Wolves’ Levin calls Cheveldayoff ‘smartest hockey guy I ever met’
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The term "youth being wasted on the young" doesn't apply to Kevin Cheveldayoff.
Quite the opposite.
Chicago Wolves owner Don Levin didn't know quite what he was getting other than a promising young hockey executive when he hired Cheveldayoff before the 1997-98 season.
"When we hired Chevy, he was a kid," Levin said recently. "I didn't know how old he was. But when you looked at his past record, he had won in Salt Lake City. He was very smart and a very personable person."
Levin knows now what he had in Cheveldayoff, whom he said "might be the smartest hockey guy I ever met."
For the record, Cheveldayoff was 27 when Levin hired him to run the Wolves, then members of the International Hockey League. Just after Cheveldayoff turned 28, the Wolves won the first of four titles — two in the IHL and two more in the American Hockey League.
On Saturday night at the Allstate Arena, the Wolves will honor Cheveldayoff by raising a banner for him before their game against Lake Erie.
Today at a still-youthful 43, Cheveldayoff is GM of the NHL's Winnipeg Jets, a job he earned after 12 years with the Wolves and two with the Blackhawks as an assistant GM. True to form, Cheveladayoff's stay with the Hawks included the 2010 Stanley Cup.
Although he'll have little time to savor his special night, he said he remains grateful to the Wolves.
"I'm extremely honored by it," Cheveldayoff said this week. "When they reached out to me and told me they were going to do that, it's very humbling. There's a lot of me that's still there. I put so much time in there, and there are such good people.
"Don Levin and (vice chairman) Buddy Meyers are people that you just don't run into every day of your life. They are special, special people. I got to work with such great guys as (former head coach) John Anderson and Gene Ubriaco and Mike Nardella and Bill Bentley."
Ubriaco, a patriarch along with Nardella in the Wolves' front office, said something about an early meeting with Cheveldayoff proved prophetic.
"Chevy was a young guy, 27," Ubriaco said. "I'll never forget. He said, 'I'm good at relationships,' and boy, was that ever proven out. I never forgot that."
Cheveldayoff said one key to success was team building, both on and off the ice. That paid off in IHL Turner Cups in 1998 and 2000 and AHL Calder Cups in 2002 and 2008.
"The team's job is pretty simple: Try to get the most out of all the good people around you," he said. "That's what I had the benefit of doing; I had such good people around me. It starts with ownership, and when you have that foundation in place, they give you the latitude to have good people around you. And they're willing to invest in that.
"Our intent was to win each and every night, but we really enjoyed being around each other. It was a good group of people, and I think that's why it lasted so long."
Meyers, who has been with Levin in ownership from the get-go, echoed that Cheveldayoff's success was part of "a compilation."
"There's an old expression: hockey guy," Meyers said Thursday. "When Chevy came to us, he had already won a Turner Cup. He came with a lot accolade as to the type of person he was and player he was. We really didn't find out how primed he was in the sport until he came with us. He has one of those innate and adept instincts and an observational approach to the game.
"You always hear, 'He sees the ice well.' As a general manager, he could see the ice. He could see the plays. He also had the same passion Don and I had about winning. What we tried to do is give him the best to work with, and that's what we did. We also had John Anderson that year."
Just as impressive, Cheveldayoff's teams won as an independent franchise in the wide-open IHL and as an affiliate of the Atlanta Thrashers in the AHL.
"It was different," he said of the two approaches. "It was something that was evolving. We went from building our own team from scratch. But there were other ways to be successful. We were fortunate to have a good working relationship with Atlanta at the time that allowed us to have somewhat our own independence but yet start the development process for some young players."
Cheveldayoff and Anderson stayed together until July 2008, when Anderson was named an assistant with Atlanta. A year later, Cheveldayoff joined the Blackhawks, but he didn't have to move.
"I still remember when I told my family that I was leaving the Wolves and the shock that was in their eyes when I told them," he said. "When I told them we wouldn't have to move, they couldn't figure it out for a second. Finally, it dawned on them that I was going to the Blackhawks.
"If the phone call hadn't come from (Hawks president) John McDonough to Don Levin, who knows if I'd be sitting here today? If Don Levin hadn't given permission for the Blackhawks to speak with me, who knows where that would have gone? But it's just like Don to allow for something like that. It speaks volumes to what that organization is all about."
Today, Cheveldayoff and his family are settled in Winnipeg even though they have strong ties to Chicago. On Saturday, the Wolves will say one more thank-you to Cheveldayoff, who can choose among many championship memories.
"'A lot of great things have happened to me in my career," he said. "One is being given the opportunity to start with the Wolves and having them give a young kid the general manager's reins and eventually down the line the Wolves allowing me to move on to the Blackhawks and the Blackhawks having interest in me.
"There are so many (memories), but obviously the championship moments, when you get a chance to look the owners in the eye and see the joy that they have and see the players' joy on the ice and have my family on the ice with me and experience those joys of winning championships. There's nothing that can compare to that. There are so many good stories, so many fun times and laughs that we had over the years.
"To have the opportunity to work with a guy like Gene Ubriaco, who's done everything in the game from coaching to managing and have him tell stories of the way hockey used to be, it's almost too good to be true. Winning championships with those people and to know forever you'll be tied to that group with those championships, that's a real special memory for me."
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