“Danny! Danny! Danny!”
We all knew Danny Williams was a hit in the political arena. Turns out he can draw an applause at the hockey rink, too.
A couple or 600 came out to Mile One Centre late Friday morning, not to see Allan Hawco razzle and Alan Doyle dazzle on the mini ball hockey floor — Luke Adam was better than both, however — but for the big announcement making the new American Hockey League team for St. John’s official.
“We got it!” cried Williams to a loud applause at the end of the rink, where the hockey fans — young and old, male and female — had convened in what’s known as the Molson Amphitheatre within the building.
We had heard those words before, of course. When Williams scored the Atlantic Accord deal.
Oh Danny Boy, we love you so.
Williams is like a kid at his first NHL game. There’s excitement in his voice. A bounce in his step. He’s got his very own hockey team, leased — for now — from True North Sports and Entertainment.
There’s no doubt the city’s re-emergence in the AHL could not have happened without Williams, whose passion, will, connections and, yes, deep pockets helped make it happen.
But the real broker of this deal, the hockey tape that wrapped it all together, was the familiar face trying to stay in the background, where he prefers it that way.
“This would not have happened without Glenn Stanford,” Craig Heisinger was saying afterwards, after the fans had left the building, after Hawco and Doyle had packed away their sticks, after the whole pomp and circumstance was through and the real business of selling tickets was just beginning.
“We are all about people,” said Heisinger, the senior vice-president and director of hockey operations for the yet-to-be-named NHL franchise in Winnipeg, “and it’s all about a level of comfort with Glenn.
“Without him, no deal.”
Heisinger will also be the general manager of the St. John’s AHL team, just as he was when the farm club was the Manitoba Moose.
But unlike those Manitoba days, Heisinger won’t be around the AHL club on a daily basis. Instead, it’s Stanford who’s left to stand watch, just as Winnipeg wants it.
“He’s been a mentor to me over the years,” ‘Zinger’ said, “and it was he and I who pieced together the deal.”
They say you can never come home again, but for Stanford, the new St. John’s team allows the former local basketball and soccer star a chance to return to his old stomping grounds, to where he ran the St. John’s Maple Leafs — a model club by AHL standards, back in the day — for 14 years.
Since 2005, when the Toronto Maple Leafs pulled the plug on St. John’s as a minor league operation, Stanford has been working elsewhere, first with the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL and, for the last four years, as the president and governor of the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs.
The job putting together a pro hockey team from scratch is daunting, and nobody knows that better than Stanford, who went through it back in 1991, the first year of the St. John’s Maple Leafs.
Stanford chuckles at the suggestion a seven-day work week awaits him. Truth is, for the past six weeks he’s been punching in 16- to 18-hour days, juggling the Manitoba-to-St. John’s deal and his duties in Hamilton.
No wonder he made a note to thank Bulldogs owner Mike Andlauer Friday.
“I’ve been pretty busy lately,” he said, “busy ramping up this thing, advising Danny ... all while trying to stay in the background.”
Talk about starting at square one. Stanford has neither pen nor pencil, no office, no employees. In fact, he may be working out of the AHL team’s coaches office at Mile One for the next little while.
But the work begins immediately. A series of meetings were planned Friday afternoon, and more are set for today and through the weekend.
Good thing Stanford’s a bit of a pack rat. For within the stuff he’s kept over the years are a few black binders, which might as well be filed under, ‘How to get a hockey team off the ground.’
“It’s about 15 to 20 books of notes and organizational plans I’ve kept since 1991,” he said. “I was looking at one the other day when I was named director of operations for the Leafs in 1991 ... I had a list with 155 things to do.
“I might as well go back to that list.”
The first item of business will be to get some people around him, and Stanford will be looking to familiar faces from the Leafs’ days. There’s office space to find. There’s the monitoring of ticket sales, and depending on the demand, the introduction of plans for various packages. There’s meeting with and securing corporate partners.
And it’s but a scratch of the surface.
“If you stop and think about it,” he said, “it is a little overwhelming. But the only way to tackle it is to get at it.
“Because we’ve got less than 100 days to get it all in place.”
Good thing he’s been down the road before, a road on which he cleared the path.
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email at email@example.com