The Wolves according to Branch

September 1, 2016

He grew up around the game, beginning as a toddler when his father first became commissioner of the Ontario Hockey League in 1979.

He later served a lengthy OHL apprenticeship spanning 14 years as a scout, assistant coach and assistant general manager with both the Oshawa Generals and the erstwhile Belleville Bulls.

Now, still young at age 40, Barclay Branch is about to begin his second season as general manager of the Sudbury Wolves.

The Wolves have missed the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, finishing last overall in the 20-team OHL in 2014-2015 and in 19th place in 2015-2016.

While the improvement under head coach David Matsos has been marginal from ’14-15 to ’15-16, Branch as GM has been a busy man on the trade front.

Among other notable transactions, Branch has displayed his knowledge of the league by obtaining serviceable and dependable players such as goalie Zack Bowman, forward Ryan Valentini and defenseman Aiden Jamieson for draft picks and re-stocking the draft cupboard by dealing from position strength and moving veteran goalie Troy Timpano.

Looking ahead to the 2016-2017 season and with new ownership having taken over the Wolves, Branch has an immediate goal in mind for the Sudbury OHLers.

That is, make the playoffs. As in, this season.

“It’s an absolute must,” Branch replied — without hesitation — when I asked him if it was necessary for the Wolves to make the playoffs this season as part of the rebuilding project that he took on a year ago.

“One-hundred per cent, we need to make the playoffs this season,” Branch added evenly.

An affable individual who is easy to talk to, Branch said there is a shared vision within the Wolves hockey department about what lies ahead.

“We developed a plan that we have put into place and my intent as GM is to carry out that plan with our new ownership group,” Branch relayed.

Branch said he can “feel the excitement” in Sudbury with the start of the ’16-17 OHL season about three weeks away.

“Wolves fans have been unbelievably patient and supportive,” Branch noted. “We are moving forward with a team that fans in Sudbury can be proud of.”

Branch, to be sure, is big on the team concept. He frequents the use of the words “we” and “team” and not does refer to individual players unless asked about them specifically.

“We have a nucleus of hockey players both young and older,” said Branch. “And we expect more from all of our players who were here last year. In order to be a legitimate playoff team, we need to get more from every returning player.”

A number of younger Wolves players learned and grew on the job last season, commanding big minutes as part of the rebuilding mode. And Branch said those first-and-second-year players “showed us a lot.”

Talking with Branch, he comes across as an open conversationalist, an experienced hockey man beyond his years and someone who has learned the game from not only his OHL commissioner father David Branch but his former boss in Oshawa and Belleville, George Burnett.

The 54-year old Burnett has taken over a building project of his own as the new general manager of the Flint Firebirds. And Branch cannot say enough about his mentor from the 14 years in Oshawa and Belleville.

“Oh, I learned so much from George,” Branch said of Burnett. “He’s a good person, a great guy who cares about the kids, who knows the game inside-out and is as honest and professional a man as there is in this business.”

His no-alternative goal of the Wolves making the playoffs this season firmly in the forefront of all plans for the ’16-17 campaign, Branch has also photographed the big picture for the OHL in Sudbury.

“Our plan is not based on having one good season and then starting over again,” he remarked. “Our plan is definitive and it includes doing our job to ensure that we have a good nucleus of players that will keep us competitive. Sudbury is a great hockey town and the fans deserve a winning program.”

PHOTO: Sudbury Wolves general manager Barclay Branch. (Photo by John Lappa/Postmedia.)

What you think about “The Wolves according to Branch”

  1. Good article RR . . . Fans around Town are verry excited for this season to begin. Branch has put together a Woofers team that is giving us hope.

  2. I like alot of the moves that Branch has made since he become G.M. tho I wish he would of kept Timpano who I think is better than Bowman tho I can see the reasoning getting more for Timpano than he probably could of for Bowman.

  3. I do hope the Wolves do good this season (even though I’m a Gens fan) for the fans sake they deserve it but did Branch put pressure on the team to make the playoffs? It is every team goal but realistically a team that 20th & 19th the last two seasons to jump from that to making the playoffs, there’s growing pains and the Wolves are on the right track but baby steps first.

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