Steve Hildebrand’s résumé is vast when it comes to working with Hockey Canada.
It includes trips to the IIHF World Junior Championship in 2003, 2010 and 2014, garnering him two silver medals, and a gold from the 2002 Memorial of Ivan
Hlinka summer under-18 tournament.
The latest addition comes in the form of the 2016 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., where he’ll work with Canada White, one of
three Canadian national teams.
“For a lot of these guys it’s going to be their first Hockey Canada event,” Hildebrand says. “I’m hoping I can take all my experiences from what I’ve done
in the past and pass that on.”
The only difference this time around is the job title.
Hildebrand served as an equipment manager during his first four Team Canada experiences. This time, to more closely mirror his full-time job as associate
general manager of the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades, Hildebrand is the director of operations for Canada White.
His responsibilities include booking hotels, planning meals and acting as a support system for his coaching staff – head coach Brent Kisio and assistants
Daniel Jacob and Jamie Heward.
On the surface, it may seem a little different than his previous job. But there are actually quite a few similarities.
“When I was an equipment manager I made sure that when the players hit the ice, all they had to worry about was the game,” Hildebrand says. “I use the same
analogy in this role.
“I want to make sure with our coaches and staff and everyone around, all they have to worry about is coaching and the game. I’ll take care of the rest of
the stuff for them.”
Hildebrand’s career path to Canada White is uncommon, previous experience with Hockey Canada aside. After all, it’s not everyday that someone goes from
sharpening skates and providing medical assistance – he also worked as the Blades’ athletic therapist – to a management position.
Now 40, Hildebrand got his start as an equipment manager when he was 16. His stops include the SJHL’s Flin Flon Bombers, the University of Manitoba men’s
hockey team and two stints with the Blades sandwiched between the 2006-07 season with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose.
After returning to the Blades, Hildebrand decided he wanted to work his way into a management role. Doing so would give him a fresh perspective on the game
and allow him to spend more time with his wife, Krista, and two children, Max and Mya.
Mike and Colin Priestner purchased the Blades from Jack Brodsky and his family in 2013. One year later, Hildebrand was promoted to assistant general
It was similar to the career jump made by Craig Heisinger, Hildebrand’s friend and old boss with the Moose. Heisinger, now senior vice-president and
director of hockey operations/assistant general manager with the Winnipeg Jets, was moved to assistant general manager from equipment manager in 1999.
“He’s a guy I’ve always looked up to and appreciated,” Hildebrand says.
Shortly after Hildebrand’s promotion with the Blades, he was asked by Hockey Canada to take part in the under-17 mentorship program. Hildebrand took
advantage. That led to his position for the 2016 tournament in Sault Ste. Marie.
“It’s a short-term tournament,” he says. “When you’re there you have to be dialed in and ready to go.”
Hildebrand knows all too well what it’s like to endure these types of events. After all, this will be his fifth short-term tournament with Hockey Canada.
The difference this time is that despite all of Hildebrand’s pre-game preparations, and those he does for his coaches, he won’t have the same level of
responsibility once the puck is dropped.
If there’s anything Hildebrand misses about his career switch, that’s it.
“My wife says, ‘I’m glad there’s not cameras on you during games,’” he says. “I get excited. I’m an emotional guy. I wear my heart on my sleeve. You miss
it. I miss being down there in the battle with the guys.”
“It’s a little bit easier to show emotion in the press box. Usually you don’t have to say some words to the officials like when you’re at ice level,” he
While Hildebrand no longer has his spot behind the bench, he can still draw on his past experiences, which, with three World Juniors under his belt, could
prove invaluable for Canada White.
“The one thing that I’ll really try to hammer down to our whole group is every day you’ve got to be perfect,” Hildebrand says. “When you’re done these
events you’re more mentally drained than physically drained as staff. Every day you have to be at your best.
“It’s great to get to that point. You need to be willing to do whatever it takes. It doesn’t matter what your positon or job is. You have to be able to do
whatever it takes to win. That’s one thing I always took away from World Juniors.”