The idea had been rattling around inside Belfast Giants general manager Todd Kelman’s head for several years. But he needed a special group of players, ones who would really embrace his vision.
It was in his fourth season with the Elite Ice Hockey League team that Kelman felt the time was right. One morning after practice he entered the locker room and told his players he needed them back at the rink later that day. The team was going to film a Christmas video to help promote their four-game homestand at the end of the month. If you didn’t want to be involved, he told them, don’t be involved.
When the Giants players arrived later, they didn’t know what to expect since Kelman had not outlined his idea. When he did, there was some hesitancy at first, but free food and beer helped the players go along with the plan.
The video would see the players dancing and lip-syncing to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas is You.” The beer might help loosen them up, but we’re talking about professional hockey players. How would they pull off the routines?
In order to get the players to look acceptable while dancing, Kelman called up Deborah Maguire, a professional choreographer who also headed up the Giants’ cheerleading squad. She wanted the video to look like it had been rehearsed and not just feature a bunch of hockey players dancing around like goofs. (Sure, they still do that but you can see there was effort put in.)
The entire process took five to six hours, with the players practicing in the morning, returning in the evening and then practicing again the next day. It quickly went from a fun time with teammates to their competitive natures coming out and wanting to perfect the routines Maguire had created.
“Once we started learning the routine we started to take it quite serious and we were the ones to say no, we want to do another take, that’s not good enough,” said forward Craig Peacock, who joined the EIHL’s Glasgow Clan in 2016. “I think we just really got into the spirit of it. Obviously the beers helped, too.”
You can see a leftover beer can in a stall during Peacock’s solo part.
The elf (costume) on the shelf
Hoffman is the giant elf you see popping up during the opening scene inside the locker room. The costume wasn’t supplied by the team as Kelman’s budget consisted of just the food and drinks. In fact, the 6-foot-5, 250 lbs. defenseman actually owned the outfit.
I know what you’re thinking: They make elf costumes in that size?
“It was snug,” Hoffman said. “The pants were big. The top was pretty snug. It fit like a charm.”
Hoffman had purchased the costume that week in preparation for an ugly sweater Christmas party with his classmates from the University of Ulster. Walking in town with teammate Rich Seeley, he saw it in a store window and it called out to him. “It was like a movie scene where it’s glowing in the light. It’s one of those things you just see it and it’s meant to be,” he said.
As the rehearsing began, there was a desire to include more festive items. That’s when Hoffman nonchalantly asked Kelman, “I’ve got a giant elf costume. Do you want me to run home and get it?”
“We’re not going to ask why, but go get it right now,” Hoffman, who still has it in his possession and wears it on Christmas Eve, was told.
Hoffman’s dancing, by the way, wasn’t completely influenced by the beer on location. Some things are just natural.
“I brought a couple [of dance moves] over to Belfast,” he said.
The dancing solo to prevent more dancing
Winger Dan Welch features later on in what could double as a scene from a Michael Jackson video. That part was necessary in order to complete the process in a timely fashion. To avoid having to teach the players another dance routine head coach Doug Christiansen, who had previously played with and coached Welch, volunteered the defenseman due to a particular skillset he possessed.
“I think Doug asked Todd are we done and Todd said it’s not like we have anyone who can moonwalk,” Welch recalled. “Doug goes, Yes, we do. He grabs me and said all right, we’re doing this, and I was put through the paces on that by the dance instructor.”
And Welch ended up as one smooth criminal.
A global reaction
The Giants posted the video to their YouTube page on Dec. 12, 2010 and within 24 hours it went viral. Sites in the United Kingdom picked it up, and places in North America like Yahoo and ESPN noticed, which helped the view count. But when Carey herself Tweeted out a link to the video, its popularity skyrocketed.
The Belfast Giants show off some festive moves in their video version of All I Want For Christmas Is You. Watch @ http://mariah.is/eXuYBX
— Mariah Carey (@MariahCarey) December 13, 2010
“I don’t think any of us expected it to go the way it did,” Peacock. “To this day, as soon as we get to December I get people tagging me on Facebook. I can’t escape it. It’s going to be that for the rest of my life, and you know what, it’s a good memory and it’s good fun.”
As of this month, the YouTube video has over 373,000 views. It would have already eclipsed 400,000 if not for a typo on the game schedule at the end, which forced the team to replace the original after it had been viewed between 50,0000-100,000 times.
“We thought it would be funny for our fans. We had no idea it would do what it did,” said Kelman, who is now with the Cardiff Devils. “It was insane. It was something.”
Ticket sales spiked for the homestand and the Giants also sold a large amount of jerseys to people in the U.S.
Since the Giants released the video in 2010 teams from all over have done something similar to gain notoriety. The following year many wondered if there would be a sequel. According to Kelman, Christiansen had a simple reason for why a follow-up would never be created.
“Here’s how we avoid the question: You ever seen the movie Caddyshack?”
“Yeah, I’ve seen Caddyshack.”
“Ever seen Caddyshack II?”
“No, I never saw Caddyshack II.”
“Watch Caddyshack II — that’s why you don’t make sequels.”
A bonding moment
Who needs a long road trip to increase team chemistry when you can get your players together for a silly Christmas video? That’s what the experience provided for the Giants. They got to bond away from the ice, goof around, and make lasting memories for themselves and their fans.
“We had a good team that year,” said Peacock. “Those early years I was in Belfast that was the one thing I loved about being there was we always had such a good team morale. It’s a long season. Our season’s structured a little different than North America and the league’s the most important thing. Us doing that in the middle of the season, having some fun together, was a good pick-me-up for everyone because around Christmas time in our league you play in so many games. Every game is like a playoff game when you’re trying to win the league because there’s so much importance on it.”
The Giants would win 41 of their 54 games that season and come within a point of the league title. They would also reach the semifinals of the league playoffs and come up just short during the final round of the Challenge Cup. No trophies, but still a successful year for the organization.
“It was a great team builder and a lot of people had a lot of fun,” said Welch. “Because of it we’re all kind of connected in a way.”