When Chuck Fletcher's Grade 4 class wrote about what job they wanted as adults, he didn't hesitate.
National Hockey League general manager, just like his Dad.
If he didn't get a gold star that day, he can now re-submit it to his former teacher for a deserving 100% mark. But Cliff Fletcher never doubted he'd one day pass the torch, or at least the key to the executive washroom. Tonight at the Air Canada Centre, Chuck's Minnesota Wild take on the Maple Leafs, with Cliff in the final years of his Hall of Fame career as their senior advisor.
"I never pushed him," Cliff insisted. "He had a dream to have a job in hockey and he's fulfilled it."
Chuck was born in Montreal three days before Cliff's first employers, the Canadiens, lost the Stanley Cup to the Leafs. Cliff was already on his way up the ranks, first as GM of the local Verdun junior team, off to St. Louis as Scotty Bowman's assistant with the expansion Blues and then to his first solo GM job, launching the Atlanta Flames in 1972.
"I was five years old at the time," Chuck recalled. "I played hockey and I wasn't very good, but I knew I was the son of a GM and that I'd follow his footsteps."
The Fletchers moved to Calgary with the transplanted Flames in 1980, Chuck watching his Dad go through trial and error to finally build a team capable of de-throning the Edmonton Oilers dynasty, which finally happened with the 1989 Cup. Along the way, young Chuck listened attentively to the NHL heavyweights in Cliff's GM circle, such as Bowman, the Islanders' Bill Torrey and Philadelphia's Bobby Clarke.
"He spent his high school years around the Flames and loved it," Cliff said. "I would come home at night and use him as a sounding board if I was going to make a trade or another move, ask him: 'what would you do?' "
Chuck doubts he influenced any blockbuster deals, but by the time the elder Fletcher came to the Leafs in 1991, he was a Harvard grad wanting to see the hockey world at large. He spent time as a merchandizing co-ordinator for Hockey Canada, as a player agent with Don Meehan's powerful Newport Sports company and by 1993, was in the front office of the Florida Panthers under Clarke and Torrey.
"He's not new at this, he has got 16 years of invaluable experience from a lot of great hockey minds," Cliff said. "He has also worked for Brian Burke in Anaheim and Ray Shero in Pittsburgh."
The Panthers, Ducks and Penguins would all make the Cup final with Chuck involved in scouting, player development and contracts. His Cup ring with the Pens was very attractive to the Wild earlier this year when it sought a younger man to replace Doug Risebrough.
Though Chuck made his own way in the world, the Fletcher name certainly helped open a lot of doors.
"The biggest things he taught me were patience, to make sure you treat people the way you want to be treated and to hire good people and let them do their jobs," Chuck said. "He was always so good at utilizing his own staff when he was in Toronto. Look at all his proteges working around the NHL today.
"I've enjoyed all the moments with him, talking hockey at home or on the road. What's better than talking shop with your Dad?"
If there's a fancy dinner riding on the outcome tonight, neither man is talking of the bet.
"At the end of the day, it's about the game, the players on the ice and the two points at stake," Chuck said.
Cliff agrees the optics won't be good if the TV cameras spot them together too often tonight, so he plans to stay close to the Leafs' private box.
"But the good news is that after this game, the next time we'll meet is in the Stanley Cup final."