To me the short Christmas break signifies the beginning of the second half of the scouting season. As Head of USA Scouting for the Islanders it is my job to evaluate the draft-eligible talent in the USA. Our USA Scouting staff also consists of Regional Scout Jim Madigan in the East and Regional Scout Brian Hunter in the West. They scour their respective regions, then report their findings to me and our other staff members. I then travel to see these players, evaluate them, make comparisons, then slot the players on to one list for the USA.
Another aspect of my job is to "crossover" into other regions in North America and to attend some tournaments in Europe which involve a Team from the USA. This helps me, and ultimately our staff, evaluate and compare the world's draft eligible prospects.
The second half began for me on Christmas night. I was scheduled to fly on the morning of December 26th to Edmonton to scout the Viking Cup Tournament in Camrose, Alberta. But after checking the weather forecast and seeing that there would be snow on the 26th, I decided to make the 70-minute drive to the airport on Christmas night while the roads were still navigable. I flew from Ottawa to Toronto where I met fellow Islanders scout Doug Gibson. Together we flew to Edmonton and then made the hour drive to the tournament.
The Viking Cup consists of quality players from six countries. Some of the top 1988 birthdated players represented the USA, Slovakia, Germany, Finland, and Switzerland. There were also two all-star teams from the Alberta Junior Hockey League represented in this tournament. Some of these players will go on to play NCAA college hockey in the USA.
After two days in Camrose it was off to the World Junior Tournament in Vancouver. This tournament has become a huge holiday tradition in Canada. The television and media coverage is amazing. While many of the players in this tournament have already been drafted, there are some high-end prospects to see. An added bonus was being able to see some of the Islanders prospects play here. My schedule allowed me to see our second round pick in 2004, Blake Comeau, and our first round pick in 2005, Ryan O'Marra, represent Canada. Both players played key roles in Canada winning the gold medal.
Because this is such a prestigious tournament, many of the Islanders scouts were in attendance at various times throughout the tournament. This allowed us to get together after the New Year's Eve game and have dinner, then toast in the New Year. An early morning flight curtailed any lengthy celebration.
I awoke early to catch my flight to Regina and the Under 17 Championship. This tournament consisted of 1989 birthdated players who won't be eligible for the draft until 2007. The teams consisted of top players from regions in Canada Pacific, West, Ontario, Quebec, Atlantic, and teams from the USA, Finland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Germany. This was a nice preview of many of the players we will be considering for the 2007 draft.
After 10 days on the road it is always nice to spend some time at home, albeit for only two days. Then it was off to the Michigan area to watch some college hockey prospects. After viewing a Friday and Saturday game, I flew toward home on Sunday. But before heading home I made a short jaunt to Kingston, Ontario to view some prospects in an Ontario Hockey League game between Kingston and Erie. This also enabled me to see Ryan O'Marra, who plays for Erie.
In the middle of January our scouting staff met on Long Island for our midseason meetings. This allowed us to view our AHL affiliate in Bridgeport and to see the Islanders play twice at home. Our days were spent compiling our overall midseason list of prospects.
January is a point where you look at your scouting schedule and see that time is running out on the hockey season for many of the prospects you want to see. Some college, high school, and junior players will be done playing early in March. Trying to fit these players into a schedule can make for some hectic travel and long periods away from home. For example, as I write this in early February, I am in the middle of a 10 day trip to Western Canada where I will be able to evaluate many of the Western Hockey League's top prospects. After this trip I will spend three days at home before embarking on another 10-day trip to Minnesota and the Midwest to view some high school, college, and USA Junior prospects. As the season winds down, the Islanders Scouting Staff will be hustling from game to game trying to learn as much as possible about each prospect in the draft.