Last-minute changes another part of life as a scout
Mike G. Morreale
SOMEWHERE IN THE CANADIAN PRAIRIES -- Chris Edwards has been there and done that.
Blizzards, snow-covered roadways, temperatures around minus-20 degrees -- it's all par for the course when it comes to life as a scout and being on the road.
The 72-hour, four-city venture to view three junior-hockey matchups in Western Canada comes to an end Friday when Edwards, a scout for NHL Central Scouting, and the two-man crew from NHL.com make the six-hour journey from Moose Jaw to Lethbridge.
What a finish, eh?
Edwards had every intention of driving two hours west from Moose Jaw to Swift Current following Thursday's final game of the Canada-Russia Subway Super Series, but nasty weather conditions forced a change in the itinerary. It's something that is common for these daring men with the spiral notebooks, ball-point pens and lineup cards.
"It happens a couple times in the year, where weather, injuries or suspensions (to players) are out of your control and you have to make due," Edwards told NHL.com. "I wouldn't say it's typical. In fact, I probably would have plowed through if we desperately needed to get to Lethbridge early on Friday. As it is, that's not the case, so no sense in taking that chance."
Approximately 24 hours after witnessing three of the top 2012 NHL Draft-eligible prospects in defenseman Mathew Dumba of Red Deer, center Colton Sissons of Kelowna and goalie Andrey Makarov of Saskatoon at the Brandt Centre in Regina, Sask., Edwards was right back at it Thursday, charting 2013 draft prospect Ryan Pulock of Brandon at Mosaic Place in Moose Jaw.
"I generally like to see a player three times during the year or as much as you can. It always doesn't really work out that way, though, especially when you run into problems with injuries." -- NHL Central Scouting's Chris Edwards
"I generally like to see a player three times during the year or as much as you can," Edwards said. "It always doesn't really work out that way, though, especially when you run into problems with injuries."
Several players that Edwards thought he'd be grading weren't available because of injury, including Everett Silvertips defenseman Ryan Murray, Edmonton Oil Kings defenseman Griffin Reinhart and Moose Jaw Warriors defenseman Morgan Rielly.
"You just have to make do," he said.
Normally, Edwards would have been going solo on this particular trip. The fact he had some company was a bonus, as life can get awfully quiet on the road.
In fact, it was interesting to note that Edwards doesn't even require a navigational device or map. He knew the grid of every city as if it were his own.
"In my opinion, if you get lost out here, you deserve it," he said.
The 41-year-old Edwards does carry with him a portable satellite radio on every trip. It was right around the time Edwards made the left onto Thatcher Drive in Moose Jaw that he considered staying put instead of risking the two-hour trek into Swift Current to lodge for the night.
Actually, the decision enabled the 22-year veteran of Central Scouting the opportunity to show NHL.com the town. He pointed out legendary "Mac the Moose," a gigantic replica of the area's favorite mammal, which stands 30 feet tall and weighs 10 tons. Located at the Tourism Moose Jaw Visitor Centre, 'Mac' has become a picture spot for any visitor.
He also passed by the old Moose Jaw Civic Centre that he and the locals refer to as "The Crushed Can" for its dipping, saddle-like rooftop.
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Edwards also took us to local eateries where he and the late director of NHL Central Scouting, E.J. McGuire, broke bread on several occasions. Not a lot of clientele in the eateries, however. It was eerie in a way; the serenity and remoteness of it all. He ordered a salad and the special on the menu, a rib-eye steak with some vegetables and a glass of ginger ale.
"I remember one time," Edwards said while pointing to a hotel next to the restaurant, "E.J. couldn't get an Internet signal. But he figured out that when his hotel door was open, the signal was stronger, so that's what he did. He kept his door open the whole time he needed Internet access. When E.J. set his mind to something, you can bet it was going to happen."
McGuire was a topic of discussion throughout the trip, and for good reason. Edwards established a close bond with the scouting guru, as did all the scouts at Central Scouting.
The two would drive countless miles at ungodly hours for many of the 10 years McGuire served as scouting director.
In fact, those long drives a scout has to endure was another recurring theme throughout the trip. Sure, the end result could be as rewarding as any grand prize when an NHL team selects a future star based on the recommendation of Central Scouting, but Edwards realizes he isn't in the business of pats on the back.
Scouting is an unheralded art, something that only can be appreciated by those who annually make the long trips despite sleepless nights.
"Really, I've learned that you're more wrong than right in the business," he said. "So the trick is to be wrong the least amount of times as you can be."
Edwards said he does pay attention to skating, shooting and a player's physical traits, but that he also understands that these are 17- and 18-year-olds he's watching, so there's always a chance of catching them on an "off night."
"For the most part, you decide if a player is a good hockey player, and then you decide what type of player he actually is," said Edwards. "Is he a power forward? A skill forward? Is he a stay-at-home defenseman or an offensive-defender? That comes with time, seeing a guy and getting to know him better. But the first thing you have to do is figure out if the guy is a good hockey player, and then take it from there."
It isn't easy, but Edwards admits he never expected it to be. So is the life of a scout.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale