by Daniel Fink | AHL On The Beat
One of the most commonly uttered phrases in reference to the Winnipeg Jets organization is “draft and develop”. The ‘draft’ part of that phrase is very visible on the large stage that is the NHL Draft, but the development side tends to happen away from public eyes. The Manitoba Moose are a large piece of developing Jets draft picks for the NHL, but it’s not just about playing an AHL season under the guidance of Pascal Vincent and his coaching staff. For the Jets, a pair of former Moose players oversee the development of prospects from the moment they are drafted right to the NHL.
Jimmy Roy and Mike Keane are two men who require little introduction in these parts. After all, Keane’s number 12 hangs in the rafters alongside the rest of Manitoba’s collective AHL banners. Just take a quick look at the Moose record book and you’ll see Roy’s name plastered all over the all-time leaders section. The two head up the Winnipeg Jets’ Player Development department, spending their days tracking Jets prospects in major junior and college and periodically checking in on players in person to help guide the potential future Jets on their path to the NHL. Roy is instrumental in the planning and execution of the annual Development Camp in Winnipeg, and fans who stop by Bell MTS Iceplex to take in Moose practice will commonly see Keane on the ice with the Jets’ AHL affiliate.
Roy retired from a professional career in 2011 that included nearly a decade playing for the Moose, followed by another five seasons with Iserlohn of the DEL. His position with the Jets in player development was a chance to return to the organization – though now in the NHL – for which Roy built respect during his playing career.
“Because I was (with Manitoba) for nine years, I felt some loyalty, and was very fortunate to be offered the position I was, coming back from Europe. The loyalty this organization has and the dedication to the people around it helped me develop into person and things I do now.”
Following Keane’s 1,161-game NHL career and 365 games with the Moose, the three-time Stanley Cup Champion took a couple of years away from the game. When he wanted to get back into the business, the Winnipeg native looked to some of the connections he had formed in his time playing with Manitoba.
“During my time here I built relationships. I’ve known Craig Heisinger for 25 years and Jimmy for 15. What the organization had, and talking to Jimmy about what the Jets wanted to do… I thought I’d like to be involved with that long-term plan. So far from day one, it’s been a great experience.”
Fans get to observe the on-ice progression of players every time they watch the Moose or Jets in action at Bell MTS Place. However, they don’t see what happens off the ice and away from the rink, and it’s just as important to a player’s development. For Roy, one of the keys in that off-ice development is for players to stay active in other aspects of life beyond hockey.
“When you’re playing the game you can’t think hockey 24/7. You need an outlet. You need something to take your mind off of it so when you come back to the game or come back to the locker room, it’s almost like something new. You’ve taken your mind away from it. You’ve taken your body away from it. That passion you find away from the rink, whether it’s music, video, family, other sports… anything you have a passion for or you like. Try and keep that in your life.”
The two veterans picked up plenty over their careers, and have no shortage of experience to offer their developing players. That said, they’re still learning every day on how to provide support to an ever-evolving group of prospects.
“It’s a different game with kids,” explained Keane. “We learn every day on how to manage people and how to get the best out of them, but that’s the way it is. It’s not just about hockey.”
For the former players, there are a fair number of similarities between their playing careers to their current position, including plenty of time on the road away from family and lots of hockey. The difference now is, instead of playing three or four games in a week, Roy and Keane are observers for that many (or more) matchups, meaning the work becomes more mentally taxing than physical. That said, Mike Keane will never tell you it’s tough coming to work at the rink every day.
“It never was a grind. It never was an effort to come to the rink and put your stuff on. You had your tired days sometimes, but once you put your stuff on it was a good day. I don’t think it’s ever, ‘oh my god… have to go here again.’ Paul Maurice had a good quote when he talked about Winnipeg. There’s never a bad day. You’re going to have not-great days, but there’s never a god-awful day. It’s never been a grind for me.”
Both Keane and Roy were regarded as ‘heart-and-soul’ players with the Moose and it’s their passion for the game that leads them to approach every day excited for what may lay ahead.
“The learning curve of this job and being able to talk to so many different people, so many different coaches, so many different players, and how you want to build your culture and learning from them… there’s no end to it,” said Roy. “Coaches are always changing teams, teams are always getting new players, and they’re learning new things. How that affects us, and how we talk with players, and what we learn about us to help us do the best job we can… I think that’s the best thing about this job.”
While Keane and Roy aren’t the ones scoring big goals at Bell MTS Place these days, their mark on the organization keeps on growing behind the scenes. The pair of Moose alumni continue make an impact by passing on their passion for the game to the players and prospects they work with on a daily basis.