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Blanchette: New GM Scott Carter hits ground running for Chiefs

Scott Carter finishes his remarks after he is announced as the new general manager of the Spokane Chiefs hockey team on Sept. 8, 2016. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Scott Carter finishes his remarks after he is announced as the new general manager of the Spokane Chiefs hockey team on Sept. 8, 2016. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Businessman, scout, entrepreneur, administrator, creator, even historian – Scott Carter’s many hats can make for some confusion in assessing his strengths and talents.

“So when people ask what I do,” said the new general manager of the Spokane Chiefs, “I just say, ‘Hockey.’ ”

The paradox here being that he hasn’t been able to do nearly as much of it as he’s wanted to in his three weeks on the job.

The Chiefs open another Western Hockey League season Saturday night in Kennewick and Carter will be there, but only as a tourist. He’s still awaiting a work visa and the final shuffling of papers of that sort. This also means that, for the time being, he’s not being paid for what he’s been able to accomplish.

Normally, this is would be the perfect place to insert a gag about Chiefs owner Bobby Brett always getting the fat end of a bargain. And what do you know? It was.

Carter may be just signed and not sealed and delivered to the Chiefs, but his early days on the job were going to be somewhat understated anyway. Though he’s “done” hockey all his adult life, he understands he’s on a learning curve as a first-timer at the major junior level, and that there isn’t a lot of broken at the Spokane Arena that needs an instant fix anyway.

But there is a to-do list.

“Maybe this isn’t the best time to come in because you don’t have all summer to catch up and learn and you’re just trying to handle what needs to be done today,” he said. “There’s a lot of player movement right now – you’re trying to get your list down, your roster figured out. We need to figure out our 20-year-old situation, our European situation. We have a goalie who’s suspended awaiting trade. So you’re just trying to take care of all that stuff.”

But if anyone seems suited to keeping several balls in the air, it’s Carter.

Overlapping along his resume are scouting gigs with three NHL teams, co-ownership in the revival of the Junior A franchise in his home town of Penticton, British Columbia, the establishment of the province’s hockey hall of fame (and his later induction), the launch of the old Western Professional Hockey League in the southwest United States and – spanning most of it – his stake in Vaughn Custom Sports, purveyors of goaltender equipment to the world.

Not bad for a guy whose playing career flamed out at 18.

That was with that same Penticton team – known as the Knights in those days – who a few years later would turn out talents like Ray Ferraro, hall of famer Brett Hull, first-round draft pick Joe Murphy and even Scott Levins, Spokane’s early emissary to the NHL.

“But I didn’t play a lot and I wasn’t going far,” Carter admitted. “I remember sitting in the stands, doing a lot of stats. My cousin, Rick Kozuback (later coach at Tri-Cities) said, ‘Why don’t you get involved in this side?’ – player recruiting, eye-in-the-sky stuff. And by the time I was 24, I had an NHL scouting job.”

If there’s a gauge for what he brings to the Chiefs, it’s his role in saving the Knights – now the Vees – a little over a decade ago. With a team struggling to win 20 games a year and drawing measly crowds, Carter put together an ownership group that got a new arena built and turned the team into a winner – culminating in the 2012 Royal Bank Cup as Canada’s Junior A champions.

“It was the club that gave me my start and it was a challenge – I like challenges,” he said. “They were talking about moving to another city and I thought it could still be successful in Penticton if done right – and I wanted to prove myself right.”

He faces no such challenge with the Chiefs, but a different kind – maintaining the steady standard established by his predecessor, Tim Speltz, and maybe goosing the rate of banners going up in the rafters.

And like Speltz, who took on a scouting director’s post with the Toronto Maple Leafs, he’s tackling a career pivot in his mid-50s – thanks in part to a nudge from Kelowna’s Bruce Hamilton.

“I’d had opportunities at this level before, but it wasn’t quite right either with my family situation or work situation,” Carter said. “I pretty much retired to part-time (with Vaughn) last year, so the timing was right.

“Tim probably went through the same thing, with the lure and opportunity with Toronto. If he didn’t do it now, he might never have. It was kind of now or never for me, too. I have my Stanley Cup ring from Anaheim, but this is something I haven’t done.”

And it’s hockey. He’s always done that.

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