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McGrattan confident his years of experience will greatly benefit young players

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

Brian McGrattan is well-schooled on the insularity, the fierce independence of those who inhabit the world of pay-for-play.

"That's how we're kinda built, right?'' the big man admits out at Winsport Thursday, on the first day of his new job. "Be a man.

"Handle anything that's thrown at you.

"Well, hockey players are no different than normal, real-life people. And with that, come normal, real-life problems. Doesn't matter who you are, what your work is.

"Just because we're in the public eye doesn't mean we're immune. Any of us.

"There's a lot of stress in this job. Some players deal with mental-health issues. Some players deal with substance-abuse problems. Some players have relationship problems.

"We're built with the mentality 'I can do this all by myself. I don't need any help.' Asking for help is not a sign of weakness.

"In a selfish way it's always 'Me, me, me' to get there, to the NHL, to your dream. Anything that gets in my way of that, I'll deal with myself.

"It doesn't have to be to be that way."

Thursday, the Calgary Flames announced that the immensely-popular Big Ern had been added to the organization's player development staff in the role of player assistance.

"Grats,'' says assistant GM Craig Conroy, "can relate to anything. He's done a great job going out and talking about what he went through. But I know he's going to be a jack-of-all-trades in this position.

"Guys feel very comfortable talking to him. That's a huge bonus. He's done it all. Minors. NHL. Back in the minors. He's run the gamut. How do you stay in the NHL? And if you do go down, how do you get back?

"I mean, I remember Iggy talking to guys on their way down. He was trying to be helpful, that's just Jarome, but he's talking about being sent down and I'm like 'He doesn't know.'

"I knew.

"Grats knows."

Video: McGrattan talks about his new gig with the Flames

That length and breadth of McGrattan's experience inside the game, the respect he's earned for conquering his alcohol addiction and the willingness to share his story in order to enlighten others, make him an ideal person for this job.

"In 15 years of pro experience, I've gone through just about everything,' says McGrattan. "And, yeah, I may be retired, but I still consider myself a player.

"I'll always consider myself a player.

"That's how I think.

"I don't want the guys here now to look at me as a person who works for management but as a fellow player. As somebody who's been there, like them. Who knows: the uncertainties, the highs and the lows - all of that.

"One of my biggest attributes as a player was with me it was always team first.


"When I was fighting and doing all that stuff, I'd die for my teammates. That's how I was."

Another tough gent, Brantt Myhres, has been hired in a similar role by the L.A. Kings. McGrattan feels their jobs, or a variation on it, should be mandatory for each of the 31 NHL clubs.

"When I was playing and I had I had no one to talk to,'' he says. "No one.

"I wish had someone with experience in this kind of position when I was playing. Being a player who went through off-ice issues, I had to do everything on my own. Even some of the league resources were very limited.

"This role provides a good outlet for players. Questions, concerns about the pro lifestyle, especially for younger guys coming in. Someone for players to vent on. I'm looking forward to it.

"It's going to be a good learning curve for me and the organization. We'll take it day-by-day and see how it goes."

McGrattan's post-fight salutes to the fans at the Dome as he skated to the penalty box became his trademark. 

This city saluted right back.

It put its arms around him, a group hug of a million plus, and adopted him as one of its own.

"I've always considered myself a Flame even though I've been in a couple other organizations the last couple years,'' says McGrattan.

"This is the jersey I wore with the most pride. 

"This is the city I've felt the most at home in. I've never had a fan base treat me like this one did.

"Outside the arena, in return, (wife) Michelle and I have tried to represent the community the best we could. So I feel very grateful for the opportunity Brian (Burke) and Brad (Treliving) have given me.

"I'm still doing whatever I can to help the Flames.

"Whatever these guys need. Someone to listen when they want to get stuff off their chest or have a problem.

"If that helps at the rink, helps them be a better player for this organization, helps them be a better person, that's what I'm here for."



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