If you ever grew up playing minor hockey, or any sport for that matter, you’d know that a certain level of professionalism is expected at all times, both on and off the playing surface. When it comes to playing at the pro level, the way one conducts oneself in that elite environment becomes even more relevant.
Professional athletes are always in the public eye and must learn to accept the fact that their personal lives are on full display and that any negative publicity could severely damage the reputation of any said organization that employs you – looking at you, Auston Matthews.
That’s why when we think of the relationships that are formed between NHL players and their coaching staff, most of us would see it as a strictly business affair.
And while this type of working partnership must hold true to an extent, there comes a time when business needs to be pushed aside for a minute so that a more personalized approach can be taken – case in point, the Ilya Mikheyev and Kyle Dubas’ story that came to light following an in-depth interview with Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston.
Mikheyev’s Scary Night
For those who are unaware of what happened, I will briefly touch on the matter, but a more thorough look at the situation and what transpired was already covered in an amazing post by THW’s Jim Parsons Sr., aka The Old Prof.
Essentially, Mikheyev got severely hurt when his wrist was cut deeply by a skate blade during a game against the New Jersey Devils, severing multiple tendons and an artery, which required immediate surgery. You can view that footage of the injury in the video below.
It was clearly a freak accident where nobody was at fault. Prompt care and treatment were provided by the Devils’ medical team to Mikheyev and he was transported to a hospital where he would further recover.
Most franchises would have likely stopped their care and due diligence after that and called it a job well done. They’d likely provide follow-up check-ins and therapy for the player to see how the healing progression was going, mostly so that they would know when they’d be fit to return. However, the Toronto Maple Leafs and general manager Kyle Dubas did not stop their efforts there.
Dubas Really a True Class Act
Mikheyev, who has only just begun his NHL career after signing a one-year deal with the Leafs, does not speak fluent English. On top of being in a country that is foreign to him, there was no family he could turn to in his time of need.
So, instead of leaving Mikheyev alone to ponder over whether or not his NHL career might be cut short, Dubas spent three days at Mikheyev’s bedside to keep him company in a time of what must have been sheer panic for the 25-year-old Russian.
He reportedly bought him clothes to wear and hung out with him while they watched the Canada versus Russia IIHF World Junior Championship game, as well as the Maple Leafs versus New York Rangers contest.
Now, this type of camaraderie is something that one might expect from a close friend or relative, but certainly not your GM. This is why I believe Dubas needs to be commended. Since his hiring in Toronto, there has been plenty of speculation as to whether or not the 34-year-old was fit for the job – he is the second-youngest general manager in NHL history after all.
He’s already taken plenty of flack from fans and media during his time with the Maple Leafs, be it for questionable spending of cap space, or delays in signing William Nylander and Mitch Marner to their respective contracts. Through it all, Dubas has withstood the onslaught and tirade, and in fact, comes out on the other side now a leader and role model.
The action shown by Dubas and the Maple Leafs’ organization is something that all GMs and coaching staffs throughout sports should aspire to replicate. In this world, far too often than not, players are seen more like a dollar figure, as opposed to humans.
The Importance of Dubas’ Actions Long Term
A simple friendly act such as this one by Dubas will go a long way when it comes to searching for future talent, as well as keeping their current players happy.
Believe it or not, one’s psychology plays an important role in hockey and so when there is tension among a team and frustrations are high, performance of the team gradually suffers.
However, when there is a sense of inclusion and unity in the locker room, players will feel more at ease knowing that their team will take care of them when it matters most. This type of leadership will no doubt strengthen the Maple Leafs in a way that will propel them further in the standings and as individual players.
At the end of the day, the future prospects of the Kontinental Hockey League, American Hockey League and Ontario Hockey League will look at the efforts of the Maple Leafs organization and when it comes to signing contracts, I believe they will be more likely to choose Toronto as their home.
Mikheyev’s agent, Dan Milstein, has already come forward to show his respect and admiration for Dubas. As someone who manages many different players in the KHL, this showing of support will create a ripple effect that may encourage others to sign with the Maple Leafs.
A kudos is definitely in order for Dubas, because with this selfless act, I believe the Maple Leafs are one step closer to reaching their fullest potential and all it took was a little kindness.