VANCOUVER – At the end of his only National Hockey League training camp as a player, David Poile lined up with all the other kids who weren’t making the expansion Vancouver Canucks to see if and where he’d be sent to the minors.
“This was prior to having agents, and they’d send players down to either Rochester or Seattle, and they signed you right on the spot,” Poile recalls. “I think I was the last one to see my dad. He had this legal pad, and he just said: ‘We’re sending you to Seattle. Your NHL salary will be $15,000 and in Seattle it will be $7,000. But since you just got married, it will be $7,500.’ That was it. I got sent down to Seattle, but I have great memories.”
A generation before Poile constructed one the NHL’s most successful expansion teams of the 21st Century in the Nashville Predators, his father built the original Canucks in 1970.
Norman “Bud” Poile, who had been the first general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers in 1967, became Vancouver’s inaugural GM and was in charge for the Canucks’ first three NHL seasons.
David Poile quickly realized he wasn’t going to make it as a professional player, and in 1972 began his career in management when he was hired to work in the Atlanta Flames’ front office.
Fifty years after his tryout with the Canucks, his memories of that first camp and the NHL’s arrival in Vancouver remain vivid.
“I graduated from college in June, got married in July, moved to Vancouver and lived on Haro Street with my wife, then went to the Canucks’ first training camp,” Poile says in a telephone interview. “Selfishly, for me, it was unbelievable those two or three months.
“I have terrific memories from that whole camp. Dennis Kearns is a friend. Our organization, the Predators, signed his son, Bracken, to his first professional contract. My parents and then myself were very close to Orland Kurtenbach. When I got my first job with the Flames, we shared a minor-league team with the Canucks in Tulsa, and Orland was the coach there. And when he got promoted to become the Canucks’ coach (in 1976), I took over in Tulsa until they hired another coach.
“Every time we play in Vancouver, I always go over to the suite they have for the alumni. I still know a few guys there. Our family was very close to Pat Quinn. Lots of memories.”
Bud Poile, who went on to become president of the Central Hockey League and commissioner of the International League, always kept his home in West Vancouver. He died in 2005, five years after his election to the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder. David will follow him to the Hall, too.
The younger Poile, who is 69, became the Washington Capitals’ general manager in 1982. David has run the Predators since they entered the league in 1998, which gives him 35 seasons as an NHL GM for just two franchises.
Poile says much of what he knows as a manager he learned from his father, and applies those lessons to this day.
“Absolutely, every day,” he says. “I’ve had two mentors in my career: one was Cliff Fletcher, who hired me to start in Atlanta, and my dad. My dad and I talked all the time. In the Poile household, hockey was 24/7. Our vacations were around hockey camps.
“We had lots of those conversations about how we dealt with things, things that could have been done differently. As the commissioner in the Central League, my dad dealt with NHL referees and businessmen. So my dad was a hockey man and a businessman.
“He had a huge, huge influence on my career.”
Bud Poile’s Canuck teams went 66-143-25 over three seasons and in 1973 he was replaced as GM by Hal Laycoe, Vancouver’s first coach, who soon was succeeded by coach-and-GM Phil Maloney.
Still, David Poile has fond memories of that time.
“I thought it was fantastic,” he says. “I remember going to games (at the Pacific Coliseum) with my wife and my mom, and it was like the greatest thing that ever happened to the city. I’d never been around anything like that before. It was a fantastic time for my dad in his life.
“There was just a huge buy-in (from the fans). I was the son of Bud Poile; holy mackerel, it was a big thing. My dad had been in hockey all of his life and there was nothing like that.”
Poile says he’ll always have warm feelings for the Canucks, who in their 50th year have a uniform version that looks much like the ones his dad’s players wore in 1970.
“Their first uniforms, I remember my dad was so proud of them,” David says. “It was kind of a novel thing with the stick in the rink (logo). I know my dad was a little upset when they changed it, but he’d be very proud to know they’ve gone back to them.”