EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview was conducted while Brett Peterson was still an NHL player 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, retiring as a player and becoming an agent. Peterson was recently named Assistant General Manager of the Florida Panthers, making him the first Black executive to hold that position in the NHL. The following conversation is an excerpt from a recent Total Sports podcast.
Question: 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. That was in my mind as a way of slowly understanding 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. 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, called Bill and said, ‘I’m in’. And he taught me the ropes over the next 10 years. 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.
Question: When do agents 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. 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, three-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.
Question: Recent events and discussions in the political forum have leaked over into the hockey world. Questions about inclusivity in hockey have been raised. What is your perspective on inclusiveness in hockey?
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.
Question: What do you think needs to be done to make this a more inclusive sport?
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.