Over the course of the season, we’ll be posting “Get to Know” Q&As with members of the Grizzlies staff and front office.
To kick off the series, we’re starting with Head Coach and General Manager Tim Branham!
Namiko Hitotsubashi: How did you get into hockey?
Tim Branham: My brother played. We played in a pretty big hockey town, small town, like 1200 people, but it was a big hockey town. He came home and said “Hey, my friends want me to play hockey” so my mom and dad were like, “Ok, that’s fine.” And then I was like, “Well, I wanna play hockey too!” Cause my older brother, right? “I wanna play!” I was like four at the time, “I wanna play too!” And they were like, “Well, why don’t you watch a year.” And I guess they had put me in dance or ballet or something, I forget, and I wouldn’t get through the door. Like, I had my arms locked in the doorway, they put me in events and I wouldn’t go in, wouldn’t do it, so I was like “I wanna play hockey,” and they were like “Ok. Why don’t you wait a year, and then if you still wanna play, we’ll put you in”.
I watched for a year, and I still wanted to play, so they put me in. And so, my brother’s like two years older than me, so like he’s on the next level up, always. His team would be practicing here, and my team would be practicing down here, and like half way through practice, coach would be like, “Where’s Tim?” And I guess I would go down to the other end, and be by my brother the whole time, and we’d be practicing with his team!
So, those are just the funny stories. That’s how I got into it. Played ever since.
NH: How did you come to coaching? Was that something you were always interested in?
TB: You know what, when I was in high school, I’d help out with John LaFontaine, Pat LaFontaine’s brother, he was one of my coaches, I’d help out with his hockey schools, LaFontaine hockey schools, and then I was like this is kind of cool, why can’t I start my own camp? So my first year pro I started my own camp, that was like, I dunno, 15 years ago, whatever it is, and from there, it was kind of well, I like doing this. And then at the end of my career, I broke my hand, so I just helped out (it was in Reading), I just helped out Larry Courville behind the bench one year, we went on a long playoff run, and they just brought me back the next year, and I liked it, and just kept doing it.
NH: How did you end up being the GM as well? Is that common in the ECHL?
TB: I guess technically every coach is the GM? Except maybe in Fort Wayne? And maybe Florida? I mean, every coach–maybe I have more responsibilities than a coach? But from a hockey standpoint, every coach assigns his players. Every coach is the hockey GM. He manages the salary cap, does contracts, chooses his team, that kind of thing. I mean, I do have say in some other stuff, I guess, General Manager duties, but that kind of just came with the territory.
NH: Where was your favourite place to play as a player?
TB: Gosh. Barrie was nice, in the OHL. That was a really great town. It’s grown a lot now, a lot of people from Toronto have moved out there cause it’s just cheaper and they can take the GO Train out there, so it’s a lot bigger, a lot more people than it used to be. It used to be a really nice small town. Guelph was nice, Guelph was a good spot too. I really liked St. John, New Brunswick, that was my first year pro, that’s a neat town too.
ECHL? I always wanted to come here and coach, because I came here as a player, and thought it was really nice. So, when the job came open, I was like, “I wanna go to Utah for sure.” Because I was offered the Stockton job before the Utah job. I was offered a job in the SPHL, I was offered the assistant job in Orlando, so I’m like “Aww…I wanna go to Utah…” So I came out here and interviewed, and it was great. Worked out perfect.
NH: What was it about Utah, what is it about Utah that you love so much?
TB: The mountains, the mountains just get ya. It’s just gorgeous. The rink is amazing, I didn’t know the fans at the time, right? So it was just more like the city, and the mountains’re just gorgeous, the rink, all that kind of stuff. I knew a couple of guys that helped me with hockey camp, the Adameks, one of them was up in Park City, the other I think moved to Wisconsin, I knew they were from here, really liked it. I mean, everyone I talked to just loved it here, and then just visiting here, it was gorgeous right? And then you move here, now I like it for different reasons. The people that are here, the fans, there’s so much to do! And then you throw on top the mountains, and everything like that. The way of life is just…it’s a good spot. All those reasons. Makes it really hard to leave.
NH: Do you have a favourite spot to coach now that you’re here? Or a team that you enjoy playing against?
TB: I enjoy playing against Colorado, in Colorado. It’s a hostile environment, they’re always good, and I enjoy that. I enjoy that challenge. Idaho as well. Their crowd is not as hostile, I guess, as Colorado’s, but it’s a nice, cosy rink, really good. Our division is the toughest division by far. Every game is hard, right? It’s nice to go to Orlando, the Amway Center, everyone’s got tons of family, I’ve got tons of family down there, so that’s pretty neat going down there and playing. But yeah, probably those three.
NH: Do you have a favourite hockey related story? For you, or anything that you’ve heard or seen?
TB: For me, the favourite part is the winning part. Won a championship in major junior, played in two Memorial Cups, and then winning an ECHL championship, those are just special, special moments, right? You just want to get that feeling back, right? So those are probably my favourite. Getting drafted, obviously for me, that was pretty neat, so probably those, those memories.
NH: This is kind of a cop-out question, but is there anything you wish they would ask and don’t, or something that you’d like people to know that they don’t already?
TB: No, that’s the thing, right? A lot of times, moves are made, and people, maybe they don’t know the whole reason, so they’re like “Why! Why did we do this, why did we do that?” A lot of times, at the chalk talks I’ll tell them if I can. If it’s something that’s not done yet, or I shouldn’t say, then I don’t, but usually there’s a pretty good reason I’m doing something, but at the end of the day, I’m just doing my job. I’ve definitely learned that people are going to like you, people are going to–I don’t know about hate, but maybe dislike you for certain things, and you can’t make everybody happy, so I just go about my business, try to do my job as best I can.
So far it’s gone pretty good. I really think that I’ve done a good job here, I think I can do better. I learn every day, try to be a better coach. More importantly, we want to win, and we want to make sure we bring in good people into the community so that this community can be a part of what we have, can continue to grow that. Cause if they have, what is it, ten years in a row? Increase in attendance, and making the playoffs, that’s something to be said for everybody. Jared, the front office, me, the teams, the past coaches that have been here–I mean in the past everyone made the playoffs…
NH: One year the entire Mountain Division made the playoffs…
Yeah, I think it was, when I took over it was the first year that not everyone made it, and my first year, it was everyone but one team, Vegas, they were so bad, right?
But I think it’s… that’s a real honour to have accomplished. And to still be around, right? I mean, the longevity of a minor league pro hockey team is ten years, maybe less. So for our team to be doing what we’re doing, we’ve got good people in place, and they’re doing a good job.
Photo Courtesy of Josie Vimahi/Utah Grizzlies