Ritch WinterThroughout his career, Ritch Winter has been known as a guy who’s got his clients’ back. Chris Chelios, NHL Hall-of-Famer and three-time Stanley Cup champion, lauds him as a man “who has more courage and has done more for players than any agent… ever.” Chicago’s Rinkside Magazine referred to him as the game’s “first player agent superstar.”

It all started with a call from behind the Iron Curtain.

After graduating in 1983 with a law degree from the University of Calgary, followed by a year working for an agent in Los Angeles, Winter was awakened in the middle of the night by the urgent ringing of his phone. Frank Musil, one of the earliest Czech defectors in the NHL, was on the other end of the line asking if Winter would help get him “out.” Without hesitation and within 24 hours, he was winging his way to eastern Europe, and to his first NHL client.

Ever since, Ritch Winter has been a crusader for fair practice in the often fraught relationships between players, owners and agents. Most notably, he led the 1989 movement to get then-head of the NHLPA, Alan Eagleson, convicted on fraud and racketeering charges. He also fought for and drove further advances for the players – including publication of salaries, recovery of pension monies, and stronger Players Association leadership – in the ensuing years.

Through almost 30 years running his Edmonton-based firm The Sports Corporation, to his current role as President, Wintersports Ltd., he’s been representing top NHL players and building his brand as one of hockey’s most highly regarded business leaders. His latest project continues to build on his passion and love for the sport, co-founding the Business of Hockey Institute (BHI) and partnering with Athabasca University on developing a cutting-edge Executive MBA featuring hockey specific courses, which lead to the Certified Hockey Professional (CHP) designation. Winter reasons “the game has improved so dramatically on the ice, and we’re in such a competitive environment, entertainment-wise, that isn’t it foundational to provide a training ground for executives to drive the business?”

As the business side of the game continued to grow exponentially, he and former fellow agent Brian Burke saw a need to improve the quality and knowledge of people in NHL front offices, to work on the talent in the boardroom and to grow the game’s future for everyone’s benefit. “Ritch came to me and said, ‘I’ve got an idea, something that could transform the game, let me know when you’ve got time to talk about it’,” says Brian Burke, President of Hockey Operations with the Calgary Flames. “You can’t do that to an Irishman, I want to know right now.” The idea Ritch had was the creation of an Executive MBA focused on the business of hockey. From that first conversation, Brian and Ritch began the process of creating the Business of Hockey Institute and partnering with Athabasca University.

Winter wanted a partnership with a top institution with experience online because the pressures of life in hockey and in the NHL in particular, meant it wasn’t possible to build the international student body he imagined. AU, with its world-class online presence for executive graduate programs and its unmatched flexibility, was the obvious choice. Ritch Winter foresees a global future for this academic/business partnership, predicting with justified confidence that it will “allow us to enrol students from Moscow to Montreal.”