Avalanche Stanley Cup Final berth bittersweet for Matt Calvert as he begins new career in retirement

Matt Calvert watched with mixed feelings as Artturi Lehkonen scored in overtime against the Edmonton Oilers to send the Colorado Avalanche to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Recently retired and entering the new phase of his professional life as head of a sports agency, he was happy — “It was sweeter than bitter,” he says — but he can’t deny it was also heartbreaking to see the rise of the to watch avalanches.

“I knew how good this team was and how good it was going to be,” said Calvert. “Lucky for them, but it was difficult. I think I only watched three Avs games during the (regular) season before I was able to watch most of the playoff games.”

Calvert should be there. Having endured painful playoff exits in each of the previous three seasons with Colorado, he looked forward to a longer future with the Avalanche. But injuries thwarted those plans. Calvert was limited to 18 games in the 2020/21 season and doctors finally made the decision for him that his career was over after lingering back problems and his sixth diagnosed concussion. He played 10 seasons in the NHL with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Avalanche.

On May 24, 2021, Calvert had spinal fusion surgery.

For someone who has embraced the physical elements of a role in the NHL’s bottom six, it was a stark change that became fragile. Calvert wore a back brace for three months. He couldn’t bend or turn, and he had to explain to his two boys, Kasey and Beau, that they couldn’t jump or climb on dad.

“That was worrying for me,” Calvert said. “It was long. It was three months of slow movements. You have to learn how to turn again. It wasn’t easy.”

In early 2022, just after his 32nd birthday, Calvert was able to get back on the ice with his sons in a very different role at his backyard rink in Brandon, Manitoba, helping coach their teams. As he honed his skills, he took to the ice and worked with the Brandon Wheat Kings players in a developmental role he accepted after officially retiring.

Now, a year after the spinal fusion, he feels like himself again. He’s back to training, has played eight rounds of golf this spring, and most importantly, he can play with his kids without fear.

“It’s something I need to be active and I still exercise almost every day. I need that as a person,” Calvert said. “I think the answer is that I’ve returned to my new normal and can enjoy the activity in life.”

Calvert’s early departure from the NHL, while finding a new normal with his physical being, also forced him to find a new normal for a second career in hockey off the ice. He spent last season in that role as a player developer with the Wheat Kings. The Avalanche offered him a similar job, he says, and while he enjoyed coaching, Calvert switched to the agency side instead, co-founding CAL Sports Management with Joe Caligiuri.

Caligiuri is a certified NHLPA agent and practicing attorney in Manitoba. He and Calvert were teammates in the WHL, and CAL Sports Management’s goal is to initially focus on Manitoba as they begin to grow the business.

“That’s where we start. There’s only one other NHLPA agent who actually lives in Manitoba,” Caligiuri said. “Other agencies might have an agent here or something, but they don’t have the agent himself — the person who actually represents the player at the meeting with the GM — in Manitoba.”

“I don’t know what the long-term reality is,” Calvert said. “We know it’s going to take five years to really move forward,” Calvert said. “Are we going to aim for a big expansion? Will we remain a boutique agency for Manitoba men? I don’t know, but there’s something exciting about it.”

Officially, Caligiuri will be the agent for CAL Sports Management clients. Calvert will act as an advisor, recruiter, scout and mentor to clients, with plans to eventually have Calvert NHLPA certified, according to Caligiuri.

Calvert’s time with the Wheat Kings was also a crash course in scouting bantam players, which is now a requirement for agencies since most players already have an agent by the time they get drafted into the WHL. At this time, CAL Sports Management doesn’t have a public list of clients, but Caligiuri said he expects that to change soon.

Calvert and Caligiuri did not become official business partners until recently, but the seeds of their professional relationship began in the 2018/19 season.

Becoming an NHLPA certified agent can be a scam because you can’t get certified unless you have a client with an NHL contract, and how do you acquire clients without certification?

That’s the situation Caligiuri found himself in in the spring of 2019 before Calvert helped link him to Colin Wilson. Wilson was sitting next to Calvert in the Avalanche dressing room about to switch agents when he went free. They talked about Caligiuri, Calvert’s former junior teammate, and in June at the Vancouver draft, Caligiuri was negotiating his first NHL contract with Avalanche GM Joe Sakic.

Caligiuri would continue to represent Calvert as his agent, but was never able to negotiate a contract for him due to the injury and NHL elimination.

Over the past year, the idea of ​​CAL Sports Management came to fruition through a series of phone calls and eventually a marathon meeting at Caligiuri’s kitchen table. The meeting lasted either six or eight hours, depending on who you ask, and Calvert and Caligiuri analyzed “every possible element” of the plan to start their own company. From that meeting, they worked on the logistics of starting a business – branding, certification, etc. – and settled on the name CAL Sports Management, as that’s the first three letters of each of their last names.

The company was formed on the morning of Game 4 between Avalanche and Oilers. It’s a fitting parallel for Calvert, who was prevented from continuing his NHL career but is comfortable a year later and is pursuing another with his agency and his health intact. It eased the pain a bit to see the Avalanche advance without him. In fact, Calvert made it to Denver to see the first two games of the finals in person.

“I almost want to cry because I was so happy for her,” Calvert said.

(Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

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