The Carillon - ONLINE EDITION
By: Terry Frey
Posted: 07/12/2018 11:39 AM
Few people may be aware that the ground floor of the contract negotiations for Winnipeg Jets goaltending superstar Connor Hellebuyck are taking place right here in Steinbach.
Steinbach’s Ray Petkau has been a player agent since 2001, and his growing stable of NHL players that he advises, most noteworthy James Reimer, whom he discovered, now includes the likes of Connor Hellebuyck.
Petkau, through his two companies, Alpha Management Group (Alpha Hockey Inc.) and NET360, have been experts in the development of some of the NHL’s elite goaltenders, such as Minnesota Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk, after training with their programs at Kelowna, B.C.
Two of his most recent clients, two Manitoba players both selected in the seventh round of last month’s NHL entry draft, are Jermaine Loewen from Arborg, taken by the Dallas Stars, and of course Steinbach Pistons’ star goaltender Matthew Thiessen, now the property of the Vancouver Canucks.
This all seems like pretty heady stuff, happening right under our noses here in Steinbach. Especially when considering the timely and sensitive contract negotiations that Petkau is conducting with the Jets to get Hellebuyck signed to a long-term deal.
Hellebuyck is currently slated to go to arbitration later this month in Toronto, but Petkau is confident that they can get a deal signed before that.
In fact, during an interview with The Carillon at his Steinbach office late last week, his cell phone buzzed and Petkau looked up and said, "I’ll get back to him later, that was Jets’ assistant GM Larry Simmons." They were going back and forth on the Hellebuyck negotiations.
A short time later, Petkau’s phone buzzed again, "it’s Reims," he said. That would be Florida Panthers goaltender James Reimer, who he discovered at a church hockey tournament when he was 13 or 14, the EM Cup to be exact, and the rest is history as he has carved out a nice NHL career, first with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and now with the Panthers. "I’ll get back to him later," taking as much time as needed with this local scribe, fascinated that this is a normal occurrence at his Steinbach office.
Many people in Steinbach and area know Ray Petkau, this is his hometown, played minor hockey here, his wife is a teacher at the SRSS and they have four children, his oldest just graduated.
Petkau, 43, says this is where he and his family have their roots, "we like it here, friends, family, church, schools, Steinbach is home." This came after a question whether there are those in the industry that ask why he remains in Steinbach. "I get asked that all the time."
Why not, and in this day and age you can work from anywhere, and he’s only an hour away from the airport. That is an important aspect as his job requires extensive travel. Among his travel requirements, he visits all of his clients three times during the season, wherever they may be. He is on the road about 100 days a year.
He was busy in June as he travelled to Las Vegas for the NHL player awards (Hellebuyck was up for the Vezina) and then went to the NHL draft in Dallas, which he attends every year. And this time of year is also always hectic with contract negotiations.
He owns a training facility in Kelowna together with his partner Adam Francilia, who has helped to develop and worked with high performance athletes for the past 20 years.
Petkau spends most of the summer in Kelowna with his family, where all of his clients and others attend and train at their facilities. Matthew Thiessen has attended a camp there for the past three years and is back in Kelowna now for another week of training after just completing the Vancouver Canucks development camp.
Other goaltenders that Petkau represents is Thomas Greiss of the New York Islanders, who is currently playing on a three-year $10 million contract, Eddie Lack of the New Jersey Devils, and new Winnipeg Jets goaltender Laurent Brossoit, who will be a back-up to Hellebuyck. Petkau says there is really no conflict with the fact he represents both goaltenders as they are at different stages of their NHL careers.
Among the other players he represents includes forward David Booth of the Detroit Red Wings and defenceman Cody Franson of the Chicago Blackhawks.
He has numerous other players in the AHL and elsewhere, up and comers such as Jermaine Loewen and Matthew Thiessen, in different stages of their development and careers.
Petkau says he remains a small company by choice and prefers to work with a small group of players but admits that is becoming more difficult as some of his clients become more successful.
Two cases in point are Devan Dubnyk and Connor Hellebuyck.
Dubnyk had moderate success over five years with the Edmonton Oilers. But then over the next two years, he drifted between the NHL and AHL, with his career future in question. Then he attended the NET360 and PRO360 camps in Kelowna under the direction of Francilia and it literally turned his career around as he has become one of the top goaltenders over the past four seasons with the Minnesota Wild. "Adam had a big impact on his career," said Petkau.
Two years ago with the Jets, who missed the playoffs that year, a lot of criticism was heaped on Hellebuyck by Jets’ fans who placed a lot of the blame on the Jets missing the playoffs, on the goaltender.
At the end of that season Petkau targeted Hellebuyck as someone they could help, such as they did with Devan Dubnyk. Hellebuyck subsequently spent much of last summer at Kelowna working with their program, and the results, as everyone knows were simply spectacular as he was among the very best goaltenders in the NHL this past season.
It was Petkau who advised Hellebuyck to only a sign a one-year deal last year and instead go for a longer pact after this season. Well, we all know how that worked out. Hellebuyck is poised to sign a long-term deal that will pay him millions per season.
"I met with Connor two days after last season, I targeted him, I knew we could help him, his turnaround has been remarkable. He has trusted our plan and training programs."
As for Matthew Thiessen, Petkau says the Canucks are very high on him. He says their goaltending coach Dan Cloutier had him rated as one of the top goaltenders available in the draft.
And while Petkau heads off to the sunny Okanagan for the summer, continuing to develop his already burgeoning business, there is still no word on a Connor Hellebuyck signing, at least at this writing. So we wait, as do all Jets fans. And no doubt, that phone is still buzzing.
(Editors Note: This story was written Wednesday morning, one day before the Jets announced they had inked Connor Hellebuyck to a six-year $37 million contract.)
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