Panthers Exec Talks Inclusion in Hockey


This is an excerpt from a full interview done by Randy Uens and Mike Bonn on Total Sports Quinte Podcast. 

Brett Peterson is an NHL agent working with The Acme Group, which recently merged with the Orr Group under the umbrella of Wasserman, one of the largest Sports agencies in the world currently.  Brett is a former NCAA player at Boston College before turning pro in the AHL and then retiring and becoming an agent.

Uens: Brett, Can you provide a little background about yourself?

Peterson: So I was a BC (Boston College) guy but I grew up playing high school hockey in the Boston area.  Junior hockey was never really on my radar, it used to be the USHL would draft people, they would say we’ll call you.  I was driving by Omaha, and I remember as a kid I was like, why would I want to go to Omaha?  I want to go to BU (Boston University) or BC (Boston College). That’s in the middle of nowhere. We grew up knowing that we were going to go to one of those schools, if you were one of the better guys.  For me, it was a phenomenal experience, close to home, 45 minutes away.  Being able to be in the city but playing at a very high level.  I think the reason I ended up at BC more than one of the other schools that recruited me was that they were one of the only schools that didn’t show all the interest compared to some of the other schools, which made me want to go there more.  We had phenomenal teams; we played in a few Frozen Fours, obviously won a national championship right out of the gate, which was amazing.  BC had had a huge drought, BC hadn’t won it since 1949, and we won in 2001.  Prior to me getting there, they had gone to the finals three times in a row.  So it was a pretty special time there in Albany, New York, beating North Dakota in overtime.  Brian Gionta was on our team, Brooks Orpik, Kris Kolanos, our third line that year — we had Tony Voce who was the all-time leading scorer in the American League.  We had two first-round NHL draft picks.  It was just a really deep and fun team.  So it’s a great city, and I couldn’t say enough about going there.

Uens: We have kids now going through the decision making process of OHL vs. College hockey most of our locals want to go into the OHL, they get it drilled in their heads to go the OHL route because that is what they are exposed to. Could you explain your experience with BC and the NCAA? I always loved that atmosphere there at the BC barn and the crowd. Could you go into the support the team gets from the fans and how crazy it is there?

Peterson: The fan base — well, at BC the big sports are football, basketball and hockey, in really no order.  It is kind of a unique place, secluded in the city, but you would never know you were in the middle of a city. Everyone kind of stays on campus. The atmosphere is really electric. It’s a first class program.  They treat you like a pro.  I remember, after I turned pro and I was in the American Hockey League, we were on a 9-hour bus trip.  We stopped at Jimmy John’s and I was like, what’s this?  First of all, you’ve got me walking my own bag; I hadn’t touched my bag in four years.  And we used to charter planes to places and now we’re eating Jimmy John’s?  It was a rude awakening. You kind of don’t realize how good you have it when you’re there.  The fans in Boston, especially in the Bean Pot tournament that’s a tournament in February, it’s the same four teams every year — Boston College, Boston University, Harvard and Northeastern.  It’s kind of like battling rights for the city for the year.  It’s not like now, we really didn’t like anybody on the other teams.  We didn’t like the guys on BU, they didn’t like you.  It was a pretty good grudge match.  You’d go to class, people would be cheering when  you walked in places.  It was just a really cool thing to have, to play in front of your peers.  It was a blast.

Bond: I was just curious, how did you go from NCAA player to NHL to agent?

Peterson: I always had the idea when I was playing in college that I might become an agent.  At the time I had no idea how it was going to happen.  But I thought the best way to get involved in that was to be a union rep for all the teams that I played with.  You’re seeing it now in the NHL with the CBA.  Your responsibility as a player rep is to speak for your time and go and lobby for the rights, what is good for the whole union.  So that was in my mind as a way of, I would slowly understand the business side of hockey.  I felt pretty good about knowing players but knowing the other side of it was something I wanted to pick up.  After six years doing that, I was lucky enough to get an offer from Bill Zito, who is now the assistant general manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets.  I had gotten to know him over the years because he represented some players on Boston College.  He wasn’t my agent, but we had gotten friendly over the years.  He was looking for someone to scout 14- and 15-year-olds.  He was in his late 40s and had no interest in sitting in a rink at 7 a.m. to watch hockey. It was funny, I had initially told him no because I was with Grand Rapids, the AHL affiliate for the Red Wings.  I was driving back and forth between Boston and Detroit, I had stopped for the night, I looked at the depth chart of the Red Wings and the depth chart of Grand Rapids, and it hit me like a sledgehammer, there is no chance I am getting close to the soft towels. I turned my car around.  So I called Bill and said, I’m in.  And he taught me the ropes over the next 10 years.  When he moved on to Columbus, I worked with Marcus Raytal, I got a lot more responsibility.  This was kind of a blessing and a curse, because I was forced to learn a lot of things under fire.  But I was able to start, at a fairly young age — like year six or seven — of not only recruiting my own players but speaking on their behalf, which gave me a lot of confidence moving forward.

Uens: It’s really cool stuff that you’re involved in. If we could go back a little bit, you are with Acme, and you just had a deal where you merged yourselves with the Orr Group, which is part of Wasserman.  Acme and the Orr Group were already in the top 7, so merging them must push you into the top 2 agencies out there now just in terms of the sheer dollars you are handling.  And explain the sheer size of Wasserman, the clout that it has.

Peterson: At Acme we were usually ranked anywhere from 7 to 11 based on Forbes magazine, and what that metric is, it’s the value of current contracts under management.  We didn’t have a huge volume of guys, but we had some really, really good ones.  When we merged with Wasserman, there were two guys whose reputations were just fantastic in Toronto, as far as giving guys sound advice.  For us, if we were going to merge, and make it more interesting for the players and give them more resources and access to things, we had to make sure it was with people who were sort of like-minded to us.  And those guys absolutely are.  Wasserman is, you know, it’s a global brand.  We have about 1,000 employees.  Represent all major sports, along with some media and marketing, even some coaches and Gamers! I’m not sure what the correct word is there. The biggest thing for us, we always wanted our players to be prepared, and we always wanted them to have every possible resource available to them.  Times change and you see the value of having social media people, marketing people, people to help these guys after their careers.  We just thought it was very important for our players to have the very best.  So after many years of talking and going back and forth with Wasserman, we just decided that their principles were second to none.  It stretches out our global brand even more.  We’re representing all kinds of top players, and also advising 14-year-olds.  We just want everybody to reach the absolute pinnacle and give them the opportunity to get there.  It’s a job, but it’s more of a passion.  Exciting stuff.

Uens: When do you start recruiting players. What advice would you give to parents going through the process currently?

Peterson: Well, it depends on the kid.  We look for hockey players who can play at the highest level.  I don’t look at players where people say; he could be a high draft pick.  I don’t need draft picks, I need hockey players.  I don’t know if there’s a particular age, I think it is more a matter of identifying what is right for the player and the family.  The boys need agents who will speak for them, but also not misguide them and tell them; oh you’ll be playing in the NHL tomorrow.  The fact is, we don’t know.  We saw something that we like and we want to help you get there.  Nobody knows.  We’ve had players drafted in the top 5 and they still haven’t played in the NHL six years later.  There are a lot of things that have to fall into place.  It’s important for the agent to really understand the game well, and that’s a different piece from being able to negotiate a million-dollar 3-year deal.  I think that that’s important.  It’s not our job to be cheerleaders, we are supposed to guide and give advice.  You’ve got to find an agent that you feel comfortable having those kinds of conversations with.  And also being able, to represent people at a younger age, to offer criticism.  There can be too many pats on the back too early.  You need to have those constructive conversations, to say, look, this is where your game is at, but this is where you need to be.  At the end of the day, you want people who are credible and have good reputations.  This is someone who is going to be speaking on your son’s behalf, basically an extension of your family.  You don’t want someone who has a terrible reputation, or someone who can’t articulate the situations that a player is going to go through.  Sometimes you could rush out and get the wrong person, and if the player falls behind for a couple of years in terms of his development and his understanding of where you fit on the tree, then it could be tough to catch up.

Uens: We’ve known each other for a couple of years now. Recent events and discussions in the political forum have leaked over into the hockey world. Questions about inclusivity in hockey have been raised.   You’re a player of color in hockey.  I don’t want to go into the political side of things.  I hope that recent events will make things better not only in North America but around the world.  Some real positive change seems to be happening within society, which we are all hopeful for. What I am curious about is your perspective on inclusiveness in hockey, as I know you are a really thoughtful guy on these issues. We have had maybe a handful of kids of color in our local hockey area.  We’ve always been proud of our multi cultural society but that diversity has not made it into hockey in a large way. Hockey must become more inclusive to be sustainable.   What do you think needs to be done to make this a more inclusive sport?  I know it’s a complex discussion.  The NHL has made some strides forward but there are still hurdles. There are socio-economic things that come into play.  What could be done differently?

Peterson: It’s an interesting question. I think the only way to probably make it more inclusive is to get more involvement.  Not just players of color.  A lot of players simply don’t play because it is not economically possible.  There are a lot of fantastic athletes, especially ones of color, who you would see play the game if they had access to the game.  There are more players of color now than when I played.  So it seems like there’s a trend but it is going a lot slower.  It’s funny, when I played, people would ask; is it weird being in the minority?  And I said no, it’s good, for me the best thing about hockey has always been the people.  Sometimes there was a difference between my friends outside of hockey and the people I may have hung around in the game, but I never felt I was on the outside. In hockey it wasn’t about how you looked, it was more about if you couldn’t make a pass that was more of a problem. I think of all the sports, hockey players are among the best people from any sport, but at the same time you don’t see too many hockey players running to grab the microphone.  So in some ways current discussions are helpful by forcing us to have some tough conversations and address some of these things.  This is the ultimate team sport; if a guy is in trouble you just don’t turn your back.  That’s the mentality I’m starting to see.  A lot of NHL players, not just jumping on the microphones, but getting together with organizations to support players, taking time to talk to people on Zoom calls and making people feel like, “I didn’t know that you felt alienated”. I think it’s all positive stuff, and I think the biggest thing is acknowledging that we’re here but we didn’t have to get here, but let’s just try to keep pushing forward.

Check out the full interview on our Total Sports Quinte Podcast.