Colletti's hockey roots run deep

BOB ELLIOTT, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:18 AM ET

LOS ANGELES -- Ned Colletti is seated in section 243, about four sections shy of the left field foul pole early yesterday afternoon.

About 30 feet behind the Los Angles Dodgers general manager is Peter O'Malley's old office.

To his left, past the palm trees, the San Gabriel mountains are winning the battle against the afternoon haze.

And down below his Dodgers are stretching before last night's opener of the best-of-seven National League Championship Series against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Is there anywhere else he'd rather be than Dodger Stadium on this picture postcard afternoon?

"Not really, it's pretty cool," Colletti says. "It's not easy to get into the post-season back-to-back years ... it's not easy to get in one year."

Idyllic Dodger Stadium is not the only sports venue Colletti can be found.

Try Edmonton's Rexall Place, Calgary's Pengrowth Saddledome, Vancouver's General Motors Place, Toronto's Air Canada Centre or Montreal's Bell Centre. That's where he can be seen watching his good pal Brian Burke's teams skate.

Colletti grew up in Franklin Park, Ill. a Chicago Blackhawks fan, yet legendary Montreal Canadiens great Jean Beliveau was his favorite player and he covered the Philadelphia Flyers for the Philadelphia Journal in 1980.

Does this mean our Lance Hornby has a chance to succeed Alex Anthopoulos as GM of the Blue Jays?

"When I joined the Chicago Cubs in 1981 I'd go to Flyers games in Chicago or in Philadelphia," Colletti said. "Being in baseball my relationship with the Flyers changed and I became good friends with Bobby Clarke and Paul Holmgren. We talk about contract and salary structure. About 1984-85 Bobby was GM, they began saying: 'You know you should really meet this guy Brian Burke.' They always encouraged me to meet him.

"Brian had played at Portland in the AHL and thought he was a forward thinker."

Flash forward to 2007. Colletti left the San Francisco Giants in 2006 and asked his assistant, Toronto's Ellen Veronica Harrigan, formerly of the Jays, to arrange for Anaheim Mighty Ducks tickets against St. Louis at the Pond.

Back to Burke and Colletti, who had still never met.

"I pick up the ticket envelope and there's a note inside from Burke to stop by and see him," Colletti said. "Now he has no idea that I know who he knows."

Colletti mentions Clarke and Holmgren and their scouting report from 22 years earlier. A friendship ensues.

Weeks later, Colletti gets a call that he has been named co-executive of the year and asks "who am I being honoured with?"

Brian Burke, GM of the Ducks. "And there we are posing for pictures," Colletti said.

A yearly road trip followed. De Jon Watson, assistant GM, Vance Lovelace, Bill Mueller and Rick Ragazzo, all special assistants to the Dodger GM, and Colletti landed in Edmonton around midnight Boxing Day 2007 to see the Ducks play the next day. They drove to Calgary and flew to Vancouver.

Trip II was a pair of games at the ACC to see Burke's Toronto Maple Leafs play and to Montreal, where Colletti met Beliveau for the first time.

"We haven't got this year's planned, but we're going," Colletti said.

How good a friend is Burke?

"The Ducks are playing Minnesota in the playoffs and he invites me to the game," Colletti said. "I say: 'No, my daughter Jenna has a school project due and I have to proof it.' Brian says: 'No excuse! Get here by 5 o'clock, beat the traffic, we'll give her a room to do her work on the computer.' I proofed her project between the second and third period."

Burke is Colletti's sounding board.

They have met at 5:30 a.m. at Manhattan Beach to bounce ideas around.

"See these cuff links I'm wearing?," Colletti said. "They're made out of old Dodger seats.

"Brian Burke gave them to me."

BOB.ELLIOTT@SUNMEDIA.CA


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