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This article was published 3/8/2016 (1910 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
As Kelly McCrimmon began to thank the people who made his life with the Brandon Wheat Kings such a success, the tough-as-nails hockey man finally let down his guard.
In an emotional address to dozens of onlookers at Canad Inns on Tuesday, the themes of loyalty and family had the 55-year-old taking long pauses to regain his composure.
He saved his family — wife Terry, son Micky and daughter Chelsea — for last in the eight-minute statement.
"Those are the people who make it enjoyable for me," McCrimmon said. "It’s hard work, what I do. We’ve been lucky as a family because we’ve always loved it. We’ve been proud of it. We had the best job in hockey. There wasn’t a day that I walked in the door that I wasn’t extremely proud to be a Brandon Wheat King."
McCrimmon took time to thank a lot of people on Tuesday, but it was clear that some were extra special.
One was Bob Cornell, the former owner of the Wheat Kings who sold McCrimmon one-third of the team in 1992 and the rest in 2000 after bringing him on as general manager in 1989.
"As many of you know, he’s always believed in me and has given me tremendous opportunity," McCrimmon said, his voice shaking with emotion.
He added that early hires such as Rick Dillabough (director of business operations and sponsorships), Lyn Shannon (accounting), Mark Johnston (head scout), Al Macpherson (former director of scouting) and longtime scouts Gary Michalick and Frank Harding were key.
"We would never have enjoyed the success we had without those people," McCrimmon said.
He also mentioned coaches Bobby Lowes, Darren Ritchie, Dwayne Gylywoychuk, Brad Wells, David Anning and late trainer Rob Stouffer.
"I always say the Wheat Kings are about so much more than Kelly McCrimmon or the fact that our family owns the Wheat Kings," McCrimmon said. "The Wheat Kings are the community, the Wheat Kings are the people who work in the organization and care about it the way they do. That’s what builds our culture, that’s where, for me, the Wheat Kings’ competitive advantage has always been and will always be."
A pair of questions loomed above all others with news of his departure.
Would he sell the team? And who would succeed him as head coach and general manager?
He answered the first but the second will have to wait.
"Our family will continue to own the Wheat Kings, that isn’t going to change," McCrimmon said. "We’ve been an owner of the Wheat Kings since the early ’90s, since 2000 we’ve owned the entire team.
"If my goal in the past has been to be the best coach, general manager and owner that a hockey team could have, my objective now is to be the best owner that a hockey team can have."
McCrimmon said he has a good idea of who will be at the helm when rookie camp begins in four weeks but decided to separate the announcements of his departure and the new hires.
The hands-on general manager admitted he’ll have to step back.
"You have to let people do their jobs, so the people in hockey operations are going to be responsible and make the hard decisions," McCrimmon said. "I think they’re prepared to do that and we’ll do just fine."
They’ll have big shoes to fill.
As a coach, McCrimmon compiled a record of 423-223-36-38. As a general manager, he made some trades that were widely considered around the league as just short of felonious.
That’s the hockey sense that McCrimmon’s new boss, Las Vegas general manager George McPhee, said the Wheat King owner brings to his new job.
"Kelly is an outstanding hockey man and we are delighted to have him join us," McPhee said in a release. "His extensive experience and consistently high level of performance in the game will help us build a strong and successful organization and team. His hockey acumen, character and work ethic are perfect for us."
McCrimmon had a terrific offer from the Toronto Maple Leafs a year earlier but ultimately decided to pass.
Sources suggested that there was also interest from other teams in the NHL. But the Las Vegas situation was different, especially after McCrimmon had guided a talented Wheat Kings team to its first WHL title in 20 years.
"Timing is part of that," McCrimmon said. "I think the quality of the opportunity that’s been put in front of me this time I think is one that any hockey executive would love to be a part of, to take that challenge. I think that would be the short answer.
"From there, I’ve really been impressed with all of the discussions that I had with George McPhee. I’m excited with what he sees my opportunity being. I think the things that I think I do well in the game and the things that I enjoy are the things they need me to do. The chance to contribute, to have meaningful input … the chance to be there on the ground floor and the opportunity for what we plan to make a very successful NHL franchise."
McCrimmon said a big part of his job in the first year will be getting to know the other 30 teams in the league intimately to prepare for the expansion draft next summer.
The job will change moving forward after that.
McPhee spent the bulk of his career with the Washington Capitals, an organization that always focused on the entry draft, similar to the Wheat Kings.
But he adds that there is one very important difference.
"In our situation in Las Vegas, as we begin to build an organization, we’ll definitely have a mindset that is similar in terms of good scouting, good drafting, good development of our players," McCrimmon said. "I’ve always said that in the National Hockey League, the best part about their amateur draft is if you ever get an Ivan Provorov or Nolan Patrick, you get to keep them for 10 or 15 years."
For Wheat King players Tanner Kaspick and Tyler Coulter, both of whom are from Brandon, it was a bittersweet day.
"It’s kind of mixed emotions," Kaspick said. "He’s so well respected as a coach and GM of our team. I think all of the players are really sad to see him go but I think on that same note, everyone is excited for him for this opportunity. It’s right up his alley."
Coulter echoed his teammate’s thoughts.
"I’ve known him my whole life and he was a big part of me playing in Brandon," Coulter said. "I know he meant a lot to our team but whenever a guy moves onto the next level, it’s like a player moving on, it’s always great to see."
It’s a theme that McCrimmon also visited.
"For my family today, it’s bittersweet as you can see," McCrimmon said. "We’re excited about the next chapter together and proud of everything that’s been accomplished here in the 27, 28 years it’s been. We’ve grown up here.
"It’s our home."
» Twitter: @PerryBergson
•Born: Oct. 13, 1960 (55 years old) in Plenty, Sask.
•Player stats with the Wheat Kings:
1978-79: 40 games, 15 goals, 24 assists, 39 points, 139 penalty minutes.
Playoffs: 18 games, 0 goals, 7 assists, 7 points, 23 penalty minutes.
1979-80: 55 games, 13 goals, 12 assists, 25 points, 89 penalty minutes.
Playoffs: 9 games, 3 goals, 3 assists, 6 points, 6 penalty minutes.
Four seasons at the University of Michigan from 1980 to 1984:
82 games, 21 goals, 26 assists, 47 points, 100 penalty minutes.
•Re-joined the Wheat Kings in 1988-89 as an assistant coach.
• Purchased one-third ownership of the Wheat Kings from partner Bob Cornell in 1992.
• Assumed sole ownership in 2000.
• Served as head coach from 2004 to 2011 and from 2013 to 2016.
• Winningest coach in team history, with a regular-season record of 465-327-55.
• Went to five Memorial Cups — 1979 as a player, 1995 and 1996 as a general manager, 2010 as event host, head coach and general manager and 2016 as as head coach and general manager.
• The team won two league titles, 10 Eastern Division pennants and six Eastern Conference championships.
•Named WHL executive of the year in 1994-95, 2009-10, 2014-15.
• Named CHL executive of the year in 2009-10.