Jeff Twohey stared at the photos adorning the walls of the Pat Casey Alumni Room, and, like a proud grandparent reflecting on their legacy of kin, gushed over his former players. Rob Murray, Geordie Kinnear, and Matt Johnson are just a few of the players the 29 year Petes employee shared stories about before settling into the weathered, though still regal, leather chair in the Pat Casey Alumni Room at the Peterborough Memorial Centre.
“I started in 1980 just scouting for the team up North, which was kind of fun because I didn’t have a car,” he giggles at the reflection of hitting countless rinks without any steady transportation. From scout, Twohey was presented the position of trainer by Dick Todd, “I lived at Roger Neilson’s [house] with Jacques Martin – he was a part time assistant coach with us. I would work all day and scout all night.”
The Lindsay native moved from behind the skate sharpener to the bench in 1989, as he was promoted from trainer to assistant coach and assistant general manager, “I think I had a pretty good feel for hockey and running practices,” citing his roommates as contributors to his strong hockey sense. When Todd stepped away from the maroon and white to coach with the New York Rangers, Twohey was presented with a greater opportunity in management.
“The one I miss the most is coaching; being on the ice everyday with the guys. Being on the bench you are in control of things so that was probably the job I enjoyed the most.” He laughs recalling his races with Chris Pronger to see who would hit the fresh ice first, and time spent casually tossing a puck around that book-ended each practice.
Twohey followed up, explaining, “As much as coaching was the most enjoyable part of my time with Petes, being the GM of the team was the most fulfilling as I was in charge and the buck stopped with me.”
While working with the Petes, Twohey earned a J. Ross Robertson Cup in 1980 and 1989 while scouting, again in 1993 as assistant coach, and in both 1996 and 2006 as General Manager. He saw two Memorial Cup tournaments while with the Petes, including one that took place in Peterborough in 1996.
In picking Twohey’s brain a wealth of Petes history and statistics is revealed. He recalls trades at the drop of a hat and can thoughtfully provide brief autobiographies of each player he’s ever worked with. When asked to name the most underrated Petes alumnus, it’s a coin flip between Kinnear, and Dallas Eakins, “They were incredible leaders here and once you start [listing players], Mike Williams too. Those are guys who were maybe overshadowed by talented players but those guys were the ones that drove the team.”
He continues on, recounting Eric Landry as an “unheralded guy,” describing his acquisition as a steal and using the 13th overall draft pick in 2000 on Eric Staal as a gamble, “We didn’t know Eric was going to turn out as well as he did. He exceeded our expectations, pretty quickly.” He completes his thought with another joke confirming that it was the Petes that developed Pronger’s stamina, “We would open the door and put him out for forty minutes.”
The familial bonds Twohey made with the varying rosters across his time at the Memorial Centre is evident in retrospect, “Truth is, I’m proud of all the guys that I had there. Many went on to pro careers and many were successful in other areas, I’m proud of all of them and hope that I had some kind of an impact on all of them.”
This is the component of working in sport that Twohey seems to appreciate the most, as he compares the differences in working at the junior level and in the NHL, “There is probably more compassion in junior – you are dealing with kids, it’s funny you have a chance to impact guys more here than at the NHL level because for the most part they are men [in the NHL]. At the junior level they are impressionable, it’s like being a teacher – you can impact a kid positively or negatively, you have to take that responsibility seriously.”
He follows up with advice he gave to individual players and mentions the gratitude of the guys who followed up with Twohey later in life.
Although the role of General Manager is many fans’ dream, the sacrifice tagged to the leadership position, and requirement of a thick skin, is a reality overseen by most sports fans, and is very familiar to Jeff.
“I know two years after we hosted the cup here, we were out of the playoffs four straight and they did a six part series on what is wrong with the Petes and the final day was nothing but “send in all your comments” so it was a full page of letters basically carving me.”
He remarked how the criticism likely contributed to the growth of his daughters’ – Julie Pender and Erin Twohey – resiliency, “At the end of the day it probably brings your [family] closer and makes you stronger, it’s all good.”
In assessing his career and his time substituting family for work at the rink, a conversation with eldest daughter Julie, reaffirmed Twohey’s choices,
“I know a couple of summers ago sitting in the backyard I said to my oldest daughter, “I kind of have some regrets,” I missed a lot when they were growing up but I was trying to survive, you don’t have a safety net and it is all-consuming and she said, ‘You were always here when I needed you and that’s all that matters.’”
He smiles, stating, “They were always supportive.”
The formula for Twohey’s success? One part development of on-ice talent with an emphasis on defensive play, and one part focus on moulding the players’ character.
“We valued good people, we valued good students. We had certain criteria that were important to us, we were always close to the players and cared.”
He credits the man that many Petes attribute their legacy of accomplishments to: Roger Neilson.
“This wasn’t unique to us, other people in junior are like that, but if you were to ask over the long term why was there success, we learned from the best – Roger Neilson – and we tried to be very stable and do things properly. We never tried to shortcut the process with quick fixes.”
Twohey graciously emphasized the team’s philosophy that began and ended with an understanding for the players, “At the base of it all was drafting good people, getting to know them, caring about them. It’s more than just hockey, there’s a business but the kids mattered: stability, off ice discipline mattered, all that stuff, at the same time you have to have fun.”
And for Jeff his duties, though challenging, were largely fun. Twohey never took for granted the magnitude of his role and rarity of its availability.
“Coming in here every day was a thrill. I grew up in Lindsay watching the Peterborough Petes and I grew up around Roger, all I ever wanted to do was work for the Peterborough Petes. It was pretty special. It’s a heralded franchise, just coming to work every day; to me it was never work.”
The former Petes scout, trainer, coach, and GM treasures the time he spent contributing to the legacy of the already historic Petes. He relishes the opportunity to encourage players to seek out their full potential, whether on the ice or in the community. Since resigning from his scouting position in Arizona, Twohey’s next moves are undetermined, but no matter where his career forges a trail of grateful players will follow.