Ian Gentile, Vice President of Hockey Operations with the United States Hockey League completed his master's degree online from West Virginia University in sport management in 2020 while working full-time.
After over a decade working his way up the ranks in the Chicago Blackhawks organization, a stint that included three Stanley Cup championships, he served as the Director of High Performance and National teams for USA football for 14 months before returning to the rink in his current position. Read more about his current role, his career journey and the impact WVU has had on him, as well as advice for students aspiring to work in the sport industry.
Find out more about Ian's educational and professional journey below:
Major: Sport Management (M.S.)
Hometown: Chicago, Ill.
Full Academic history: Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (2008), Master of Science degree from West Virginia University (2020)
Full-time employment history prior to new role as Vice President, Hockey Operations, USHL:
USA Football (2022-23)
- Director, High Performance and National Teams
Chicago Blackhawks (2007-21), Stanley Cup Champions (2010, 2013, 2015)
- Senior Manager, Player Development (2017-21)
- Manager, Player Development (2014-17)
- Manager, Hockey Administration (2012-14)
- Coordinator, Hockey Operations (2010-13)
- Scouting Coordinator (2009-10)
- Hockey Operations Intern (2007-2009)
What is your new position and what does your day-to-day look like?
As the Vice President, Hockey Operations for the USHL, I oversee the league’s central registry and drafts, game operations, event planning, player safety and supplemental discipline, and manage a league-wide licensing and product partnership program. Additionally, I serve as the league’s liaison and work closely with a variety of key groups and stakeholders, including team hockey operations and medical staffs, the league’s Competition Committee, the league’s Referee-In-Chief, Bauer, HockeyTech, USA Hockey, and the National Hockey League.
It's safe to say that there is no “day-to-day.” Each day presents unique challenges and opportunities depending on the current stage of the hockey calendar or season. In-season, my work will revolve more closely around league matters, rules and regulations, player safety, and game operations. In the off-season, we turn our attention to strategic planning initiatives, league meetings, and vendor relationships.
What is your vision for the organization as you move forward, and what are the current challenges?
I come to the USHL at a critical time of growth and evolution. We are poised to welcome a new commissioner and are facing a host of unique and challenging opportunities. In truth, it was a major part of the appeal of this position. I enjoy taking part in strategic planning that may help shape the future of the sport in very real and meaningful ways. As the nation’s only Tier I junior hockey league, the USHL plays a singular role in helping develop players and advance the game.
What attracted you to pursue the position?
As I mentioned, I was quite intrigued by the thought of helping shape, in however modest a fashion, the game for this and future generations. In this capacity, I will be involved directly in both hockey and business operations. While hockey operations will always be my strongest suit, I have really come to enjoy the unique challenges presented on the business side of sport. With a position such as this, I’m able to grow in both business and operations—something that is hard to come by in this industry.
How did your time with USA Football, and away from hockey, help you in your career?
In stepping away from a thirteen-year NHL career, I did not know fully what to expect in the National Governing Body (NGB) space. However, I found it to be a dynamic and challenging environment. At that level, one is forced to wear many hats and contribute across several verticals. That type of opportunity is not really available in professional sports.
Specifically, I was very proud to be a part of building USA Football’s first High Performance Plan, a multi-year strategic plan focused on an NGB’s approach to player development, talent identification, and national team preparation. I had a role in positioning the organization for potential Olympic inclusion. That was quite a thrill and a responsibility I took quite seriously.
Going back to WVU, when you were looking for a graduate school, what made WVU the right choice for you?
I connected with WVU’s graduate approach almost immediately. I believe strongly in the eight-week course format. Having been ten years removed from my undergraduate experience, I was nervous about a return to academia. By enrolling in just one course every eight weeks, I knew that I would be able to manage my time effectively and put the full thrust of my focus into one topic at a time. This unique format made the program very easy to navigate.
Why was getting a graduate degree important for you personally and/or professionally?
At that time, I was well-established in my NHL career and my wife had not yet given birth to our two sons, so I was comfortable in taking on an additional challenge that furthered my career or improved my prospects for advancement.
I worked on the operations side of professional sport—meaning, I worked on matters directly related to the sport and the success of the team on the ice. Therefore, I had little experience with the business side of the industry. Having studied political science as an undergraduate, I had no previous business experience of any kind. Learning the fundamentals of effective sport business allowed me to gain a deeper appreciation for my colleagues on the business side of the organization and opened my eyes to other opportunities in sport.
How would you describe the WVU alumni network when it comes to your profession?
The WVU alumni network is exceptional. Though there may not be many WVU graduates working directly in hockey, I have encountered fellow Mountaineers all throughout sport. In fact, at USA Football I had a colleague who was a WVU graduate and a former WVU athletics department employee. Maybe we can start to turn the tide and see more WVU alumni in hockey! Wouldn’t that be great?
Having been in the professional world, you’ve likely seen young people aspiring to get started in sports. What things have you learned along the way that you could pass on to students?
A great question and one in which I’ve invested a lot of time over the years. I often tell aspiring sports professionals two things.
First, be prepared to accept any job anywhere in sport. If that means you’re the mascot assistant in Fairbanks, Alaska, so be it! You’ll find that it’s much easier to navigate the industry once you’ve gained some professional experience. Though I was able to start my career in my hometown and at the highest level of sport, that is the exception. Accept any opportunity that will afford you the chance to grow in the industry and work towards the types of positions you most desire.
Second, what is it that will make your resume stand out amongst the rest? You’re interested in sports, yes. But, why should sports be interested in you? Consider a graduate degree, unique internships, volunteer opportunities, etc., that will help distinguish your resume from the rest. You should network like mad and never be afraid to fail.
This is an incredibly difficult industry to break into, but, if you persevere and get an opportunity, you’ll find that this field is as rewarding as they come.
What has the experience of being an adjunct professor for WVU been like and what kinds of things did you learn being on that side of the educational process?
I have been an adjunct in the online graduate sport management program for the last year and a half, and I love it! There is nothing more rewarding than giving back to aspiring professionals, especially those participating in the same program from which I graduated.
A typical WVU graduate student is motivated, inventive, intelligent, and often from exciting and unique backgrounds and perspectives. I’ve enjoyed getting to know our students and understanding more fully the types of things they are hoping to achieve in completing a graduate degree.