Brockville Braves Carleton Place Canadians Cornwall Colts Hawkesbury Hawks Kemptville 73s Navan Grads Nepean Raiders Ottawa Jr Senators Pembroke Lumber Kings Renfrew Wolves Rockland Nationals Smiths Falls Bears

Sullivan takes over as Canadians’ owner

By: Daniel Vazzoler

The Carleton Place Canadians will have a new man at the helm of the organization come the 2021-22 season, as Brent Sullivan has purchased the franchise.

Sullivan, a 31-year-old Carp, Ont. native, comes to the Canadians after serving as an assistant coach with the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees for the past five seasons. Similar to his predecessor, Jason Clarke, Sullivan will be a man of many hats as owner, coach and general manager.

The move from U of Ottawa was one Sullivan had contemplated for the past few seasons, but he says ownership wasn’t his first idea when he began thinking about taking a head coach role.

“For me, this just seemed like the perfect fit, when this opportunity arose with Carleton Place and with Clarkie, because of the foundation that had been laid and with my roots in the Ottawa Valley,” said Sullivan. “It seemed like a great opportunity and now the long process is finally closed and it’s incredibly exciting times for me. I’m really looking forward to the future here.”

The process of Sullivan purchasing the team from Jason and Jody Clarke began nearly a year ago with the eight-month journey reaching a threshold in February when the sale was announced and culminated on May 1 when the sale became official.

“When you go through this for the first time, you never know what timelines are like, you never know how many hurdles you have to jump,” he said. “The one fortunate thing about it happening this year is that, in a standard year I’d be trying to balance games at the University of Ottawa or balancing a play-off stretch at the start of 2021, any time I needed to get something done it had my full attention.”

Clarke, self-admittedly showing his age, said he didn’t know much about Sullivan before the sale process began beyond coaching against a 16-year-old Sullivan when he played for the Brockville Braves.

“We felt like we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well over the last seven or eight months. I think (the team) is in good hands, I think it will be good for the franchise to have some new blood and some new ideas in it,” Clarke added.

Part of what Clarke said he learned about Sullivan are the similarities between the two of them.

“I just see a lot myself (in him), just the work ethic that Brent has displayed over the eight months. Some of the ideas that he’s bounced off of me, he just reminds me a lot of me,” Clarke said. “He wants to be successful, wants to surround himself with really good people and wants the team and the kids to do well.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations and the most important part for us is that Jody and I felt comfortable that he was going to build on the same type of culture that we created here in Carleton Place for 12 years.”

Patrick Grandmaitre, head coach of the Gee-Gees men’s hockey team, also referenced that importance of culture to Sullivan. Grandmaitre said, similar to Clarke, he believes Sullivan will look to continue on that tradition of the Carleton Place Canadians, “but put his own input on that building of a franchise.”

“Something I believe in, it’s more of a legacy and how you leave the jersey in a better place,” Sullivan said discussing culture. “If you look here at the Carleton Place Canadians and you think of the history, every one of those individuals – whether it’s Stephen Baylis, or Andrew Sturtz, whether it’s individuals from the first championship all the way to Devon Levi more recently – they’ve all helped put Carleton Place on the map and left a better foundation for the incoming players.

“When we’re talking to the 2001’s and the ‘02’s, what I’m trying to preach to them is that it’s special to be a Carleton Place Canadian and, every single day you arrive at the rink, you need to take pride in the jersey that you wear,” he continued. “These guys understand, it’s not just a door you walk through, you’re going to be adding to a legacy and contributing. What I want to ensure is, everything you do on a day-to-day is for the betterment of the group.”

Despite his young age, Sullivan already has a decade of coaching experience under his belt. After his playing career was cut short due to injuries and concussions, Sullivan took up coaching out west and was an assistant coach in Jr A at 21 years old.

When the University of Ottawa re-established its men’s hockey program, said he had to jump at the opportunity to join the staff – showing his initiative in the process.

“I still remember to the day that he reached out (to me) out of the blue and he was coming back from Western Canada and he wanted to be closer to home,” Grandmaitre reflected. “Not many people know, Sully was a volunteer coach his first year and he logged a lot of hours on his own time and sacrificed a lot to be a part of this coaching staff. It ended up being something that I did not predict but ended up being a tremendous relationship and great partnership in building this program.”

That relationship between Sullivan and Grandmaitre is something both men happily talk about, with both saying their friendship will extend well beyond the game of hockey.

“We are very well known over the sports services at U of Ottawa for how unique our dynamic was,” said Sullivan. “We had no problem looking each other in the eye and challenging each other to the point where a lot of people would be like ‘there’s some tension here,’ and 10 minutes later we’re laughing and joking.

“I said this in my exit call with sports services, that mine and Patty’s relationship has set the bar for me in what I’m going to be looking for from a head coaching stand point. I want people that are going to challenge me, but also be supportive and be a cohesive group.”

Speaking of that group, Sullivan has a task that Clarke did not have to deal with when he began his ownership – building three coaching staffs at the same time: his own at Jr A, the Jr B staff and the U18 coaching group.

“It’s a unique beast here, and I think it’s a lot of fun because, I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say that I’d been planning my staff for the last 10 years and what I think will compliment me as a head coach,” Sullivan explained. “But then in Jr B and U18, you want to have that compliment of individuals that support your vision, support how you want your team to play and that are solely focused on the development side of things – which is challenging sometimes.

“A lot of people will focus on the wins and losses and, when it comes to the U18 and Jr B teams, absolutely building a winning pedigree is important but we’re really looking at making sure those individuals are rounding out by the time they do get to Jr A. It’s been a lot of fun, there’s been some conversations and there’s some good leads as far as some people that could potentially join.”

Despite his lack of head coaching experience, both Grandmaitre and Sullivan see no issues in Sullivan becoming the man in control – on the ice and off it.

“We’ve talked a lot, and we still talk pretty much every day, so I kind of know what his game plan is,” Grandmaitre said. “He’s had experience on our bench of just running the defence or, when I had to miss time for the births of my kids or a couple of times I was sick or gone with U Sports All-Stars, he’s very capable of running everything. He’s a great leader, a great voice on the bench – we’ll see how he plans his bench – but I’m very confident that he’ll be able to manage both sides of the puck.

“We were always together in planning game strategies and all these kinds of things. It wasn’t just ‘yeah, Sully’s in charge of the defence and penalty kill,’ we worked together 10 hours a day discussing strategies and these kinds of things. I’m very confident in his capabilities.”

In terms of the off-ice administrative duties of owning the team, Sullivan said he can reflect on one of those times Grandmaitre was away from the Gee-Gees. It was a busy stretch in which the Gee-Gees had league play, NCAA trips and other off-ice tasks to take care of – and Sullivan was operating it as a solo mission with the odd phone call discussion with Grandmaitre.

“I laughed one day because, I remember being the only guy in the office and I don’t think I had a practice plan and we were about 10 minutes away from practicing, and (Grandmaitre) joked that ‘yeah, you’re going to figure out that this coaching job is about 10 per cent coaching and 90 per cent program management.’”

In terms of handing the reins of his franchise over to Sullivan, Clarke said he stood out from a number of potential suitors because of his personality.

“I think he’s just a genuine person. He’s just a very nice, young man. Obviously comes from a great family, I met his mom and dad, and he comes from a family that has been very successful in their business. I’m a firm believer that you’re a product of your own environment and, if you’ve ever met Brent Sullivan’s mom and dad, you’d understand why Brent is such a genuine person,” Clarke expressed. We had a couple of people that were interested in purchasing the team and my wife and I felt that Brent was the perfect fit for this franchise and where the franchise could go.”

Despite having many of his ideas that he wants to put in place, don’t expect to see any major changes come quickly from Sullivan.

“The foundation for me has built left incredibly solid from Jason,” Sullivan said. “This is a hand-off year, almost like a relay race at this point here, and my plan is to finish off here and my plan is to continue to take this program to the next level. There’s still room to grow and, again I have to give a lot of kudos to Jason on what he’s built for me, but I’m looking forward to putting my own stamp on it.”

For Clarke, now felt like the right time to try and move up in the coaching ranks with all three of his and Jody’s children being through school and having jobs of their own already. Clarke, though, admits it’s going to be tough to adjust to no longer being the owner.

“The best thing about doing this is the staff and the friendships that we’ve made, being able to share all of the experiences of helping these players mature as men and as hockey players. The biggest thing I’m going to miss is the camaraderie with our staff. I don’t think there’s a junior hockey team in North America that had more fun on a daily basis and had more laughs together than we did,” Clarke stated. “Hence, you can tell why we had pretty much the same staff for almost 12 years. The staff has really stayed in tact, the volunteers have really stayed in tact, we just had a lot of fun. That’s the biggest and the hardest thing with selling the team, it’s that we’re not going to be together as a group anymore.”

Sullivan, someone who hasn’t been behind the bench in roughly a calendar year because of the pandemic, says he is most looking forward to getting fans back in the arena to watch his team play.

“I’m most excited to be in a deep play-off run and the town of Carleton Place being all over you. We’re in a very unique situation here, junior hockey is built on these small towns,” Sullivan said. I’ve been in different leagues, I’ve been in different areas, I’ve recruited from all over Canada when it comes to Jr A and one thing I always say is that small-town feel when you’re on a play-off run, there’s nothing like it.

“You tie that in to the fact fans haven’t been allowed in, I think what I’m looking forward to most is being behind that bench in a game that’s back-and-forth and it’s a lot of tension and you’re looking up at 600 fans screaming at you, you’ve got people pulling at every door trying to get in and watch you. I’m most excited for the community to wrap themselves around the team.”