If you're looking for Tom Kurvers, new assistant general manager for the Tampa Bay Lightning, don't expect to find him in his office at the St. Pete Times Forum. While it is possible to catch up with him there, the better percentage play is to try an airport terminal, rental car counter or to simply look for a guy sitting in the darkened stands after a hockey game, talking quietly with a prospect.
Kurvers, who shares his job with assistant GM Claude Loiselle, is the "Mr. Outside" to this inside-outside duo, which usually means five days on the road, two days at home. Not to mention the time spent traveling.
|Lightning Assistant General Manager Tom Kurvers |
Grueling? Sure. But Kurvers, after nine years as a scout, has acclimated and, in fact, actually enjoys it.
"Scouts are members of a fraternity," Kurvers explained, "They're great guys and I'm proud to be part of that group."
Scouting is only a portion of what Kurvers will be called on to do as assistant GM, but after years on the road, it's natural that his initial duties will involve seeking and assessing talent.
As part of the new leadership of the Lightning, Kurvers understands that the expectations from the fans are high, but living up to high expectations isn't new to him.
As a puck-moving defenseman in the collegiate ranks, Kurvers was drafted 145th overall by the Montreal Canadiens in 1981, after his freshman year at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. He remained in college for four years, nabbing the Hobey Baker as a senior in the 1983-84 season after registering 76 points in 43 games. The award is given annually to the most outstanding collegiate hockey player in the NCAA. Still, despite an outstanding season and the accolades that went with it, Kurvers was cut from the USA Olympic Squad and had doubts that a pro career was attainable. He then made the Montreal Canadiens team out of the '84 training camp, and it was a toss-up as to who was more surprised, Kurvers or the Montreal executives.
He went on to play 12 years in the NHL for seven different clubs and if you check the Stanley Cup next time it's handy, you’ll find Tom Kurvers' name engraved on it as a member of the 1986 Canadiens team.
After retiring from playing, Kurvers became a scout with the Phoenix Coyotes, eventually
advancing to the position of Director of Player Personnel before joining the new leadership team in Tampa Bay.
If passion is a requirement for the executives of the Lightning, Kurvers will fit right in. He speaks with the same evangelical verve owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie are intent on instilling around the St. Pete Times Forum.
"Passion and desire;" Kurvers explained. "Those qualities may be more useful skills for a player than stick handling. Every guy in the NHL will tell you that they knew someone with more talent and skill than he had, but they were missing the drive and desire."
Those are qualities Kurvers seeks in a player and he is thrilled to find them in the new ownership group.
"We've got a unique situation here in Tampa, unlike anything else in the NHL," Kurvers said. "Our owners have played the game and they know what it means to do battle. This kind of ownership creates excitement. They love the game and they're totally committed."
Totally committed to the sport describes Kurvers, also. He brings the perspective of having played the game, earning a Masters in Sports Management, scouting and even, for 20 games at the tail end of the '04 season, serving as an assistant coach behind the bench.
He worked alongside Wayne Gretzky in Phoenix, and saw Gretzky's extraordinarily competitive drive firsthand. It's among the qualities Kurvers seeks most in a player. Does the player still drive hard at the end of a shift? Is he fearless in the face of a larger opponent? Is he diving to block a shot at the end of a long shift? Does he skate to the bench with fire in his expression? These aren't qualities apparent on the TV coverage of a game – but Kurvers expects his scouts to be watching.
"You can watch every game on the NHL package and SportsCenter highlights, but you'll never know what goes on away from the puck unless you're there and know what to look for," Kurvers explained. "In the course of a year, the scouts become very familiar with the lower half of the line-ups first; that's where the hidden gems without much ice time are found."
There's something else you can learn from Kurvers about the game, and for many fans it's not very obvious.
"The standard of the game is 'humble,'" Kurvers said. "This is a game that will knock every player down, so don't get cocky."
But surely the greats of the game have a certain swagger?
"The greats are often more humble than the others," Kurvers pointed out. "Real players decide that when the game knocks them down they will brush it off and get up and continue. The baseline for desire is well above the norm in this sport."
His duties with the Lightning will go beyond scouting, of course, and will include budgeting and operations. But listening to Kurvers speak, it is clear that scouting talent is something he always will enjoy. It must have its own rewards, though, because days and nights on the road away from a family (he has two daughters and two sons he stays close to) are far from glamorous.
For instance, Kurvers will tell you about pulling up to the Niagara Falls toll booth on a rainy night, fumbling through his pockets and car seats for toll change while getting abused by the toll collector for parking too far from his window.
"That’s when you ask, 'why am I taking this abuse?'" Kurvers said, and laughed. "But that's the life in its essence. Even for a scout, the game will keep you humble."