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A wide-ranging Q&A with Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving

Craig Morgan Avatar
February 2, 2022

The Calgary Flames touched down in Phoenix in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. After a third-period rally in which they erased a two-goal deficit to beat the Stars, 4-3 in Dallas, Calgary owned the Pacific Division’s second-best points percentage with only the Coyotes standing between them and a six-day All-Star break.

GM Brad Treliving plans to use that break to “stay over for a day or two to thaw out” in the Valley, his former stomping ground as an executive in two different leagues. He misses a lot of things about the Valley, but the weather is near the top of the list. The forecast high in Calgary was 10° and the low was minus-10°.

Treliving spent seven seasons as the Coyotes assistant GM and vice president of hockey operations, sharing responsibility for the best stretch in franchise history that included three straight playoff berths and a 2012 Western Conference Final run. Before his Flames took on the Coyotes in a late start at Gila River Arena on Wednesday night, PHNX Sports caught up Treliving to discuss his eight-year tenure as Calgary’s GM, his memories of Arizona, the genesis of his executive career, his relationship with former Coyotes GM and current Flames executive Don Maloney, and more.

In your eighth season as Calgary’s GM, what have you learned about the job?

Once you’re in it, you get a whole new appreciation for what it means to work in that market, work in Canada, and the demands of the job. With experience comes growth, and as the sand goes through the hourglass, you feel much more comfortable. 

It’s 24/7, 12 months a year in Canada. It’s the sport. We were fighting for our little piece of the pie in Arizona, whereas in Calgary, the city eats, breathes and lives the team 12 months a year. That passion, you feel it every day. 

Everybody in these jobs is driven to be successful. There’s a lot of type-A personalities in the GM chair, but working in Canada, you feel the passion of the fan base. And from a media perspective, it’s night and day. The coverage and the amount of people that are covering it is just different. You can prepare for it, and you can think you know what to expect but you have to live it to really appreciate the position.

How have you grown as a manager?

When you first come in, you’re anxious to move things along as quickly as you possibly can and you’ve got to learn to be a little bit patient. You’ve got to learn that sometimes things don’t move as quickly as you want them to move. 

There’s lots of things you learn from every experience you go through. Whether it’s contracts to deals to staffing, you learn and you feel more comfortable with every experience that you have. So I think just learning to be patient and trying to use every experience as you go forward in making decisions is important.

You have always had an affable approach to media. What drives that?

When you grow up in Canada and you follow the game in Canada, you know what it means in Canada. As a manager, you deal with media quite a bit. On a game day, it can be two or three times a day. I think it’s just about understanding their role. They’re a conduit to your fan base so I think it’s important to be accessible. They’re telling your story to your fan base, who are passionate. It’s great when it’s going well. It’s passionate when it’s not going well, but that’s the job is to be accessible and maybe even more so sometimes when it’s not going well. 

Listen, everybody’s got a job to do and I think building that relationship is important, but I have always tried to be out in front of my players, too. I think it’s important for a manager to protect his people, and especially in Canada, where that noise can get hot. These players put a lot of pressure on themselves. There’s a lot expected of them. Sometimes, if you can let the air out of the balloon and divert and take some pressure away from them and support them when they need support, it can help. There’s a lot of scrutiny in Canada so it can be a difficult job for the athletes, and I think it’s important for the manager, especially when you’re going through trying times, to support and take a lot of that pressure off them as much as you possibly can.

When your career ended in 1995 did you know what you wanted to do next?

I knew long before I stopped playing. Based upon a career that can only be described as ‘once promising,’ I knew that if I had a future in the game, it wasn’t going to be on the ice, it was gonna be off the ice. It was certainly a passion of mine and what I wanted to pursue. I didn’t know what form that was going to take, but I tried to use the last part of my playing career to prepare for it.

Did I always want to be a manager? Sure. But as the saying goes, you’ve got to be where your feet are. I think it’s really important to not be in one job while worrying about trying to get somewhere else. Ultimately, if you work hard enough and do a good job, you’ll get opportunities along the way. So my focus wasn’t ‘I’ve got to reach for this job.’ It was always being really happy in the position I was in and being dialed in where you were.

How much did your dad’s entrepreneurial spirit inspire you?

I’m a big fan of his. I watched his career and we’re real close and talk a lot. How he looks at things; I think there’s a lot of lessons I learned from him and sure it’s an inspiration.

I think it’s important that we carve our own paths, and that was important for me, but he was always there as a sounding board. When I was younger, he was there to provide a lot of advice and a lot of perspective. I think everybody gets a little stubborn. Like I said, you want to carve your own path and that’s what I tried to do, but certainly he’s a guy that I learned a lot from. 

What made you want to form the Western Professional Hockey League in 1996?

It was actually my business partner, Rick Kozuback, who was pursuing this. He was a former coach of mine and he was living in Phoenix. He had just finished coaching with the Phoenix Roadrunners way back when, which was L.A.’s farm team in the IHL. We talked in the summer. At the time, it was going to be a summer gig for me. As things progressed and we visited a bunch of cities and it looked like this thing was actually going to happen, I made the decision to go full time with it. It was an unbelievable experience, but Rick was really the driving force behind starting that league.

Flames senior vice president of hockey operations Don Maloney (left), GM Brad Treliving (center) and assistant GM Brad Pascal attend the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. (Getty Images)

How did you first meet Don Maloney and how did the relationship grow to the point where he hired you as the Coyotes assistant GM?

I met Don Maloney for the first time at the American Hockey League meetings in Hilton Head (South Carolina). I was down there with the Central Hockey League. We’d go down on a regular basis and make a presentation for league meetings. Don had just gotten hired in Phoenix as the manager. When I was working in the CHL, I had an interview with the late great Pierre Lacroix in Colorado, and Pierre made a phone call to Don. 

It just so happened that I ran into him at the American Hockey League meetings after that. I joke with Don that I think what pushed me over the top is our offices (WPHL) were in Phoenix so it didn’t cost him anything for me to come in and meet him. 

What led you to bring him into hockey ops in Calgary after the Coyotes let him go?

I’ve got a whole lot of respect for Don and how he works. In those times in Phoenix, with all the chaos that was going on, all the uncertainty about the team and ownership, he was so steady at the wheel. I’ve learned a lot from Don over the years. He’s just a really good hockey man and knows the game and so when the opportunity came that he could join us, I was thrilled that he decided to. He’s a big part of our organization and he has grown to be a really important guy in my life. I have all the respect in the world for Don. 

What are your fondest memories of your time in Arizona?

Obviously that playoff year was great; the run was great. Any time you can go on those kinds of runs; that’s what we’re all in the business for is to have success so that sticks with me. It’s that and the people. Against great odds, that team was a playoff team on a regular basis. You look at the job that Don did, the job that Tip (Dave Tippett) did and the job that Shane (Doan) did. That was the leadership of the team. Everybody, every year counted us out, but we found ways to become a playoff team against a lot of odds.

There’s guys there like (equipment manager) Stan Wilson that I still stay in touch with today. It was a really close group. I think all the things that we went through and all the uncertainty of the organization every year sort of had this galvanizing effect over the staff and the team. 

What’s your take on beleaguered Arizona as a hockey market?

Until you’ve been there and lived it, you don’t know. I know people take a lot of shots at it, but when you’ve been there and you’ve seen the support through all the struggles, through all the adversity that they’ve gone through, you want it to end the right way. You want it to end properly.

When game action began on Tuesday, nine points separated the top seven teams in the Pacific. What are your thoughts on this race and the state of the Flames?

It’s gonna be tight because everybody’s good. The margin for error is thin and it’s going to be a battle right through until the end of the season.

As far as us, we had a really good start, but then in December, it sort of got turned upside down on us with our COVID situation and we had a three-week break and when we came back our game was unsettled. There was some inconsistency in our game. Things that are staples in our game sort of went away, but I think in the last two weeks here we’ve been playing much better. We’re putting the game on the ice that we’re used to seeing, and that’s going to make us successful on a more regular basis. We’ve got to do that on a consistent basis down the stretch here.

We have played a lot of road games; the most or second most road games and then our schedule gets so busy because we lost 10 games (postponed) because of COVID here so you’ve just got to get back and put that consistent game on the ice. If we can get to the level we’re capable of, I like our chances.

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