We all see it differently.
From watching the game as a die hard fan, to the highly competitive world of scouting, we all see the game differently.
I was always fascinated with the world of scouting well before my introduction into the fraternity four seasons ago.
It’s been an incredible journey of growth and knowledge with so many amazing mentors willing to give back and teach me the finer aspects of the business. Nevertheless, when it comes right down to it, we all see it differently.
We all rely on our instincts. We all rely on our own experiences within the game.
From our playing days, from our coaching days and beyond, we are always extremely confident with our assessments, evaluations, observations and projections.
Nonetheless, as scouts we all know it’s not an exact art or science. We also realize how wrong our projections can be as well. There are so many intangibles, so many variables that are out of our control. Projections aren’t perfect. Comparisons aren’t full proof, but we always rely on our instincts and we can never doubt those.
Over the past several years as a writer, color analyst and scout I’ve gained amazing insight from combining all three areas in the search for broader knowledge in every role that I have within the game. One scouting colleague may have said it best. “Not everyone can play at the next level.” “Some hit their ceiling in the NHL, some hit QMJHL or Junior A or even Midget.”
Here’s a collection of articles of my personal observations and articles from amateur and pro scouts that have been in the profession for countless decades.
Chapter 1 What I See? (Originally Published on May 1, 2018)
Throughout the entire 2017-18 scouting campaign, I wrote and filmed a series of brief assessments as an overview of what I was observing players and the game from the Midget AAA ranks.
“Observations from the Rink” was one way of sharing my perspective on the game and players today.
When I evaluate a player, the first aspect I look for is the ability to think the game and skate. If you can’t skate in today’s game you won’t be able to make the jump to the next level.
Sure coaches and skating guru’s can work on a player’s stride and make it more explosive, but this aspect is a game changer.
If a player is a dynamic skater no matter what size they are and if they can process the game, they certainly jump off the page in my mind.
Secondly, can the player defend and do they know how to play their position. I’m old school and maybe it’s the former coach coming out in me, and maybe I’m a little too bias, but I watch for players that can play a full 200ft game.
Sure scoring goals and offensive skill is a wonderful asset and critical for any franchise to invest in, however, I watch for the player that can play in all three zones. The player that is accountable and responsible defensively usually is a player that buys into the coach’s message, which indicates that they are coachable and have good character.
The offensively gifted player who takes the puck and bobs and weaves through everyone jumps off the page as well, but for all the wrong reasons.
When evaluating those high skilled players, I look for their willingness to share the wealth so to speak.
Do they pass the puck? Can they pass the puck? Do they head man the puck and jump into open space and seams? Do they think the game? How do they use their high skill set to make their teammates better?
That’s what I see, that’s what I look for in a highly skilled player. Quite frankly I don’t give a rats ass if they can take the puck and go whenever they want, can they defend and are they a good teammate? That’s what I’m looking for, right or wrong that’s what I see.
Obviously being part of central scouting we rank players on skill and other intangibles, so objectivity is critical, even if I don’t necessarily like certain highly skilled players, or any player for that matter, I still have to turn off my coaches brain and rank the player accordingly based on their skill and ability projecting where that player is going to be in the future.
Here are my Top 5 “Look For’s” when I scout and evaluate players: This is What I see!
1) Can they skate?
2) Can they process and think the game?
3) Do they play and understand their position?
4) What type of body language do they possess and do they have good character, are they a good teammate?
5) Compete level: What type of competitor are they?
When discussing players with other team scouting personnel, this topic always surfaces. Coaching. Quite often I usually pose this type question when talking to other scouts. What do you think of that player? I don’t like his style, he’s too one way? The response I usually get is, “well Craig that’s coaching”.
It’s clear I still have a lot to learn about in the scouting world. Team personnel know their organization inside out, they know exactly what they are looking for, they know their needs as well of what type of players fit their organization and coaches mold.
They know what their coaches can get out of players, sure they are drafting the best player available or for organizational need, but they are also drafting them based on what style of coaching they possess.
So when I see shortcomings or slight flaws in a player’s game, they see their coaching staff fixing those issues almost instantly.
When I see a player’s faults they are hyper focused on all the positive attributes they will bring to their club the following season and how that player will transition to the next level. It’s coaching, that’s why you see so many coaches at the Canadian Hockey League level in duel roles with their respective hockey clubs.
It’s all about coaching, that’s why so many scouts in the business today are former coaches.
They know what they are looking for, call it projecting or call it whatever you want, at the end of the day, scouting, coaching and player development are the only formula to success or that’s what I see!
State of the Game:
In my opinion the game isn’t in a good place right now. Coaches have become so systematic that we are starting to produce hockey robots. There is no individual creativity anymore in the game today.
This is highly problematic and concerning when evaluating players, we have to determine if the player can think outside the restraints of team systems.
The indirect pass is killing the game, it’s killing the flow of our game and eliminating one of the most, if not the most valuable skill a player can possess.
The ability to pass!
Out off the glass or going off the boards is becoming the norm in the game today, where’s the creativity, where’s the ability to make plays in traffic or under stress, it’s gone, or is it?
The player that can make these plays and show creativity jump off the page almost instantly.
You show me a player that can process the game, pass the puck and play in high traffic zones and I’ll show you a 1strounder.
The game is changing, but players that possess great vision and have the ability to pass or move the puck and go into open space to get the puck back are on a entirely different level.
That’s what I see!
Chapter 2 What’s With All the Questions? (Originally Published on May 1, 2018)
I was the player at practice that always asked questions. I’m sure it drove my teammates and coaches crazy. I wanted to know what to do under every circumstance, every situation. I didn’t want to be the player to let the team down. I guess wanted to see the game differently.
As a player, I was so scared to make a mistake, my search for perfection became crippling. When I finally realized mistake free hockey doesn’t exist I progressed drastically as a player. Fast-forward three decades, I still ask questions, and I’m getting paid to watch the game.
A Dream Come True
I’ve always been fascinated with the art of scouting. Is it really an art or a mystery? In the scouting game the search for perfection really doesn’t exist either. I’ve only been at for a year and half, but I know that all to well, there’s no mystery behind that one.
Looking back on it now, the main reason I was so intuitive about hockey growing up was that was the way I learned and processed the game.
Believe it or not that’s one of the major aspects I look for when evaluating players in the game today. How does the player process the game, what decisions do they make with the puck and without the puck.
Over the past several months since I’ve started scouting, people are intrigued to hear about the process and they always ask; So what are you looking for or what do you see in a certain player?
I asked that exact same question to NHL Scouts and other QMJHL Scouts well before I started with the CSR last December.
The scouting process has always been intriguing to me. How do scouts recognize future stars of the game at 15?
How do they project and predict future success and player development at 19, 20 and beyond?
There’s no easy answer to that, it’s not an exact science and there are no perfect solutions to that question. However, every NHL Scout that I know works extremely hard, they study every aspect of each player they evaluate and they use their experience and expertise to form their evaluations and reports.
Talking to NHL Scouts has certainly helped my transition into the scouting world. Nevertheless, one sure thing that I did find out over time is the more questions I asked the more insight I gained.
Clearly, I’ve never been afraid to ask questions and I think that’s an invaluable skill to possess. Having access to NHL Scouts over the past four years and beyond has been a tremendous asset, but at the end of the day, you have to trust your ability, instinct, experience and knowledge of the game when it comes to evaluating players.
Emulation is on thing, copying or forging a style is another.
You have to be confident and formulate personal opinions about players when evaluating them. The really interesting aspect about being part of QMJHL Central Scouting is that I can still have open conversations about prospects with individual team personnel, but at the end of the day, my evaluation or report is my own, it’s my opinion.
(Photo: Kris Draper of the Detroit Red Wings Special Assistant to the General Manager on a Scouting Trip in late October)
Other scouts realize I’m not their enemy, their feedback on certain players is truly invaluable for me personally and it has drastically helped my evaluation techniques and strategies, but at the end of the day, my opinion on a player is my opinion period, right or wrong it’s my own.
Having trusted allies is important in the scouting world especially when discussing players strengths, tendencies, shortcomings, character and compete level.
The scouting fraternity is extremely competitive, but surprising welcoming and accepting, but like any other aspect of the game of hockey, it’s a business and each scout wants to win with players that they have assessed, evaluated, scouted and eventually drafted.
Building rapport with other scouts over the past year and half has not only made me a better scout, it’s made me a better analyst from a broadcast perspective. I’m very fortunate to be able to go behind the scenes at the QMJHL level and interview players and coaches alike, discussing their transition into the league and growth as players. To be able to have open dialogue with coaches about current ‘Q’ players and future prospects is truly unique and one that I cherish and embrace.
This aspect has also given me the upper hand in projecting future QMJHL players by comparing certain traits to players that are already playing in the league.
(Photo: Ritchie Thibeau, Head Scout for the Moncton Wildcats and former NHL Scout Calgary Flames)
When making comparisons I try to be as objective as possible. Comparisons can be problematic if there is constant focus on the negative rather than a player’s positive attributes.
In my opinion objectivity was one of the toughest hurdles to get over when I first started. I found myself being over critical while evaluating players. There has to be a shift from the negative to the positive. Over analyzing a player’s negative attributes can only lead to poor drafting.
In my opinion, dismissing a player’s value is one mistake that you have to try to avoid when evaluating players.
Overlooking or underestimating a player’s skill and talent often occurs, but being as objective as possible will prevent and limit this mistake from happening over and over again.
There are countless cases of draft flops and draft miracles.
Sure you try to be objective as possible, but sometimes you pass over certain players and all of the sudden the following year the player is an absolute monster performer.
That happens, it’s unfortunate, it makes scouts look bad, but it is what it is!
Chapter 3 A Scouting Legend (Originally Published on November 11, 2018)
From coaching to scouting, Ferguson has done it all.
The legendary Ontario Hockey League scout has had a front row seat to watch some of the games greatest stars.
Scouting has been a labour of love, an unwavering passion that has truly energized Ferguson’s amazing journey in the game. “I like to count the years, so this is year fifty-nine,” Ferguson said with smile.
“I did coach right from the little guys to Teir II Junior for 21 years and I was also scouting during those years.”
“I guess it’s been 42 years,” Ferguson said of being a scout.
The OHL recognized Ferguson’s impact on the game by naming an award after the scouting legend.
The Jack Ferguson Award also known as the “Fergie” is presented annually to the player selected first overall in the OHL’s Priority Selection. The award recognizes the dedication and contributions made by Ferguson during his twenty-five year association with the Ontario Hockey League,
Ferguson was appointed as head of the OHL’s Central Scouting Bureau in 1981 as it’s Director of Central Scouting after serving as a scout with the Ottawa 67’s.
Ferguson has also served as a scout for many other OHL teams during his outstanding career. So how has Ferguson’s role as a scout evolved?
“My job hasn’t changed very much, because I won’t let,” Ferguson said proudly.
“The only way you can scout is to watch the game.”
“I really feel a lot of the amateurs, not so much the pros run around with their computer or phone in their hand. I think they rely too much on what it says,” stressed Ferguson.
“Anybody can check the stats, anybody can check the size and anybody can check this and that.”
“Can he skate, can he handle the puck does he seem to have a good attitude.”
“Most of the teams from Tier II and up are filming their games and putting them on special channel or something. In my mind you can’t scout watching television,” Ferguson said.
“The cameraman does what he’s suppose to and follows the puck. If I’m there specifically watching one player or a few, I want to watch him when he leaves the bench, he’s whole shift and I really want to watch him when he gets back to the bench to see whether he bangs his stick or if he gives the coach a dirty look or whatever,” stressed the long-time scout.
“I think you can learn everything by watching.”
“The next thing you can learn is talking with the young man, without his father, without his agent without this or that. The boy’s I’ve talked to at 16 or 17 are very honest.”
When it comes to hockey sense, Ferguson has a very unique perspective. “You can’t teach it, you can help it, but you have to have it.”
Ferguson struggles pinpointing his fondest memories of the game due to the sheer number. “I think it’s so general, because the people are so good. If you are involved in the hockey or minor hockey or Junior or what not, you are probably not doing it for the money.”
“Therefore you must be doing it because you are passionate,” Ferguson said.
“I really think most people are in it for the right reasons, but as I said before I do think with all the machinery that we got out there, there are people out there expecting too much of boy’s too young,” confessed Ferguson.
Ferguson is very humble and modest when it comes to discussing his longevity and impact on the game. “I think I always honest.”
“When I was coaching, I would be let go by the executive, never the players, the players loved me.”
Ferguson didn’t rely on a systematic approach to coaching; having fun was his primary coaching objective. “Sometimes we work too hard when we don’t have to, the kids are great,” Ferguson said of his time in the game.
From Central Scouting to working with a specific organization, Ferguson believes there’s always pressure in that aspect of the game. “Yes, there is pressure, it’s different but it’s a very very important job,” Ferguson said of his role with Central Scouting.
“Again you have to have the right people, too many people try to do everything themselves, you just can’t.”
One of Ferguson’s colleagues at Central Scouting kept track of a interesting stat during his reign. 85% of Ferguson’s staff went on to better jobs in the game. That meant a lot to the legendary hockey figure. “Those guys weren’t just stuck there,” Ferguson said proudly.
“They weren’t the type of guys to be stuck there. They did a really good job, I really feel I let them do a good job.”
When it comes to the Head Scouting role, Ferguson’s philosophy is clear. “Don’t tell a person that is a scout that he’s wrong.”
“No body is really wrong, he’s not totally right, but he’s not wrong.”
“I had one guy tell me he wanted to put a boy in the 6th round. He said ‘Jack what are you thinking?’
‘No, I have him in the 8th,’ Ferguson replied. “I didn’t tell that guy he was wrong, because nobody is wrong, but I would joke that I would still put him in the 8th because I was the boss and I would get fired first,” Ferguson said laughing.
“By the same token, I wasn’t down beating them, I was doing my job as well.”
When it comes to discussing a player Ferguson has a straightforward approach. “Don’t tell me you like #8, tell me why you like #8. Too many scouts aren’t really scouts, they go on word of mouth.”
“I think scouting is a big big job, but if I can do it anybody can,” Ferguson admitted.
Ferguson has been fortunate to see the games greats for almost six decades. So the obvious question remains who’s the best?
“Gordie Howe, how’s that,” Ferguson said. “I could probably put a hundred and fifty with him, but like I say Gordie Howe was great, but so is Connor McDavid.”
“Now if that’s isn’t from when I started to the other, what is,” Ferguson said laughing.
McDavid had won the “Fergie” and was playing a neutral site game in Buffalo. Ferguson traveled down to the game and got there several hours before puck drop.
“I go down through the back door of the arena where the Sabres play, I’m walking down where the boy’s are doing the calisthenics, Connor stops and walks over to me and says ‘Thanks for coming to see me play Mr. Ferguson.’ “If that isn’t character, what is,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson remembers seeing another speedster play. “I didn’t know Orr that well at that time, but I did see him play with the Oshawa Generals when he was fourteen years old.”
“I know him quite well now, Bobby’s a great guy, an absolutely great guy,” Ferguson said.
So how good was Robert Gordon Orr at fourteen? “He was just too good,” said a giddy Ferguson. I don’t know how else to put it, he was awesome.”
Ferguson was in the Maritimes over the past few weeks watching the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, a legendary scouting career continues.
Chapter 4 Four Decades of Hockey Experience (Published on March 21, 2019)
For the past four decades Don Maloney has called the NHL home.
After a thirteen year playing career, which saw Maloney amass 621 points in 859 games, the highly skilled forward jumped behind the scenes to confront the business side of the game. Maloney currently serves as the Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations for the Calgary Flames, a role that he has held since 2017-2018.
Maloney was on a scouting trip in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League when I caught up with him at Moncton’s Avenir Centre during a Moncton Wildcats game on March 9th.
The long time executive oversees the Flames scouting staff and provided amazing insight into the organization’s approach on drafting, developing, free agent acquisition and analytics.
CE: Given your extensive career in the NHL, what do you look for in players from a scouting perspective?
DM: “Well I think everyone sees something a little different, for me I like to watch how they move and how they think, probably more than anything else.”
“Now a days size doesn’t matter, in the past you would always default to the 6’1 or 6’2 player.”
“I’ve always enjoyed amateur scouting its all about future and hope, so I’m touching on some of the first rounder’s that might fall into our wheel house maybe at some point, so it’s a lot of fun.”
CE: How involved are you in your role with the Calgary Flames from a scouting perspective and do you follow up and reconfirm what your scouts are reporting?
DM: “I wish I was that bright and had all the answers in the scouting world, but what I find is the longer I do this the more questions I seem ask myself.”
“I oversee the scouting staff both pro and amateur in Calgary, Tod Button has been running our amateur staff for a long time, so for me this year, it’s been getting to know the staff and knowing our people better, and I like the way he runs a meeting.”
“We haven’t had a lot of top picks the last couple of years. For me it’s reading all the reports coming out and looking at the Quebec league for four or five nights and then I’ll go to Ontario.” (Photo Credit Getty Images)
“I’ve seen a lot of the Western kids this year. It’s a good year for the draft in the West, so it’s as much as just getting a better sense of what they are seeing and make sure we are looking at players for today’s game.”
CE: Obviously right now drafting and developing is so critical, in your opinion how has Calgary done in the last three or four years in that capacity?
DM: “I think if you look right now a lot of the players we have are home-grown and you have to have that, it’s critical, it was always important, but now it’s critical.”
“Like you said development is equally important, Ray Edwards runs our development program and we are like everybody else as soon as you draft them you try everything you possibly can to advance their career and make them as good as they possibly can be.”
“It’s an ongoing job and program and the way money is going now, you see players coming out of entry level contracts getting huge pay days and rightly so if they are that good, so it’s critical that you draft and develop.”
CE: With the cap situation now, how important is signing twenty-year old free agents and is the Flames organization looking at that and do you set a certain number of contracts aside for that?
DM:“I think we are a little more aggressive than most right now, simply because we have given up a lot of draft picks over the last couple of years to try to strengthen our NHL club.”
“Travis Hamonic cost us two or three picks, Mike Smith cost us a few picks, consequently we are really on top of the twenty-year-olds, European free agents and college free agents.”
“Craig Conroy oversees that area for us as well as being an Asst. GM in Calgary, so we feel we have a good program to offer. Everybody is selling, but we feel with what we have done internally and some of the players we have brought a long we think we have a pretty good story to talk to a twenty year old about, we are always looking.”
CE: How important is character in the game today from a player perspective and how can the organization grow that and grow that winning culture around character?
DM: “Well it’s always been important and we are like everybody else, we have a sports psychologist on staff and he has a staff so you try to dig as hard as you can into the make up of the people whether it’s the drafting or who you are looking at as a free agent.”
“In my mind it’s a mixed bag, if you hear some rumblings about a player and there maybe some issues off ice, but yet the talent is there, you still have to have talent to win.”
“You really have to dig deep if you see the talent and if there are something’s that might not be overly complementary with regards to personality and the character of the player, we hope to dig deep enough to be sure before we rule somebody completely out to see exactly what makes them tick and that’s what every other organization does, but you have to have good people to win, but you also need talent to win and sometimes they don’t always go hand in hand.”
CE: How is Calgary different than other organizations than you have been, Coyotes for example?
DM: “It’s a good comparable, because obviously in Arizona I was there for ten years, we had our share of struggles, ownership struggles and quite frankly financially we weren’t in a position to invest in the development.
We had a very limited development program and even our scouting, there was a time there that we only had one European scout and we were paying him thirty thousand bucks to cover all of Europe, like I mean it’s a losing game.”
“It’s refreshing to me to be with the Flames, they are committed to winning, they have the resources to go out and have a full staff and have a really strong development program and in my opinion we are in the upper third in the league in the resources we have to put a winning product on the ice.”
“That only gives you a chance, it’s difficult, those teams at the bottom of the economic scale it’s not just cap and dollars and what they are paying players, it’s the infrastructure, you have to invest, it’s really your research and development and you have to invest in that to have a long term winning product.”
“I really felt my time in Arizona that really did set us back, you can get by for awhile, but eventually, ultimately if you’re not investing in your young people you have very little chance to win in this league.”
CE: Obviously the organization is going to make a big push for the Stanley Cup this season, but looking big picture the work in the trenches continues when will you meet with your scouting staff and get prepped up for the draft?
DM:“Most teams have their end of year meetings in May towards the latter part of junior season or right before the Memorial Cup.”
“You don’t want to do that too close to the draft because there’s still a lot of research and things you have to dig in to, but now with the availability of video and the analytics at the junior level that’s become another new innovative step into evaluating players that maybe five to seven years ago just simply wasn’t there, so the information becoming more and more readily available and then its what you do with that information.”
“It’s a lot of work and it’s a constant evaluation process, we do have a very strong analytics part in Calgary, I have come to respect it and I think it’s an important part of the scouting community and job, it doesn’t drive the bus, but it’s very important in the pro and amateur side.”
CE: How did you learn and grow during your time in Arizona, and how has that experience helped you in your new role with the Flames?
DM:“I spent ten years with the Rangers working with Glen Sather as an Asst. Manager and really oversaw most areas of the hockey operations prior to going to Arizona.”
“In Arizona, my primary focus with the Coyotes was the managing the big club, because that’s the engine that pulls the train along. If the big club does alright, hopefully the rest will take care of itself.”
“My new role with the Flames is a lot of fun. Brad Treliving and I worked together in Arizona, he’s the boss now and he has to make all the hard decisions and I try to help him where I can.”
“The more I sit in the sidelines and watch the role, especially in a Canadian market, just the attention, from the demand on his time, outside pressures whether it’s ownership, media it really is amazing to see some of things he has to do.”
“I’m enjoying my time with the Flames and we are obviously having a very strong season, we like where we are at, we think the core of our team is young and we are going to continue to try to supplement that core and maybe sometime down the road we can bring a Stanley Cup to Calgary.”
Chapter 5 Observations From the Rink: An Art or a Science? (Published on May 9, 2019)
Preface to Observations From the Rink: An Art or a Science?
I’m only three years into my journey in the scouting world. I don’t have all the answers, and I certainly have made my share of mistakes over that time. I’m learning and growing every time I walk into the rink.
Being open minded, objective, asking questions when uncertain and being focused every time I evaluate is critical.
Being open to learn, share and grow is something I take great pride in when scouting and I’ve have tried to talk with a lot of fellow QMJHL Scouts and NHL scouts alike.
I’ve learned a lot about the game, the players, and coaches, over that time, but more importantly I’ve learned a lot about myself.
Every time I set foot in a rink, I keep certain examples of players and experiences in the back of my mind, I’m not sure if other scouts do that, but I sure do.
Usually those examples are the mistakes that I’ve made, whether that’s an incorrect projection or assessment, I file all those instances away so I don’t make the same mistake again.
When I evaluate players I try not to make too many comparisons, but in my opinion making comparisons certainly plays a role in the process.
Making comparisons is critical, but I always try to frame it this way when conferencing with other scouts in the game.
‘Player A plays like or has a lot of similarities to Player B.’
It’s certainly not fair to compare all young developing players to established players playing in the league or even in the pro ranks for that matter.
In a lot of cases I feel it may blur your judgment or assessment of the player. Nevertheless, it’s always important to have a benchmark and in a way that benchmark for me always goes back to my hockey knowledge, coaching experience and instincts, which I believe is as important as any aspect of the scouting process.
So how do NHL scouts project and predict future success and player development at 18, 19, 20 and beyond?
There’s no easy answer to that, as discussed there’s not an exact science and there are no perfect solutions to that question. However, every NHL Scout that I know works extremely hard, they study every aspect of each player they evaluate and they use their experience and expertise to form their evaluations and reports.
Talking to NHL Scouts has certainly helped my transition into the scouting world. Nevertheless, one sure thing that I did find out over time is the more questions I asked the more insight I gain.
Clearly, I’ve never been afraid to ask questions and I think that’s an invaluable skill to possess. Having access to NHL Scouts over the past few years and beyond has been a tremendous asset, but at the end of the day, you have to trust your ability.
Emulation is one thing, forging your own personal style is another.
There’s no question you have to be confident and formulate personal opinions about players when evaluating them. The really interesting aspect about being part of QMJHL Central Scouting is that I can still have open conversations about draft eligible prospects with individual team personnel, but at the end of the day, my evaluation or report is my own, it’s my opinion and sometimes I’m wrong.
As a scout you have to trust your instincts, but that’s where the mistakes in your scouting past have to play a role in your scouting future.
I thought I would share some of my insight and perspective, not about certain players or their ranking on a list, but how there’s always the potential for mistakes to occur and to also showcase how subjective and difficult the scouting process can be, especially when you are trying to evaluate and project 15-year-olds.
Is there an exact science to scouting or is it an art? If there is an exact science, what’s the formula?
Observations From the Rink: An Art or A Science?
There’s no exact science or is there? Scouting, evaluating, ranking and projecting is all part of the process, it comes with the territory, so you better be prepared.
Many have tried to perfect the art or science of scouting and there’s no doubt experience plays a massive role in that process.
Nevertheless, as one NHL scout told me ‘it’s hard to predict the intangibles.’
Ask any scout and they will probably have a list of names and countless stories of players who they doubted could have had an impact at the next level that eventually surprised them, proved them wrong and excelled.
Mistakes happen, after all we are all human, but in the scouting world those mistakes become magnified.
Missing out on a player or selecting a player that doesn’t make it, is certainly incomprehensible in this day and age especially given each organizations commitment to drafting and developing in the game today, however mistakes still happen.
I’ve always been one to ask a lot of questions. Don’t ask me why, I guess it’s part of my DNA. I was the player at practice that always asked questions. I’m sure it drove my teammates and coaches crazy. I wanted to know what to do under every circumstance, every situation. I didn’t want to be the player to let the team down. I guess wanted to see the game differently.
As a player, I was so scared to make a mistake, my search for perfection became crippling. When I finally realized mistake free hockey doesn’t exist I progressed drastically as a player.
Fast-forward three decades, I still ask questions, and I’m getting paid to watch the game, but it goes beyond that. I take my role as a scout very seriously, it’s not about the money, it’s about the experience and growing, so when I screw up, it hurts.
Case in point. Last season, the buzz was out on a 16-year-old defencemen that was tearing up the Jr. A ranks in the Maritime Hockey League. The player in question went undrafted in the QMJHL.
How could I have missed him?
I went back to look at my notes, I had definitely watched the player on countless occasions, but why didn’t I see it?
Why didn’t I identify his potential? That’s my job, and to be brutally honest I felt like a failure.
Fast forward to June, the night before the QMJHL Draft. As I sat having supper with a CSR colleague in Shawinigan, the player in question’s agent walks past the patio of the restaurant. We talked about a few players, and he mentioned his player, I’m not sure who asked the question, but it went along the lines of; how high do you think the player would go?
He gave us a semi cryptic answer, he clearly knew something we didn’t. One team had specifically identified him.
My colleague had watched the player in question play and was very impressed with his skill and poise with the puck. What team would draft him? How high would he go?
How did a player with that skill set get passed over in his draft year? How could 18 teams miss on a present can’t miss prospect? Well it happened, and it will probably happen again!
As hard as all the scouts work putting in all the hours these types of scenarios will happen, I hate to admit it, but it will.
Oh yeah the 16-year-old phenom in question was Jordan Spence. I guess you could say the rest is history.
Over the course of the next eight months I would see first hand what kind of player Jordan Spence was and would become at the “Q” level.
In Spence’s case he developed physically, grew three inches, which in turn led to a quicker first step and stronger skating stride.
Spence was the prototypical late bloomer, but the skill was always there, how could I have missed him. 18 teams missed out on Jordan Spence, but it’s the intangibles that Spence possessed that propelled him to the success.
Hard work, dedication, character and determination, but more importantly an unwavering desire and drive to prove to people that he belonged.
Spence channeled all the adversity of being passed over as extra motivation.
The adversity fuelled him, you could say it galvanized him, it help shape the player and person he has become today.
The young defencemen became relentless in his pursuit to get to the next level. That’s the intangible, the inner drive of a player possesses that sometimes gets overlooked.
As scouts we evaluate and project, but we can’t always predict physical growth and development, even if we try, there’s always going to be a case where a kid just develops differently.
We can try to get to the know player, their family, their character and personality, but at the end of the day we can’t predict a players physiological developmental progression. Now I’m sure there are some exercise physiologists out there that will argue that.
The first time I saw Jordan Spence play at the QMJHL level in the Moncton Wildcats Training Camp and Exhibition Games I was simply blown away.
The question continued to haunt me, how could I have missed this guy? After the first week of the regular season, I ventured down to the Wildcats dressing room after yet another impressive performance by the young offensive minded defender.
By this time the secret was out, and many NHL Scouts were fascinated by Spence’s style of play. I wanted to write an article showcasing his journey to the QMJHL.
After the interview, I shook his hand, thanked him for his time and apologized. ‘Jordan, let me tell you how sorry I am that I didn’t see your potential or have you higher on the list.’
The young soft-spoken defencemen smiled and responded, ‘oh that’s ok, don’t worry about it.’
I quickly replied, ‘Jordan I take my job as a regional scout very seriously, I take a lot of pride in it, I missed you big guy and for that I’m truly sorry.’
You see I carry Jordan Spence in the back of mind every time I watch a game now, I feel that’s my job, it’s my responsibility. I realize that players develop differently and at their own unique rate.
I also understand that we can’t always predict a player’s intangibles and that when we rank players we try our hardest to project them at the next level.
In my opinion, scouting isn’t an exact science, there’s no perfect formula, you can try to perfect it, try to make it as scientific as possible, but what I’ve learned over my time in the scouting game, that it’s an art form.
Scouting is subjective, it lends itself to interpretation. Scouts project that’s the essence of the job, but that’s still up for interpretation.
Every team, every scout may have a different list or evaluation of a player. Every scout, every team has a different approach when formulating their list. There’s so many moving parts to the equation; Where’s the team drafting? What are the organizations needs? Who’s the coach? What cycle is the team in? What opportunity does the player have going forward?
There’s always going to be questions, and many of those go unanswered until the player in question steps on to the ice.
From my experience it’s all about learning and growing, but more importantly learning from your mistakes, gaining experience and channeling that into the next scouting experience.
Every scout may have their top five “lookfors” or evaluation techniques when assessing and projecting players, but for me the mistakes will shape my future decisions, evaluations and projections.
As one NHL Pro Scout said, ‘you carry your mistakes with you, so you can learn from them.’
The learning process continues, and in the mean time I’m going to continue to pore my heart and soul into my projections and evaluations, but I’m sure there’s some players that will continue to prove me wrong!
Chapter 6 A Different Avenue in the Game (Published on February 27, 2018)
Hockey is the common thread that connects all young Canadians.
From urban centers to remote rural areas the dream of one day playing in the NHL is shared.
Hockey becomes a conduit; it shapes our lives and experiences, but the journey to the NHL is seldom reached or realized.
Stephane LeBlanc of Memramcook, New Brunswick had his NHL dream come true.
“When I was younger, I thought for sure I would play in the NHL like most kids, but I realized early enough that it probably wasn’t going to happen,” said LeBlanc.
LeBlanc’s journey to the scouting ranks of the National Hockey League has several twists and turns, but the 42 year-old wouldn’t change it for the world. After LeBlanc’s playing days ended he wanted to stay connected with the game that had given him so much. LeBlanc’s foray into the coaching ranks was another way to showcase his unwavering passion for the game.
“When I got into coaching, I realized that it was another avenue for me to maybe have a career in hockey,” explained LeBlanc.
LeBlanc taught and coached at Louis J. Robichaud High School in Shediac, New Brunswick and during that time had tremendous success, which provided an opportunity to move up the coaching ranks. LeBlanc stepped behind the bench for the Moncton Beavers of the Maritime Jr. ‘A’ circuit for two seasons as an assistant coach.
At that point in his coaching career LeBlanc decided to get involved with Hockey New Brunswick and Hockey Canada programs during the summer months, ironically a decision that would drastically change his path in the game.
“Jim Midgley called me who was a friend of mine and who I had worked with at Hockey New Brunswick and Hockey Canada programs. Jim was the Assistant Coach with the Saint John Sea Dogs at the time and he wanted to know if I would be interested in scouting.”
“I had decided to put the pursuit of a coaching career on hold having a small family, scouting was something that I had been thinking about at the time,” explained LeBlanc.
“Norm Gosselin, who was the Sea Dogs Head Scout at the time, hired me to be a regional scout and that’s how my scouting career got started,” LeBlanc said.
LeBlanc believes his time with the Sea Dogs organization was critical in his progression as a scout. “I worked with some very good people in Saint John. I had two great Head Scouts in Norm and Chris Vermette.”
“I think it fast forwarded my development as a scout by working with that group of guys. I also got to work with Gerard Gallant and Mike Kelly, they did a good job at developing the players we drafted,” said LeBlanc.
“The success we had as a team, opened some doors for us as scouts to move on to other roles elsewhere.”
LeBlanc was still teaching full-time and scouting for the Sea Dogs when the opportunity of a lifetime came his way.
“The Blue Jackets were looking for someone in the Maritimes. Ross Yates who had coached in the Columbus organization before coming to Saint John gave my name to Paul Castron,” explained LeBlanc.
LeBlanc jumped at the opportunity to scout for a NHL team, his dream to make to the NHL had finally come true.
LeBlanc would try to balance two careers for three years before taking the plunge into scouting full-time this past season.
“It was challenging trying to juggle two jobs, now that I’m full time, it’s easier for me to do my job effectively,” said LeBlanc.
When it comes to evaluating and ranking players LeBlanc remains focused on projecting and letting his instincts lead the way.
“Obviously, a player has to have a certain amount of skill to be able to play at the NHL level, but every player is different in how he plays the game,” LeBlanc said.
“I try to decide whether or not the player’s game can translate to the next level. Some guys might have good success in junior, but the way they play the game will make it hard for them to play that same game at the NHL level, while some guys play the game in way that you can see that his game will still be effective once he moves up to pro,” explained LeBlanc.
LeBlanc has witnessed a shift in Maritime talent playing in the QMJHL over the course of his time working as a scout for the Saint John Sea Dogs and in his current role.
“Well, as of today, if you look at the Top 25 point leaders in the NHL, nine of them were drafted out of the QMJHL, and four of them are Maritimers.”
“So it goes to show the talent level we have here in the Maritimes and in the league as a whole,” LeBlanc added.
“The “Q” hasn’t always had the highest numbers of players drafted, compared to the other two CHL leagues, but we have certainly produced high quality players.”
Chapter 7 The Scout (Published on February 14, 2018)
After hours of travel, the solitude of an empty rink awaits. Hours before puck drop, he studies the rosters. At the drop of the puck, the process begins. Game after Game. Rink after Rink.
The process to discover the next great young NHL star never ends for Maritime scouts.
Charlottetown, PEI’s Shane Turner loves his job as an amateur scout with the Dallas Stars, but still regrets not making it to the show as a player. “I always thought I would make it as a player,” confessed Turner, but things happen, so this is the next best thing.”
Turner had the opportunity to join the NHL scouting ranks on several occasions, but was reluctant at first to make the jump. “I was running a successful business on the Island and had turned down offers over the years, on three separate occasions,” Turner said.
“As I got older and my kids were all out of the nest, I figured if another offer came, I would take it.” As they say ‘the rest is history’.
Like so many young up and coming Islanders of the day, Turner would find a mentor in an Original Six legend Forbes Kennedy.
“I played junior at fourteen for Forbie, he taught me so much about the game,” Turner said. “I just loved Forbie, and his passion for the game.”
The skilled gritty Islander always played a level above his age group starring along the way. Turner played at the University of PEI at seventeen, and turned professional at twenty after being scouted by the New York Islanders. Turner suited up with Islanders affiliate the Indianapolis Checkers for two seasons.
There was definitely some Maritime flavor in Indianapolis during that time with Dave Cameron, Garth MacGuigan, Rollie Melanson and Turner suiting up or the Checkers.
In total, Turner’s career in the game as a player and coach spanned eighteen years.
Turner’s first foray into the scouting world was with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League. After seventeen years with Peterborough, Turner decided to get into the business side of the game.
He owned the Charlottetown Abbie’s of the Maritime Junior “A” circuit and also co-owned the Ottawa Senators American Hockey League affiliate, the PEI Senators. “I love the game, I have a real passion for it, everyday is a great day, when you are doing something you love and have a passion for,” stressed Turner.
Turner first started scouting with Stars fifteen years ago in a limited role, then assumed part time duties for five years and has been full time for the past eight years. Throughout the years, Turner has witnessed a significant shift in the game from scouting perspective.
“Scouting has evolved with the change in rules and the way the game is now played. You need to be on top of the evolution of the game,” added Turner.
Turner personally looks for speed, skill, hockey sense and compete level when evaluating and projecting talent in the game today.
Turner has also seen a change within the Maritime talent pool over time. “When I played there were a large number of Maritimers in professional hockey, some on almost every team, it plummeted, but now I see a resurgence.”
Turner is hopeful that trend will continue.
Chapter 8 A Special Journey (Published on November 13, 2017)
Hockey is a way of life for so many Canadians. We all have our own unique stories in the game.
From subtle beginnings to memorable Championship experiences, hockey becomes more than just a game it shapes our lives.
That’s what makes Ryan Bowness’ journey in the game so special. Hockey has been a part of his life as long as he can remember.
“I would be waiting at the front door for my dad on Saturday mornings at 7 am with my skates ready to go. I always loved the game and it was just what I knew as normal because I was fortunate enough to grow up in it,” said Bowness.
“My childhood was spent going to the rink with my Dad whenever I could. I would hang out in the dressing room and help out the trainers and even skated by myself before and after practices,” added Bowness.
Bowness, like other son’s of professional coaches became accustom to life behind the scenes with his father Rick who is the current NHL record holder for most games coached.
“It goes without saying that my dad has had a huge impact on my career, but equally if not more important has been the role that my mom has played,” Bowness said. “She’s the MVP of our family.”
“Hockey moms never get enough credit and it is certainly the case with my mom. Obviously my dad would be on the road a lot and it was my mom who was always the rock in our family and there for us without fail,” explained Bowness.
Bowness had always been eager to forge his own career path in the game. So when it was time to leave home and join the Canadian Hockey League, Bowness was ready to showcase his talent and leave his own mark on the game.
“Ryan’s passion for hockey has been tremendous since he was a kid, always playing, practicing and watching the game as much as possible,” explained his brother, Rick Jr.
“Ryan was always a great teammate and would do whatever it took to win, which definitely helped him become a Captain in the OHL and was a major reason why he was drafted,” added Rick Jr.
The Halifax, Nova Scotia product would join the Brampton Battalion in 2000 and spent the next four seasons honing his skills in the Ontario Hockey League.
The gritty 6’2 200 pound right-winger would establish himself as a great leader on and off ice and was named team captain in 2003 by legendary junior coach Stan Butler
Bowness had 15 points. in 52 regular season games with the Battalion in his rookie season of 2000-2001. Bowness caught the attention of NHL scouts during his rookie campaign and would be drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 8th round 236th overall in 2001.
“It was a dream come true for sure to be drafted, but also the biggest swing of emotions I’ve ever experienced,” said Bowness.
Bowness travelled to Florida to attend the Draft with only his Dad who was coaching the Coyotes at the time. “You sit there for hours listening intently to every single pick, my dad sat with me in the stands the entire time,” explained Bowness.
“As each round dragged on it became more and more difficult and stressful, and it was probably harder on my dad having to watching his 17 year-old son go through that,” Bowness said.
“The elation I felt when my name was finally called was such a special feeling and definitely worth the wait. To be able to share that with my dad and then call my mom and family from the Draft floor was a moment that I will never forget.”Bowness returned to Brampton for his sophomore season appearing in 66 regular season games putting up 17 points, while amassing 104 PIMs for the rebuilding Battalion in 2001-2002.
Bowness would have a career year the following season amassing 15 goals and 17 assists for 32 points. in only 55 regular season games. Entering his final year of junior, as a 20 year-old, Bowness would have 11 points in 13 games before being traded to the Oshawa Generals. In total the Halifax, NS product finished his OHL career with 90 points in 237 career games played.
Bowness considers his time in the OHL as a major stepping-stone but finds it difficult to hammer down his fondest memory. “My time in the OHL was a learning experience. Leaving home for the first time, you really mature awfully quick and you go from being a green kid to a man by the time those four years are up.”
Bowness fondly reflects on how competitive the league was and some of the great teammates he was fortunate enough to play with during that time.
“Jason Spezza was probably the best player I played against, he was so dominant in the OHL and just thought the game at such a different level than anyone at that age,” remembered Bowness.
The 2017 Norris Trophy winner also left quite the impression on Bowness during his time in Brampton. “Brent Burns has to be one of the best players I played with, I only played one season with him because he made the NHL as a 18 year old. I sat next to him in the dressing room and got to witness how much he grew as a player and a person that season, it was just incredible,” remembered Bowness.
“He came in as this goofy kid and by the end of the season he was our best player.”
After a very solid OHL career, Bowness did have professional offers and aspirations but chose the University route instead.
“That was tough and important decision to make,” said Bowness. “I had some opportunities to turn pro out of junior but had a really good education package from the OHL, and decided that would be the best route for my future,” explained Bowness.
“I had promised my parents that I would eventually get my degree when I went to the OHL in the first place and had just come off a tough year injury wise. I have never regretted that decision. I had a great four years at Saint Mary’s,” explained Bowness.
Bowness earned his Business Degree during that time which ultimately led to his current career. “My degree catapulted me into my first office job with the Atlanta Thrashers,” said Bowness.
Bowness was hired as an assistant to Larry Simmons who was the Assistant GM in Atlanta and who still holds that position today with the Winnipeg Jets.
“I never would have gotten that opportunity if I didn’t have a University Degree,” Bowness said. Bowness had finally reached his dream to make it to the NHL but his journey in the game would take an interesting turn once the Thrashers organization relocated to Winnipeg.
“I have always had a lot of respect for the scouting profession. I was working as the Manager of Hockey Operations for the Jets at that time and a spot opened up on our Pro Scouting staff,” explained Bowness.
“I was lucky enough that Management asked me if I would like to move into that side of things. Scouting is certainly not for everyone, it is a lot of time on the road and can be very unglamorous.”
“A lot of people thought I was nuts leaving a nice office job like that to go into scouting, but for me it was a no brainer,” added Bowness.
After seven years with the Thrashers/Jets organization and having success in both roles Bowness was confronted with a decision that would change his life forever in the summer of 2016.
“I had developed some great relationships with lots of people in the Jets organization, they were nothing but great to me, they have first class people running the team, but at the end of the day it was an opportunity that I just couldn’t turn down,” said Bowness.
Bowness decided to leave the organization and join the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins. “I consider myself a very loyal person so it was extremely difficult leaving Winnipeg, but at the end of the day it was the right call for my career,” said Bowness.
“Having a chance to join the Penguins, a team that I feel has many more good years left in them was something I just couldn’t turn down.”
Bowness did however have one unique friendship that was already established in Pittsburgh. “Sid and I met when we were teenagers, during our junior days. We both worked out at Saint Mary’s in the summers so I would run into him and Andy O’Brien a lot at the gym.”
With Sidney Crosby leading the way the Pittsburgh Penguins captured their fifth Stanley Cup in franchise history.
The young kid from Nova Scotia who dreamed of NHL glory and followed his father’s every move had reached the pinnacle of the hockey world.
Ryan Bowness was a Stanley Cup Champion.
“It was so cool to be able to celebrate the victory with the guys. Obviously at the end of the day it’s about the players and you want to respect that, but Sid is such a special guy and really made me feel a part of the whole celebration,” said Bowness.
“Sid called me into the room and poured my first sip out of the Cup, I can honestly say it was the coolest moments of my life,” added Bowness.
“Sid was obviously a huge part of that, I wouldn’t have a ring if it wasn’t for him.”
A common theme that has followed Bowness throughout his career is the unwavering support from his family, especially his mom and his dad. “It was such a special night having my parents there in Nashville, that was the best part for me, sharing the Cup with them,” Bowness said.
The Stanley Cup has made the voyage to Nova Scotia a lot recently so when Bowness had his day with the Cup he definitely wanted it to be special.
“Having the opportunity to bring the Cup home was just a dream come true. It was such a whirlwind of a day, but to have it at our house on Grand Lake and share it with all my family and friends was just such a special feeling,” Bowness said. “We had close to three-hundred people show up for the party and people still tell me how special the day was. To be able to bring that joy to people is a privilege that I didn’t want to take for granted,” explained Bowness.
“It’s amazing what that trophy does, it just attracts so many people and it was really cool to see the looks on people’s faces, I will certainly remember that day forever,” Bowness said.
Bowness continues to set his sights on his dream job in the game of hockey. “My end goal is to be a General Manager and I believe knowing and having an opinion on players is such a huge part of that job, I feel that it’s important to touch as many aspect of the game as possible,” said Bowness.
“I don’t want to put a timeline on anything because I truly believe in doing things the right way and I believe in the process it takes to get there.”
Chapter 9 Fighting for an Opportunity (Published on October 19, 2017)
A fighting chance, that’s all Dennis Bonvie ever wanted in the game of hockey.
Bonvie fought hard to accomplish his dream to play professional hockey, a theme that would follow him throughout his career.
“I don’t know if it was one coach that inspired me to play professionally, but it was always in the back of my head that I loved the game and forged ahead to accomplish that goal,” Bonvie said.
Bonvie’s start in the game of hockey was no different than any other young Maritime boy, dreaming of one day playing at hockey’s highest level.
Bonvie credits his parents for introducing him to the game, but more importantly engraving an unwavering work ethic and desire to compete.
“Without a doubt my mom and dad influenced me a lot, they taught me the importance of working hard, my Dad was a Millwright at the Pulp and Paper Mill in Port Hawkesbury. My mother was a stay at home mom and brought up five kids,” said Bonvie.
Bonvie’s passion for the game coupled with the willingness to earn his shot to play at the next level fuelled his journey throughout the game. The Antigonish, NS product would get his first taste of major junior hockey in 1991-92 for the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League.
Bonvie’s time in Kitchener was short lived after playing only seven games with the Rangers, he was traded to the North Bay Centennials. “That trade to North Bay, was my big break,” Bonvie said.
“God rest his soul, Bert Templeton loved the rough style of play, he liked Maritimers and he gave me an opportunity to play and do my thing,” explained Bonvie.
Bonvie would suit up for 49 regular season games for the Centennials amassing 12 assists and 261 PIM’s. Bonvie played in all the teams 21 playoff games that season but the Centennials lost to the Sault. Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the league finals.
In 1992-93, Bonvie played 64 games and scored 3 goals and tallied 21 assists while totalling 316 PIM’s. “Dennis was a great teammate,” said former Centennials forward Bill Wright. “He was great with the fans and the fans in North Bay loved him, like I have never seen a hockey player loved before,” Wright said.
The Pro Ranks
After just two seasons in the OHL, Bonvie would leave the junior ranks to pursue his dream of playing professionally. Bonvie’s body of work in the OHL caught the attention of NHL teams wanting to provide toughness, character and grit within their organization.
Bonvie’s dream of playing professionally would be realized in 1993-94. At 20 years of age, Bonvie signed with the Cape Breton Oilers of the American Hockey League. “Obviously to turn pro and to get the opportunity to play in Cape Breton was great,” said Bonvie.
“Dave Andrews who was the general manager at the time and head coach George Burnett along with Glen Sather in Edmonton showed a lot of confidence in me to give me a contract,” Bonvie said.
Bonvie would spend the next six seasons in the Oilers organization and made his NHL debut in 1994-95. The tough guy from small town Nova Scotia had accomplished his dream, but knew he had to keep fighting to prove he belonged and to establish longevity in the game.
“I will never forget my NHL debut, it was an awesome experience. My first game was against Wayne Gretzky and the LA Kings,” Bonvie said.
Bonvie only played in 14 NHL games for the Edmonton Oilers during that time but had career highs in points and PIM’s at the American league level.
It would take Bonvie three more seasons with two different organizations in the AHL before he got another shot at the show with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1998-99. “I kept the love for the game and fortunately I continued to get opportunities to play at the professional level,” added Bonvie.
Bonvie would play for six different NHL organizations over his sixteen-year professional career. In total he suited up for 93 career NHL games, but played 973 games at the American Hockey League level.
Bonvie’s longevity in the game given his role and style of play is truly remarkable, but it’s something that he never considered only until stepping away from the game he loved in 2007-08.
“No, I didn’t really think about it, until it was really over, then you realize how lucky you are, and how long you were able to play and stay fairly healthy,” said Bonvie.
Bonvie played in an era of the game that embraced his role as an enforcer, but he still tries to avoid reflecting on being so close to the NHL for so long.
“At times you think back and sometimes wonder why not me, but you forge ahead and you do your thing,” Bonvie said. “Some guys get their opportunities but some guys don’t, and that’s just the way it is.”
“I think that anyone that played the game will realize, that it is all about the right place at the right time, but when you are there you got to do your thing,” Bonvie said.
“At times I was doing that and other times maybe I could have been doing that somewhere else, you can’t really dwell on the past, but there’s always a couple of times you say what if, but for the most part, I’m pretty comfortable the way it played out,” confessed Bonvie.
A Perfect Fit
Bonvie’s career path would take him through some amazing hockey city’s both at the NHL and AHL levels. “I played for some great organizations and minor league stops and got to play on some great teams,” Bonvie said.
One memorable stop along the way still holds a special place in his heart. For Bonvie it was a matter of the right place at the right time. “I was a free agent in 1999 and had the opportunity to sign with Pittsburgh, and was assigned to Wilkes-Barre. I played the next few years there and ended up coming back and playing three more years at the end of my career,” said Bonvie.
“I’m so very fortunate to be able to play in a great minor league spot like that with a great organization like the Pittsburgh Penguins.”
Bonvie was inducted into the Luzerne County Sports Hall of Fame this past April for his contributions and dedication during his time with the Wilkes-Barre/Stranton Penguins.
Bonvie’s contributions outside of the rink had a tremendous impact on the Northern Pennsylvania region. Giving back to the game he loves has been a common theme throughout Bonvie’s career and probably why he is so beloved in the hockey world.
Bonvie’s role as enforcer endeared him to fans at every stop along the way during his pro career. That role is almost extinct in today’s game, but Bonvie doesn’t want some aspects of the role to disappear completely.
“It’s something that I did and I forged a living doing it, the game is changing and that aspect is getting somewhat pushed out but I do understand it,” said Bonvie.
“The game is about speed and skill, but I don’t want to see that compete level and battle for pucks leave the game because that’s a big part of it as well.”
Calder Cup Heartache, Stanley Cup Glory
Bonvie played in three Calder Cup Finals over his 16-year professional career in the American Hockey League. “There was a couple devastating times when you think you are going to be able to pull it off in the finals but you realize that you were close but just fell a little short,” Bonvie said.
“When you play and give it all you got and when you get that close to winning what your ultimately competing for as a team, it’s tough to fall to short,” explained Bonvie.
Bonvie’s near miss at AHL glory would give way to the ultimate prize at the next level in his new role as a professional scout. Bonvie joined the Chicago Blackhawks on the brink of their dynasty proving his theory correct, right place, right time.
Bonvie won three Stanley Cups with the Chicago Blackhawks over his six years with the organization. So how does one of the all time PIM’s leader in professional hockey get into scouting?
“I was lucky enough that when I retired to get an opportunity through a connection with Al Coates, Cliff Fletcher and Mike Penny, those three guys gave me an opportunity to scout for the Toronto Maple Leafs that first year,” explained Bonvie.
Shipping up to Boston
In 2016, former Boston Bruins teammate and current GM Don Sweeney hired Bonvie. “It was an unbelievable experience in Chicago but to have the opportunity to work for a guy I played with is an incredible, and knowing Don wanted me there is important,” Bonvie said.
Bonvie has enjoyed his time with the Boston thus far and is looking forward to see what might happen in the future given the Bruins young talent within the organization. “It’s been an interesting process, they have done a tremendous job at implementing young kids along the way here,” said Bonvie.
“We have drafted incredibly well, we have a great amateur staff and pro staff here and Don has goals in mind and a game plan set that he has followed,” explained Bonvie. “You can see how things are happening with these young kids coming in and getting an opportunity to play.”
The rigors of life in hockey as a player and as a scout can be very challenging on families but Bonvie credits overwhelming support from his wife and children.
“You have to have a great supporting cast to allow you to do it,” said Bonvie.
“I have a great wife and a couple of wonderful kids that understand, that I’m going to be on the road for a little bit over seven or eight months and that’s the way it is, but it’s a great job and opportunity to do that for a great organization like the Boston Bruins,” said Bonvie.
(Bonvie and his family and friends during his Hall of Fame induction in Pennsylvania)
Bonvie doesn’t foresee himself entering a player development role or management position within the game and is content to continue his current role.
“I think you do your job to the best of your ability and you continue to want to do a little more, I think it’s a natural instinct to continue to work and want to move up, but I have to do my job that I have right now to the best of my ability and fingers crossed good things happen,” explained Bonvie.
“It would be a wonderful opportunity but who knows if that’s going to be available now or in a few year going forward. I certainly love the job I have now and I’m very lucky to work for a great organization,” Bonvie said.
Dennis Bonvie continues to give back to the game, that gave so much to him. Bonvie is an active participate of the Maritime NHLer’s For Kids Celebrity Auction and Golf Tournament held annually throughout New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island to raise money for families that need financial assistance in order to introduce or sustain their children in the game.
“It’s an incredible opportunity to be a part of the Maritime NHLer’s and to be involved and thought of the way we are,” said Bonvie.
“To be able to show up and put smiles on people’s faces and be around some great people that support a great cause, I think that’s why we are all in for, to do as much as we can to give back and help, and to be a part of that is just incredible.”
Chapter 10 The Man Behind the Scenes: Ritchie Thibeau’s Journey in the Game
Chapter 11 Observations From the Rink: Is the Stay at Home Defenseman Extinct?
Chapter 12 Observations From the Rink: What the Hell Does Playing Fast Mean?
Chapter 13 Observations From the Rink: Your Attitude is Getting In Your Way
Chapter 14 Observations From the Rink: So You Want to Be a Trash Talker?
Chapter 15 Observations From the Rink: So You Want to Be An Offensive Defenceman?
Chapter 16 Observations From the Rink: Yelling and Knowledgable: Today’s Hockey Parents and Coaches
Chapter 17 Observations From the Rink: Poor Practice Habits is Killing Development
Chapter 18 Observations From the Rink: It All Starts in Your Own Zone
Chapter 19 Observations From the Rink: “The Honest Player”
Chapter 20 Observations From the Rink: The Monctonian Edition
Chapter 21 Observations From the Rink: So You Don’t Want to Pass the Puck!
Chapter 22 25 Years of Oceanic Memories