Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

New boss a clear-cut decision

Cheveldayoff only candidate interviewed, promises success Assist from the 'Hawks

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True North chairman Mark Chipman and hockey vice-president Craig Heisinger wanted one man to be their new NHL general manager.

In a decisive signal to that candidate -- and also in case their fans needed another bit of evidence -- they went straight to the top of their list for Kevin Cheveldayoff.

Wednesday, in announcing the choice being contemplated for more than a year, Chipman said no one else was interviewed.

Cheveldayoff, the 41-year-old from Blaine Lake, Sask., comes over after two years with the Chicago Blackhawks and on his first day on the job, showed some of the reasons he was so highly regarded.

He's perceptive. Has been for a long time. When he had to quit playing because of a knee injury at the age of 24, he said it was Butch Goring who started him down this management path, first offering him a job as an assistant coach and assistant GM with the IHL's Denver Grizzlies.

"We laugh about it now, but without those words getting out of my mouth, (my agent) said, 'TAKE IT,'" Cheveldayoff said Wednesday at the MTS Centre. "I went back and talked to my wife and told her I was not going to make it as an NHL player, I know that, but I said I'm going to be an NHL GM someday and this is the first step for me and we've never turned back."

He also had an insightful read on the nationally televised events here last Tuesday, when True North announced its purchase of the Atlanta Thrashers.

"I saw the passion in (Chipman's) eyes, I heard it in his voice and saw it in the way he carried himself," Cheveldayoff said. "The way this organization worked so hard for so many years to come back to this great city is a testament to their perseverance and to how strong that foundation is."

The former GM of the Chicago Wolves for 12 years also proved to be eloquent on Wednesday.

He promised that under his watch, he'd make Winnipeggers "proud to be a fan."

He said it was both humbling and exhilarating to become an NHL GM.

And he said he was now on a "special mission" as a prairie boy returning to the province where he played junior hockey with the Brandon Wheat Kings.

And as he introduced Cheveldayoff and newly minted NHL assistant GM Heisinger, Chipman spoke about their compatibility as a team.

"They're completely aligned," Chipman said.

Cheveldayoff then gave a passionate six-plus-minutes self-introduction and said he wants and needs the organization to hit the ground "sprinting" because time until the start of the 2011-12 season is short.

He promised the bar will be set high and people will be pushed hard to excel.

"A lot of people don't embrace change, but in order to move something in the right direction, change must happen," he said. "Satisfaction is the first step towards defeat."

The clear signal on Day 1 of his new job: Getting Winnipeg back to the NHL isn't going to be good enough.

As a leader, Cheveldayoff laid out his philosophy on those who will support and surround him when it comes to making decisions.

"I encourage disagreements, opinions," he said. "I don't want people saying 'Chevy wants this, let's do it.' In fact, a lot of the strength is if you do disagree with me, I'd be disappointed if you didn't say it.

"It strengthens me as a decision maker... it'll either make you look at your potential decision and say, 'You know what, you've got some good points,' or it'll make you say, 'You know what, I'm even stronger in my convictions now.'"

Cheveldayoff was also probed about the possible rough spots of the past rivalries with True North, Chipman, Heisinger and the Moose.

Even that answer turned into the larger picture.

"What I can say is why it (their relationships) stayed on the rails," he said. "In a lot of ways, our philosophies were always the same, we just wanted what was best for the game.

"We didn't want to always have to do the popular thing or the politically correct thing. We wanted to do what was right as caretakers of the game."

Results will be clear indicators as to whether True North got the right man.

But it's obvious they got their kind of man. Decisively.

THE day belonged to True North's new hockey department team of GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and assistant GM Craig Heisinger.

There was, however, a grateful tip of the cap from Winnipeg's new NHL entry to the Chicago Blackhawks, who cleared the way for Cheveldayoff's departure as assistant GM and promotion in Winnipeg.

Cheveldayoff has the Hawks' blessing to begin his new duties immediately, under no restrictions or stipulations about abstaining from the upcoming entry draft.

"Let me express my sincere gratitude to Mr. John McDonough (Hawks' president) and the Chicago Blackhawks not only for giving us permission to speak to Kevin but for the enthusiastic support John has shown for Chevy and for our organization," True North chairman Mark Chipman said.

The Hawks' classy conduct also drew thanks from Cheveldayoff.

"A lot of other organizations might have stood in the way of something like this," he said.

-- Campbell

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 9, 2011 C3

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