One Door Closes, Another One Opens

After An Injury Ended Blake Geoffrion’s Playing Career, He Found Another Way To Stay In The Game

 

Blake Geoffrion continued a family legacy while at the same time becoming a hockey trailblazer. Then, before he reached his prime playing days, it was all taken away.

But hockey is in his blood. Deep in his blood. 

And, after one door to a promising hockey career closed, he opened a second one that is giving him another chance to make an impact at the NHL level. 

The 30-year-old recently began his second season as a Chicago-based pro scout for the Columbus Blue Jackets and the assistant general manager of the team's American Hockey League affiliate, the Cleveland Monsters.

"It was pretty unfortunate, and I miss the game from a playing perspective," Geoffrion admitted. "There were a lot of unknowns and things I wanted to see if I could accomplish. But, at the same time, I'm a big believer that things happen for a reason in this world. 

"I'll also say, in conjunction with that, I'm probably as happy as I've been in my life as far as my job, my family [wife Katelyn and infant daughter Blake Madison], where we live, etc. I'm not one to say, 'Oh, I wish it hadn't happened.' I try to take everything in stride, take the positives and negatives from it and keep moving forward to the next task or next adventure."

Geoffrion earned a spot with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program and turned enough heads to be taken in the NHL Draft. The first player in the storied history of the University of Wisconsin to win the Hobey Baker Award, he became the first Tennessean and the second player from the American South to play in the NHL. 

Geoffrion followed in the footsteps of his great grandfather Howie Morenz, grandfather Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion and father Danny Geoffrion to become the first fourth-generation player in the NHL when he made his debut with Nashville in 2011. His brief NHL career included eight goals (including a hat trick) and 13 points in 55 games split between the Predators and Montreal Canadiens.

But Geoffrion decided to step away from the game seven months after a scary injury on Nov. 9, 2012. 

While playing for the Canadiens' AHL affiliate, the Hamilton Bulldogs, he took a center-ice hit from Syracuse defenseman Jean-Philipe Cote. Both players fell to the ice, and Geoffrion's head landed on Cote's skate, causing a depressed skull fracture above his left ear that required emergency surgery. 

"It was a clean hit, and it was probably a one-in-a-billion thing that happened after the hit," Geoffrion said. "I kind of came in with my head down, and he delivered a clean hit. It's just unfortunate how it all concluded. 

"J.P. called me to apologize and I told him, 'Hey, man, no problem. It was a good hit. No hard feelings at all. Everything will be fine. Thanks for the call.' It was a pretty short call, but I appreciated him reaching out."

When it became apparent he would have to retire from the game, Geoffrion decided to put his degree in business and consumer science from the University of Wisconsin to use. He accepted a position with Korn Ferry, a global executive consulting firm.

"I kind of told myself that I stayed all four years in college for a reason and I got my degree for a reason," Geoffrion said. "I wanted to see what it was like in the corporate world."

After two years with Korn Ferry, he realized he missed the game and decided to pursue a career in hockey management. His experience in the corporate world, albeit short, translated to the front office in Columbus.

"I learned so much about hiring the right people and looking for the attributes a successful company really needs. It helped me understand what structures work, from a leadership perspective," he said. "All the things I learned in the executive search industry have definitely helped me as I continue to climb the ranks in hockey." 

Geoffrion's resume as an NHL player and in the corporate world impressed the Blue Jackets' brass that includes president John Davidson, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen and assistant general manager Bill Zito. It didn't hurt that Zito served as Geoffrion's agent before joining the Columbus staff.

"I think a lot of Blake, both on a technical hockey level, as well as on a personal level," Zito said. "In terms of his background as a player, it's tough to do much better than playing in the National Hockey League. But what really has impressed me is that, at every juncture of his life where he's had an opportunity to learn, he's surrounded himself by great people to teach him. 

"He's always provoking, always asking questions and always learning. He's like a sponge. For him, every day is a learning day. He has the substance and the background and he continues to use his enthusiasm and energy to build and develop. And shouldn't we all take a lesson like that as we approach our jobs?"

Geoffrion now learns from a diverse hockey operations staff while juggling the responsibilities of assisting with contract negotiations, scouting and player evaluation, salary cap management and team budgeting. 

Davidson had a long career as an NHL goaltender, television analyst and team builder. Kekalainen became the first European to become an NHL general manager. And Zito understands the game from an agent's perspective.

"Any time you're on the management side, it's your ultimate goal to run your own team one day and be a decision maker. That's what I hope to do some day," Geoffrion said. 

"It's a tough job to acquire, but I have some incredible mentors to learn from. All three of them are great people and great leaders with diverse backgrounds who balance each other out. It's superlative to be in a position where I can learn from all of them." 

 


 

Jim Leitner is the sports editor of the Dubuque (Iowa) Telegraph Herald.

 

Issue: 
2019-01

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