Headline Hockey

Rookie Duties: Opening the OHL Season from Sudbury, Ontario

I know in the past I’ve mentioned how my working as an immigration attorney can help in certain situations when dealing with my Russian clients. Well this last week couldn’t have proven that point more.

It all began Wednesday night when I received a call from the Sudbury Wolves. This coming week they have games in Saginaw (Sept. 29th) and Plymouth (Oct. 2nd), Michigan. Last year they had no problem getting an import player across the US border without filing any paperwork, and they thought it would be the same situation with Kuch. What they didn’t know is that Kuch’s Visa was expired. I, on the other hand, had thought we spoke about how he’d need to apply for a new Visa and that the team understood that. Chalk it up to a miscommunication, but regardless, Kuch was in need of a US Visa with only a few days to obtain it. Normally the waiting period to get the interview that is required for a Non-Immigrant Visa is over a month. I sent an email to the US Consulate in Toronto, and fortunately through my connections, we were able to get his interview bumped up to this past Monday (Sept. 27th). It meant that Kuch would have to miss a day of practice, but getting the Visa would definitely be worth the price.

Thursday night I got my packing done early and tried to head to bed around 11pm CST. I’m a night person, so that’s fairly early for me, but I needed to be up at 3:30am if I wanted to get into Sudbury without rushing to make it to the game on time. Naturally, I tossed and turned in bed until about 2:30am, so I was going to have to suck it up and make the trip on just one hour of sleep. To make things even better, it rained the first five hours of my drive. Regardless, I rolled into Sudbury at about 5:45pm EST – just enough time for me to hit the fitness center for a quick workout before taking a shower and heading over to the rink.

As I approached Sudbury Arena, the atmosphere blew me away. People poured into the building well before game time, promotional vehicles were parked outside with strobe lights flashing, and vendors were set up outside selling food and programs. For some reason I was starting to expect to see an ambulance circling the Arena with sirens blaring…credit “Slap Shot” I guess.

As anticipated, Kuchin centered the first line with McFarland on his right and Josh Leivo on his left. After about 40 seconds on the ice, the second line replaced them. Ten seconds later, Niagara was called for a penalty, so Kuch and his line were back up on the power play. The boys’ timing seemed to be off a bit, and after about 40 more seconds they were pulled for the second unit. Twenty seconds later, another penalty was called on Niagara, so Sudbury would have a 5-on-3 situation for a little over a minute. Time to get the first unit back up, but unfortunately they were once again unable to cash in on the opportunity. In all, Kuch and his line mates were on the ice for about two and half of the first three minutes of the game. Welcome to the OHL buddy!

The rest of the game wasn’t pretty for the Wolves. The boys seemed to be gripping their sticks a little tight – pressing for goals in front of a pumped up home crowd – and the timing just wasn’t there. For anyone that had seen the amount of talent on the team them leading into the season opener, you could tell that most of it was probably just first game nerves. Niagara also played very well and the final score showed it – Niagara skated off easily with a 6-2 victory. Kuch did record an assist on the second Wolves goal and was +1 for the night, which was obviously exciting to see, but obviously a more impressive performance would’ve been nice. While as an agent you really only care about how your client performs, when you establish a close relationships with some great people in an organization, you can’t really help but wish the team well. Not to mention, you want the coaches and management to see that your client isn’t just good statistically, but is contributing to the team’s overall success. You just have to remember that the club’s number one priority is always winning hockey games.

After the game, I met with Niagara Coach/GM, Marty Williamson to discuss a few of my other Russian advisees that would be OHL-eligible next season. I’d corresponded with Marty via email in the past and spoken with him on the phone, but this was my first opportunity to meet him in person. Just call it another chance to build on a professional relationship.

When I finished up my chat with Marty, I walked over to the Wolves’ locker room and met President/GM Blaine Smith to discuss Kuch’s Visa situation. He needed to get down to Toronto for his appointment Monday afternoon, so Blaine needed to figure out how he was going to get him there. I knew that the Wolves had a scout that lived in the Toronto area, and since it was only an hour or two out of my way, I mentioned that if it’d make things easier for the team, I could drop Kuch off at the scout’s home on my way back to Chicago. At least then I’d have some company for part of my trip, and I never shy away from an opportunity to help out when I can – especially when a club has treated Kuch and I as well as the Wolves have.

When Kuch exited the locker room, I could tell he was pretty exhausted and he mentioned that he just wanted to head to bed. It was still early, so after I got back to the hotel I decided to head down to the hotel bar, as I’d gotten to know a few of the bartenders when I was in town for the Wolves training camp. I sat and chatted for a while with the two girls who were working along with an older French Canadian man who was in town on business. Among other things, we discussed why America wasn’t on the metric system and why Canada insists on having using so many coins as currency. After a while, one of the bartenders suggested a spot for me to check out so I headed to downtown Sudbury to soak up some of the local culture. And boy did I ever.

My first stop – the Night Club – was a short one. After being there for a drink, a stink bomb went off inside which cleared the place out pretty quick. “Man this is so typical,” one patron said to me. Seriously???

I followed the crowd over to another place across the street that was a little more my style. I had a meeting scheduled the next day so I wasn’t out long – but apparently it was long enough to have a pretty interesting encounter with a couple of locals. Unfortunately the details won’t be making it into the column…you’ll have to wait until the “Rookie Duties” book hits stores.

Saturday morning I walked down to the rink for a parents meeting with the Wolves coaches and staff. Basically it was just a walk-through of the team policies regarding issues like curfew, educational requirements, public appearances, and other things of that nature.

Afterwards, Blaine and I headed out to grab a quick lunch. Kuch was continuing to get great reviews from all those at the Wolves, including all his teammates, about both his performance on the ice and his personality away from the rink. It was definitely nice to hear that everything was going well from both ends. Our meeting also gave me an opportunity to discuss a few other clients who would be OHL Draft eligible this coming Spring, so it was great for Blaine to give me some of his time, which I know is very valuable. For anyone that doesn’t know Blaine personally, he really is one of the great guys in the game, and I couldn’t be more thankful for the respect and courtesy he’s shown me since the first day I spoke with him.

Saturday night it was back to the rink where the Wolves would face off against the Ottawa 67’s. The Wolves jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but Ottawa was able to claw their way back to take a 3-2 advantage. Ottawa added an empty net goal in the last minute of play to make it a 4-2 final. Both the Wolves as a team and Kuch looked much better Saturday night, and they probably should have skated away with a win but not every game works out.

After the game, I was able to meet with Head Coach, Chris Pryor to discuss what his club was looking for heading into next season and how some of my advisees might fit into that picture. I knew the team was in a rush to get out of town, so I really appreciated him taking the time to speak with me.

By the time Kuch got showered and dressed after the game, he just wanted to hang out for a bit. His billet would be out of town for the night, so the team mentioned that they’d feel more comfortable if he stayed with me in the hotel. After swinging by his place to pick up some of his things, we drove back to the hotel, ordered some pizza and enjoyed a nice guys’ night in which included a viewing of “The Hangover.”

Sunday morning it was over to the rink again as the players had a morning practice followed by a meeting with the coaches and staff to go over the team policies that were discussed at the parents meeting the day before. After they finished, Kuch and I grabbed a bite to eat at Subway and then it was on our way down to Toronto.

Kuch and I got into Burlington (the suburb of Toronto where the Wolves scout lived) around 6:00pm EST. I went inside for a bit where we discussed the weekend of games, some youth players that had caught our eyes, and what would be necessary for Kuchin’s Visa interview. Since I knew I had a long night of driving a head of me, after only a short bit it was time to hop back in my car and hit the road.

About two hours after I left Burlington, I suffered my first injury of the season. Nothing serious – just a pulled muscle in my right shoulder when I went to reach across the passenger seat to grab the 5-Hour Energy that’d fallen on the floor. Note to readers – do NOT attempt to do this on your own…I am a professional.

Just over an hour later, injury number two struck. This time it was a strained left index finger. Apparently I need to make some adjustments to my steering technique to put less stress on my body. Don’t worry – I’ll be able to bounce back from both the shoulder and finger issues quickly. It does, however, show me that I pushed myself too hard when my driving conditioning wasn’t quite in mid-season form.

Crossing the border in Windsor to get back into the States, I had my first ever pleasant encounter with a Customs and Border Control Inspector. Usually the person I run into looks and acts like they hate their life and their job. This time though, my experience was somewhat humorous.

“What were you in Sudbury for?” I was asked.

“I have a client who plays hockey up there,” I responded politely.

“So I’m assuming you’re a sports agent?” the woman followed with a smile.

“Actually I’m a hair dresser…my client is just very particular about how his hair looks.”

Now I would have never normally cracked a joke like this had the woman not seemed like she had a sense of humor. Fortunately she laughed, handed me back my Passport, and I was officially back in America. Just under five hours later, I’d finally be back home. It was another long and exhausting day in the car, but another productive trip was in the books.

Monday morning I woke up and got a hold of the Wolves official who was taking Kuchin in for his Visa Interview. Apparently security wasn’t letting him accompany Kuch into the Embassy, and it seemed like there were a few issues that needed to be ironed out. I quickly hopped on the phone and made a call to the person at the embassy that I’d been corresponding with throughout the day last Thursday. Fortunately a call was made down to security to allow him into the building. We’re still waiting to find out when Kuch can go pick it up from the Embassy but it’s looking like everything will be fine so he can travel to Saginaw and Plymouth without a problem.

This week I’m going to start working on finding some spots with some USHL teams for a couple of my Russian advisees. The USHL regular season hasn’t opened yet but teams have played enough exhibition games to know where changes need to be made.  This Thursday, I’ll also be traveling up to Saginaw to catch the Wolves game against the Spirit. I’m not going to be able to make their game in Plymouth on Saturday night, but I should be heading to Windsor for their game there on Sunday afternoon. It might sound crazy following the Wolves around like this, but their first few games just happen to be taking place in the OHL locations closest to Chicago. At the same time, while I’ve communicated with most of the OHL teams by now, I haven’t actually met most of the guys I’ve spoken with so going to their rinks gives me that opportunity to build on those relationships.

As you can tell, I’ve got another crazy week ahead of me so this is where I’ll have to leave you. I want to take a second to congratulate one of my best friends, Christian, and his now-fiance, Kasey, for getting engaged over the weekend (although I think it was a little selfish not to propose when I was staying with them six weeks ago so I could partake in the celebration…some people). All jokes aside though, it was great to get the news which added to what was already exciting weekend. Well with that, and until next time…it’s time to hit the showers.