Well, got to hand it to the Victoria Royals: they did a heck of job keeping their announcement Friday a secret. It wasn’t until about 15 minutes until the Royals introduced Cameron Hope as the new General Manager of the team that the first information was out about who would replace Marc Habscheid in that role. Jim Matheson, long-time Oilers beat writer for the Edmonton Journal, tweeted Hope would be named GM.
Hope comes to the Royals after he spent seven years, from 2004-11, working as part of the New York Rangers’ management team. Hope, who is from Edmonton, was originally hired as the Rangers’ Vice President of Hockey Administration, and then was promoted to Assistant General Manager in 2007.
Hope earned a law degree from the University of Alberta in 1988 and represented the Canadian Football League Players’ Association. He’s also a former professional race car driver and performance-driving instructor. He resumed his law career after his departure from the Rangers.
Here’s my conversation with Cameron on being hired as the General Manager of the Royals:
Cameron Hope: I think it’s great. I can’t imagine a more exciting opportunity. In the time I’ve gotten to know (Royals Owner) Graham (Lee) in the last couple of weeks and it’s contagious, in terms of what he’s trying to do with this team.
Q: What do you want to do with this team, now that you’re in charge?
CH: Well, the obvious answer is win. Part of the bigger picture with all of this, of course, is that you’re trying to create a franchise that everyone can be proud of, that players are going to want to play for, and that everyone turns to and goes ‘you know what, if there’s a place to play in the Western Hockey League, you should think about Victoria. I think the way to do that is to make sure that you are committed to it, that you don’t cut corners and make sure that every aspect of the organization is on the same page and working hard to make it happen. I think we’ve already got some good things in place here, it’s a terrific city, it’s a great arena, we’ve got a committed ownership, a great staff, it is tailor made to become something that is not just a fun time at the rink, but a winning franchise.
Q: At what point did you start to get the interest to come to Victoria?
CH: I had left the Rangers in the summer of 2011 and I was back in Edmonton and I really didn’t have a thought about working in hockey. I had rejoined with a group of guys that I had practiced law with for a number of years and were great guys and I was in a great situation. My family is there, my parents and my sister. And out of left field came Graham and this crazy idea that he needed a General Manager that sort of fit a certain profile that fit the parameters of what I thought a hockey team should be all about. What seemed like a crazy idea at first then became a better idea, then once I got to know a lot more about the guys here and the organization and the building and the place, very familiar with Victoria, my wife’s family is out here and it all started to add up. It added up to more than the sum of its parts and was too much to resist.
Q: What are the biggest things you take from the NHL level to here?
CH: I think you take different things from different people you work with. Overall, the level of dedication and professionalism there is to a common goal at the pro level is something that just pervades the entire organization from top to bottom, particularly with the New York Rangers, which is a fantastic franchise with a fantastic tradition. But it really comes down to the people and having an opportunity to work with Glen Sather, who teaches you things like patience, innovation and how to deal with people. Having the opportunity to work with (Phoenix Coyotes General Manager) Don Maloney until he went to Phoenix, where you learn what hard work and communication is all about and where rubber hits the road in hockey. You start to internalize those things after a while and you get a feeling for what you think works.
Q: Where are you as far as familiarity with the players that you have now?
CH: Yah, just getting started. I know a little bit about the players. I haven’t watched even one minute of Royals’ hockey from last year, so I’ve got a steep learning curve there. But I’m anxious to get started today, in fact. I’ve been talking to the scouts the last couple of days, talking to the coaches, (Royals’ Assistant Coach) Enio (Sacilotto) about things here. But I’ve really got to get myself up to speed and that is the next step. Sorry, the second next step after hiring a new Head Coach.
Q: How close are you to hiring a new Head Coach?
CH: It’s hard to say, you have to let the process take the time that it takes. We want to be absolutely right about this, this is a critical decision and I don’t think we can go wrong with some of the excellent guys who have put their foot forward and have expressed interest in the job, but we just want to be sure. I would say on the outside, a week or two, hopefully sooner than that.
Q: What kind of team and its style of play do you want to see on the ice?
CH: Well, it depends. I’d like a winning team. A lot of times it comes down to what kind of players you have and what the coach thinks you’re going to have to do to make your team win. But I grew up in Edmonton in the 70’s and 80’s when it was Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier and Paul Coffey and it was fire-wagon hockey, so I love that kind of hockey. Most of all, I just like good hockey. Hockey is the greatest game in the world and no matter how it’s played, particularly at the junior level, where players are exceptionally motivated, young and learning, it’s terrific. We’ll see how the coaches decide the team should play, but my preference is to make it as exciting as possible.
Q: Training camp starts in a month and a half, how much are you looking forward to seeing the players on the ice for the first time?
CH: Can’t wait, I just can’t wait. As much fun as it is to talk about what hockey is off the ice, it’s way more fun when the game is on the ice, so I can’t wait.
Also a chat with Royals Owner Graham Lee, who introduced Hope to the media today.
Q: What was the process like in making the decision to hire Cameron Hope?
Graham Lee: We went through a lot of different candidates and talked to a lot of them and they were all qualified. I just felt that Cam really had the same vision we had in developing a championship team and first class organization. He’s had experience all the way up to the NHL and he knows what it takes to develop and train players, and create a really good environment for them to succeed.
Q: What is that vision?
GL: We want to make sure that the environment here is the best a player can experience at our level. Whether it’s education, training, billeting, transportation, we want them to feel really good about playing here. We want them to be telling people that this is the place to play and we want to develop our alumni as time goes on here. Just create a really long legacy for the team.
Q: How extensive was the search for a General Manager?
GL: Well there were a lot of guys and they were all really qualified and good guys and it was tough to choose. But I really enjoyed talking to them all, they were all interested in coming here, they were interested in the league, they were interested in our team. So I think that was a real tribute to the city and the league itself?
Q: With the hiring of a Head Coach, is that all in Cam’s hands or are you in that process as well?
GL: I know what’s going on and I’ve been assembling a list because a lot of them have been approaching me, but I’m passing those on to Cam and I want him to make that decision. But I will be advising him once he makes that recommendation, but I’ll leave it up to him to make the final decision.