If you listen to a trio of Bill Guerin’s former teammates, the Wild is getting just what it needs.
“He was a great teammate – he stuck up for guys and scored goals,’’ Ben Hankinson, a former New Jersey Devils teammate, said at Da Beauty League on Wednesday night.
“He’s one of those guys you hated playing with but loved to have on your team,’’ added Chris McAlpine, who played with Guerin for two seasons in New Jersey.
“You knew what you were going to get every night from him,’’ echoed Tom Chorske, a three-year Devils teammate of Guerin’s. “It was a pleasure an honor to play with him.’’
Guerin, of course, won’t be playing for the Wild, which on Wednesday hired the 48-year-old Pittsburgh Penguins assistant general manager to be the fourth GM in team history. But those attributes that helped the Wilbraham, Mass., native score 429 goals and amass 856 points in an 18-year NHL will translate well in leading the Wild, according to those ex-teammates.
“On the other side of it, management, he’s paid his dues – scouted, built teams through the minors and through the draft in Pittsburgh, and he’s won [the Stanley Cup] there a couple of times,’’ said Hankinson, who played minor-league hockey with Guerin at Utica of the AHL before both were called up to the Devils. “Everybody knows him, likes him and respects him, and he’s going to do very well.’’
Hankinson also knows Guerin as an opponent. As an agent for Octagon Hockey, the former Gopher has matched wits with Guerin during contract negotiations for players such as Jake Guentzel.
“He knows when to pull the hammer out and when to use it,’’ Hankinson said. “It’s been fun dealing with him. He’s going to be a good hockey mind.’’
McAlpine, who also works Octagon, was thrilled with the Wild’s decision to hire Guerin and expects him to succeed where previous GM Paul Fenton, who was fired on July 30, didn’t.
“He’s played a long time and with a lot of guys and had a lot of success as a player. That’s not by coincidence,’’ McAlpine said. “This is a guy who comes and makes people better around him. … You’ll see the difference right away on how he interacts with players.’’
Chorske recalled how Guerin was part of the Devils team that progressed in the early 1990s, advancing to the Eastern Conference Final in 1994 only to lose to the New York Rangers in double overtime in Game 7. The next year, it was the Devils who were hoisting the Stanley Cup. That, he said, will help as a manager.
“He had such a long [playing] career, and that experience alone is huge. That gives him another level of expertise,’’ Chorske said. “Particularly in this organization, he steps in as one of the most decorated general managers that they’ve had. That’s going to carry some weight. There’s a linage there around the league that is important as well. He’s been mentored by some of the best minds in hockey – people like Mario Lemieux, other GMs like Ray Shero and Jim Rutherford.’’
Guerin’s gregarious personality – “He’s still a good-time Charlie,’’ Chorske said – addresses a key area for the Wild, too.
“I really thought they’d need someone who can connect with the fanbase and the hockey community here,’’ Chorske said. “There’s been a fair amount of trust that’s been lost in the relationship between the fanbase and media and organization. Billy, more than anyone, will be able to reestablish that relationship and that connection, because that’s the kind of guy he is.’’
Hankinson knows that Guerin has a serious side, too.
“They’re looking for someone to figure out how to get a Stanley Cup to Minnesota,’’ he said. “They’ve got a lot of work to do, and he knows what works. He’s not going to be afraid to put on the work boots, wear gloves and start swinging the sledgehammer around.
“He might not be popular on some of the things he might do in the room,’’ Hankinson added, “but at the end of the day, he’s all about doing what he can to put the team first.’’