Pity the poor hockey scout

Future Greats is a compelling behind-the-scenes look into the hockey biz

The job of the pro scout is probably one of the least understood functions in hockey. Scouting is a form of risk assessment of young hopefuls that should help the scout’s franchise. It is a lonely thankless task with poor pay constant travel and lonely motel rooms. Scouts live in the corners of rinks scribbling notes about players’ tendencies and abilities even ignoring the game itself. Often tied to a specific management team be it coach or general manager scouts rarely survive the management shakeups that are so common in the National Hockey League (NHL) today. Sometimes they must watch from the sidelines as the team they so painstakingly put together reaches the ultimate prize — the Stanley Cup.

Gare Joyce (a three-time National Magazine Award-winner) realizes a long-held secret ambition to learn the secrets of the trade by spending a full season as a hockey scout for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Joyce opens a window on the life and methods of an NHL scout and penetrates this mysterious world as no one has before. He brings this exclusive brotherhood into the limelight as he exposes its members’ lives on the road and what it’s like to be a 17-or 18-year-old junior player under the scrutiny of scouts.

Before writing this book Joyce contacted all NHL teams. Only two responded and only Columbus agreed. The book does not focus exclusively on Blue Jackets life however. It opens at the Toronto 2006 NHL draft where Joyce has three weeks of all-access to what is called “the Combine” with the Blue Jackets’ crew. With over 100 interviews of young potentials Joyce a s a journalist is surprised by how little personal information the teams gather considering their prospective monetary investment.

Joyce then hits the road. He admittedly logs fewer games (85 games globally) than a full-time scout who would view more than 200 but he puts in as many miles as some. He covers the Canadian leagues and international events starting with the under-18s in the Czech Republic and Slovakia in August. He then bounces around the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) in the fall does a stint on the bus with the Swift Current Broncos (the smallest market major junior team) in December under-20s in Sweden in December through January three trips through Quebec in the new year a week in the Western Hockey League in February under-18s in Finland OHL playoffs Memorial Cup in Vancouver and then finally on to the draft in Columbus.

This was a real year-long immersion in a scout’s life and work and Joyce is clearly interested in how his observations stacked up with those of the pro scouts. One could argue the trained journalist was able to see more than the pros.

Joyce’s abilities as a writer and his multi-faceted background in sports coverage take Future Greats and Heartbreaks beyond hockey. The author draws interesting comparisons to the methods and tools scouts use in other professional team sports.

The book describes many of the class of 2007 top draft choices in-depth. One compelling story is that of Akim Aliu. His father is Nigerian and his mother is Ukrainian he arrived in Canada from Russia at age 11 and only started playing sports at age 12. Aliu’s hockey career has been a rocky road. Some serious hockey fans may remember a hazing incident that involved Aliu and Steve Downey while both played for the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL. Downey was a 2006 Canadian World Junior gold medal team member. Downey is currently serving a 20-game suspension for a vicious hit in the Philadelphia Flyers’ preseason and Aliu was the second-round draft choice of the Blackhawks and is currently playing for the London Knights of the OHL.

Rabid hockey fans draft-niks and sports fans in general will thoroughly enjoy this fascinating read.