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

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

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

Recently retired and entering the new phase of his professional life running a sports agency, he was happy — “It was sweeter than bitter,” he says — but can’t deny it was also heartbreaking watching the Avalanche advance.

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

Calvert was supposed to be there. He’d been through the painful playoff exits in each of the prior three seasons with Colorado and he was looking forward to an extended future with the Avalanche. But injuries derailed those plans. Calvert was limited to 18 games during the 2020-21 season and doctors eventually made the decision for him that, after lingering back issues and his sixth diagnosed concussion, his career was over. 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 embraced the physical elements of a bottom-six role in the NHL, it was a stark change becoming fragile. Calvert was in a back brace for three months. He couldn’t bend or twist, and he had to explain to his two young boys, Kasey and Beau, that they couldn’t jump or climb on dad.

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

In early 2022, soon after his 32nd birthday, Calvert was able to get on the ice again with his sons in a very modified role on his backyard rink in Brandon, Manitoba, and he helped coach their teams. As he ramped up what he was able to do, he’d get on the ice and do skills work with Brandon Wheat Kings’ players in a development role he’d accepted after formally retiring.

Now a year post spinal fusion, he’s feeling like himself again. He’s able to train again, he’s gotten in 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 train almost every day. I need that as a person,” Calvert said. “I guess the answer is I’m back to my new normal and I’m getting to enjoy the activity in life.”

While finding a new normal with his physical being, Calvert’s early retirement from the NHL also forced him to find a new normal for a second career in hockey away from the ice. He spent this past season in that player development role with the Wheat Kings. The Avalanche offered him a similar job, he says, and while he enjoyed coaching, Calvert instead pivoted to the agency side, and alongside Joe Caligiuri, launched CAL Sports Management.

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

“That’s where we start. There is only one other NHLPA agent that actually lives in Manitoba,” Caligiuri said. “Other agencies may have a rep or something here, but they don’t have the agent themselves — the person actually representing the player in the meeting with the GM — in Manitoba.”

“I don’t know what the long-term reality is,” Calvert said. “We know this is going to take five years to really get moving,” Calvert said. “Are we going to go for big expansion? Are we going to stay a boutique agency for guys from Manitoba? I don’t know, but there is something exciting about that.”

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

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

Calvert and Caligiuri didn’t become official business partners until recently, but the seeds for their professional relationship started during the 2018-19 season.

Becoming an NHLPA-certified agent can be a catch-22 because you can’t be certified unless you have a client with an NHL contract, and how do you land clients without certification?

That’s the Caligiuri situation was in the spring of 2019 before Calvert helped connect him with Colin Wilson. Wilson sat next to Calvert in the Avalanche locker room and was looking to change agents as he headed into free agency. They spoke about Caligiuri, Calvert’s former junior teammate, and in June at the draft in Vancouver, Caligiuri was negotiating his first NHL contract with Avalanche GM Joe Sakic.

Caligiuri was also going to represent Calvert as his agent going forward but never got to negotiate a contract for him because of the injury and NHL retirement.

Over the past year, the idea of ​​CAL Sports Management came to fruition through a series of phone calls, and eventually a marathon meeting sitting at Caligiuri’s kitchen table. The meeting lasted either six or eight hours, depending on whom you ask, and Calvert and Caligiuri dissected “every possible element” of the plan to launch their own business. From that meeting, they worked on the logistics of launching a company — branding, certification, etc. — and finalized the name CAL Sports Management because those are the first three letters of each of their last names.

The company was launched on the morning of Game 4 between the Avalanche and Oilers. It’s a fitting parallel for Calvert, who was sidelined from being able to continue his NHL career, but a year later is comfortable and pursuing another with his agency and with his health intact. It’s dulled the pain a bit of watching the Avalanche advance without him. In fact, Calvert made it to Denver for the first two games of the Final to watch in person.

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

(Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

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