Even though they don’t receive much glory on television after the MasterCard Memorial Cup is won, it's a scout's keen eye for talent and their passion for the game that wins championships in the Canadian Hockey League.
These scouts aren’t raking in the dough for their countless hours spent in the rinks, though. They don’t even earn enough to make a decent living. Their scouting gigs are ultimately a second job with a part-time-like salary. Many of them, however, don’t view scouting as a way to bring in extra income. To them, scouting is a hobby and the cheques are a bonus.
“I don’t think anyone scouts for the money,” says Thomas Miller, who recently accepted a scouting position with the Spokane Chiefs after spending roughly five years with the Portland Winterhawks. “Junior hockey scouts pursued their scouting positions because they love the game and want to be a part of it. I think most hockey fans want to be a part of building a team. It’s fun to spot a player and see him go onto develop into a good player in junior and possibly in the NHL, too.”
His Ontario Hockey League colleague, Matt Moran of the Windsor Spitfires, agrees.
“It’s the passion for the game that has scouts putting in the hours they do,” says Moran. “It’s a dream come true for some us. Most work their way up to the major junior level and hope to move onto the NHL afterwards.”
Since a CHL scout's salary isn't big enough to pay the bills, nearly all of them juggle a full-time job along with their hockey gig. It goes without saying that this isn’t always easy for talent evaluators who watch anywhere from 80 to 250 games a year for their scouting positions. It entails countless sacrifices and long winter nights in cold rinks.
Outside of the hockey arena, Prince George Cougars scout Jason Gordon is known as the principal of Dr. Brass School in Yorkton, Sask. As the lead educator of an elementary school, spare time isn’t often seen on his calendar. When he isn’t at school, with his family or on the golf course, Gordon is scouting the bantam ranks.
“I’m usually pretty busy in the winter,” says Gordon. “As the principal, my full-time job is No. 1 on my priorities’ list. But I love my scouting position with the Cougars and have to make sacrifices to do a thorough job. I watch about 120 bantam games a year, so it takes a lot of my time. I have to sacrifice weekends and the job doesn’t end at the rink. I always have paper work to do after the game that takes time.”
Gordon uses his principal position to his benefit for his scouting gig. He uses the contacts he has made in the Saskatchewan School Board Association to find out more about players’ character.
“Character is very important to the type of players the Cougars want to recruit,” says Gordon. “Knowing other principals allows me to find out more about how the kids act and if they have strong character. It’s one of the perks about my teaching position.”
The Cougars are the third team Gordon has worked for as a scout. He previously spent time with the Moose Jaw Warriors and Calgary Hitmen. Having worked before computers were vital to running a junior hockey team, Gordon feels scouting has gotten easier with the technological advancements.
“I use to have to fax my scouting reports,” he says. “It’s a bit easier now with technology evolving. I just have to email them now. And having stats on the Internet and being able to videotape players is a big advantage."
Miller, who resides in Saskatoon, is a real estate agent. Although he puts in full-time hours on a weekly basis, he sees the value in his career’s flexibility to shuffle around his schedule to go along with his scouting position.
“It would be hard to scout if I had a 9-5 job,” says Miller. “I’m always busy, but it makes it easier to be able to make my own schedule at times. I always have something to do with my job, though. Sometimes at the rink, I’m on the phone for two-and-a-half periods in a game. But the good thing about real estate is it slows down in the winter and that’s when my scouting job speeds up.”
Moran is heading into his first season as a scout for the OHL’s Spitfires, but having scouted for the OHL Central Scouting Bureau and the USHL’s Chicago Steel in the past, he knows what it takes to juggle a scouting position along with other priorities.
“I’ve been scouting since college so I know that it demands a lot of sacrifices,” says Moran, who resides in Philadelphia. “Sometimes it means you start your weekend in the rinks early on Friday and end it in the rinks late Sunday night.”
Working for the Spitfires, however, will demand more from Moran than his past scouting positions while he spends 50-60 hours a week as the vice president of a private equity firm in Pennsylvania.
“I’ll be watching more games and covering a big area for the Spitfires,” he says. “I will be a busy guy, but that’s what it takes to be a part of the game. And since I was in college, I knew I wanted to be involved in hockey. Working for a private equity firm, I spend 20 or more weeks a year on the road, so that job alone keeps me busy. Sometimes I’ll be getting home on a Friday and will have to pretty much go straight to the rink.”
When Lethbridge Hurricanes scout Greg Heakes isn’t in hockey rinks, he is usually in other sports arenas for his job as a Los Angeles-based sports writer for Agence France-Presse. As a full-time sports guy, Heakes always has something on the go, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m always busy with my scouting job and sports writing job, but I love sports so I can’t complain,” says Heakes. “The travel is a big part of what keeps me busy. I not only cover the California area for the Hurricanes, but I also cover other areas like Denver. There’s a lot of driving involved.”
Unlike most CHL scouts, when Heakes walks out of rinks after scouting a game, he is usually fortunate enough to feel the warm California sun rather than the cold Canadian winters.
“It’s nice not to have to warm up my car for 20 minutes after a game like some have to in Canada,” says Heakes, who formerly worked for the Edmonton Sun. “I can’t complain about driving to the rink with the sunroof up and the windows down. In Denver it isn’t always that way, though. But I still don’t have to go through near the cold winters like I went through when I lived in Edmonton.”
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen