I was lucky enough to get a one-on-one interview with Martin Gelinas a couple of weeks ago. 20 minutes after we started, I came away pretty impressed.
JA: Maybe just reflect on where you’ve been since you left Calgary. Obviously, the lockout threw everyone off a little – I recall you played a little in the Swiss league in 04/05?
MG: Yeah, after 04/05’s lockout I went to Switzerland and played there for about 4 months and played in both the A and B league there. It was kinda nice to just be able to stay in shape while having a chance to see something different. After that, when the CBA got signed between the Player’s Association and the NHL, I signed a contract with Florida for two years. As you know it’s a little different market out there, so that was a pretty interesting two years. After that, signed with Nashville on a one year contract and tore my ACL. I had been pretty fortunate in my career, didn’t really have any injuries all that much until I tore the ACL right before the playoffs. After the season ended, I went and played in Bern for a few months and then into management with the Nashville Predators.
JA: What was so appealing about Nashville and the Preds that made you want to stay there after your playing career was finished?
MG: David Poile – during the last year that I played there – we had our exit meetings and he said to me “Do you want to stay in hockey in a management capacity?” He was telling me he could see me working in the hockey department coaching and developing and so forth. I kinda took that with a grain of salt, I wanted to keep playing but when I knew I was done I gave him a call.
It was pretty quick – I have this position, would you like it, et cetera and that was it. Started working as the Director of Player Development. It was actually a great transition, a great opportunity that Mr. Poile gave me and a good way to learn the other side of the game.
JA: What exactly did your day-to-day work as Director of Player Development entail?
MG: It’s a mixed bag. We had about 16 prospects playing on junior teams, college, university, some playing in Europe – so my role was to make sure they were all on track as we were monitoring their development. Talking to them, standing them aside, saying you know “this is what we expect from you and this is what we want you to do to make sure you get there”, getting feedback from them on how they thought they played, talking to their coaches, that sort of stuff. On top of that, I put together the prospect camp in Nashville where we have about 30-35 guys come out and they come and play and learn how to become a good pro, and do all the little things that you need to do to get to the next level. So it was a full time job, just to make sure the prospect development went the way we wanted it to.
JA: Did you learn anything new while in your role of player development that you think you’ll be able to apply to coaching?
MG: There’s something I learned from David Poile, who as you know has been in the business a long time, and it’s the attention to detail he has for everything. Everything has a purpose, a place for it to go. He’s got different plans, both short term and long term, and he just always seems to follow through with those plans. He’s a good person that cares about his people and helping them out along the way. So I’ve really picked up on that – treat people the right way, care about people and try to find ways to push them to become as good as they can – and when you do that I think you’re doing a pretty good job.
JA: How exactly did the Calgary gig come up? Was it more them or you? What kind of prior relationship do you have with Bob and Jay?
MG: It just kind of happened, you know? To be honest with you, I would travel quite a bit and I’d always see Craig Conroy, who’s a great friend of mine and we played together and so on in 04, and he was always like “you gotta get back to Calgary, we’d love to have you back.” But it was tough to just kinda make the jump to come here because David Poile was so loyal and treated me so well, so there really wasn’t an opportunity for me to come and move laterally into the organization at that time. But then I got a phone call from David Poile and Jay Feaster right after and he was saying that they’d like to talk to me about a position – and at the time, I didn’t know what it was – but then Bob Hartley phoned shortly after and we set up a meeting. You know, we chatted about things like game preparation and his values, the way he thinks the game, the way he cares about his players, the way he motivates them and it was just a good fit. The next day the deal was done, so it happened pretty quick.
JA: Is this the first time you’ve been approached to be a Coach at a Professional level?
MG: I’ve had a few opportunities in the minors to go and be a coach and I was asked a few years ago to be an assistant coach but I declined it because at the time it didn’t feel right. I didn’t want to move my family away from Calgary but this move just made sense for me and my family. We already live in Calgary so it was the right time and the right opportunity.
JA: Safe to say then that this job is a right-place, right-time kind of thing?
MG: Everything worked out great, yeah. If there was a coaching job elsewhere, I probably would’ve turned it down because this is our city, our home – I just jumped at it and I’m looking forward to the challenge now.
JA: In the past, the Flames have kind of delegated specific coaching duties to specific coaches. Do you know which part of the team your coaching will focus on?
MG: Yeah, you know what, we talked about it and Bob really likes that all the assistant coaches have all these different skillsets – I don’t think he wants to put emphasis on one thing for any of us at any one time. I might be working on the PP and Jacques might have the PK or the other way around – so there’s really no specific roles for us as coaches, we all have our skill sets and we’re going to make them work together.
JA: What was playing in the 2011 Alumni Game like? Had to be quite the experience.
MG: It was awesome. You know what, those things don’t happen very often. It’s a good chance to keep up with the boys, since we travel so much and it’s nice to be skating. I just love the game, still love to play – it’s just so hard to get ice at times while finding the time to do so. But when you have games like that, it’s nice catching up and there’s a little bit of a competitive stuff that goes along with it.
JA: Even though it’s just for fun, you still wanna beat the other guy.
MG: Oh absolutely you do. We made our livings before being competitive, we like to win. At the same time though we don’t take ourselves too seriously, as it is all just a game and we want to go out and enjoy it.
JA: Have you been able to sit down – alone or with the coaching staff – and identify any areas the team needs to improve this season?
MG: From our end of that, that’s probably going to be something that comes together closer to camp, when the coaches are in one room and we can talk in detail and so on. Ultimately as a team – and I’m just talking about myself here – obviously you look at the team and you see we do have some skill, some talent, some older guys, some good young guys coming in and playing bigger roles. The key is to make sure, at least from our standpoint, that the group is playing together, the chemistry’s going, and it’s our top guys who are playing like our top guys, leading the way. The young guys have to bring the energy, the excitement to the game on a daily basis.
JA: With sports, there’s always a large rate of turnover, even in-season. Is that something the coaches prepare for or is it something you forget about until it happens?
MG: You gotta go with what you have. You know what, Jay Feaster and Craig Conroy and the people at the top are trying to put the best pieces possible together for us to achieve success. So you get what you have, and you just gotta make sure you’re pushing everybody in the right direction.
JA: What are your expectations of the team this year? What impact do you think you’ll have on the team?
MG: I expect us to have a really good season. Not only me obviously, I think that the expectation holds strong over the whole coaching staff. We want to get this team back on track, obviously last year they were almost there when it comes to a playoff spot, we just need to give ‘em a little push. But at the same time you don’t want to use all the energy getting into the playoffs and then just get killed. But I think our new approach to the game will be good, Bob Hartley is a phenomenal coach and he’s going to have a game plan ready in August. We’ll go though it, make sure we’re all on the same page. My expectation is to be as prepared as we can, to get everybody as prepared as they can be to have a season we can all be proud of.
(Huge thanks to Peter Blanchard for getting this set up for me.)