Christopher Brown has the skills and hockey sense that most coaches covet. Unfortunately for the college coaches who line the glass at the RMU Island Sports Center, the 18-year-old forward with the Boston Jr. Bruins is already taken.
That’s OK because there are plenty of other fish in the sea, especially when the talent pool is as deep as it is at the USA Hockey National Championship 18 & Under tournament. And for this reason scouts flock to suburban Pittsburgh in early April to get a firsthand look at a smorgasbord of skills.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Everybody is looking for something different, whether it’s a pro, Junior or college guy.”
They are a fact of life at a tournament such as the one in Pittsburgh, and the front desk workers who exchange scout passes for business cards show just how prevalent they are by holding a stack of cards three inches high.
They come sporting the logos of their Junior teams, college programs and professional affiliations and stand with their noses pressed to the glass like kids in a candy store. They are looking for players who can help turn their programs around or help maintain a long-expected standard of excellence.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” says Derek Schooley, whose Robert Morris University Colonials call the Island Sports Center home. “Everybody is looking for something different, whether it’s a pro, Junior or college guy.”
Try as they may to be discreet and unimposing to the hundreds of players desperate to be noticed, their presence is a huge selling point to participating in a USA Hockey National Championship tournament.
“You can’t not notice them,” says Brown, who has already committed to attend Div. III powerhouse Middlebury College.
“Still, you have to shake it off and play your game.”
In the hospitality suite set up above ice level, coaches renew old friendships developed over years on the road, reliving stories about the prospect that got away and the ones who made them heroes in the eyes of their bosses and fans back home.
Since most have their eyes on many of the same players, they play their cards close to the vest. Loose lips not only sink ships, they can also derail the recruiting process.
Over his years in coaching, Schooley has logged thousands of miles in search of hockey talent. But this week the action is only a weak wrist shot away from his office in the Robert Morris University hockey department.
“Nationals are a great time to evaluate teams we don’t get to see very often. We get to evaluate players in a pressure-packed environment,” says Schooley, who recently finished his fifth year as a head coach.
“And having it 15 feet from my office is definitely a plus.”
For Andy Slaggert, who spends a fair amount of time on the road scouting for the University of Notre Dame, there are few surprises left at this time of year. He has a pretty good handle on who has signed and who is still up for grabs.
“There are some kids who we’ve seen before, but we wanted to see how they would perform in an environment like this,” says Slaggert. “Then there are kids from parts of the country that we don’t usually get to see that we get the opportunity to see for the first time.”
No matter how many sets of eyes are watching their every move, players know they have to go out and perform, for themselves and
for their team. After all, there is still a national
championship up for grabs.
“If you think about who’s watching you,” says Brown, “you probably don’t have your head in the game.”