Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Heisinger's journey to the top

Longtime hockey man breaks down as career culminates with NHL job

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As Craig Heisinger morphed from the GM of the Manitoba Moose and True North's vice-president in charge of hockey to senior vice-president and director of hockey operations/assistant GM in the NHL on Wednesday, the words were not all that revealing.

"In my experience I've never worked with anyone who cares more or who has worked harder at succeeding at the game of hockey, than Craig Heisinger," said True North chairman Mark Chipman.

Then Heisinger broke down as he tried to thank all the people who monitored and supported his journey from WHL equipment manager to NHL executive.

Many colleagues along the way were acknowledged. And his family, including his father Vic, who wasn't entirely enamoured with his son's desire to get into the hockey business 20-some-odd years ago.

Heisinger's most-trembled words, however, were reserved for the fans who have supported his and the Moose's endeavours over the last 15 years, 12 of which have seen him expand his horizons in hockey management.

"Most importantly for the fans of the Moose, for the last 15 years, who let a host of players, coaches and myself cut their teeth in front of them, thank you," Heisinger said, barely able to get the words out.

Chipman said he was advised as the Moose were moving from Minnesota to Winnipeg in 1996 to make Heisinger a must-hire.

And the trust began almost instantly.

"Just the way he did the job we hired him for," Chipman said. "The amount of effort he put into taking care of players and all the details.

"And to the extent to which he goes, selflessly, to do all the little things for people... going above and beyond to create an environment where people have an opportunity to succeed. That was evident early on.

"He's much like Kevin (Cheveldayoff, the team's new GM also introduced Wednesday). They've always felt they had to work harder, feel like they had to prove themselves."

It's unlikely Chipman knew it at the time, but Heisinger the equipment manager had already made up his mind not to accept an offer to move to Phoenix with the Winnipeg Jets in 1996.

He had four children under the age of four and had no intention of uprooting them from Winnipeg.

"Mark didn't know me from a hole in a wall 15 years ago," Heisinger said. The resulting attention to detail, eye for players and ability to make honesty cut through any discussion have been the dividends for the Moose and now True North.

That honesty has been sometimes to a fault.

"I remember one time with Mark, pretty sure Randy (Carlyle) was the coach and maybe a game near the end of the year against Syracuse and we got behind quickly and Mark jumped on me about something and I told him what I thought," Heisinger said, undoubtedly referring to one of his caustic but truthful responses.

"Sometimes we're on different pages at different times and I think that's probably good."

It's likely one of the reasons Heisinger embarked on yet another career adventure on Wednesday.

"We had this conversation again the other day, that we've become like an old married couple," he laughed, referring to himself and Chipman. "We've been together a long time. Sometimes we get on each other's nerves.

"But I would say there's nothing wrong with that because the relationship is strong. I don't think that a yes-man is going to get anybody anywhere."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 9, 2011 C2

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