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PARTS 1-6: Life as a Scout... with Neil Little

by Neil Little I Philadelphia Flyers Scout / Philadelphia Flyers

PART 6: International Flair

This week consisted of two international tournaments, stretching from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia to Ann Arbour, Michigan. 

Yarmouth's tournament is hosted by two Canadian teams; Canada East, and Canada West, along with guest teams from Russia, and Finland. After an easy flight from Philadelphia to the Maritime city of Halifax, I met up with our long time scout, Denis Patterson.
Denis stops for a photo-op
for the blog!

We checked into a hotel a few miles from the airport and relaxed with a couple of frosty, locally brewed beverages.  The next morning we packed up and headed down the scenic coastal highway that winds its way southwesterly to our destination of Yarmouth, NS (which is about 4 hours away). 

About halfway into our drive, Denis spotted a lighthouse that jutted out into the Atlantic and suggests we stop for a picture for the blog (my fellow scouts are on board with this little blogging experiment it seems!!). 

We arrived in Yarmouth with enough time to check into our newest hotel before we head to the rink for some hockey.  Now, I love Canada, ALL of Canada, but in certain areas you can find yourself in somewhat of a time-warp.  I get to my room and insert the key (this is NOT an electronic swipe card, rather an old school metal key slightly smaller in size than the door itself). 

It's COLD in the room, so I head past the bed which sports a retro brown blanket, highlighted by several cigarette burns from past sleepy smokers.  I can't help but run my hand across the bed to test this amazing sight.  The blanket feels like the 'other' side of velcro.  Well, it's not always a bed of roses out here on the road! 

Next stop is the heater unit to get some warm air circulating around this icebox.  I turned the antique dials to Hot, and High, and was greeted by a blast of 1978 dust that temporarily blinds me,  sending me back-pedaling in squinted horror to the safety of velcro.  It's not a stretch to imagine no one had been in this room since Elvis wore bedazzled jumpsuits. 

Yarmouth is a small lobster fishing community with approximately 7100 residents, down from 15,000 around 10 years ago.  The ferry service that connected Maine was cancelled by local government, deeming it too expensive to continue. 

With the ferry service loss, commuting fishery workers and tourists alike, had no way of conveniently getting to these south shores.  The town itself still does ok, and certainly has all the amenities anyone could need, but I sense that it is nothing compared to it's formative years.

The people are welcoming, friendly, and quite chatty.  It's not uncommon to have a 5 minute conversation with wait staff at a restaurant, or the coffee shop lady.  I find Eastern Canadians have a unique way of combining hard work, and a genuine caring spirit. 

Their 'sing-song' voices, although difficult to decipher at times, are as enjoyable as the noticeable pride they have in their community.  This pride was evident throughout this tournament, with helpful and happy volunteers that made everything run smoothly. 

Thank you, Yarmouth.

Onwards to Ann Arbour, Michigan, home to the U of Michigan as well as the home base for the US Hockey development program.  The US team is playing host to this years Under 18 tournament, with guest teams from Sweden, Russia, and Switzerland.
In the crowd of numerous scouts, and fans, I spot my former college coach, Buddy Powers.  He is currently coaching for Boston University, and is hoping to land some potential future BU Terriers.
Buddy Powers and Myself

I first met Buddy in Estevan, Saskatchewan, in 1989.  As the story goes, he was in his hotel room waiting out a snow storm and watching a local televised game of my team, the Estevan Bruins. 

The reason for his trip was to watch a different goalie, named Paris Duffas, who played a few hours north of Estevan in a town called Melfort.  Buddy must have liked what he saw, because he cancelled his trip to Melfort in order to watch a skinny kid from Medicine Hat (thats me) play again the following night. 

The rest is history, as soon afterwards Buddy offered me a scholarship to attend Rensselaer, and play division 1 college hockey for the Engineers.  Lucky me!! 

If there was no storm, and my game had not been televised (or he simply wasn't watching TV), who knows where I would have ended up? 

Certainly not here writing this blog. 

So, thank you Bud-man for believing in me, giving me the opportunity of a lifetime, and for your continuous support  throughout the years!  As a side note, don't worry about my friend, Paris!  He attended Cornell and had a very good college career. 

This was a long week, filled with lots of miles in the air, and on the ground.  I certainly got the chance to see some good hockey, and several up and coming prospects from the guest Nations. 

In previous years, I would have made at least one trip overseas by now, but the lockout means that we scouts have to mind our expenses.  Seeing these international teams play in North America certainly helps out in that regard. 

Until next week… take care Flyer fans!

PART 5:  Who says Minnesota is cold?

Hey Flyers fans... Now the title to this Week 5 trip has COLD in it.  The temperatures in late October in Minnesota are not exactly balmy, but I'm not talking about weather.  This place is WARM.  Warm, as in good people everywhere. 

I met up with Paul Holmgren (Paul actually grew up in St Paul), and Andre Beulieau (Andre scouts for us around the Minnesota area and is well known and respected as a coach and all around great guy). 

After watching a good game, I was on my way back to the hotel when I noticed the flashing lights behind me.

Unfortunately those lights were intended for me, so I pulled the rental car over to the side of the road and waited for the inevitable, 'license and registration' comment. 

Speeding was the infraction, and after several minutes the officer came back to my car and we chit-chatted for a bit, then he actually said, 'ok, slow it down..have a nice time in Minnesota'. 

I was so relieved that I got a picture with him!  Now that is WARM!!

Unbeknownst to me is that the Twin Cities residents would rather have separate identities.  The river that runs north to south divides the cities, and acts as a marker to the establish the rivalry. 

I had assumed that the friendly cities lived and worked in perfect unison - Not so! 

Paul actually admitted to me that if he ever had to go into Minneapolis to watch or play a game as a kid/adult, he would eat in St Paul, head over for the game and exit immediately!  Maybe this place isn't as warm as I thought?

Good friend and ex-team mate Matt Henderson and his young family live here as well. 

Matt and I played in Philly together and became fast friends.  After Saturdays game, we catch up and he makes me laugh for a couple hours.  Halloween is right around the corner and Matt has decided to dress as Hulk Hogan. 

He tries to convince me to get a costume and head to his party Sunday, but I just couldn't pull it all together.  Maybe next year, Hendo!

The weekend is bringing news of Hurricane Sandy, and the imminent threat for the Eastern shoreline. 

Paul and I are scheduled to fly back to Philly on Monday morning, but that is precisely the time when the bad weather is to hit the region.

Sundays game becomes immediately optional and we fly home to beat the airport delays, and to get ready for what will surely be a scary storm.

This week also gave me the opportunity to have lunch with my favorite trainers of years past. 

If you composed a list of the most important ingredients to a winning hockey team, a solid training staff is an absolute must! 

Their job descriptions are vast and all encompassing, ranging from dressing room organization and equipment preperation, to friendship and psychological gurus. 

In this photo below, Dave (Sudsy) and Derek (Nasty) Settlemyre, as well as Joe Rivera. 

Thanks for some fantastic years, fellas!

PART 4:  Irish Eyes & the GPS girl

Hey Flyers fans... My journey now takes me to Notre Dame, Waterloo & Chicago

I was up and at it earlier than the birds!  Easy flight to Chicago, and a quick trip (minus a slight 20 minute delay for not listening to the GPS) to South Bend, Indiana.  Home of Larry Bird (and the Fighting Irish).
Times look good around campus, as new construction is abundant everywhere.  New shops, restaurants, hotels, and townhouses all look great, and are within a half mile walk to central campus.  The Irish have built a beautiful new arena as well, equipped with twin rinks, plenty of seating, shops, and a large restaurant overlooking center ice (this all makes our NE scout Patrick Burke very happy, as an ND alum).

In typical Fighting Irish style, the game erupts with a full house cheering, and a section full of band members blowing and drumming to level 10 on the volume dial. My favorite part, however, is the dancing leprechaun in full regalia.

I'm half Irish (O'brien is my Moms maiden name), and even I have to laugh at this guy.  This game I get to meet up with our collegiate scout, Ross Fitzpatrick (Hershey Bear/Flyer/Husband/Dad/All around great guy, and dear friend), and a good game followed.

Off to the next stop…

A half dozen hours and a couple cups of coffee later, I find myself in Waterloo, Iowa.  It's a pretty drive if you take the back roads (I do, because once again I tune out the girl on my GPS).  Rolling hills through historical towns and farmland just west of Chicago is a drivers delight!

I met up with Wade Clarke upon arrival (Wade covers a lot of midwest region), as there are a few prospects playing in this game that we both need to see.  The difference between Wade and I is: He gets up in the morning and runs 10 miles.  I get up, have a cup of coffee, and swear to myself I'll join him for the first mile the next morning.  I love him, but I may have to run him over and steal his morning zest.
Me & Ross Fitzpatrick

At the game Wade keeps saying some phrase that I don't pay much attention to, mostly because I have no idea what he is talking about. 

Then the game nears.  The place is packed.  The announcer comes on the microphone as the place goes dark and quiet, and yells,

"Its Hockey-time in Party-Town!!!" 

The place goes crazy!  Everyone is up dancing to some original song for the team.  It was great!!  That's what Wade had been saying repeatedly to me…"Its hockey-Time in Party-Town". 

I'm oblivious. Good stuff.
Last stop, Chicago.  The windy city. 

For a town as good as this one, it sure has a lame catch phrase.  I love Chicago.  Apart from the traffic downtown (which is better than I-76, I must say), Chicago is a hot bed of activity.  

I love myself some gourmet food, and this town has some serious chefs doing it up.  I have no time to venture downtown on this trip, but I catch another good game (3-for-3), and look forward to heading home. 

See you all next week!

- Neil

PART 3:  Pine tar & Barbeque

Hey, Flyers Fans!

When I think of Kansas city, I think of George Brett and the pine tar incident.  Too old school for you?  Then I won't mention Joe Montana slinging the pig-skin around in a Chiefs uniform.  I had never been to KC before this trip, and I must say that I really enjoyed the place! 
Anthony Stolarz was the Flyers' 2nd round pick (45th overall) in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

The downtown area looks to have had a major renovation as it is bustling with pubs, restaurants, and eclectic shops. The arena is brand new and right in the heart of the action.

This trip was to see our newest draft pick, Anthony Stolarz.  His new collegiate team, UNO (Nebraska-Omaha),  was slated to play two games:  vs Notre Dame, and Army.  Anthony didn't play the first game vs Army, but did get his first start on Saturday against ND and did a fantastic job. 

I can barely remember playing my first collegiate game (22 years ago, right around now!).  Apparently, it was not an epic game of wondrous memories, otherwise I would have remembered the opponent, the score, the game saving display of awe-inspiring athleticism!  Nope.  I'm afraid to check the old clippings (no internet back then!).  If I had to guess, I would say I lost 5-3, with my hope that the 5th was an empty netter.  I'm just say'in… 

Neil Little with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (1990-94), holds the school record for career wins (58).
I always try to and keep my eyes and ears open for things to do in an unfamiliar town. This time around I found an airport brochure that suggested everyone should wander through the WW1 museum.

I figured, why not?!  It's about time, at my age,  to have some more extensive knowledge about what was actually happening during World War 1 (besides hearing some of the mind-blowing stories about my grandpa's, and relatives involved in the war).

Unfortunately, these stories were not directly from them, but from my parents and extended family's retelling of them.  What I do know from all those family stories is this:  piloting and bravery are in my blood!  I know I can fly a plane, but, I'm unsure something might not come along down the road and scare me!

As I sit and write this, I think about the amazing history that the museum exhibits encompassed- not only a US perspective on the war, but the perspectives of all the Countries and Continents involved. 

Interestingly, one exhibit was a fantastic tribute to many prominent sports figures directly involved in the war, including Olympic athletes and professional athletes from a wide array of sports.

The National World War I Museum in Kansas City, Mo.

On to the next stop from the brochure. I bought some goodies at the famous artisan chocolate shop owned by Christopher Elbow.  Too pretty to eat…till you eat them all.

Then, a fantastic barbecue lunch at Jack Slacks BBQ (a FEW too many ribs consumed by yours-truly).

Filled with ribs and chocolate (and history bubbling away somewhere upstairs), I settled into my seat at the arena to watch the hockey game, feeling more like a python trying to digest a large animal, than a hockey scout!  But alas, a good game had started…

Thanks for following along and we'll catch up next week!

- Neil
PART 2:  Starbucks and Frost, With a Side of Turkey

Welcome back, Flyers Fans!

My journey over the last few weeks took me to Seattle, Washington, Edmonton, Alberta, Vernon, British Columbia and Calgary, Alberta.

Leaving mid-week is always a bit tougher on the body.  I typically leave on a Friday and return to Philly Sunday night, or Monday morning.  If I head to the west coast, or across the pond (Europe), the schedule gets a touch more demanding. In past years I spend about a month to six weeks abroad, and the remainder of the year in North America.

Off to Seattle!  An easy non-stop flight to Seattle gets me in at 10 a.m.  I always enjoy the city so my early arrival gives me the opportunity to explore for a few hours before I head to the 7 p.m. game.  Too early to check into the hotel, I ventured to the downtown core and Pikes Market.  This famous market area is home to the original Starbucks.  I am a big fan of good cup of coffee - my favorite being the Canadian franchise, Tim Horton's, but a cup from the original SB is a close second.  A quick trip through the Seattle Art Museum (my mom is world traveling painter and educator, so I do appreciate the fine arts to the utmost!), a tasty lunch at Salumi's (A MUST for any Seattle bound traveller), and then to the hotel to get prepped for the hockey game.
Here's mom and Paul Holmgren on one of her trips to Philadelphia, catching a game with us in Atlantic City.

One of the perks of my globetrotting job is that I get to see old teammates, and family along the way.  Most of them are scattered across the US and Canada, but luckily in towns that I get to every now and again. 

The next part of this trip lands me in Edmonton, Alberta, and I track down two former teammates (Dan Kordic, and Terran Sandwith), as well as my Estevan, Saskatchewan, billet family Wayne and Susan Kallis.  For those of you who are wondering what a billet family is, I will elaborate.  Wandering youthful hockey players with NHL dreams often have to play in far from home towns.  Families from these towns take a player or two into their homes for the season, give them a bed and good food, and in my case, love me like I was one of their sons.  I was the luckiest kid in the world to end up with the Kallis's!  Thank you Wayne, Susan, Chris, and Greg.

Susan Kallis and myself. My billet, second mother, and Godsend in 1989!

After scouting the scheduled WHL game, I spent some time with Dan and Terran catching up, laughing about old times, and reminiscing about bad decisions we often made during our time together in Hershey, Pa.

Dan Kordic, Terran Sandwith, and myself

The morning brought me to Wayne and Susan's new home on the outskirts of Sherwood Park, and we had coffee and got caught up for the first time in a long time.

  Edmonton September mornings involve the daily scraping of windshields!

Early morning fog sits atop the river in downtown Edmonton

Next stop was Vernon and Penticton, British Columbia, home of the beautiful Okanagan valley.  This may be my favorite place on the planet.  I spend at least a couple of weeks every summer here, as my best friend as well as my sister have houses on the same lake (Kalamalka Lake). 

There are dozens of lakes throughout the valley, but this one is by far the most spectacular.  Fed by Glacier run-off and mountain lakes, Kalamalka is world renowned for its crystal clear, aqua blue water.  This entire valley runs along a completely different temperate zone than neighboring areas in the Rocky Mountains, benefitting from temperatures that are very mild in the winter (Kal lake does not freeze over), and tropical hot in the summer. 

If you love wineries, world class golf, and amazing lake life, fly into Kelowna (home to Scott Hartnell's new summer cottage) and rent a car.  I'm guaranteeing you it will be your new favorite vacation spot.  

A Kalamalka sunset

Onwards to Calgary, and my last stop on this trip.  My mom, sister Carrie (and family), and my son Nick, all live in Calgary.  This is a wonderful city, booming in business, and backdropped by the Rocky Mountains.  The only complaint Calgarians have is that the winters are too long, and the summers too short.
After a quick lunch at Peters Drive-In (a MUST stop in Calgary), Nick and I went to the game.  Afterwards, my sister saved me a big plate of Thanksgiving dinner, as she had the big feast the night before.  Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving dinner in late September, just in case you were wondering!  

That concludes my West coast swing.  I watched some good prospects, saw some old friends, and got to enjoy a turkey feast with my family!  All in all, a successful mission.  

PART 1: An introduction to my life...

Welcome, Flyers Fans!

In my younger years, I wanted to be one of two things: an NHL goalie, or an Air Force fighter pilot (not so much for the 'fighter' aspect of fighter pilot, but rather more along the lines of an exhibition pilot in the Canadian AF aerobatic team, The Snowbirds - USA's equivalent of the Blue Angles). Less fighting, and more high speed formation fly-bys! In contrast, this is the opposite way I like to see hockey played!

I grew up in a small town called Medicine Hat, which is located in southern Alberta, Canada. My days were filled with the usual activities of youth, but more so revolved around hockey games at various rinks (outdoor and covered), and heading to work at my Dad's aviation business where I would mop floors and wash airplanes.

My son Nick and I, taking a little summer flight.

Every so often I would climb in the cockpit and take on the task of co-pilot/wide-eyed scenic observer as we headed out on a charter, or simply to family holiday get-togethers.

Nothing beats the feeling of flight, except perhaps my first NHL game, or the wondrous sights and sounds of playing in the Outdoor Classic last winter with some of the greatest players to ever lace up their skates - Thank You, Paul Holmgren!

At the age of 18, and with my pilot training underway, I set out to navigate the road to fulfilling my NHL dreams. I found myself in another small town, namely Estevan, Saskatchewan, trying desperately to make their local junior team, the Estevan Bruins.

The week prior to my arrival, I had been released from a try-out in Vernon, BC. That team was to be the host of the Canadian championships, so an automatic berth in the year end tournament was assured. Tryouts brought prospects from all over the world (European imports were just beginning to gain visa grants at this time so the competition was extreme).

I got the axe and headed back home, slightly defeated. But, I found my way to Estevan, and to make a long story short, I made the team and actually returned to Vernon for the Championship… Redemption!!

I had a good year playing in Estevan, and accepted a scholarship to Rensselaer (RPI), which is located in Upstate New York and part of the ECAC (many thanks to Buddy Powers and the staff at RPI).

I was drafted by the Flyers after my Freshman year in 1991, and 21 years later I am as proud as ever to still be a part of the greatest franchise in the NHL.

My role has changed over the course of my time here, playing 12 years of pro hockey for the Flyers and Phantoms, a brief two year stint as an assistant coach with the Phantoms (God Bless The Spectrum), and now entering my fourth year as a pro and amateur scout.

So, would anyone like to globe trot with me to try to find the next great Flyer?!

Hop on board the scouting train as I write about my trips from Seattle to Moscow, and all points in between. The below picture is a beautiful sunset in Calgary off of my sister's deck at her house. My mom, sister and son Nick all live in Calgary.

During my travels I hope to give you some insight on my life and adventures as a Philadelphia Flyer Scout. From booming metropolitan cities like Prague and Stockholm, to rural Canadian towns in the middle of snowy-nowhere. I hope you all enjoy the ride as much as I will enjoy sharing it with you.

With warmest wishes, and Flyer pride,

Neil Little

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