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This article was published 3/8/2016 (1910 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Kelly McCrimmon is headed to Las Vegas.
The Brandon Wheat Kings owner isn’t selling his Western Hockey League team but is stepping away from his duties as general manager and head coach to join the National Hockey League expansion franchise in Las Vegas as assistant GM. It will begin play in the 2017-18 season.
An emotional McCrimmon said it wasn’t an easy decision after the NHL team contacted him July 19.
"I would tell anybody who would listen that I had the best job in hockey for many, many years," McCrimmon said Tuesday. "That part of it definitely makes it hard, makes it more emotional as it becomes official. That’s balanced by the fact that the opportunity with Las Vegas is that good."
In Las Vegas, McCrimmon will join general manager George McPhee in the job of assembling an expansion roster to begin play in just over a year. It’s a challenge he embraces.
"In a lot of respects this is a dream job for any hockey executive, to have the chance to be in on the ground floor, building an organization from square one and having the opportunity to contribute to the success of a franchise, to help a team build an identity, to establish a culture," McCrimmon said. "I think those are all areas that I will find very challenging and invigorating and rewarding."
He officially started the job Monday and it will get busy quickly. McCrimmon will travel to the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup, which is being held from Aug. 8 to 13 the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
He leaves the Wheat Kings as the coach with the most wins in team history.
He said his move isn’t a matter of fulfilling NHL dreams. Instead, he sees it as a new mountain to climb.
"It was never a case of wanting something different than this," McCrimmon said. "This is a great job and a great way of life for all of us. Yet, when you have an opportunity, it’s no different than the players. They have an opportunity to move on to the NHL, that’s their goal, and I think that it will be challenging because there are lot of tremendously talented people that work there.
"That part of it is going to be exciting."
As McCrimmon began to thank the people who made his life with the Brandon Wheat Kings such a success, he finally let down his guard.
He saved his family — wife Terry, son Micky and daughter Chelsea — for last in the eight-minute statement.
"Those are the people who make it enjoyable for me," McCrimmon said. "It’s hard work, what I do. We’ve been lucky as a family because we’ve always loved it. We’ve been proud of it. We had the best job in hockey. There wasn’t a day that I walked in the door that I wasn’t extremely proud to be a Brandon Wheat King."
McCrimmon took time to thank a lot of people, but it was clear some were extra special.
One was Bob Cornell, the former owner of the Wheat Kings who sold McCrimmon one-third of the team in 1992 and the rest in 2000 after bringing him on as GM in 1989.
"As many of you know, he’s always believed in me and has given me tremendous opportunity," McCrimmon said, his voice shaking.
He added early hires such as Rick Dillabough (director of business operations and sponsorships), Lyn Shannon (accounting), Mark Johnston (head scout), Al Macpherson (former director of scouting) and longtime scouts Gary Michalick and Frank Harding were key.
"We would never have enjoyed the success we had without those people," McCrimmon said.
He also mentioned coaches Bobby Lowes, Darren Ritchie, Dwayne Gylywoychuk, Brad Wells, David Anning and late trainer Rob Stouffer.
"I always say the Wheat Kings are about so much more than Kelly McCrimmon or the fact that our family owns the Wheat Kings," he said. "The Wheat Kings are the community, the Wheat Kings are the people who work in the organization and care about it the way they do. That’s what builds our culture, that’s where, for me, the Wheat Kings’ competitive advantage has always been and will always be."
As a coach, McCrimmon compiled a record of 423-223-36-38. As a general manager, he made some trades that were widely considered around the league as just short of felonious.
That’s the hockey sense McCrimmon’s new boss, Las Vegas GM George McPhee, said the Wheat Kings owner brings to his new job.
"Kelly is an outstanding hockey man and we are delighted to have him join us," McPhee said in a release. "His extensive experience and consistently high level of performance in the game will help us build a strong and successful organization and team. His hockey acumen, character and work ethic are perfect for us."
McCrimmon had a terrific offer from the Toronto Maple Leafs a year earlier but ultimately decided to pass.
"Timing is part of that," McCrimmon said. "I think the quality of the opportunity that’s been put in front of me this time I think is one that any hockey executive would love to be a part of, to take that challenge. I think that would be the short answer."
McCrimmon said a big part of his job in the first year will be getting to know the other 30 teams in the league intimately to prepare for the expansion draft next summer.
The job will change after that.
McPhee spent the bulk of his career with the Washington Capitals, an organization that always focused on the entry draft, similar to the Wheat Kings.
He added there is one very important difference.
"In our situation in Las Vegas as we begin to build an organization, we’ll definitely have a mindset that is similar in terms of good scouting, good drafting, good development of our players," McCrimmon said. "I’ve always said that in the National Hockey League, the best part about their amateur draft is if you ever get an Ivan Provorov or Nolan Patrick, you get to keep them for 10 or 15 years."
For Wheat King players Tanner Kaspick and Tyler Coulter, both of whom are from Brandon, it was a bittersweet day.
"It’s kind of mixed emotions," Kaspick said. "He’s so well-respected as a coach and GM of our team. I think all of the players are really sad to see him go but I think on that same note, everyone is excited for him for this opportunity. It’s right up his alley."
Coulter echoed his teammate’s thoughts.
"I’ve known him my whole life and he was a big part of me playing in Brandon," Coulter said. "I know he meant a lot to our team but whenever a guy moves on to the next level, it’s like a player moving on, it’s always great to see."
It’s a theme McCrimmon also visited.
"For my family today, it’s bittersweet as you can see," McCrimmon said. "We’re excited about the next chapter together and proud of everything that’s been accomplished here in the 27, 28 years it’s been. We’ve grown up here.
"It’s our home."