The Weisbrod way: Calgary’s architect of a new era
Flames assistant GM values hockey sense and character as much if not more than size and strength
In title, John Weisbrod serves as the assistant general manager of player personnel for the Calgary Flames and Abbotsford Heat.
In reality, the one-time Orlando Magic president is the architect of a new era — a new philosophy — for the Flames and their No. 1 farm team.
This is Year 2 of life under the Weisbrod theory. Broken down into basics, the Harvard English grad believes highly-intelligent, well-spoken, polite and well-adjusted young men make better hockey players than those lacking in such qualities.
Provided, of course, the requisite NHL talent level is there to go along with the strong character.
“I’ve been really clear with our scouts and our coaches and our developers here about the kind of people we want and the kind of players we want,” Weisbrod says over the hum of the Zamboni cleaning the ice at Abbotsford Heat training camp. “And the players who have been here in previous years can see the shift in the way we’re doing this and the way we’re thinking.
“I think you’re seeing that in the locker-room.”
Welcome to a regime where hockey sense and character are valued as much — or perhaps even more — than size and brute strength.
“It’s the Weisbrod way,” said Abbotsford Heat head coach Troy Ward. “I don’t know the whole method of his madness, but I just know we seem have good balance in all areas of their life.
“The guys who are here didn’t fall here by mistake.”
Gone are the days of the Calgary farm system existing primarily of Western Hockey League grads. This Abbotsford camp features several US. college grads including defencemen Brady Lamb (University of Minnesota-Duluth), Zach McKelvie (Army), centre David Eddy (St. Cloud State), goalie Grant Rollheiser (Boston University) and centre Brett Olson (Michigan Tech.)
Take McKelvie, as just one example. Prior to jumping to the professional ranks, the 27-year-old missed two hockey seasons to take care of other, more important, matters as a student at the United States Military Academy.
“When I was doing scouting for Boston, I obviously didn’t spend a lot of time at West Point, because those guys have military commitments,” Weisbrod said. “But I happened to see him at a game one night, and I just really liked what he brought to the table. He’s a big, lanky, strong kid who is a really good skater.
“When I met with him, he was just a world-class human being and a real, as you would expect, ‘yes sir, no sir. He’s an honest guy — the kind of guy I thought a coach would love.”
So the Bruins signed McKelvie, only to learn the military refused to release him from a second year of mandatory service.
“As it played out, with the U.S. at war, they were a little reluctant to give him up,” Weisbrod said. “He was sort of the cadet of the year or the top of his class at West Point.”
When Boston opted to let the 27-year-old go this summer, Weisbrod pounced.
“He’s still got a lot of mountains to climb,” Weisbrod said. “When you miss two years of hockey, it’s tough to jump right back in.
“But I think he has the attributes — the character and the physical ability — that he can get back there.”
Character and physical ability. Weisbrod wants both. As such, development of both elements is deemed crucial for each and every prospect in the organization.
Including the undisputed star of the show: Swiss sniper Sven Baertschi.
“We don’t have to worry about the on-ice stuff with Sven,” Weisbrod said. “He’s got all the on-ice stuff. We just need to teach him to be a man and be a teammate, and be consistent.
“We need to teach him to deal with adversity and deal with pressure -all those things he’s obviously going to encounter as he goes forward.”
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