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Soo GM Dubas proving youth can be an asset

by Tal Pinchevsky /
Like any child growing up in Sault Ste Marie, Ont., Kyle Dubas dreamed of playing for his hometown team, the Soo Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League. Considering Dubas' grandfather, Walter, was a Greyhounds coaching legend, Kyle seemed destined to join the team.

But after concussions ended his playing career by age 14, Dubas' path to the Greyhounds took an interesting twist.

"Now, being able to look at it, that may have been the best thing that ever happened to me," Dubas said.

There's no way of knowing for sure, but had Kyle Dubas continued playing hockey, he may never have become the youngest agent in the history of the NHL Players' Association. Had that not happened, the Greyhounds likely wouldn't have hired Dubas this past April to be, at 25, the youngest general manager in OHL history.

Kyle Dubas, right, introduced as Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds GM. (James Egan Photography)
"I started working for the team in elementary school, doing their sticks and water bottles," said Dubas, whose sister Megan is the team's director of community and game day operations. "The Greyhounds have been my whole life."

When Dubas left the Soo at age 17 to attend Brock University, the Greyhounds hired him as a scout. A year later, he bought a beat-up Nissan Maxima and balanced school with combing the region for junior talent. By the time Dubas was a 20-year-old agent at Uptown Sports Management, the Maxima was no longer an asset.

"You're competing against guys driving a Lexus or Escalade and you pull up in a 1994 Nissan Maxima," Dubas said. "So I'm in a Jeep now."

"He'll still be driving around in the Jeep when he's made it big," said Kings forward Kyle Clifford, who was a 15-year-old junior prospect when he became the 20-year-old Dubas' first client. "He can relate to a player. He's closer to their age, not like most agents.

"I was worried he wouldn't know much, but he knew a lot about the game. I would never say he was just my agent. He took me under his wing and taught me about character."

By the time the Greyhounds called Dubas about their GM vacancy, the one-time junior home of Wayne Gretzky had just finished last in its conference and fired both its head coach and director of sales and marketing. The OHL Draft was just three weeks away when Dubas started on April 15, but there was one NHL executive who could relate to this daunting task.

"He's going to do great. I'm really cheering for him," Carolina Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said of Dubas.

Growing up in Sault Ste Marie, Maurice played for Kyle's grandfather and, like Dubas, he was forced to retire early from hockey before becoming the youngest general manager in hockey history.

"I started working for the team in elementary school, doing their sticks and water bottles. The Greyhounds have been my whole life."
-- Sault Ste Marie GM Kyle Dubas

In 1994, while Maurice was serving as head coach of the OHL's Detroit Jr. Red Wings, team owner Peter Karmanos bought the Hartford Whalers, who became the Carolina Hurricanes three years later. Karmanos took most of his Detroit staff with him to Hartford, promoting Maurice, then 27, to coach/GM of the Jr. Red Wings.

"Everybody left. [Current Hurricanes GM Jim] Rutherford, the trainer, head of marketing, all the people," said Maurice. "I was the lone survivor and Mr. Karmanos gave me the opportunity to be the general manager."

OHL GMs wasted little time trying to take advantage of the young Maurice, who was assisted at the time by 26-year-old Peter DeBoer, currently the coach of the New Jersey Devils. At the time, though, DeBoer was merely a law student.

"I remember my first week, Pete DeBoer and I were in Kitchener for a scheduling meeting. They put all the general managers in a room and put a date up and said 'Who wants to play here?'" Maurice said. "I stopped the meeting for an hour and a half because they were trying to get me to play four games in four nights. A couple of older GMs were trying to railroad the two young kids."

In Maurice's one year as coach/GM, the Jr. Wings won the OHL championship before losing in the Memorial Cup Finals. That success is just one reason why Dubas is confident about his prospects with the Greyhounds.

"A lot of people say, 'Well, he's so young,'" Dubas said. "It's the same criticism I faced when I started scouting at 17 and when I became an agent at 20. This is my third time through it, so I'm well-versed in how to deal with it."

In the meantime, he's still getting mistaken for his players.

"I get asked all the time what team I play for in the OHL," Dubas said. "I'll know I'm old when I stop getting asked that."

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