It’s a November afternoon. Brian Prout is eating lunch at a downtown Saginaw café.
His cell phone rings. He looks down at the screen.
“Sorry, it’s the boss; I gotta take this,” he says, pressing the button to answer.
The boss is none other than Dave Drinkill, General Manager of the Saginaw Spirit hockey team. The Spirit are getting ready to head to Ontario to play the Kitchener Rangers. There’s a lot of logistics to coordinate.
So Brian is busy.
“Yep, I’m on it,” he says into the phone. He hangs up and leans back.
“A player forgot his suit,” he explains. He takes a sip of his water. “They’re about to go on a road trip.”
As Assistant General Manager of the Saginaw Spirit, Brian is a hub of sorts: connecting the players’ hockey lives with their everyday lives, including school, housing, and transportation.
Down the road from this café is The Dow Event Center: the home of the Saginaw Spirit. Brian has dedicated many years to helping transform that very rink into an opportunity to partner with local businesses and shine a light on the community .
He got in on the ground floor back in 2002 on the business side of the Spirit. Now he’s on the hockey side, serving as the US recruiter and looking for the next hockey star to wear the Spirit sweater.
Brian’s cell phone rings again.
He smiles, then reaches for the phone again.
“Hey boss, what’s up?”
It’s just another day in the life of Brian Prout during hockey season.
Fate and Coincidence
Brian always liked sports and how the body works athletically. It’s what drove the Canadian native to pursue an undergraduate degree in Kinesiology and then a graduate degree in Sports Management from the University of Windsor.
In his second year pursuing his graduate degree, he secured a co-op position in the Ad and Sales Department with the Detroit Red Wings.
Then fate or coincidence – or a little bit of both – intervened.
“My boss who ran the ad/sales department was from Bay City and was buddies with Craig Goslin, the president of the Spirit,” he said. “It was serendipitous that Craig knew Bill.”
That connection opened a door for Brian. In May 2002, he got an interview for a new position with a major junior OHL team in the United States.
He drove to Michigan to meet with Dick Garber – owner of the Saginaw Spirit – and Craig.
“Dick came up to me and I thought Dick was Craig,” Brian laughed. “Here Dick was, the owner of the company, and he’s there offering me a bottle of water. I was impressed.”
A week after his first interview, Brian was hired as an Account Executive on the business side for the Saginaw Spirit.
He got to work.
Building the Plane While Flying It
Four months. After Brian was hired, there were just four months until the puck would drop for the first time at The Dow.
There was a lot to do.
“We didn’t know what we didn’t know,” Brian laughed. “If I knew then what I know now, I’d be overwhelmed. But we put our heads down and did what we needed to do. Craig and I sat down and wrote the business plan on a napkin.”
Together, they were working diligently to get the team and the rink to meet OHL standards. This included signage. As an account executive, Brian’s primary job was to create corporate ad opportunities with local companies like Meijer, Garber Buick, and others.
“All of the signage at The Dow Event Center today… none of that was there,” Brian explained. “There was nothing in the rink. We were making things OHL-Standard: signage from a corporate standpoint, printing, promotion. We were literally building the plane while flying it. It was exciting, it was stressful, there was always someone in the office at midnight. It was a whirlwind.”
Brian said Dick Garber’s involvement was important because of Mr. Garber’s care for the community.
“Having Dick Garber’s name attached to the Spirit helped overcome doubts by the community,” he said. “Dick is one of the leaders in the community as far as giving back to the community and employing people in this community. It opened a lot of doors. We had something valuable to sell: the OHL. The best teens in the world come here to play hockey.”
By September 2002, the puck dropped, the team took flight, and Brian was in the middle of it all.
A Fresh Perspective
Brian worked for the team as an Account Executive for three years. Then life intervened. He went back home to Canada to help his family.
Soon, though, the Spirit called him back. He couldn’t say no. He joined the team as the Vice President of Corporate Sales.
“I was recharged, and I was ready to come back,” he said. “It was such a good environment with good people. The culture was very team-oriented. If you needed help, people jumped in. There were so many moving parts and everyone was on the same page.”
Brian helped grow the corporate base and took on more of a leadership role.
In this position, it was more evident than ever to Brian that a hockey team is more than a hockey team.
“The budget of hockey is millions to operate a team: just with the commitment you make to the players, equipment, transportation, schooling, room and board…ticket sales alone don’t cover it,” Brian said. “It doesn’t matter if it is pro or minor or major junior. You need to find ways to create revenue. Sponsorships and advertising became a big part of all teams, and it’s a way to make ends meet.”
He worked hard to fill those seats and build business relationships. He helped the Spirit to become an entity that other teams looked at for inspiration from a business standpoint.
Brian felt the itch to return to his Canadian homeland. After working for a friend, he returned to the hockey world working for the Sarnia Sting from 2012 to 2015. When the Sting changed ownership, Brian decided it was his time to move on to other opportunities.
The Saginaw Spirit found him once again.
“It was 2015; I was on a hiking trip and my phone rang,” he said. “Drinks [GM Dave Drinkill] had just got out here and Dave wanted help on the hockey side. That’s the thing about the business side of hockey: you have no control. On the hockey side, I had input: who we drafted, who we traded for, the success on the ice.”
Brian said yes. Once again, he was back home with the team where his career began. This time, he’d be involved in the sport itself.
A New Era
Nowadays, Brian’s role as Assistant General Manager means every day is an adventure.
That doesn’t mean he has forgotten where it all started.
“I love the Dow Event Center,” he said. “It has so much character. Our rink is very unique. When I walk in there, it’s something to be proud of. I remind myself to stop and look around and remember where we were and where we are now.”
He said the business side of the Spirit has come a long way since its earliest days.
“The Spirit is a finely tuned machine now,” he said. “It’s a lot of work, but we know what we’re doing now. Now the standard is in place and they’re crushing it. We are the healthiest franchise we’ve ever been because both the business side and hockey side have good people in place and have been successful because of it.”
At the end of the day, it is the community and the fans that really make the Spirit soar as a franchise.
“The Spirit coming here was more about community than hockey,” he said. “It still is. It has become an integral part of Saginaw and a place of community pride. We will always be a community-based team. There’s a lot of touchpoints in the community: our players live here, go to school here, go to the restaurants and stores here. It is fun to give back to the community, and we want to continue to give back.”
Brian said he is grateful to be a part of the Garber organization through the Saginaw Spirit.
“Working with Garber and Dick, it reinforces the priorities I was taught as a kid and the importance of treating people well,” he said. “The family values I grew up with are applied in the real world here with this organization. You can be a good person and live a successful life.”
As for the fans?
“Thank you for your continued support. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you.”
First concert? KISS at the Palace
First car? ’92 Pontiac Sunbird
Favorite food? Pizza. Hawaiian. Ham & pineapple all the way.
Three words your friends/family would use to describe you? Loyal, compassionate, hardworking
Item on your bucket list? Hike the Appalachian Trail and climb Denali