Dupont coaches Cardiff Devils to EIHL championship in just four weeks

May 19, 2022, 12:20 pm
Kara Kinna

Brodie Dupont coaching the Cardiff Devils.

St. Lazare’s Brodie Dupont has been known for his prowess on the ice for many years—from his very early days of playing MJHL and WHL hockey to his rise through the hockey ranks to the AHL and NHL, to eight years of playing pro hockey overseas.

But on May 1, Dupont became known for his prowess off the ice as well when he was handed the head coaching job for the UK’s Cardiff Devils with just four weeks left in the season, and turned the team around to help the team claim an Elite Ice Hockey League championship.

Dupont was pondering heading back to North America for good and either ending his pro hockey career or looking for a coaching job when he was offered a chance to play with the Cardiff Devils for the 2021-22 season as a player/assistant coach. With coaching on his mind, he decided Cardiff would be a good opportunity.

“They offered me the player/assistant coaching position, which was obviously going to help with my resume going forward because I want to pursue coaching,” says Dupont.

Dupont was injured part way through the season, leading to the team offering him a full-time assistant coaching position.

“Injury put me to the side this year, I had some neck and nerve issues going on to the point basically where my arm was going numb and dead,” says Dupont. “At some point, unfortunate as it is, you’ve got to start thinking about life after hockey. What happens if this becomes permanent? I have three young kids at home and it kind of becomes a question of what quality of life you want as opposed to if you keep playing you are going to have. They invited me on as a full-time assistant coach and sort of allowed me to retire.”

The Devils struggled out of the gate this season, and didn’t appear to be much of a prospect for a league championship.

“This league missed the previous season because of the pandemic—they didn’t play through it,” says Dupont. “There is a winning tradition on this team, they have had a lot of championships. When we all got here they kind of lost their core that they were winning championships with because they went on to find new jobs and they didn’t return. We had a lot of new guys and we stumbled a little out of the gates. It was a little bit tough to try and get it to gel, but we eventually got it going and then basically in October I got hit a couple times in a game and I left the game with a concussion.

“I came back and that was when the neck issues started happening. As a team we were kind of having a hard time finding our way in the sense of where the bar had been set. We still were winning a lot of hockey games, it just wasn’t up to where they used to be. There became a point in time where my neck was too bad to play and they found a player to replace me finally, so I stepped aside and they invited me on to the coaching staff full-time at Christmas.

“I thought that the position was the next best thing. You kind of go through a process as an athlete when you’re basically done. I had to iron that out with myself, this is who I am, I have been doing this since I was four years old and now it is basically done. And then you get down to the rink and realize coaching is a great part of the game so you kind of understand that and embrace it right away.

Brodie Dupont with his wife Kayleen and children Zurie, left, Braydie, centre, and Kaydie, right, after his team won the league championship.

“I embraced it right away. Then we went on a big heater, a big winning streak post Christmas, and by the end of the year they had let the head coach go and they basically gave me the team.”

The Devils made the decision to fire head coach Jarrod Skalde with only four weeks left in the season, and they offered Dupont the head coaching position on the spot. Dupont accepted right away.

“He wasn’t their guy moving forward, and I think they felt if he wasn’t going to be the guy moving forward, they liked me enough to see if I had it in me to lead the team,” says Dupont. “They just offered it to me right on the spot and I took it.

“I have never physically coached in terms of outside of a hockey school helping out, but I’ve known I have wanted to coach for the past 10 years. I was totally prepared and ready to go. I had so many things written down and I felt comfortable jumping into the coaching position the next day. It’s not like I came in and thought it was overwhelming—as soon as I took over I knew. There were no nerves, it was just a matter of ‘okay you’ve been prepping for this for eight or nine years now, now it’s a matter of seeing how good you are with your gut and seeing how much you can put this into practice and how much the guys are going to buy in. Then we will see from there what kind of coach you are.’ I was so prepared. I was ready to make the transition. It was just a matter of if I wanted to keep playing as long as I could until I had to make the decision. It was kind of forced a little bit, but that was fine.

“I was excited, but honestly I felt no pressure because I thought ‘okay, basically you’re throwing me right in the soup,’ so whatever happens from here on out, it’s a win-win because either I’m going to gain experience that I never would have gotten anywhere else, or we are going to go win the whole thing and you are going to show them that you can coach and it may line you up for a job next year. Where was the loss there for me? There wasn’t much of a loss there.

“I wanted to embrace it and just hang on to the moment and enjoy it rather than stress over it.

“It actually felt quite natural. I feel like coaching is sort of my second calling. I’m very confident in my abilities. The way I have been in the room—I’ve always been a leader in the room. People ask what the difference is, but there is essentially no difference because I never had a problem supporting my teammates, encouraging my teammates, holding my teammates accountable, holding them to a certain standard that I feel they should be held to, but then at the same token, always kind of being a part of the team. The only difference from being a part of the team on the ice now is obviously I’m more in control of the game plan, and you’re controlling ice time and special teams.

“The other thing about our team is we had a really great leadership group. We had an older group so I lean on them pretty heavily to carry my message. Obviously I knew I was going to make mistakes and I told them straight up to just be patient with me, and when I make mistakes let’s look for answers and let’s do this together.”

Dupont’s confident attitude and readiness for coaching obviously paid off for the Devils, but Dupont credits their sudden success at the end of the season to a number of things.

“We brought in a player, Jake Coughler—he played the last 33 games, he had 21 goals, so that helped,” he says. “With the change of coach, I think it helped the room just kind of get a little spark again. It was a combination of those things. I brought different elements than the previous coach. I brought a different dynamic and philosophy and that had an impact. It was kind of a combination of things. It’s hard to pin point one thing, but it was a great way to finish an odd year.

“To win of championship, it takes a stroke of luck. You have to have the right players in place, everything needs to fall into place, the coaches need to good, the players need to be playing, and you need to be healthy and you need a couple of bounces. And with all that together you can put something special together.

“I did come in and change a few things. I had kind of an inside view of what the team thought needed to be changed because I was playing for the first half, so I went in right away and addressed the things that when I was in the room we all thought needed to be addressed. Even as an assistant coach, you are sometimes limited to what you can do. I didn’t really feel like some things got addressed, so when I came in I tried to do my best to address a few of the things we felt were missing. And I think that did have an impact on the guys. It was a rewarding feeling to have the guys respond to the way I wanted to coach and it was a lot of fun. The biggest thing is that we had fun at the rink again.”

When Dupont took over the Devils, the team had four regular season games left. The team was then able to advance through the quarterfinals to the league’s playoff weekend, where they claimed the EIHL championship with a 6-3 win over Belfast Giants in the final on May 1.

Dupont says it’s fairly unusual for something like this to happen, but not unheard of.

“This is quite unusual. There are examples of head coaches stepping in, though. You look at the Montreal Canadians, last year they didn’t win the cup but they obviously had their assistant coach take over mid season and they went all the way to cup finals unexpected,” he says.

“It really hasn’t sunk in completely. You basically win the championship and then celebrate for a few days. You are on top of the world really. Winning anything is fun, it doesn’t matter what level you are at, but just in the fashion in which we did it, there were so many personal stories and collective stories on this team and everyone sort of felt that they redeemed a part of the season by winning that, the ups and downs and the changing of players, the changes of coaches.

“To be fair, when we let our coach go, everyone in the United Kingdom was like Cardiff is basically melting down, what’s going on in that organization. And then to come out and win the championship . . . We felt like a change was needed from an owners’ and managers’ perspective and we just made the call. We did that because we wanted to win and we felt like a change was necessary.”

So what’s next for Dupont?

“It will be coaching for sure,” he says. “I haven’t signed anything official, the Devils have expressed interest. I tend to feel I have a bit of leverage right now with four weeks under my belt and a championship. We’re going to work things out here hopefully soon.

“They want to run a quick interview process. I know I was on the short list and I’ll have an opportunity to at least give my spiel on what I would like to do, and then hopefully we can work something out. They will contact me more formally,” he said last week.

Even if the Devils don’t take Dupont on as head coach for the 2022-23 season, he says he’s pretty confident he’ll be looking to coach somewhere rather than play.

“That’s what I want to do next year. I always believe I want to stay in the game, it’s what I love and I’ve always known it.

“I know right now in today’s moment I feel really, really passionate about coaching and I don’t want to do anything else, and I don’t anticipate that changing, so coaching will be the direction I’m going and I anticipate my second career going down the coaching road.”