By Lethbridge Herald on March 26, 2014.
Drake Berehowsky just got a high-profile endorsement of approval.
And that thumbs-up for the head coach of the Lethbridge Hurricanes came courtesy Calgary Flames president of Hockey Operations Brian Burke, who was in town for his presentation, “Business Working with the Community” Tuesday at the Lethbridge Lodge.
Burke spoke of the pillars of his hockey teams, community and company growth, took a question-and-answer session and kept those in attendance chuckling with a variety of stories from his NHL career, but during the question session, spoke highly of Berehowsky, who played for Burke in Toronto.
“I think ‘trying’ is probably charitable,” said Burke of the Hurricanes season in which the team finished last in the league at 12-55-2-3. “I know it’s been a difficult season. To me, a trying season, that implies that maybe you’re closer than this team is. But I think it takes more than a year for a team to change its fortunes, and it takes more than two years. All I’m saying is I don’t know the specific issues surrounding the team, all I know is when Drake Berehowsky played for me I could count on him as a player. I could count on him from a character standpoint. He defended his teammates, he played well, he practised hard, he did everything right as a hockey player.
“I think he would do a really good job coaching this team if he’s given a chance. I was a forward, so this comes with a disclaimer, but I think defencemen acquire a better understanding of the game than forwards do.”
Burke also spoke of community-owned teams, advising those teams to make sure they have board members that know exactly what’s going on in the industry, adding there’s nothing more dangerous than a person who thinks they know about hockey, but doesn’t.
But the theme behind the Tuesday luncheon hosted by the Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce was business and community. Burke addressed his three pillars of his hockey teams, an entertaining, tough style of play, running a team like a business whether the team is profitable or not, and committment to community service.
“We’ve got ticket holders from pretty well all over the province (and) a lot from here,” said Burke. “We have a lot of premium customers from here, too, that will come up and take advantage of one of our suites or another of our products. This is Flames Country, these are Flames fans and a lot of people who make that trip for every home game and drive back down the Number 2. It’s great to be here. It’s a great hockey town. Aside from being Flames fans, there is a great hockey history here and a lot of players have come out of here, so it’s a fun gathering.
“We leave a lot of time for questions. I find a lot of people in the business ask business-specific questions as well as hockey questions. It’s a very lively group, it was fun.”
Burke also kept the crowd entertained, telling a story of a young Trevor Linden who called Burke and told him he would be unable to attend a Vancouver Canucks camp because Linden’s father told him he had to stay behind on the farm in Medicine Hat to brand cattle.
He also spoke of how intently the Flames approach each draft with their higher picks, looking for more that just a skilled player.
“We place great value and great pride on researching a player’s character work ethic, accountability, empathy and coachabilty” said Burke.
“We have a list of adjectives on the list and I think there are about 20 and I think ‘work ethic’ appears four times out of that 20. We try to research the kids, at least in the top-three rounds where we have the assets to do it, we make mistakes like everybody, but we try our best. We don’t draft based on skill, that’s the second thing to us. We think you have a better chance of succeeding if you bring in character people than if you don’t.
“So that’s a priority for us. We do have a DND list, Do Not Draft. Some teams will evaluate a guy and say ‘He has NHL skills, but he’s a head case, so put him in the second round.’ To me, he’s still a head case in the second round, so we just take him off the list.”
But Tuesday’s luncheon was about giving back to the community.
“I am determined to make a difference in every city that I’ve worked in and lived in,” said Burke. “It’s the same in Calgary, I do most of my charity work aside from the team stuff in five areas. One is Ducks Unlimited Canada, that’s my conservation charity; one is the Canadian Safe Schools Network, which is an anti-bullying group.
“I do work with the Canadian military and First Responders. I do work with Special Olympics and I do work in support of women’s hockey. Those are my five areas.
“If it’s just Brian Burke, attorney, or Brian Burke a guy, saying it’s time to support women’s hockey, it doesn’t have the same impact as Brian Burke, president of Hockey Operations with the Calgary Flames. To me, I’ve been able to leverage that title and the power and recognition factor that goes with being the general manager of a Canadian team to raise some money and help some causes. I think it’s one of the coolest parts of my job is that we get to do this type of thing.”
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