by Adam Rogowin || AHL On The Beat Archive
In a parallel universe, former National Hockey League first-round draft pick Kevin Cheveldayoff was entering his seventh full professional season in September of 1997.
In reality, he was in Chicago, interviewing for the general manager position of the International Hockey League’s Wolves, fully prepared to return to the Utah Grizzlies as the team’s assistant coach and assistant general manager if he didn’t get the job.
Not too shabby for a 27-year-old.
“To me it is never about someone’s age,” he said. “Either you do the job or you don’t. (Before arriving in Chicago) we won two championships in three years with the Grizzlies and I’ll venture a guess that everyone was older than me on those teams.”
The numbers don’t lie for the Wolves general manager, who is now in his 11th season at the helm of the organization’s hockey operations department. Since a knee injury ended his promising playing career after the 1993-94 season, Cheveldayoff has captured one American Hockey League and four IHL Championships as a coach and an executive.
It was the 1997-98 season when the name “Chevy” was branded onto the Chicago sports scene.
“I was set to come back to the Grizzlies organization when Chicago contacted me to talk about their hockey operations vacancy. It all happened fast after that. I flew in for the interview, they gave me a tour and a few days later offered me the GM job.”
Age did come up in that interview with Wolves chairman of the board Don Levin and vice chairman William “Buddy” Meyers.
“When they asked me if I had any questions, I wanted to know if the fact that I was 27 bothered them,” Cheveldayoff said. “They threw it right back, asking if it bothered me. After I said it didn’t, we all said, ‘Great, let’s never talk about it again.’
“Literally, that was it. The age factor was asked, answered and moved on. (Don and Buddy) never treated me like a 27-year-old. They treated me like a person that was being considered for the job and ever since, the person that was hired to do that job.”
Aside from being young, Cheveldayoff never looked at his job as overwhelming. There wasn’t time for that. Within a few weeks he was holding court at his first training camp as a general manager.
“For one thing, I never had a chance to mesh with (head coach) John (Anderson) until our camp rolled around because we were out NHL training camp hopping trying to create player agreements with teams. I was comfortable right away though. For me, the more things I’m doing, the more comfortable I feel. I have problems sitting still, like where there is downtime or nothing going on. Especially that first year.”
As the season went on and the team started collecting wins and moving up the standings, Cheveldayoff found himself with the task of making sure his team could compete in the postseason. Soon, he was facing the ultimate question a general manager stares down late in a regular season: to trade or not to trade.
“One thing I found out that season was that sometimes the best moves you make are the ones you don’t make at all. We were trying to do different things to make the team better and moving (former center) Alexander Semak came up as a possibility. Nothing ended up happening on that front though. Look how well he played in the playoffs. Had we dealt him, I don’t know if we would have won it all.
“It’s little things like that. That year I learned to not always think you have to make a move to do something. That was the first of many times I faced that sort of decision.”
Cheveldayoff didn’t exactly stand pat when it came to finalizing his roster for the 1998 postseason. In fact, he pulled off a move to add what possibly became the final pieces to the championship puzzle. In two separate deals in late March, he acquired the rights to forwards Marc Rodgers and Steve Larouche and defenseman Jeremy Mylymok from Quebec.
“Guys like Rodgers and Larouche are examples of what made that team successful, because they were players that were getting a fresh start on a different club. My voice was new that year, John’s was new and we had a lot of what people called castoffs from NHL organizations. It was a clean slate for everyone and it turned out to be the perfect mesh.”
Ten years later, Cheveldayoff is still looking for that perfect combination, albeit with a few more rings on his fingers. To him though, no matter how long you’ve been in the game, the learning continues.
“You gain experience and are challenged every day with different things, otherwise it shoots down the theory that a 27-year-old can come in and do as well a job as a 20-year veteran. I’d like to think that every day I’m gaining more knowledge and making myself better. For me, it’s always been about the team and the players. It’s about maintaining and strengthening this culture and attitude of winning with the Wolves.”