Roy key in developing young talent

He’s become a pivotal figure for a franchise that has embraced the draft and development model — and slowly built a contender that looks like it’s here for the long haul.

And he’s someone who needs no introduction to local hockey fans.

Jimmy Roy spent nine years with the Manitoba Moose between 1997 and 2006, becoming the heart and soul of the team while giving it his all on a nightly basis. After heading overseas for five more seasons to finish up his pro career, Roy was brought back into the fold by True North to take on a mentor role after NHL hockey came back to town.

Now six seasons into his role as the Winnipeg Jets’ co-ordinator of player development, the 43-year-old native of Sioux Lookout, Ont., took some time Friday to reflect on the end of yet another summer camp in which 30 young prospects were put through the paces both on and off the ice.

“I was just talking about it the other day, I think when I got my first invitation to training camp, a plane ticket just showed up in the mail because there was no email or anything like that. I went, ‘Oh, I guess I’m going to training camp.’ It’s changed a lot,” said Roy, who was drafted in the 10th round (254th overall) in the 1994 draft by Dallas, but never played a regular-season NHL game.

Roy played in a franchise-record 603 regular-season games with the Moose, with 101 goals, 111 assists and 1,434 penalty minutes.

“I think Mike (Keane, assistant in player development) and I take a lot of pride in our jobs, in trying to build relationships with kids and trying to help them develop and becoming NHL players,” Roy said.

There are several major success stories already, of course. Players such as Kyle Connor, Josh Morrissey and Connor Hellebuyck all went through the process, with Roy being there to help guide them.

It means plenty of long winter days, and nights, for Roy, who makes a point of visiting prospects as often as possible when they’re playing in junior, college or even pro overseas.

He’s now based out of California, but spends much of the hockey season on the road, away from his wife and kids.

“When we first started this, we were brand new into it. I never had a player development coach when I was playing, (Keane) never had one. So we were like OK, what can we do to be an extension of our NHL and AHL coaches to help players,” Roy said.

“I think this organization has done a really good job of trying to establish the culture here that we want players to understand and become a Winnipeg Jet. I think development camp is kind of the start of that, or an extension of how things have grown here over the years.

“Just by us, Keaner, myself, the coaching staff, management, talking to players and building that relationship, it makes it so much easier down the road when you go to training camp or go to see them or are communicating through phone calls and emails. It’s much, much more easier.”

Not every player reaches their ultimate goal. This past week, for example, the Jets cut ties with former draft picks in Jamie Phillips, Jan Kostalek and Jimmy Lodge. These are all players Roy and others had invested plenty of time in, only to have it not work out.

“Yeah, probably some disappointment. If there’s players that don’t move on or pan out, I think Keaner and I more or less, we sit back and evaluate how can we make it better, what can we do, how did we fail? What can we do better with a certain kid coming in next time? We talk about stuff like that all the time. I think that’s a big part of development, too, is how do you improve your program to make the players better,” Roy said.

There’s just as much focus put on off-ice activities during development camp. This week Roy took the troops to a cooking class at DeLuca’s, an escape room, and co-ordinated sessions that include topics like fitness, nutrition and media training.

“I think there’s a little bit of a message there, to them, about the process and things like that. Development and some things they need to work on that we’ll try to communicate to them through the season and moving forward,” Roy said.

There’s also the other part of the process of us getting to know them a little bit and building a relationship and seeing them in an environment like this, at the rink.”

“We try and communicate with them about being here to help reinforce the culture and trusting the process and taking some things from the on-ice stuff, take them home and make sure you work on them in the summertime and not just pack up and leave and say ‘OK, that’s another development camp.”

“Honestly, put an effort into doing those things in the summertime, and I think for the most part they do.”

One of the big changes at development camp was made a couple years ago when Jets head coach Paul Maurice and his coaching staff began coming on the ice. Roy said it’s important the prospects get hands-on training from the best.

“They’re the ones that get on the ice with the players, and the players get to know them a little bit, and then they get to teach things that they see in the best players in the world. So they’re trying to relay that message to the young players, saying this is what we work on in the NHL and this is what players are good at. I think having them on the ice has been a huge benefit for the camp,” he said.

Like every year, Roy and Keane will now sit down with other brass and evaluate how the week went and what they saw and learned.

They will then formulate a detailed plan for the year ahead to monitor everyone going forward.

“You know what, I think I’m very lucky to be with this organization as long as I have. I think I’ve worked very hard to be a part of it and I’ve enjoyed it. I hope that I get to see this club move to the next level, and that’s what we’re all trying to do,” Roy said.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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