BARDSLEYThe Portland Winterhawks’ success since 2008-09 can largely be attributed to Mike Johnston, the head coach and general manager, and his boss Bill Gallacher, the owner. And, of course, the players have won the games on the ice.

But others have been doing their duties, too, including Matt Bardsley, who has worked his way to become assistant general manager under Johnston.

Back in the day, Bardsley helped find talents such as Paul Gaustad and Brandon Dubinsky, and scouted and helped draft the likes of Brad Ross and Ty Rattie. Bardsley also has been involved in prospect scouting and advance scouting, and the Winterhawks’ list player scouting since the team’s ownership change.

He now sits one step away from being a Western Hockey League general manager — his stated goal — and Bardsley remains forever grateful for the impact Johnston has made in his life.

The 1989 Wilson High graduate — one of two Portland-area employees on the hockey side, along with assistant coach Kyle Gustafson, a Centennial High grad — says he never envisioned rising to such level in an organization.

It’s simply been a stepping-stone sort of thing. He started out as part of the Junior Hawks’ bantam team.

“I wasn’t sure where it was going to take me,” he says. “It’s certainly been a great ride.

“Especially when Mike took over, there was so much going on, you’re trying to adjust, and what’s my role? Am I still going to be here? It was out of my control. Mike got comfortable with me and started to trust me, and things became clearer. Now I see where I’m headed and I certainly have goals. My current goal, obviously, is to help the Portland Winterhawks have success.”

Johnston already has talked to Bardsley, 42, about moving forward and looking for a GM position at some point.

“Mike says teams want people from successful organizations,” Bardsley says.

Starting as a Hawks area scout, Bardsley became director of player personnel in 2007, under the previous ownership regime. When Gallacher bought the team in 2008-09, Johnston retained Bardsley as an advance scout, and he later became director of hockey operations. When Travis Green left to be a pro minor-league coach, Johnston hired another assistant coach and moved Bardsley into the assistant GM role.

“I’m doing a lot of the same role as before,” he says, “but even more so working closer with Mike on everything, from the administrative to the team to the hockey side. This year, I’ve been doing a lot of scouting, but also spending a lot of time watching our prospects, getting an evaluation of where they’re at, which players we think are ready to make the jump into our lineup next year and getting information from families about their thoughts of coming to Portland.”

His responsibilities now also include player transactions. He worked on various issues surrounding the acquisition of Mathew Dumba from Red Deer, and the defenseman’s move from the NHL to Portland, and the trade with Lethbridge for veteran goalie Corbin Boes.

Bardsley recently watched Hawks prospects Kieffer Bellows and Garrett Wait play in Minnesota. He attended the USA Hockey nationals in Green Bay, Wis. He also scouts prospects for the WHL bantam draft, and he’ll spend time watching 15-year-old players at the Canadian provincial camps.

Bardsley realizes that he has a great mentor in Johnston, who has coached in Canadian college ranks, with Hockey Canada and as an NHL assistant and has been highly regarded in the hockey community for his teaching ability.

“Mike has been tremendous,” Bardsley says. “I’m very lucky to work for Mike. I love every minute of it.

“I try to get as much information as I can from Mike — how he wants to build his teams, his coaching philosophy. He has an amazing mind of how games should be played, how to interact with players and staff. He challenges staff and players in a professional manner that motivates you. And, he leans on you. When he’s busy with his team and coaching, I’m kind of the eyes and ears for prospects and guys up for the (bantam) draft. ...

“I have to be held accountable, if he’s asking a question or for advice, I have to give him my honest opinion, and I want to make sure I’m as accurate as possible.”

It’s suggested that everything Johnston touches turns to gold (except for the general manager/head coach’s well-publicized suspension by the WHL last year for improper player benefits). He has brought in high-caliber players, developed stars and the Winterhawks have captured three consecutive Western Conference titles, the 2013 WHL title and stand as one of the league’s favorites again this year. The Hawks are playing Victoria in the WHL playoffs.

Bardsley agrees that Johnston has done some amazing things here.

“He’s had a tremendous amount of history in the game. He’s seen everything,” Bardsley says. “He’s an inspiring person, so well-spoken.”

Three Portland hockey management men — Garry Davidson, Grant Armstrong, Green — have moved to better positions in recent years. Will Bardsley get his chance elsewhere?

For now, it’s an exciting position to be in — assistant GM for one of junior hockey’s best teams.

“I’m seeing team success, player success and personal success,” he says. “It’s been fun. I’m so happy with where I’m at.”

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