Doug Bodger was selected ninth overall by the Penguins in 1984, but also suited up for the Sabres, Sharks, Devils, Kings and Canucks. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)
“Scouting is not something you can push yourself to do. You have to ask yourself: ‘Do I really want to be on the road six days a week for six months, watching 250 games a year?’ ” – NHL scout
Having to scout players from different teams in different leagues across different geographic areas can be stress-inducing and, of course, time-consuming.
Being on the road so much can not only put a strain on you personally, but can also impact those close to you.
“Crossover scouts who jump from the WHL to the OHL to the QMJHL have to have very understanding families,” said Paul Charles, a scout with the Minnesota Wild. “Sometimes I wonder how some of these families survive.”
That’s one thing about becoming a scout. Sure, it’s easy to say you’d enjoy driving great distances to watch a few notable players who, potentially, could be first round picks or late round steals. However, to actually do it consistently all winter is a whole other beast; you often have nothing, but the job itself on your mind.
“You need to realize how much you’ll be away from your family and how much time you’ll spend on the road,” one Philadelphia Flyers scout said. “Sometimes you drive four hours to go to a game and the whole time you’re thinking about managing the rest of your schedule.”
This is where dedication to the craft is of paramount importance. One scout mentioned how he had a situation where someone on his staff didn’t actually attend games, but faked reports from home. The desire was lost, or perhaps wasn’t really there to begin with. So before you dip your toe in the water, you must understand exactly what you’re getting into, especially if you’re like most in the business and start in the junior ranks.
“It was more travel than I first thought,” Darrell Woodley of the Ontario League’s Barrie Colts said when asked about one aspect of the job that surprised him. “A lot of people don’t know how tiring the job is. It’s a little different than the NHL in that I’ll go to an arena from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and watch hockey all day.”
To further understand how demanding the job is, Robert Kitamura, director of central scouting and player development for the OHL, sent THN an email just shy of midnight Monday night saying he was just getting home from a minor midget game.
“And I will have one the next two nights until I leave for Chicago on Thursday where I will watch 10-15 full games each day,” he wrote.
As a scout, sometimes you will have a certain player on your radar you may have to go out of your way to see. But teams don’t play for your benefit, so your efforts can be for naught.
“You could travel three hours to a game in a snow storm and you get there and the coach tells you the kid stayed out the night before, missed his curfew by 10 minutes and he’s not playing,” said Steve Lyons of the Phoenix Coyotes.
That’s not to say every scout in the business has to travel great distances for long periods of time, though. Often it depends on where your home base is located.
“Some guys live in places where they really have to hit the road because they might only have one or two home teams in their area and you can only see them so much,” Lyons explained. “Some guys handle it differently. If they live in some of those places they might have to hit the road for 16 days straight, come home for four or five and then go bang out another 10-day trip somewhere.
And all scouts handle their schedules differently.
“But it depends on your region,” Lyons said. “Where I live in New England and, say, a guy in the Toronto area don’t have to necessarily be on the road that much if it doesn’t warrant it. You can stay home, see a game almost every night, weekends catch two, three, four games.”
To catch on in the business, you must to have an unquestioned willingness to sacrifice for the job and the dedication to show that willingness – and hockey smarts - right from the start.
Stu McGregor of the Edmonton Oilers explained how, during his first scouting trip with the Kamloops Junior Oilers, he was still holding down another job.
“The first training camp I ever came to, I arrived as a rookie,” McGregor said. “Because of having to hold a regular job as well, I lived in Edmonton and drove into Kamloops through the night after work and arrived at the rink. Bruce (Harrelson, the team’s head scout) met us, introduced us to a few people and then said: ‘Your first test is there’s a first-rounder on the ice and you have to figure out who it is.’
“So we watched the first session and there was an amazing 17-year-old, Doug Bodger. So I thought, that guy can really skate; he has good size. I said ‘I think it’s that guy in the orange jersey playing defense.’ And Bill said: ‘Yep, you passed your first test.’ ”
A Scout's Life is a weekly look at the world of minor and pro scouting throughout North America. Each week we'll talk to different scouts from all levels of the game, getting a first-hand perspective of the different aspects of talent evaluation.