Craig Heisinger’s office in the basement of the Winnipeg Arena is functional and organized and the door is always wide open.
It says a lot about how the Manitoba Moose general manager got here, and how he’ll handle the job after taking over from former GM Randy Carlyle.
“He was ‘Randy Carlyle’, Norris Trophy winner, the face of the Moose and the Jets and hockey in general in Manitoba for the last 15 years,” Heisinger says.
“I’m not loud, I’m not in your face, but I do have some of his characteristics, where I am honest, I’m straightforward and I want to get to the point.”
Heisinger worked in Carlyle’s shadow for three years as assistant GM, performing all the mundane tasks necessary for a successful hockey franchise, but without any of the glory or the attention. All that changed last July when Carlyle took a coaching position with the Washington Capitals.
“We didn’t have any sort of search for a replacement. When Randy told us he was leaving, the first call we made was to Zinger,” says Manitoba Moose owner Mark Chipman, who’s been pleased with the work of his new GM.
“He’s exceeded our expectations. He knows how a hockey team needs to be run, and there’s no better way to learn it than from the ice up.”
Heisinger got most of his training in the dressing room, after years of interaction with the game’s top players as an equipment manager. That often meant working twice as long as they did, for far less money, and none of the rewards.
Heisinger was regarded as one of the best equipment managers in pro hockey. He took care of business for the Jets for six years before they left Winnipeg. He continued with the Moose the following year. He also honed his skills at the international level with the Canadian junior team and the 1998 Olympic team that competed in Nagano.
“When you deal with the players on a day-to-day basis, with the travelling and the rest, our situation, as equipment guys, it isn’t a whole lot different from the players, other than salaries.
“You know what the challenges are for their wives and their kids and what you have,” he says of his background.
Chipman says Heisinger’s history with the franchise is a definate advantage.
“You don’t have to come from somewhere else. It’s easy to get caught up on where people have been, while Zinger has been is at the epicenter of hockey for a long time,” Chipman says.
Heisinger believes that by taking care of the little things, the big things will take care of themselves.
“With the Jets or even with the Moose, it’s always the worse case scenario to get traded to Winnipeg,” he recalls.
“But as long as players when they came here tried to make it good for themselves, we would go that extra mile to make sure it was good for them.
“And as long as they gave us a chance, and I’d say 90 percent of them did, they really enjoyed their time here and found it difficult to leave.”
He sites his predecessor, Carlyle, who came unwillingly to the Jets from Pittsburgh, and spent the remainder of his adult life here, contributing to hockey in this province.
As for filling Carlyle’s shoes, Heisinger’s confident he can meet the management requirements. Being the point man will take some getting used to, though.
“I’ve never really been to the head guy, nobody’s really taken shots at me personally, so when those things start to happen I think that will be challenging for me and it was no problem for (Carlyle),” he says.
And now that he’s finally arrived, Heisinger’s not planning on going anywhere.
“When I was growing up, I thought I would be outta here the first opportunity I had. But once you have kids and family becomes a little more important, you look around, and sometimes the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Sometimes you have to work harder to make your own grass greener.”
His loyalty to the Winnipeg organization is one reason Chipman groomed him for the G.M. positon.
“His work ethic is beyond description and his sense of loyalty is uncommon in professional hockey. He wants to remain here in Winnipeg and be part of hockey here.
“We all feel responsible for the product we put on the ice…but nobody more than Zinger. This is his home.”
“I’m very passionate about Winnipeg and the Moose,” Heisinger says. “I’d like to produce a winner on this ice, and maybe even at this rink, because this is where I worked the longest.”
Around the AHL
Grand Rapids Griffins: Sign defenceman Dave Van Drunen.
Syracuse Crunch: Sign defenceman Sean Connolly and left winger Riley Cote.
Manchester Monarchs: Sign forward Jeff Giuliano, Leon Hayward and goalie Adam Hauser