But Hammett recognized that there were limits to how far he'd be able to take the hockey program, so he stepped aside last season. Alan Gagleard took over as general manager last summer, promising to bring money and a high-octane winning mentality to the program.
Gagleard is an attorney and businessman who founded the Power P.E.O. (Professional Employer Organization) in 1998. The company handles a variety of services for businesses, including payroll, health plans and taxes. Gagleard grew up in Detroit, an avid childhood fan of the Detroit Red Wings. Since moving to Phoenix in 1986, he's tried to raise the profile of hockey in the Valley. He was a founder and part-owner of the Phoenix Mustangs, a minor league team in the West Coast Hockey League.
Volcan, a four-year veteran of the NHL, had played for the Mustangs in recent years. Gagleard had seen Volcan's competitive fire up close, and he wanted him onboard with ASU. One of his first moves as Ice Devils general manager was to hire Volcan as director of hockey operations. Volcan didn't intend to coach, but he says he couldn't find anyone else who fit the bill, so he hired himself.
As proof of his seriousness, he put together a strong coaching staff that included former Coyotes head coach Jim Schoenfeld. Schoenfeld, who was fired by the Coyotes last May after two years, agreed to help Volcan organize practices and plan a schedule for the team.
"Jim and I played against each other for many years when he was with Buffalo and I was with Hartford and Calgary," Volcan says. "So we had a mutual friendship, and that developed over the last few years when he was coaching the Coyotes. I knew if there was an opportunity for him to coach in the NHL, he was going to jump on it. But he said he'd like to come out to practices. And he was there at 75 percent of the practices. And that lifted that intensity level right up.
"Talk about a mentor? I was the luckiest coach in North America."
At 6 feet, 190 pounds, Volcan is small only by the standards of the NHL, where he was frequently a David being cross-checked by Goliaths. Yet he appears to be shorter than he really is. He conveys the impression of a stocky, pugnacious little guy who'd sooner give up a pound of flesh than let anyone get the puck past him.
His compact frame is muscular enough to make you think he could still cut it at the professional level. He has brown wavy hair, dark, penetrating eyes and a set of matching "hockey teeth." That is, his teeth are so perfect -- absolutely straight and blindingly white -- that you're instantly aware that they're fake. Sure enough, Volcan volunteers that he once took a slap shot to the mouth and had his front teeth pushed back to his jaw. He says the resulting five and a half hours of oral surgery were much more painful than the broken legs and dislocated shoulders he endured during his playing career.
Volcan's dad, Mike, played for 10 years in the Canadian Football League. He was an all-star defensive tackle and won two Grey Cups, the Canadian equivalent of a Super Bowl title.
Despite his father's inspiring example, Volcan -- the middle child of three -- always had his sights set on the ice rink, not the gridiron. Even at the elementary-school level, competition in Edmonton was always intense. He says at least 10 of his closest childhood friends ended up joining him in professional hockey.
Volcan was something of a skating prodigy. In 1972, at the age of 10, he traveled to Czechoslovakia as part of one of the first amateur teams from the West ever to cross the Iron Curtain. At 17, he was a starter on the University of North Dakota's national-championship team. The following year he was drafted in the third round by the Hartford Whalers. When he joined the team at the beginning of the 1980-81 season, he was the youngest player in the NHL.
"Looking back on it, I was too young," he says. "On the ice was all right. Off the ice, the publicity and all that, I didn't have any experience with that. Or with having $100 in my pocket."
Volcan came along when a new breed of offensive-minded defenseman was entering the NHL. A decade earlier, the Boston Bruins' Bobby Orr had redefined the position -- which had previously entailed hanging around behind your team's blue line and stifling opposing threats -- by bringing a scorer's sensibility to it. Orr was way ahead of his time, but by the early '80s, Orr disciples like Paul Coffey were able to permanently change the defenseman's role on the ice.