Most of us view managers as cold-blooded, hard-hearted, money-grubbing, self-centered, expletives (Scott Boras pops immediately to mind), but as Eustace L. King, Managing Partner at O2K Worldwide Management Group demonstrated, that’s not always the case.
Mr. King was kind enough to take a couple hours out of a hectic day to sit down with me and shoot the breeze about just about every aspect of hockey behind the players you could possibly imagine. So much so, in fact, that I had to break up the interview into several segments!
Oh, and BTW, if you aren’t familiar with O2K, how’s this for a reference jogger…ever heard of a first round draft pick by the name of Emerson Etem? Hmmm? Ring any bells? Thought so.
Sue: Most hockey players have the same story; my dad put skates on me at the age of two, I decided I wanted to play for the NHL when I was five, my mom drove me to five a.m. practices through blizzards – it seems like hockey ignites a passion in people’s hearts like no other sport. Why?
Eustace: It’s because you are a product of your environment and the culture of hockey is part of that environment. It’s a sport that has always been extremely team focused, there’s extreme respect for the older guys and that has transcended down to the younger guys. The older guys are great at mentoring the kids coming up. Look at the case of Sidney Crosby; he lived with Mario Lemieux all those years. You go through the league and you see example after example of seasoned players opening their homes to the new recruits until they find their feet.
I think it’s a case of paying it forward and the results have been great. If you look at those top teams that have had their veterans break in the young rookies and take care of them, it allows the players to be who they are which is important because if he’s in an environment where he is allowed to be who he is and who believes he can be, then you’ll get the results you want on the ice.
S: The question of race seems to be much less prevalent in hockey than it is in other sports. In fact, the only time race seems to be mentioned is when Willie O’Ree’s name is mentioned…
E: I think it comes down to the culture of hockey. I’ve known Willie for many years and he was a mentor to me. Willie went through the process of being the Jackie Robinson of hockey with class. He’s a classy individual, his teammates loved him and if you meet him you’ll want to spend the whole evening with him. For him it was a difficult time because there was so much attention, it was the Martin Luther King era; his whole focus was he wanted to be the best hockey player he could be. He was able to channel that focus and I think that set the tone for the future of the young black players.
In terms of minority players in general, most of them come from extremely nurturing backgrounds, their family nucleus is tight which helps them get through any hardships. Most of their families watch every game, they do everything to help and support their kids and the kids call their folks every single day. That’s something that doesn’t just apply to just minority players, it’s common throughout the game.
In addition, I don’t think that any of the minority players in the NHL have ever been just ‘good’ or ‘average’, they’ve always been exceptional and I think that’s had a huge impact on how they are treated. Just take a look at guys like Wayne Simmonds (L.A. Kings), Jarome Iginla (Calgary Flames) or Scott Gomez (Montreal Canadiens) – every one of these guys has left a mark and been influential and an inspiration.
We don’t represent Gomez, but when he got signed, I called his dad to congratulate his son, and he said “Eustace, I know that you are one of the few people that can understand what we’ve been through to get our son to this point in his career.”
Gomez’s success changes the outlook of a lot of kids who never would have considered playing hockey, the same way Willie O’Ree did all those years ago. It has a big effect, especially here in Southern California where a large majority of people are Spanish speaking.
S: What is your investment in developing your prospects?
E: Well, most of the kids pay to attend development camps and we will usually add some sort of an incentive, but by the same token we do feel that a kid has to feel like they are writing a check. We want to send the life lesson of “you have to invest in your future”. If kids get things handed to them all the time, they will feel like things will always be that way.
As far as what we invest in each prospect, it’s purely on a case by case basis. And that goes for professional players as well as agents. For instance, if there’s a really talented kid playing in Canada for major junior who doesn’t have the resources, sometimes older players will not necessarily just write them a check, they’ll give them their old skates or mentor them, give them equipment, drive them to camp – there’s all sorts of ways that help is dealt out.
S: Why are the athletes getting their start younger and younger?
E: There are so many more resources available now. How to eat, what to eat, protein shakes, specialized training. Our trainer, T.R. Goodman, who has been doing this for 25 years, he can look at you and tell you what he can do with an athlete in order to change his body and get him into shape. In hockey camp, Chuck Grillo has got it down to a 30 year science where he can look at a guy and tell you how close he is to making it to the NHL.
S: You’re talking about kids? Young teenagers?
E: Around 16 or 17, the really special players. He can see it. So then it comes down to cultivating them, not just their bodies but also their minds. A lot of people think they’re ready to play in the NHL – and you MIGHT be – but there is that emotional high when you first start and that sustains for about 20-25 games in. Then the rigors of the constant training and travelling and stress begin to start kicking in at around game 30 and then there’s the playoffs. This is where the real challenge begins. Can a player be consistent over the course of a full season? A lot of these kids have never had this kind of pressure or scrutiny. They’ve never had to deal with the media and so forth and that’s where the real challenge is. Some players are very mature for their age and they can handle those things.
With T.R., that’s part of the training. We need to develop the player’s psyche as well as their bodies, so we have the guys reading books, keep them talking, make sure they are aware of what’s happening on in the hockey world because a kid who is more in tune with what’s going on in general is better prepared to succeed.
Our philosophy is that we don’t want our players just to compete, we want them to excel. And by that same token, we’re not just to ‘be there’ for the players, we’re here to EXCEL.
Tune in next week for part two!
Topics: Calgary, Canada, Canadiens, Draft, Emerson Etem, Eustace King, Flames, Hockey, Ice, Jarome Iginla, Kings, Los Angeles, Mario Lemieux, Montreal, NHL, O2K, Scott Boras, Scott Gomez, Sidney Crosby, T.R. Goodman, Wayne Simmonds, Willie O'Ree