Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Blue-collar hockey

Chevy, Zinger ready to get hands dirty

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It comes naturally to Kevin Cheveldayoff and Craig Heisinger, this notion of willingly and enthusiastically rolling up sleeves to get their hands dirty.

They are the offspring of working-class fathers -- Cheveldayoff hailing from a farm in Blaine Lake, Sask., Heisinger the Winnipeg-born son of a pipe fitter -- who have come to understand that the job, especially in pro hockey, doesn't end when the whistle blows at 5 p.m.

And so it was that when True North boss Mark Chipman and Heisinger -- the owner's right-hand man since 1999 -- started throwing around candidate names for the franchise's first GM, the list always began and ended with Cheveldayoff, introduced Wednesday as Winnipeg's executive vice-president and GM.

(Heisinger, for the record, will now hold a job title so long -- senior vice-president and director of hockey operations/assistant GM -- he said, "I'm going to need a folding business card.")

Simply put, it's no coincidence the two men now in charge of all the major hockey decisions come from the same stock, hold the same core values and believe no project gets completed without some serious blood, sweat and tears being spilled.

And Chipman -- who called the hirings the "most-important step in the future of NHL hockey in Winnipeg" -- is positively thrilled to have 'Chevy' and 'Zinger' in charge.

"I don't know how to put it... there's just a level of comfort that we're starting off by building this around two really good people," said Chipman. "They both have great hockey knowledge and all the characteristics a professional should bring to the job. It's a combination of their humility and their work ethic that really stands out. That and their passion.

"You're not going to see these guys in Armani suits. I suppose those kind of (high-profile, flashy GM candidates) were out there, but we never even got to that point. In Kevin and Zinger what you see is what you get. There's no pretense. There's nothing phony about them. You can't fake the way they are. What we're doing here isn't unique, there are a lot of great general managers in this business. But this just feels really right."

It feels right, in part, because the Manitoba Moose not only banged heads with Cheveldayoff for years -- prior to joining the Chicago Blackhawks as their assistant GM and director of hockey ops he spent 12 seasons with the arch-rival Chicago Wolves -- but because the Heisinger-Cheveldayoff association goes back almost three decades. A first-round draft pick of the New York Islanders in 1988, Cheveldayoff first appeared on hockey's radar screen as a 15-year-old with the Brandon Wheat Kings.

And the Wheaties' equipment guy way back then? Heisinger.

"When I met him I had to question his eye for talent as he brought his best friend, Jeff Odgers, to training camp with him," recalled Heisinger with a grin. "Odgers couldn't even cross over at the time and Chevy was only marginally ahead of him. But I later learned that there was no better person, no harder worker and no person with more perseverance than Jeff Odgers and that was the same foundation that Chevy would build his teams on."

A long-time equipment manager with the Jets and Moose and a proud Winnipegger, Heisinger's AHL teams had a .588 winning percentage. Cheveldayoff was the architect of 12 Wolves' squads that sported a .615 winning percentage and won four championships. He also won two IHL titles with the Denver/Utah Grizzlies and played a key role in the Blackhawks' 2010 Stanley Cup championship.

Just 41, Cheveldayoff was a finalist for the Phoenix Coyotes' GM job in 2007 before that franchise opted to hire Don Maloney. Now, less than four years later and with his wife Janet, his son Chase and daughter Alexi in attendance at Wednesday's news conference -- as was the entire Heisinger clan -- Cheveldayoff gushed about his first GM gig coming in Winnipeg.

"This is obviously a very exciting opportunity for me," added Cheveldayoff. "Growing up in small-town Saskatchewan and watching it on TV... being able to be part of bringing the National Hockey League back to the Prairies, back to Winnipeg, is an exciting opportunity and a great responsibility."

But Cheveldayoff and Heisinger also fully understand there's a ton to do in the next little while, particularly with the head-coaching situation still foggy and the NHL Entry Draft just two weeks away.

In short, it's time for Winnipeg's new hockey braintrust to get their hands dirty.

"Hitting the ground running won't be enough, we've got to hit the ground sprinting," said Cheveldayoff. "When I played I was a physical player that played with a lot of emotion on the ice and I'd come back to the bench spittin' and screamin' 'I'm going to get this guy!' and Zinger would look at me and say 'Chevy... relax.'

"So when we were talking the other day about all the things we have to do, I said, 'Zing, I'm going to tell you something a very, very good friend of mine, a very wise person told me when I was 15 years old: relax.'

"To have that kind of exchange right off the hop... we're settling in nicely together."


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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 9, 2011 C1

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