On Tuesday, the Toronto Maple Leafs announced a big front-office shakeup that included the hiring of 28-year-old Kyle Dubas as their new assistant GM.
This profile of Dubas originally appeared in the Nov. 14, 2011 issue of Sportsnet magazine.
KYLE DUBAS pulls up a chair. It’s lunchtime in the Alzheimer’s wing cafeteria at the F.J. Davey Home, and the 25-year-old rookie GM of the Ontario Hockey League’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds is sitting with his grandfather Walter Dubas. “What time is practice today?” says Kyle, trying to engage Walt. “Is there a game tonight, Papa?”
The 82-year-old doesn’t know how to respond. “I know you,” he says simply.
The biggest hockey game of Kyle’s professional life, the Greyhounds’ home opener, is a day away, and it seems that Walt has no idea. He coached the Greyhounds for five seasons a half-century ago. He was a tough coach with gritty teams, winning a championship in 1967. Walt could be hard on his players, but he cared. One season, he had eight players on his team who didn’t have fathers in their lives. So they all lived at Walt’s, with Marietta, his wife of 52 years. Walt always stood up for his boys. Now, he has trouble standing. At lunch, he sits in a wheelchair. But his appetite is still there. As Kyle tries talking baseball with his grandfather, Marietta feeds Walt a cherry tart with whipped cream; he devours it.
Walt made it out to a game in early October and Marietta helped him wave to the crowd after being featured on the video screen. "Wally was great," Kyle says. "All smiles." But whether he understands that Kyle is running the Hounds or not, only Walt knows. You know he'd defend his grandson from those in the media who barked that Kyle was too young for the job. After all, Kyle's always done things earlier than most.
At 11, a stick boy. At 17, a Greyhounds scout while studying at Brock University and making the Dean's List. At 20, the youngest-ever NHL Players' Association-certified agent. Kyle spent four years with Uptown Sports Management, setting up offices in Calgary and Sweden. Then, last April 15, Kyle was named Hounds GM, replacing the fired Dave Torrie. Not former Hounds coach Ted Nolan, who led them to their only Memorial Cup in 1993. Not long-time Peterborough GM Jeff Twohey. Kyle Dubas. Good-looking. Organized. Charming.
Kyle is also wise beyond his years. He had to be tough and smart to survive and thrive in the dagger-filled world of player agents. Walt and Marietta practically raised Kyle after his father, Mark, a cop, and his mother, Paula, an ambulance dispatcher, divorced when he was eight. Walt used to take Kyle to Greyhounds games in the old Soo Gardens and drove home how important it is to have tough players. Marietta despises the "floosies" who play softly. Her all-time favourites: Bobby Clarke and Bob Probert.
So Kyle's new-look Hounds are bigger and tougher by design. His top draft pick, six-foot-four defender Darnell Nurse, is the son of former Hamilton Tiger-Cats wide receiver Richard Nurse. The 16-year-old's uncle by marriage is Minnesota Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb. When pint-sized centre Dan Catenacci, a former first-overall pick, demanded a trade, Kyle sent him to Owen Sound in return for six-foot winger Andrew Fritsch. Six-foot-four blueliner Michael Schwindt and six-foot-five Swedish winger Michael Schumacher were acquired through other off-season trades. "No grit, no glory"—Kyle often repeats this with his grandfather in mind.
When Kyle looks out his Essar Centre office window, he sees the steel plant where Walt spent 40 years as a mechanical maintenance worker. Back then, the plant employed 15,000 people. Now, it's about 3,500. But there's a sense of optimism. So much of the local pride in this down-on-its-luck city of 75,000 is tied up in the Hounds. Some pundits say they are on their way up after finishing last in the division two of the past three seasons. Others say they will miss the playoffs for the third time in four years. Either way, the city is crying out for a renaissance on the ice. "The Rising" is what Kyle calls it. That was the title of the 90-page manifesto he submitted to team ownership during the interview process—a blueprint for managing the Hounds with integrity and character. It pounded home his message of ascension from despair as forcefully as the Bruce Springsteen song of the same name. Kyle wasn't even born at the height of Born in the U.S.A. mania, but is an E Street Band disciple. Posters of "The Boss" hang in his office.
As for the GM's age, head coach Mike Stapleton, a former journeyman forward who scrapped his way to 697 NHL games, has no issues working for a man 20 years his junior. The puck doesn't care how old the player is, says Stapleton, who took over as coach this season. Still, it's been 34 years since Gary Green took over the Peterborough Petes at the age of 23. Kyle is under the microscope.
At the Essar Centre offices, a copy of The Art of War balances on the edge of Kyle's desk. His dog, Murray, a six-month-old golden retriever, plays with his half-sister, Julia, 11. Kyle's 23-year-old twin sisters, Courtney and Megan, work for the team, too. Megan says working for her big brother is different but awesome. "We know when to be a brother, we know when to be a sister, when to be a boss and when to be an employee," she says. "It's been great."
Nine wins in 13 games had Kyle's Hounds battling for the division lead early. If only, wishes Kyle, Walt could enjoy this. Just for an instant.
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