This is an in depth weekly series that chronicles the quest of a boutique hockey agency, VSM Hockey, to reach the top of the NHL hockey agent world. Its story is narrated by its president and founder, Nikolaï Ray.
Hello everyone! Welcome to the world of VSM Hockey. We are entering our 3rd year of official operations; however, the concept has been baking in my oven of a mind for over 10 years.
In order to grasp the VSM concept, one must understand where I came from and where my ideas originated. I was born in Quebec City, Canada. My father is half British and half Indian (no he is not a Hindu; our family is from Bengal and Orissa and they gave up on religions centuries ago). My mother is French Canadian. At the age of 2, we moved to Los Angeles California because my parents were working there. My mom split her time between theatre acting and waitressing. My dad was a professional musician, mostly a pianist among blues bands. Curious enough, my maternal language is French but my first spoken language is English. I am what some may call “more than perfectly bilingual”; I can switch from one language to another instantly and I do not have a foreign accent in either language.
I had a fairly normal childhood. At a young age, one could already tell that I was going to be an athlete! As soon as I could stand up, I would pick up on any sport as if I was a natural. Within only a couple months of learning how to play Tennis, I was already accepted into the U.S.T.A. national juniors program and was suppose to participate in the California games in 1992. Unfortunately, a broken wrist thanks to my foolishness at school ended that journey.
After the 1994 Martin Luther King Jr. Earthquake devastated L.A., we decided to move back to Quebec. My parents were starting to get nervous about the school situation, as money was scarce and the school that I went to was more about which gang you were in than what your favourite subject was. On top of that, my parents wanted my little sister and I to learn our mother tongue, French!
Unable to play hockey in California due to the unfortunate finances of my artist parents, I immediately jumped onto the ice upon arriving in Quebec. Why did I want so badly to play hockey at 10 years old? Because I was going to become an N.H.L.’er, like Gretzky! Most kids in Quebec start playing at 3 or 4 so I had some catching up to do.
Nonetheless, by the age of 16, after battling hard and working more on my game that the majority of kids, I managed to get myself onto a tier 2 Junior A team. I chose this option over Major Junior hockey because I wanted to get and education; I had my eyes on the N.C.A.A.
The agency story starts here, sort of. See, my desire to play hockey at the highest level was so intense, that I actually called up and emailed approximately 30 to 50 Junior A teams from Nova Scotia to British Columbia. I instinctively acted as my own agent, rather than stay at home and wait for someone to discover me.
I ended up playing 4 years of Canadian Junior A hockey. 4 years of ups and downs. During this period of time, I went from debilitating shoulder injuries, to all-star level and being considered for the N.H.L. draft and N.C.A.A. D1 hockey, back to debilitating knee injuries. Finally, I managed to go to the ECHL at 21. Obviously, the odds were against me. I ended up playing 1 season of pro’ hockey, that saw me travel between ECHL, SPHL and LNAH (Quebec pro’ league). Once again, I acted as my own agent, just as I had throughout my junior career. Hell, in Juniors I even placed some of my buddies from back home. I also tried unsuccessfully to represent one of my buddies in the SPHL while I was down there.
I called an end to my injury filled career that year. Fortunately, I was always an exceptional kid at school. Not because I was a good student, to the contrary, I never studied and always skipped school. However, I was always an out of the ordinary autodidact, similar to the fictional movie character Good Will Hunting, depicted by Matt Damon. By the time I was 22, I had already learned more about sports psychology, nutrition, kinesiology and biomechanics, than most PhD. students. I still understood the importance of a piece of paper, so I studied at the oldest university in North America, Laval University. I also studied a course in preventive medicine with the Harvard Medical College’s Extension School.
I started working as a strength coach and nutritionist. One of my first eye-openers was the experience that I so gratefully had with one of my mentors, Scott Livingston, while he was working with the Montreal Canadiens and the Olympic Mogus Skiers. I built my athlete development business in Quebec city, recruiting some high profile major junior hockey players and the Canadian Olympic Biathlon team, based out of Quebec.
I was having a great time training all these young hockey players… but something was missing! Add that to the fact that a common denominator was present among these future stars: they were always bitching about their agents!
“My agent never calls me”.
“I see my agent once a year, if I am lucky”.
“My agent represents hundreds of players, he doesn’t care about me”.
These comments, combined with my recollection of the tête-à-têtes that me and my parents had with agents when I was a midget and junior player gave birth to an idea! (Plus, I loved Jerry Maguire! Hahaha)
What about an agency that is founded on the principles of athlete development and the attainment of full potential, rather than focusing primarily on financial aspects? Rather than scoop up hundreds of young midget/junior players in order to have more chances of them becoming pro’s, why not use my expertise in order to build a firm that selects a smaller amount of amateurs, and concentrates its energy on the full development of these prospects. Rather than be a sort of hockey law firm like most of the other agencies, why not an academy of excellence, a school that develops potential and educates its athletes, to be better in their sport and in life? Not only a career management firm, but especially a development firm!
A firm based on these core values:
- The best agent that you can have is your performance;
- Development, science and expertise can help you get their faster and stay their longer. Contacts and sales pitches can’t.
- If you are a third line player who wants a better contract, you will be better served by working on your game thanks to science and work ethic, in order to become a second line player, rather than hire a, excuse the expression, “used car salesman”.
So, VSM was born!
We consider ourselves as facilitators and guides. This ensures that, even if a kid is talented, if he does abide by the rules of a champion, a warrior, then he does not fit in with our group. Many in the industry say that I am crazy, but I stand by my principles and beliefs. Maybe we will miss out on some big money makers, but is making money our sole motivation? Is it the heart of what we do? No! Now don’t get me wrong, I like luxury like the next guy, but it is not the foundation of who I am. I want to be like a Pat Brisson, representing the top 2 out of 3 NHL draft picks, but not to be rich financially, rather, to have the pleasure of working with these stars, being their guides and impacting their lives.
Stay tuned, episode 2 will tell the story of the 2008-2009 season, our first year. Find out how we went from 0 players, to 4 players and to eventually 25.
Episode 3 will tell the story of 2009-2010. Episode 4 will discuss 2010 until now. From that point on, each episode will be a live account of the week in progress.