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Saxon on the Storm: The worst part of being a junior hockey GM

"It's gut-wrenching," says Guelph Storm general manager Mike Kelly
Saxon on the Storm

It's something Guelph Storm general manager Mike Kelly has had to do many times every fall for many years, but it doesn't get any easier. There is no good way to tell a player he has been cut.

"I think it gets more difficult, quite frankly," Kelly said Thursday.

"It's gut-wrenching. It's the most difficult part of this job and I think any general manager in junior hockey will tell you that.

Earlier in the week Kelly had to tell forward Kyle West, a good kid from a good family who worked his butt off over the summer in an effort to better his chances of making the team, that he was being placed on waivers.

"Kyle West ... had put in a tremendous summer. He came back 15 pounds heavier and and his skating was stronger, but it still wasn't quite enough. That was a tough meeting."

Kelly said he finds players just want you to look them in the eye and be honest. "These are young men that we're talking about. You grow close to them and sometimes when you tell them they're not going to be with the club it is very difficult," he said.  "I've had players leave here telling me they thought it hurt me more than them, quite frankly. I don't think anybody leaves here feeling that we don't take this personal or understand their hurt. It hurts us personally as well."

Prior to delivering the news to a player, Kelly will prepare a letter so they have it in writing. Then he will typically reach out to the player's agent to let them know what's about to happen. It's up to the agent to inform the player's family.

"Often the message just has to be said and there's no way of sugar coating it," Kelly said.

League protocols now mandate that teams make sure a player has some form of support after the news is delivered, be it family, friends, agent or team personnel on hand after the news is delivered.

That stems from the Terry Trafford tragedy a few years ago, when the troubled Saginaw Spirit player killed himself shortly after being released from the team.

There is no good way to cut a player. Sometimes you deliver the message a little differently.

"I'd say 80 per cent is the same, about 20 per cent is based on individual circumstances," the Storm general manager said.

Many know they are on the bubble and they can count the numbers in the dressing room too. But junior hockey players are living a dream and no one likes to admit that dream is over.

Yes, it's a business at this level. But these are still, for the most part, kids.

The only thing a team can really do to cushion the blow is be honest, be forthright and be caring.

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Tony Saxon

About the Author: Tony Saxon

Tony Saxon has had a rich and varied 30 year career as a journalist, an award winning correspondent, columnist, reporter, feature writer and photographer.
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