As soon as word spread on Wednesday that 25-year-old Kyle Dubas was to be hired as the new general manager of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, the blood was in the water.
Sharks were circling the young GM in an attempt to steal an easy bite out of his Greyhounds roster. Still cautious on his first day on the job, Dubas would only say the trade offers received from some of his new peers have been "interesting."
"One thing I'm not, is stupid," said Dubas on Friday after being officially announced as GM.
He is however, young and used to being underestimated. At 20 he was already a certified NHLPA agent with an established firm and prior to that he had been scouting for the Greyhounds.
"When people underestimate you, they let their guard down," said Dubas. "This is a very proud city and a very proud organization and anybody who underestimates us will be making a very regrettable decision."
The Soo is a proud franchise, but one that has fallen on hard times lately after missing the playoffs in two of the last three years. This season they underachieved to finish with the worst record (24-36-5-3) in the Western Conference. Still, Dubas said he's inheriting an "excellent" team from his predecessor Dave Torrie who was let go at the end of the 2010-11 campaign after eight years with the organization. Most of the team is eligible to return next season, including top scorers Daniel Catenacci (71 points) and Nick Cousins (68 points), meaning expectations for Dubas and his team will be high right from the start.
At the press conference to introduce Dubas, roughly 75 media and members of the community turned up to see the man who will either be the franchise's new saviour or latest scapegoat. The Sault Ste. Marie native said he understands the apprehension some fans might have about his age.
"I understand why people are critical," said Dubas. "They would have been more comfortable with someone who had been in the league for years and when you get outside people's comfort zones they get nervous and they get critical. It's up to me to show them that the belief the organization has put into me… was warranted. I don't expect the fans to give me any grace or anything like that. The fans are very passionate and they support this team until the bitter end and they have the right to whatever opinion they want.
"It's up to me to have those people trust me."
And so far he's received support from his players. He said no one has asked for a trade and no prospective prospects have told him they won't report - yet. Last season Dubas' agency had six players on the Greyhounds and despite the fact that three were eventually traded he believes the team as a whole had the opportunity to judge his work.
Articulate and bright, Dubas also wants parents to know that just because he's young doesn't mean he'll be letting his players run wild around the Soo.
"If they make a mistake, they're going to know about it and there are going to be repercussions," said Dubas of his team. "The players here won't get away with anything without facing repercussions and if they are of poor character then they won't last long here – probably not until the end of training camp."
Steve Spott, the head coach and GM of the Kitchener Rangers, believes that Dubas' age won't be an issue. The 43-year-old got his first OHL job at age 28 as an assistant with the Plymouth Whalers franchise. He remembers that current Carolina Hurricanes bench boss, Paul Maurice, was promoted as head coach of the then Detroit Jr. Red Wings when he was only 26, and the following year – when Jr. Wings GM Jim Rutherford left for the NHL – he was given the job of GM as well. Former NHL coach, Peter DeBoer, who eventually served as head coach and GM in Kitchener and Plymouth also got his start at age 26.
"I think it's great because I look at where I got my start – as did Peter DeBoer and Paul Maurice – and that was with Compuware and the Whalers at the time," said Spott. "We were all in our 20s so for Peter DeBoer and Paul Maurice and myself it was all about opportunity and not the age.
"It's not about the number, it's about being able to get the job done."
Dubas' first job will be the hiring of a new coach and he also plans on hiring a director or player development to help his players achieve their full potential in terms of their skills and strength and conditioning. He said he'd like to mimic the route taken by the Owen Sound Attack and Sudbury Wolves and focus more on hiring the right fit for his team, rather than just looking for a big name coach to garner headlines.
"They were the right coaches for the team, for what the team wanted to do," said Dubas of Attack coach Mark Reeds and Sudbury coach Trent Cull.
The new GM said he's been inundated with resumes and would like to have someone in place before the OHL's May 7 priority selection, but only if he finds the right person for the job.
"It's a decision that can't be rushed," said Dubas. "I need to make sure we find the right guy and if that's May 1, awesome. If it's July 1, I don't have a problem with that either."
Mississauga St. Michael's Majors head coach and GM Dave Cameron, who coached in the Soo for two seasons in the late 1990s, knows how demanding the fans in Sault Ste. Marie can be – and even at the best of times there's no pleasing everyone.
"You're always going to be divided when there's a new hire," said Cameron. "You're going have your people who say, ‘Give him a chance, this is good way to go.' And then you're going to have those other people who say, ‘We want Scotty Bowman.' Usually the result is somewhere in between."
The 52-year-old OHL veteran believes as long as Dubas can adapt quickly to his new role in the league, he should be good.
"You earn your respect regardless of what criteria you're coming in with (to the job)," said Cameron. "If you're bringing a young guy in and he's a good communicator and he knows the league and everything he does turns out, then he'll be fine."
And in opening up those communication lines, Dubas wants fans to know that he'll be open and accessible -- whether it's through social media or standing in the concourse at the rink – right from Day One. He said he's a strong believer in using social media to connect to his community, even if that means being the only OHL GM with an active Twitter account (follow him at @KyleDubas).
"I know it's not the norm, but I'm fairly uncommon in everything I do."