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Week in the Life of an NHL Scout

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
The life of an NHL amateur scout is a demanding yet rewarding profession. Scouts spend the majority of their life on the road – living out of hotel rooms, working long hours, eating at local restaurants and spending endless days at the hockey rink evaluating talent.

Penguins amateur scout Ron Pyette
The Penguins have several scouts that are assigned different regions and leagues to cover. Amateur scout Ron Pyette, 39, tracks players from Manitoba to British Columbia to the northern United States (Washington and Oregon).

“It’s a huge area. If you look at other regional areas, like the Ontario guys, the joke is you could cover that league on a bicycle,” Pyette joked. “They never have hotel nights. Myself, doing this region, I’ll have 130 hotel nights.”

As soon as the schedules for the amateur hockey leagues are posted, Pyette spends hours poring over them to map out his travel course. 

“During the season I will look at that schedule and rework it for at least two hours every day,” he said. “Some days I will spend five hours on that thing. It is the most time consuming thing of all. The schedule is huge. It’s about plotting out your plan logistically.”

Of course, there are issues that result in tweaks and changes to Pyette’s travel plans.

“You have to keep in mind people get injured and there are weather issues that keep you from getting to places,” he said. “Then you’re scrambling and changing your schedule.”

Pyette was kind enough to give a glimpse into the average hectic week of an amateur scout during the season.

Pyette begins his weeklong scouting trip from his home in Calgary, Alberta Wednesday morning. His travel itinerary reads:
  • Wednesday: Western Hockey League – Vancouver vs. Kamloops
  • Thursday: British Columbia Hockey League – Langley vs. Victoria
  • Friday: Western Hockey League – Seattle vs. Portland
  • Saturday: Western Hockey League – Portland vs. Seattle
  • Sunday: Western Hockey League – Vancouver vs. Prince George
  • Monday: Off day
  • Tuesday: Western Hockey League – Red Deer vs. Lethbridge

Pyette drives to the airport and catches a one-hour flight to Vancouver. Once arriving, he rents a car and drives to his hotel. After checking in, he gets right to work.

“I start making phone calls,” he said. “I call the coaches of the teams that I might see on this trip.”

After touching base with the coaches Pyette grabs lunch (possibly his favorite lunch meal, sushi in downtown Vancouver), and then starts preparing for that evening’s game.

Pyette arrives at Pacific National Exhibition, home of the Vancouver Giants, two hours before puck drop. He greets other scout, gets that night’s lineup and makes the necessary lineup adjustments on his scout card.

“You prepare the lineup on your card,” Pyette said, “make notes that are important to you, read through the stats of who’s doing well, identify the players you have to do reports on. You have a pretty good indication of who you’re going to watch that day.”

Pyette watches warmups and gets ready for the game. During the game, he makes notes on his scout card and lets the players do their thing. After the game, Pyette meets with a few players for a brief chat. Having gathered all the needed information, Pyette returns to his hotel room to start his evaluation.

(Click here for a more in-depth look at how Pyette evaluates a game and interviews players).

“I pop open my computer and put my thoughts down and write game reports,” Pyette said. “We have a software program that we use all the time. Every single day I open it up and look at it. You open it and add comments and rate players in various categories. The game report takes about an hour. I get most of my thoughts out and then I sleep on it.”

Pyette wakes up in the morning and his first order of business is to re-evaluate his work from the previous evening.

“I open the computer and read my report, tweaking it and thinking it through,” he said. “Once you lock in the report, it’s locked in. You only get so many games to see players so you want to be accurate. Your bosses all see these reports, so you want to be very thorough and clear on what you’re telling them about these players. I like to be very detailed when I write reports.”

Life on the open road
After filing his report, Pyette starts his daily research routine – reading game summaries from throughout the league, reading developing news stories, seeing which players are hot and working on other projects.

During his down time, Pyette tries to stay in shape by working out regularly and eating healthy. His usual choice meal is either sushi or visiting a unique local restaurant.

"When I started a veteran scout told me, 'We don't move around a whole bunch on this job so eat right and workout everyday or you will have to buy bigger pants in a hurry!'"

There are no Western Hockey League games played on Thursday night. Scouts don't like having many days off on the road, but when one comes around they try to do something to keep themselves busy and get out of the hotel room. 

"I was able to see Robin Williams live and check out a Rise Against concert," Pyette said. "You can always get a matinee movie and have the theatre to yourself. Or sometimes I will stay in my hotel all afternoon and watch Criminal Minds reruns!"

Luckily, on this trip Pyette uses the evening as an opportunity to check out another league – the British Columbia Hockey League. Penguins’ 2010 first-round pick Beau Bennett is a product of the league.

Pyette makes the lonely drive to Langley, leaving early to beat the Vancouver traffic, eating dinner in the area. He heads to Langley Events Center to watch the Chiefs play visiting Victoria.

“I do reports on kids with college commitments, reports on draft eligibles, and anybody that jumps out at me that may have some type of asset and could be a pro,” he said. “There may not be anyone in the game that we’ll be interested in drafting, but at least I’ve seen the teams.”

After the game, Pyette drives back to Vancouver, “and it’s probably raining like crazy.” He gets back to his hotel room and begins the process of filing his normal game reports.

Pyette works the phones in the morning, collecting as much information as he can from the previous days.

“I’ll touch base with the coaches on a player from Vancouver or maybe someone who stood out to me from Langley,” he said. “I’ll see if any schools are after the players, if the coaches think they have pro potential, do your homework on the guys.”

Pyette completes his Langley-Victoria game report in the morning. He jumps into his typical morning research, scanning the web for stories and points of interest throughout the amateur leagues.

Spokane Arena
He hits the road once more, this time heading to the United States. Pyette drives two-and-a-half hours from Vancouver to Seattle, crossing the Canadian-American border which “sometimes can be an issue.”

Pyette checks into his Seattle hotel. And then back to the “office,” Showare Center.

“I go to the rink again, it’s like Groundhog Day,” he said. “I see all the scouts from the previous nights because you’re all probably on the same schedule.

“I’m a little bummed because Seattle doesn’t serve a scouts meal at the game,” he joked. “Scouts always talk about that stuff.”

Pyette gets the lineup and makes the appropriate marks on his scout card. He then watches Seattle play Portland, which “is a great game to watch because they’re two huge rivals. It’s always a great game.”

Game over. Back to hotel. Back to computer. Back to writing a game report.

Pyette completes his normal morning routine – locking in Friday’s game report, scanning the web for the latest news and info, making phone calls to coaches.

It’s time for him to get back on the road. Pyette hops in his rented car and leaves Seattle early in the day for a three-hour drive to Portland, Oregon. But this time he isn’t alone. On this ride, instead of listening to the radio, Pyette will be able to talk with another scout, who is joining him for the ride.

There is a great camaraderie among the scouts. These guys spend a lot of time together when they’re on the road. They share lunches, dinners, drinks and sometimes even rides. With all the scouts working within budget, it is not uncommon for scouts to carpool.

The "Crushed Can" in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan
“Sometimes there will be four or five of us sitting in the vehicle going to a game,” Pyette said. “There are always good stories because there are lots of characters on the trail, guys that played in the NHL with some great old hockey stories. We have a lot of laughs together, so it’s cool.

“What’s really neat is the camaraderie of the scouts. We are in our little world as a group. We all go do the job and we don’t talk about the players. But we spend a lot of time together. We travel together, eat a lot of lunches and dinners with each other. You have this group that you see all the time. You can walk into a room and you don’t even have to say hello because you just saw everyone the night before.”

Pyette arrives at his hotel. Meanwhile, his companion hops in a cab destined for his own hotel. Having watched the two teams the previous night, there isn’t as much prep work needed for the game. He uses his time to work on his project and look ahead to his future schedule, making any adjustments and alterations as necessary.

Pyette heads to the Rose Garden two hours before the game starts to see Portland host Seattle in the second half of their home-and-home series. He launches into the scouting routine, marks up his scout card, jots down his notes and meets with some players following the game. Pyette heads back to the hotel to get out his initial thoughts.

It’s an early morning wakeup for Pyette. There is a 5 o’clock game in Vancouver on his schedule and a five-hour drive ahead to get there (plus extra time to cross the American-Canadian border).

After completing his game report, Pyette hits the road for the lengthy distance. He is once again alone with only the satellite radio and mountains as his company. He crosses the border and soon arrives at the rink (Pyette will fly back home to Calgary following the game so there is no need to check into a hotel).

Another day at the "office."
Pyette runs through the scouting routine. Following the game he’ll talk to a few more players and coaches just to make sure he touches base one final time before heading home.

Pyette heads back to the airport. He drops off the rental car and checks in for his flight. On the plane he breaks out his computer so that he can start working on his game report.

“Get your report done on the plane and finish your business,” Pyette said. “The last thing you want on Monday when you don’t have a game is to be doing work when you could be seeing your kids. I would say the airplane is one of my many offices. I get caught up on work all the time during plane rides.”

Pyette touches down in Calgary late in the evening. He picks up his car and drives home to his family. If he’s lucky, he’ll be able to see his wife, Michelle, and children – daughter Madison, 11, and son Cameron, 5 – before they go to bed.

With no games scheduled, Pyette spends his morning evaluating the previous road trip and following up with any necessary phone calls. He gathers information on his current project.

Pyette spends the rest of his day with his family.

Despite being at home, Pyette still has a full slate of work to complete. Pyette splits his time between long trips through Western Canada and the United States with games that are played in the Calgary area.

“You try to get on the road for a period of time, but you also try to watch games at home sometime,” he said. “I’ll try to catch a game around my house. I’m lucky because I have lots of hockey options right where I live.”

Pyette jumps in his car once again and heads an hour-and-a-half north to Red Deer, who is hosting Lethbridge that evening. Following the game, he rides back to Calgary.

Back at home, Pyette opens his computer and files his game report. He goes to sleep for some much deserved rest, at least until tomorrow when he has to repeat the process all over again.

But that is the life of a NHL amateur scout. 

Photos courtesy of Ron Pyette
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