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Old 05-22-2020, 10:58 PM   #1
CaptainCrunch
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Default Jiri Hrdina takes the long view in Minnesota (A Hockey Chat Interview)

Story courtesy of the Hockeychat website




When one thinks of the history of hockey in Canada, it is a game that reached massive popularity from coast to coast with players coming from every province and territory, with most major cities having a distinct and massive hockey footprint.


In the United States the popular sentiment is to focus around the cities of the Original Six, with New York, Boston, New York and Detroit dominating the hockey landscape. But the State of Minnesota dominates the US landscape, from a who’s who list of players that came to the NHL from the land of lakes to its famous university programs, while the major cities were certainly the appendages of the US Hockey, Minnesota is the heart of US Hockey.
Minnesota has had long history of professional hockey teams from the St Paul Athletic Club in the early 19’s that sent players to win the silver medal in the 1920 Olympics to the present day Minnesota Wild.



That long history is why we are talking to Jiri Hrdina the long time and only GM of the CPHL’s Minnesota Wild and respected senior member the CPHL brain trust.


(Writer’s note – I’ve known and worked with Grant on multiple different projects, from the famous GoSTampsGo podcast, to an appearance on CP’s podcast, to the first time I met him in person when he interviewed me on the radio for a show he was running that I think was called HelpWanted where we talked about recruiting practices, I count him as one of my favorite people that I’ve met in person from CalgaryPuck so I really enjoyed doing this, anyways back to fake reality)


We sat down in his office at the St Paul Arena to talk about Jiri’s love of sports, and hockey and his views on his team the Minnesota Wild.


Jiri is a self admitted hockey nut who has been a fan of hockey since he was a young man. He grew up as a Flames fan and talked about the infamous Flames/Oilers rivalries when he was growing up. We talked about his worst rivalry memory.


“My worst memory was the Flames blowing a 3-0 lead v. the Oilers in Game 7, thanks to a softy on Vernon, with Tikk eventually ending it in OT. Really though seeing the team lose in 3 straight game 7 OTs SUCKED.”
He also grew up playing ball hockey and continued to play it until fairly recently.


“I played a great deal of ball hockey, in many leagues. I loved it. But it is also how I severely injured my knee forcing me to give up team sports altogether. I miss it dearly.”


But while he eventually had to give it up he his favorite memory of the game still stands out to this day.


“My ball hockey teams went on a strong run of championships. My favorite moment was beating our arch rivals in the championship game by 10 goals, after which the team was so upset they completely disbanded. They were a bunch of idiots, and I like to think that we humiliated them to the point that we basically retired them.”


He also talked about his favorite moment that came from hockey.


“I had an 8 goal game once, which was pretty bad-ass.”


Hockey and Sports was also instrumental in opening up his imagination when it came to his career choices as he talked about Hockey leading him into his career in broadcasting.



His competitive spirit, and his love of the game taught him a valuable life lesson that he carried into his life and his day to day operation of both the Wild and the CPHL


“If you are going to do something, do it all out. No half-measures.”
We turned our conversation away from the personal side of hockey and slid over to his role as the GM of the Wild. Hired by the Wild when the CPHL was formed, Jiri has been a cornerstone of the league for over 15 years where he’s won 3 division, 4 conference championships and a Stanley Cup in 2007.



When we talked about the ins and outs of his current team as he works diligently to prepare for the CPHL draft and free agency period, he was candid about how he felt about his current collection of talent.


“I love having a group of strong prospects. The draft for me is the highlight of the entire season, and over the year I like to think I have drafted really well. Remarkably, my choices at the top of the draft (Pool-party, Strome, Hanifin) have not been great, but I’ve done very well in the 2nd and beyond. I’m worried about my goaltending as Gibson could get a brutal re-rate.”


Everything for Jiri goes back to a philosophy of long-term planning while providing the fans of the Wild with a team that is competitive year after year.


“I’m definitely a builder, but I try to compete every year. I built up enough of a prospect base that every year I can move out vets, to make room for lower priced rookies, and in turn – acquire more picks and prospects. I’ve been able to create a pin-wheel such that I should have a strong team for a very long time. But I’ve only one a single cup, and that team had a lot of veterans. The sim favors experience in the playoffs, and my approach may limit my ability to actually win more cups. So I’m probably my own worst enemy. But if someone offers me a sweet prospect or high pick I just can’t resist it.”


Looking back on his history though Jiri has had a plethora of successful moves, but he still remembers one trade that really paid off for him.


“This goes back a long way but trading Brendan Morrow and Alex Steen for Evgeni Malkin really was a key move to set my organization up for a long time.”


Jiri though is the first to admit that not every movie works out the way he thought it would.


“There’s a few where I made really good draft picks and then soon after traded those players, including because I had to trim my roster. I think that happened with Eberle, Erik Karlsson and Kris Letang. I also signed Jaccob Slavin as a free agent (yay) and then traded him for a conditional 4th round pick (WTF)”


He's picked up players that he had extremely high hopes for and it just didn’t work out."


“At one point I had Crosby, Malkin and Ovechkin together, which I thought would be awesome. They were all in their primes. They were awful together.”
In his role as a builder with an eye towards a strong prospect pool and prudent drafting and deals, he spent a few minutes looking at what he has right now and who stands out to him.


“I love my young D core of Hughes, Makar and Byram. I think they are all special player. I think my most under-rated prospect is Adam Backman. He’s a guy I drafted a little later but I will hang on to because I think he’s going to be a heckuva player – but he’s one that not many people know.”


Going back to his days playing sports and his time playing ball hockey and his competitive nature, its only natural to see if he has a CPHL rivalry or a GM that he compares himself to or has to beat.


“Goffie and I have similar approaches to building our teams, so probably him.”


Toward the end of the interview we went into a discussion around the CPHL and concerns around the league and hockey due to the Covid-19 Pandemic and its effect on the game.


“From a league point of view, I hope the NHL finds a way back, in a safe way. The ramifications long-term of a missed NHL season, plus developmental leagues, on our fantasy league, are pretty big. And I worry about sustained interest across our GMs if that’s the case, though I’ve been encouraged by the activity this off-season so far.”


The fun thing about the CPHL and its GM is that it’s a diverse group of hockey executives each with a different approach to their team and their viewpoint of the game and its effect on their lives. Its what makes the game of hockey great, and the CPHL fun. No approach is wrong, and no strategy is incorrect. Its what make the CPHL a great representation of life and business. But at the end of the day, you have to feel good for the fans of Minnesota Wild Hockey in the steady hands of Jiri Hrdina.
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Old 05-22-2020, 11:04 PM   #2
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Oh man I forgot about Help Wanted!
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Old 05-22-2020, 11:08 PM   #3
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Another great interview, keep it up Captain
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Old 05-23-2020, 04:16 PM   #4
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Great read. Thanks for posting.
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Old 05-23-2020, 06:25 PM   #5
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Satisfactory read, you can do better...
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Old 05-23-2020, 08:04 PM   #6
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Ouch that hurts.
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Old 05-24-2020, 09:11 AM   #7
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I agree that we have the same philosophy of how to build a team. I am also blinded by my own stubbornness of having too young a lineup. Although last season I loaded up on vets and still couldn’t beat Lars Eller and Teddy Bluegar.

I often compare myself to the Wild in the standings and it is a lot like the Pens. Some years were good and some bad standings wise but also with a similar type of team.

I am trying a new philosophy or actual CPHL roster makeup in Montreal. But we shall see if we can have better sim results.
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Old 05-24-2020, 09:15 AM   #8
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Yeah the sim loves vets for some reason. So need a good mix of vets and youth and then hope for good luck!
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