Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Respect, admiration trumps years of hostility

It's a good idea for True North to bring bully on board

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Growing up there was a kid named Fabio DiGiovanni in my neighbourhood who grew his first moustache in Grade 6 and had biceps while I was still working with pipe cleaners.

After a couple of less than enjoyable situations that ended up with him pinning me to the ground and whacking me at his whim, I determined we should be allies rather than foes.

Thus began the beginning of a beautiful and lasting friendship.

With the hiring of Kevin Cheveldayoff as their new GM and executive vice-president of hockey operations, True North took a page right out of my and many other skinny kid's playbooks. Make the bully your pal and ride hard.

Pump Craig Heisinger and Mark Chipman full of truth serum and they'd have to tell you there were moments when they wished harm on their new colleague. In his role as GM of the Chicago Wolves, Cheveldayoff was their greatest rival and architect of their biggest disappointments.

"If you can't beat them, join them? Yeah. I'm sure there's a little bit of that in this," said Heisinger, who will work as Cheveldayoff's partner with his new title of vice-president hockey operations and assistant GM. "We were arch-rivals. The organizations were arch-rivals -- not the people. Chevy and I go too far back for anything to jeopardize that. They were good people.

"There was a tremendous amount of animosity and probably some jealousy too because they always won and we were the ugly sister. But there was always respect."

Through the early IHL days and well into their time in the AHL, the Manitoba Moose were Cheveldayoff's whipping post. The Wolves won two Turner Cups and two Calder Cups under his watch and often stomped through Winnipeg en route to their glory.

There's lots of talk these days about mutual respect and it must be true or Cheveldayoff wouldn't have been handed the keys to the castle on Wednesday. But this rivalry wasn't always friendly and in fact there were a couple of moments that bordered on criminal.

I was there the night Wolves tough guy Chris LiPuma threatened to get his gun to shoot Moose agitator Bruce Richardson.

There's a story about True North chairman Mark Chipman missing a flight out of an AHL board of governors meeting and being offered a lift in the Wolves private jet. Chipman said no and waited for a commercial flight and while he never said as much, many supposed the thought of getting tossed somewhere over Lake Superior at 50,000 feet prevented him from grabbing a seat on Air Wolves. Want to get Randy Carlyle seething? Mention the Wolves and their dominance over the Moose. Then look for cover.

Cheveldayoff oversaw the Evil Empire, as my sometimes snarky colleague Tim Campbell aptly labelled the Wolves, during their heyday.

For Chipman and Heisinger to make him their top hockey man, the respect and admiration must outweigh the competitive hatred, which we can tell you flowed heavy and fast back in the day.

Cheveldayoff said there was respect both ways.

"My owner with the Wolves, he always said, 'If we don't win, I want them to,' '' recalled Cheveldayoff. "I think the rivalry was so hot because we were so alike. We respected the Moose and what they did and how they did it."

The Wolves still think so much of Cheveldayoff and his new colleagues Chipman and Heisinger they've asked for a handful of tickets for opening night so they can come and share in the brightest moment of their old friend and former foes.

"They won all the time and we wanted that success so bad," said Heisinger. "Maybe in the end we earned a different kind of success by building an organization that has been invited into the NHL."

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

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.


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