‘It’s a job I love doing’

St. John’s IceCaps’ director of hockey operations Brad Andrews thriving in a demanding position

Robin Short rshort@thetelegram.com
Published on December 23, 2013

Brad Andrews has been the St. John’s IceCaps’ director of hockey operations through the first four years of their existence. However, he will be part of the westward movement that comes as the Winnipeg Jets transfer their AHL operations from St. John's to Manitoba.

©— Photo by Jeff Parsons/St. John’s IceCaps

Growing up in a hockey environment, where his father coached and managed major junior and professional teams before ascending to one of the top jobs in the pro game, it comes as no surprise Brad Andrews would eventually find himself working in that particular sports field.

Andrews, 31, is the St. John’s IceCaps’ director of hockey operations, and rare is the occasion you will find the Nova Scotia native in or around Mile One Centre without a cell phone cupped to his ear, or his fingers and thumbs dancing on the smartphone window, tapping out a text message or email.

While the hockey end of things for the IceCaps are handled by either the parent Winnipeg Jets or the St. John’s coaching staff, Andrews — the son of current AHL president Dave Andrews — is the point man for everything else hockey-related regarding the IceCaps.

His particular job description with NHL teams might fall under the category of travelling secretary, but a large part of Andrews’s role with the IceCaps is dealing with team logistics on a day to day basis.

And from a road standpoint, that means coordinating all travel, from flights and bus schedules, to booking hotels, handing out road trip per diems and coordinating team meals.

And it’s usually during this part of the season, and for the next few months, the job can get tangly when Old Man Winter spins his wrath.

Just last weekend, when the IceCaps closed out the pre-Christmas portion of their AHL schedule in southern Ontario, Andrews had to scramble to get the IceCaps’ coaching staff, players Carl Klingberg and Patrice Cormier and the training staff back to St. John’s after the first big snowfall of the year cancelled all inbound flights to St. John’s.

“It was a bit of a challenge,” Andrews said. “I found out just before the third period started (in Toronto, last Sunday afternoon against the Marlies) that the flights had been cancelled. I had six of us on the early flight Monday, and three more on a late flight. So I immediately got on phone and tried to grab some space (on later flights).

“It was easier dealing with nine people coming back, vs all 33 or 34 of us on that trip.”

Luckily for Andrews, most of the IceCaps were heading elsewhere for the holidays and a 10-day break.

The IceCaps don’t play again until Dec. 27 in Worcester, Mass., meaning St. John’s will descend on Boston on Boxing Day.

Andrews hopes the post-Christmas reunion of the team goes smoother than last year, when the IceCaps gathered in Hamilton after the break.

“We finished up three days before Christmas last year and I drove to Massachusetts from Toronto with my sister and her husband and their kids on Christmas Eve,” he recalls. “I got a day at home (in Springfield, Mass., where the AHL’s head office is located), Christmas Day, and then I decided I’d head back to Hamilton on Boxing Day because it looked like some bad weather was coming and we had a skate scheduled on the 27th in Hamilton.

“All of our players were coming in the morning of the 27th. I wanted to get to Hamilton just in case there were travel issues, and not be stationed in a vehicle somewhere on the highway. Sure enough, one of the worst snow storms Toronto had seen in years hit, but we still managed to get everyone in for the 6 o’clock skate, with the exception of one player.

“Montreal got hit hard, and the airport was shut down. So Maxime Macenauer couldn’t get to Hamilton. We looked into train options, bus options, you name it. But you could not get out of Montreal that day. Still, we managed to get him in the next morning.

“I was on the phone the whole time, for almost two days. I wouldn’t want to see that phone bill.”

Andrews was born in Victoria, B.C. when his father was coaching the Western Hockey League’s Cougars — IceCaps assistant coach Mark Morrison was a player on that team — but grew up in Nova Scotia when Dave Andrews was general manager of the Halifax-based Nova Scotia Oilers for a year and six more in Sydney, when the team was known as the Cape Breton Oilers.

Young Andrews fondly recalls the 1992-93 season when Cape Breton won the Calder Cup, when former St. John’s Capitals provincial senior hockey player Bill MacDougall registered an amazing 52 points in 16 playoff games.

Sadly, however, 12-year-old Brad didn’t get to see the Oilers raise the Calder Cup, or ride in the victory parade through Sydney.

“My mom, brother and sister and myself went to Holland on a pre-booked flight right before finals started,” he says, only now smiling at the thoughts of it. “It was my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary.”

When Dave Andrews took the AHL’s top job, the family moved to Springfield and Brad remained there for four years before returning to Nova Scotia to attend King’s-Edgehill School in Windsor.

From there, Andrews went on to earn a business degree from Saint Mary’s University before taking a job as Reebok’s assistant brand manager for hockey equipment in Montreal.

He stayed with Reebok for three years before electing to return to school, this time earning a law degree from Western New England University in Springfield. While attending law school, he interned for parts of two summers with the Washington Capitals, assisting the Caps’ assistant general manager, Donald Fishman, with salary arbitrations and helping draft legal briefs on behalf of the team.

“Hockey is a game I love, and being involved is something I’ve always wanted to do,” he says. “Even when I went to law school, I didn’t really have any intentions of being a lawyer. I just wanted the training, to learn the thought process that you get from attending law school to take back into the hockey business.”

The IceCaps were born in 2011, and Andrews, fresh from law school, was hired by St. John’s chief operating officer, Glenn Stanford.

But unless you’ve done it before, there’s no real training for what Andrews was about to dive into. Of course, he’s had plenty of help, from Stanford, who’s been around the pro game since 1991, to Winnipeg’s Craig Heisinger, who climbed the ranks from equipment manager to assistant GM of the Jets, to Morrison, who was coach and GM and man of many hats with the old Victoria Salmon Kings of the ECHL.

“Glenn’s door is always open, and Mark did everything when he was in the ECHL. And Zinger, he’s seen everything there is to see in this game. I’ve leaned on those guys countless times for advice.”

Not that everything has been wrinkle-free.

In fact, there was a hiccup on the IceCaps’ very first road trip back in 2011, when Andrews was forced to earn his stripes.

“It was the Columbus Day weekend in Manchester, N.H., and I didn’t know this at the time but Columbus Day in Manchester is a big shopping holiday. Every hotel room in Manchester and on the outskirts of town was booked that weekend. We had played in Providence, R.I. in our first-ever game, and we stayed in Providence that night. In fact, we even took our game-day skate in Providence and bused to Manchester that afternoon. We haven’t done that since.

“I must have called every hotel in New Hampshire, but there were no rooms to be found. That was a challenge right from the start.”

These days, Andrews starts making travel arrangements — holding flights and hotel rooms — in the summer when the first draft of the league schedule is released. When the schedule is confirmed, contracts with the airlines and hotels are signed in late September.

And given the fact he’s in his third season, things are running a lot smoother. That is thanks to a network of contacts he’s developed, from travel agents, to Air Canada staff and hotel managers.

“It does become a lot easier,” he said. “You spend the first year trying to find the right hotels in the right cities and trying to figure out flight schedules. Keith (McCambridge, the IceCaps’ coach) and I have it pretty well figured out now when we want to travel and how our travel days should operate and all that stuff.”

Since joining the organization, Andrews has seen his role with the club expanded to include more administrative work, the type of stuff Heisinger — who also serves as the IceCaps’ GM — would have managed. Obviously, Heisinger trusts Andrews to take care of such things.

“I’ll do a lot of the transactional paperwork if guys are recalled from the ECHL. If guys are going from here up to the Jets, Winnipeg will look after that, but if someone is recalled from the ECHL, I’ll look after the PTO (professional tryout) paperwork and call and arrange for travel.”

No doubt, the young and eager Andrews hopes to take his career to another level, that being the National Hockey League. In his next assignment, he’d like to perhaps do more work on the hockey side of things, like scouting, for example.

“I have a dream of some day working at the NHL level,” he says. “There are not too many guys in hockey who don’t share that dream. Whether that’s in a general manager’s role, who knows. I’m not sure if that’s in the cards yet.

“Certainly, the hockey side of it interests me. But I would need more experience in order to take on more of a GM’s role, no question.

“At times, you sit back and you wonder where you’re going to be next. But I haven’t really thought a whole lot about what steps I should take for certain goals at this point.

“I’m honestly not really sure. Right now, I really enjoy what I’m doing. It’s a busy job, it has new challenges every day, but it’s a job I love doing.”