville

Wednesday, July 22nd
Lord Takes Leap of Faith to Greenville

On June 7, 2019, Andrew Lord signed a five-year extension with the Cardiff Devils hockey club in Wales to remain head coach. He had already accomplished almost everything possible in the Elite Ice Hockey League, the top league in the United Kingdom. The Devils were a terrifying perennial juggernaut, and the organization offered him significant job security in a city that loved him unconditionally.

The 35-year-old Vancouverite strung together a long and fruitful pro hockey career, and transitioned to the coaching side of the game seamlessly.

His strong work ethic and top-notch character resonated with his players, and all they did was win in his first coaching stop. Under his direction, the team put together a record of 221-75-22, and won nine separate championship titles in six seasons.

“If I could have Andrew Lord working with me for the next 20 years, I would happily do that,” Devils managing director Todd Kelman said in a team statement released on that day.

One could argue success of that caliber over that span of time was exactly the plan. If Lord had stayed in Cardiff past 2021, he would have received an ownership stake in the team. Knowing how ambitious the young coach was, however, the Devils added a clause for him to pursue other opportunities should the right one arise.

That situation occurred precisely in June of 2020 when Greenville’s head coach position opened. Despite the potential of leaving an organization and a place that felt so much like home, Lord applied.

“I wanted to challenge myself, first and foremost. I always thought about coming back to North America and seeing what I can do at the next level,” Lord said. “Being associated with an NHL team is very exciting, and to have the opportunity to develop players and be a small part of their growth to the next level is incredible.”

The main obstacle of making the decision was thoroughly coming to grips with every facet of the situation he was entering.

“I’m a meticulous guy. I wanted to do my research on Greenville, and it all looked great, it checked all of the boxes,” Lord continued. “It was extremely hard to leave Cardiff after everything we accomplished together, but the time was right, and the opportunity was right. I had to jump at it.

Lord mentioned Spire’s new ownership and leadership, and the vision moving forward to grow a passionate fanbase in a non-traditional market as major reasons for his move back to North America.

“This is a man that was in a great situation in the UK, winning championships, developing serious roots in Cardiff and could have stayed there happily forever,” said Spire Sports + Entertainment co-owner Jeff Dickerson about his head coaching choice. “And what does he do? He pushes all-in on our organization, on [Greenville], on what we are trying to build in the Upstate. How could we not choose him?”

It seemed like a no-brainer for the Swamp Rabbits to add Lord with the amount of success that he has accumulated over the course of his life. He built up a championship organization, a culture of winning, and a tradition of excellence, in just six years. It was not a traditional rebuild that takes years of painful losing—it was a lightspeed acceleration to contention status.

“Lordo jumped to the top of our list immediately,” said Spire Hockey President Todd Mackin. “We were given a great reference, and his attributes and accomplishments were exactly what we were looking for in a head coach. He’s young, energetic, determined, passionate, and all about winning.”

One of the first things Lord spoke to in his opening interview to Greenville was the highly competitive South Division, in which a massive percentage of the Swamp Rabbits’ games are played. Each in-division game is a dogfight. Just eight standings points separated Greenville in third from Jacksonville in sixth when the season abruptly ended due to the Coronavirus pandemic in March. The final two playoff spots in the division were truly up for grabs, and that is the fight that Greenville’s new bench boss is up to tackling.

Getting the Swamp Rabbits to the next level will be the first task for the new bench boss. The team has made it to the Kelly Cup Playoffs five times in nine opportunities, and made it as far as the Eastern Conference Final in 2014. Greenville last made it to the playoffs in 2017.

“We have an enormous challenge ahead of us to turn the tide in the South Division. It’s exciting right now, but it’s a huge challenge. Everyone else is competitive. There are some very experienced coaches, and some deep teams with great veterans and players coming back from this past season, so it will be a huge challenge,” Lord explained. “We need to focus on ourselves first and foremost. We need to get the culture right. We need to bring in the right people. We need to make sure we’re checking the boxes in terms of talent and how it all meshes together.”

The ECHL is a development league for all, and that includes coaches. In the South Division alone, the South Carolina Stingrays, Greenville’s cross-state rival, has seen coaches like Jared Bednar reach the Colorado Avalanche of the NHL, or Ryan Warsofsky become head coach of the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL. The Florida Everblades saw their prior head coach, Greg Poss, take a position with EC Red Bull Salzburg of the Austrian Hockey League, the top tier of competition in the country.

Opportunity to move coaching careers forward exists through the vehicle of the Premier AA Hockey League.

“I always want our coaching staff to be an extension of our AHL affiliate, so when the time comes to fill that coaching void, that our affiliate turns to us,” Mackin said. “I hope after a few seasons and a few championships, we can have that conversation and be proud that we helped Lordo get to the next level.”

Winning rights a lot of wrongs. Ultimately the work starts with creating the winning culture. It starts with putting a scare into the South Division by turning the table on formerly lopsided season series outcomes. It starts, similarly, like the story of the Cardiff Devils—a team with teeming potential in a competitive league, and a man who led the way back to prominence.

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