MOST of us wouldn't recognize him at Safeway or a kids' hockey game. But here he is, having been chosen as the first-ever Winnipeg Free Press Impact Player by a panel of media and sporting heavyweights who were asked to select the most influential sports figure in the province.
He is Jeff Hnatiuk, a quiet playmaker who has the wheels turning at all times and is in the midst of changing the face of amateur sport in this province.
Maybe Mr. Hnatiuk, Sport Manitoba CEO, doesn't show off the big cannon from the point that makes the highlight reel, but check the scoresheet at the end of the night and he's had a goal and three assists.
Pretty soon those results will be seen in the form of a new nerve centre for Sport Manitoba. Hnatiuk still has some funding and government hurdles to clear but the vision for the Sport for Life Centre is down on paper and closing in on reality.
Perhaps Hnatiuk doesn't have the star power of, say, Lyle Bauer or Cindy Klassen but don't be fooled. This is one busy and effective man. His work over the last 12 months has often been behind the scenes or carried out in boardrooms rather than in front of thousands of cheering fans, but in the end his legacy will be far more reaching than a Charlie Roberts touchdown.
"He shies away when I tell him this, but he IS the face and the voice of amateur sport in Manitoba. He doesn't want it to be all about Jeff Hnatiuk, and it isn't. But he's the brains behind this project," said Chris Cariou, Free Press assistant sports editor and amateur sports reporter. "He's the doer, he's the negotiator, the conciliator, the prompter of ideas, the travelling salesman, a key brainstormer for what amateur sport in the province has become and what he hopes it can become. Especially with the Sport for Life Centre, which he and the Sport Manitoba board and other key groups have been piecing together for three years.
"He can and does work with everyone, including the politicians and power-brokers, to get things done without a lot of fanfare."
So here's our list of the province's most influential sports types. What started out as one reporter's idea for a column turned into a bit of an undertaking, with the results here for our readers to take in, agree with, disagree with and comment on.
Power, in the model of the Free Press's annual Power 30 list, was where we began, but power slowly evolved into impact. This isn't about who has the most money or political clout. It's about who has the largest effect on our sporting community. In a word, impact.
After seemingly endless discussions about the parameters of this project, panel selections, staff selections and finally one boardroom blowout, Hnatiuk stood out to the Free Press as the Impact Player on our first Manitoba Sports Impact Team.
We put our criteria in a letter and asked 15 members of the sports community to compile a ranked list of the 10 people with the biggest impact on sports in Manitoba. We also asked the Free Press sports staff to do the same.
The lists were compiled and a few simple statistical formulas applied to help us find our Impact Team.
We made the decision not to rank our final 10 but to select an Impact Leader and nine other team members.
The final choice came down to a lengthy discussion, at times heated, by our selection committee headed by Free Press sports editor Julian Rachey and deputy editor Julie Carl and including reporters Ed Tait and Gary Lawless.
The final 10 were posted on our boardroom wall and finally pared down to two; Hnatiuk and True North Sports and Entertainmant chairman Mark Chipman. That's where the fun began.
Both Chipman and Hnatiuk filled all the criteria we set out to lead us to our choice. Both appeared on the majority of both staff and panel ballots.
Chipman is the bigger name. Got the MTS Centre built, chairman of True North Sports and Entertainment, the entity that owns the building and the Manitoba Moose. When the Jets left, love the Moose or hate them, he and his family put their money on the table and made sure pro hockey still had a presence in our province.
He's also the key to any chance this town has of seeing the NHL return one day. A player? You bet. And if news breaks in the next 12 months that he's managed to secure an NHL franchise for Winnipeg, it's likely he'll own the top spot of this list for a long time.
But most of what Chipman does, he doesn't talk about. So maybe he's done more in the last year than we know about.
Hnatiuk has employed many of the same techniques in his effort to make the Sport For Life Centre a reality and in the past year he's been the mover and shaker in our sporting world to make this project happen.
And that makes him our Impact Player.
Here's a portion of the letter we sent to staff and panelists setting the criteria for our Impact Team.
The Free Press sports department is undertaking an exciting project and we would like your help. We want to try to determine who has the biggest impact on Manitoba's sports community and believe you can provide valuable insight in helping us make that determination.
The Free Press is canvassing a number of people in the community and asking them to select a number of individuals who have a significant bearing on sports in Manitoba. We are asking that you consider some of the following criteria:
- A Manitoban, residence in the province not required
- Ability to affect change
- Ability to get things done
- Sought out for advice, assistance
- Recognition as a major player in the sports community
- Enhance opportunities for athletes, elite and grassroots