ST. PAUL -- With the NHL Draft in full swing at Rogers Arena in Vancouver last weekend, Brad Bombardir was perched in the Wild team suite with a bird’s eye view of the chaos ensuing on the floor below him.
As the team’s longtime director of player development, Bombardir, 47, a former NHL defenseman who played for the Wild from 2000-05, sat alongside the hockey operations administrator Cindy Sweiger, both of them anxiously waiting to see who the Wild would draft.
After a couple of hours of anticipation, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman walked on stage, pausing for a few seconds before announcing that the Wild had selected Matt Boldy with the No. 12 pick of the first round.
Instantly, Bombardir sprung into action, working hand-in-hand with Sweiger to figure out travel plans for the team’s newest prospect.
There wasn’t any time to waste. Not with Wild development camp only a couple of days away.
“Usually we have a little more time,” Bombardir said, referencing how the Wild have long hosted their development camp a couple of weeks after the draft. “This is the first time since I’ve been here that we decided to have it the day after.”
The rest of the weekend was a blur trying to get the entire draft class booked on flights to the Twin Cities. Beyond figuring out passport information for half a dozen teenagers, a tall task in and of itself, there were only so many flights available with the entire league trying to leave the day after the NHL Draft.
“We were essentially battling 30 other teams trying to get out of town,” Bombardir said. “We made it work. Well, Cindy Sweiger (the Wild’s hockey operations administrator) made it work. She was a rock star. She was on top of everything, and we ended up getting everyone here. Those are the details people don’t see, right?”
It goes way beyond simply getting prospects to the Twin Cities. There’s figuring out lodging. Figuring out car service to get prospects from Point A to Point B. And figuring out how to feed 30 prospects for an entire week.
“It’s a lot of moving parts,” Bombardir said. “It goes from 0 miles per hour to 100 miles per hour, so we just have to make sure we’re very detailed in our preparation. It’s always a little hectic until we get started. You’re always wondering where the pitfall is going to come from. You get the feeling every year.”
No matter that he’s been doing this for nearly a decade, for Bombardir, that feeling typically doesn’t go away until everyone confirms that they’ve arrived in the Twin Cities.
“You always have a few stragglers,” he said. “Or sometimes the European guys arrive and their phone doesn’t work until they have WiFi. We know when guys are supposed to land, and when we don’t hear from them for an hour and a half or something it gets a little nerve wracking. As soon as they’re here and we kind of get going, everything is fine. It’s just a matter of getting them here. That’s always the most stressful part.”
It gets a lot easier after that with the actual on-the-ice practices and off-the-ice workouts coming second nature for everyone involved. That gives prospects a chance to work with various coaches throughout the organization, and the experience has been enhanced this year with development camp being hosting at the state-of-the-art TRIA Rink in downtown St. Paul for the first time.
“It’s just been way more efficient,” Bombardir said of TRIA Rink. “No matter where it is, though, it always goes back to trying to build good habits that will translate moving forward. That’s our focus when the prospects come here. We want them to be able to take what they learn here and bring it with them wherever they go.”
Aside from developing good habits on the ice, Bombardir has always believed it’s just as important to see how prospects interact off the ice. That’s the biggest reason they plan team-building events around the Twin Cities, like an annual trip to Lord Fletcher’s for a sand volleyball tournament.
“We try to have them see different parts of the Twin Cities because some of them are going to be living here down the road,” Bombardir said. “That sand volleyball tournament we do has been an awesome thing for us because it builds some camaraderie right away. They are out there chirping each other. It’s a lot of fun.”
No matter how stressful the planning gets on a yearly basis, Bombardir doesn’t think anything will ever compare to the year he was hired by former general manager Chuck Fletcher, and he’s grateful for that. He got the job a day before the NHL Draft nearly a decade ago and had to hit the ground running with development camp right around the corner.
“That was a crazy time,” Bombardir said. “I had no experience doing anything like that. Luckily, I had a little bit of a gap where I could figure stuff out on the fly. I got a lot of help from the people around me.”
That hasn’t changed nearly a decade later.
“I couldn’t do any of this without the support I have around me,” Bombardir said. “We have so many phenomenal people in this organization, and it runs smoothly because of them. It would be a complete disaster if it was just me by myself.”