Springwater Sports Heritage

Founding Benefactor: The McGuire Trust

Dave Drinkill Interview -Springwater Sports Heritage

Could you give a history of your journey to the OHL, (education, involvement with Minor teams, etc) as well as relating your career path with the Colts and Spirit.
I grew up in Elmvale Ont and played Elmvale Minor Hockey growing up. After high school I went to Laurentian University in Sudbury and took the Sports Administration program. It’s a four year program with an internship as well. I worked with the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL during university, helping out anyway I could, mostly on game day promotions. After school I took my internship with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL and because I worked with the Wolves this helped me get this internship. I moved to Hamilton for a non-paying internship for 5 months with the Bulldogs. Most of my internship was with the communications and media relations side of the organization. Upon completion of this I moved home to Elmvale and called the Barrie Colts offering to volunteer for them on game days and with the communications department, I wanted to keep my foot in the door and my connections growing. After a year of this they hired me part time to work with the team in hockey operations (travelling with the team, keeping stats, eye in the sky ect). I did this for two years before I was promoted by the team to video coach. As video coach I was involved with breaking down the game, helping teach players systems ect. At this time I started to ask and become more involved in hockey operations and team building. I tagged along with the head scout going to minor hockey games and also started to work with Hockey Canada’s U15 programs, Colts training camps ect, anything I could do to gain experience. After two years I was promoted to Assistant General Manager of the Colts. As Assistant GM I was very involved in drafting, trades, contracts and generally anything related to the hockey operations department. After four years in this position I was hired as the GM of the Saginaw Spirit this past summer. It has been a long journey and has taken a lot of steps and work to get to this point but I would not change it for anything.

What motivated you to pursue a career in hockey operations?  Did you aspire to be a player or did building always interest you?
I always have had a passion for the game of hockey and it was always something I wanted to do. Like most kids I wanted to play in the NHL, but I also had the mindset that if this was not going to happen then I was going to be a GM, either would be a dream come true. The motivation to pursue this career just comes for the love of the game and being around the rinks and talking hockey. To have a job where you get up every day and don’t feel like you “have” to go work but more feel like you “get” to go to work always helped push me and motivate me to go after my dream of being a GM. I always said if it didn’t happen it is because I just didn’t make it, or I wasn’t good enough at what I do to get this position, I didn’t want to ever look back and think I should have tried or worked harder to get a job like the one I have now. I am still very motivated today to become a winner and keep progressing my career. I always tell people there are thousands of people that want my job and I have to make sure I work hard to become a winner and keep furthering my career, this helps drive me to be better.

What does a typical week look like in the life of an OHL General Manager?  How do you prepare for game days?  Do you travel with the team or join the scouting staff elsewhere?  What tools do you find invaluable…..stats, video, scouting reports, etc.
I don’t think there is ever a typical week in the life of a GM as it changes all the time. You are constantly working to help make your team and organization better every day. On the hockey side scouting is very important to an OHL GM and watching minor hockey and other OHL games consumes a lot of your time. Behind the scenes there is always things going on from an organization standpoint that the common fan does not see, so between helping run your staff and being out at games yourself it is a very busy schedule. I don’t normally travel with the team on road games but try to catch up with them on the road as much as I can. Usually I will be off scouting other teams (OHL or Minor AAA Hockey) on nights when our team is on the road. If I miss one of our games I will make sure to watch it in the morning or when I get home from scouting. Our scouting staff does a tremendous amount of work leading up to the OHL draft. The draft is the backbone of any good OHL organization and the scouts don’t get enough credit for what they do and how hard they work. Scouting reports, video and stats all are very valuable tools we use to evaluate players and make sound hockey decisions.

What do your duties entail in the off-season?
The off-season is the down time for the OHL and it is obviously not as busy as it is during the season. That being said there is work to be done in the summer. You are always trying to improve your team so trade talk, contracts with recent draft picks, trying to improve different aspects of your job that could be improved on all take place during the summer. There is the odd tournament to attend in the summer as well, so you don’t completely get an off season but it is slower than normal that’s for sure.

Describe your war room on draft day?  How does a trade generally take place….is it initiated in conjunction with other hockey operation staff? How do you determine when to make a deal?
Draft day is a very fun and exciting day for any OHL organization. After a year of watching, doing reports, and interviews the day finally comes when you get to add the future to your organization. The “war” room can be very fun but also very intense, as GM’s, head scouts, and area scouts push for players they believe in and a lot of candid discussion takes place. Like the players being drafted it can be an emotional rollercoaster. The players you put a lot of effort into and ones you really want will be drafted by other teams, while you also have the excitement of getting ones you believe can be pieces to build around moving forward. There is no way of knowing what will happen and the day is always full of surprises so that makes it exciting.
Trades in the OHL can be tough. Deals are talked about all the time but you have to try and fit certain pieces to the puzzle to help you become a winner. A GM is always evaluating their roster seeing who fits and who doesn’t. Sometimes players don’t fit in some organizations but flourish in others with opportunity. When a trade happens it can be tough on everyone involved because players are at a young age in the OHL and it is an emotional time. In the end you just want what is best for the player and their career.

When considering draft-eligible players, what qualities stand out for you, both on the ice and off-ice?  What advice would you give to an aspiring elite hockey player?
My advice to young players looking to further their career and take it to the next level is control what you can control. You can only truly control three things, work ethic, preparation, and attitude. If you do these three things properly good things will happen for you. Getting caught up in the political side of things in your draft year will hurt your cause and your career. After being drafted don’t sit and be happy with your accomplishment of being an OHL draft pick as someone is always gunning for your job. If you’re a second round pick, the 15th round pick in that draft from the same team will be in the gym or working on his game to take that spot you want and think you have. After minor hockey is over there are no sure things and the hard work and adversity truly starts.
We always look to draft players that have a high compete level on the ice and are high character kids that come from good families off of the ice. Character and compete will get you farther in a career than a player with just pure skill and nothing to compliment it.

If you were to give some advice to an aspiring hockey operation staffer, what would you say?
My advice to an aspiring staffer like I mentioned earlier is to work as hard as you can and make as many connections as you can along the way. It is very hard to get these positions as they are highly coveted jobs, but very worthwhile when attaining one. There will be lots of times when you think it won’t happen for you and you will want to quit and look to do something else, but if you are truly passionate about this and want to do this for a career you will block that out and keep pushing forward. One thing I do find is that a lot of people think it will come easy and quickly for them, but the reality is it will not. Just like players the industry wants good people that put in the time and work to become better what they do. Always make sure to present yourself properly and meet as many people as possible. Any chance you get to add to your resume do it as it is one step closer to attaining your goal. It’s a long journey but very rewarding when it happens.

Do you have a hockey mentor? How have they helped you realize your goals?
I don’t think I have anyone person specifically I could point to, but rather many people I have leaned on for information and advice over the years. I owe a lot of where I am now to the Barrie Colts organization for giving me the chance to show myself and helping advance me along the way. Jason Ford (Barrie’s GM), Marty Williamson (Niagara Ice Dogs coach and former coach in Barrie), Dale Hawerchuk (Barrie’s coach), and Darryl Woodley (Head of OHL Central Scouting and former Barrie Head Scout) are four people that have helped get me to where I am now and have guided me along the way.
Dick Garber and Craig Goslin in Saginaw helped me realize my goal and dream to be a GM as they believed in myself and hired me for this position. They are tremendous people to work for and I could not ask for better ownership. You can lean on either one of them at any time and they are always there for the organization putting others ahead of themselves. It really motivates you to do whatever it takes to win for people like this, and that’s the expectation I put on myself.

Dave Drinkill
General Manager
Saginaw Spirit
Ontario Hockey League

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