Rookie Duties: Tryout to Tryout
So after weeks of talking with coaches and GMs throughout the IHL, CHL, and SPHL, we have successfully placed Matt in three separate free agent camps, the first of which began in Texas this past Thursday (Sept. 24th). From there, Matt will head a few hours north to Oklahoma where he would have been through October 3rd. Minor problem though…after two strong days at camp, Matt separated his shoulder. When I got the call from him Saturday night, I really hoped he was joking. After all, we have been friends for a while. But no such luck.
Fortunately his shoulder won’t require surgery and should only sideline him a few weeks. However, the Texas coach explained that he doesn’t want to take an injured player on his roster, which leaves us in a situation where Matt isn’t on a team and can’t attend the upcoming camps that we signed him up for. On the bright side, the coach from Texas liked what he saw from Matt in the first two days – he told Matt that he’s got the skills and talent to play at this level and that he’d be happy to give Matt a strong recommendation if we found another coach interested in signing him. But the fact of the matter is that we have to first convince a team to even consider signing an injured player with no professional playing experience. All I know is that the next few days will be hectic, and the upcoming nights could be restless. Staring today, I’ll be going through the list of teams I initially contacted about Matt in order to find out who might be willing to take a chance.
Now you might be wondering how I went about contacting these teams to spread the word about Matt and what he brings to the table. First off, I wanted to make sure that I was selective and efficient. I don’t want to start my career with every team thinking that I’m “that guy” who believes every athlete he represents is the best thing since sliced bread – as an agent, you have to be realistic. Instead of sending out a league-wide email letting teams know that Matt was available, I wanted to find clubs where he would be a good fit and then sell that idea to management. For me, step one was checking out each team’s website.
Now in case you’re not familiar with how the free agent process works at the lower levels of professional hockey, teams in leagues farther down the talent food chain than those competing in leagues like the NHL or AHL, have substantially more player turnover from year to year. As a result, these clubs basically start from scratch each season and periodically sign free agents, whether returning players or not, throughout the summer to fill their roster. As players sign, the clubs (for the most part) update their rosters posted online. As I previously mentioned, Matt’s a stay-at-home defensemen with pretty decent size and strength, so I wanted to focus my efforts on teams that were under-sized at the blue line.
Once I had compiled a list of clubs that could use a player like Matt, I began calling the phone numbers listed on each team’s website for their head coach or general manager – often at this level it turns out that one person holds both positions. Any time I get a front office official on the phone, I always make sure to ask how the team is coming together and what they are still looking for. It’s only after they confirm that they need some size at the D position that I give my pitch – describing Matt’s abilities, on and off the ice accomplishments, his character, and, maybe more importantly, his desire to win. If the coach or GM lets me know that they’re pretty well set at Matt’s position, at least by making contact the coach, he may pay more attention to Matt down the road if Matt lands with a different team in the same league.
Another thing I always do is confirm or get the coach’s mailing address and ask if we could send him out a media kit that our company has put together for Matt. For each athlete represented by our firm, we design a unique packet which includes pictures, a player bio, career statistics, and comparable athletes playing at the highest level – in this case the NHL. If we have video, we also include a DVD of highlights. Even if the coach doesn’t actually look through what we send out, putting the kit in his hands gives Matt an opportunity to approach the coaching staff before camp and give them one in person. Not only does this show that Matt has the drive to further his career, it makes him stand out from many other players attending the camp. At the end of the day, if there’s anything that can make our client get more attention from those making personnel decisions, we utilize it. In case you’re curious, the players we selected as comparable players for Matt’s kit were Brent Seabrook (Chicago Blackhawks), Niklas Kronwall (Detroit Redwings), and Brett Lebda (Detroit Redwings), who is coincidentally another Chicago kid.
In the case where I can’t get a phone number or if I can’t get a hold of anyone on the phone, I make sure to at least send out an email to the most appropriate address I can find. The thing with emails, though, is that they’re easy to ignore. So whenever I send out an email, I make sure to schedule a follow-up phone call or email a few days later. You don’t want to be annoying, but you need to be persistent.
Since Matt isn’t a player that’s received a lot of attention from scouts and coaches at the pro level, my job isn’t really to get him on a team, it’s to put him in a position where he can succeed. Without footage or other exposure, Matt isn’t going to be picked up without first attending a team’s free agent camp. As a stay-at-home defensemen coming from a league where +/- statistics aren’t maintained, he simply doesn’t have numbers that, by themselves, indicate that he can play at the next level. But just because I can’t get Matt around the standard tryout process doesn’t mean that I can’t still get him things that other players might not receive. For example, Matt’s first camp started in Texas last Thursday, with it closing just yesterday (Sept. 27). His next destination is Oklahoma, where he has to be situated by this Wednesday (Sept. 30th). Being from Chicago, it wouldn’t make sense to drive all the way back home between the two camps. On the other hand, players trying to make it at the minor-professional level, including Matt, don’t usually have the money to spend on a hotel room for a week. Fortunately, the coach for the Texas team was excited about Matt coming down to try out. As a result, I was able to get the Texas club to cover Matt’s accommodations, not only while the Texas camp is open, but also for an additional two days so that he can avoid a ridiculous driving schedule and/or an expensive hotel bill. In addition, if Matt makes Texas’ main camp, the team agreed to reimburse him for the $200 he dropped on their free agent camp. It might not sound like a lot, but at a level where teams don’t have the resources and luxuries of an NHL club, and players don’t have the corresponding salaries, little things like that can make a big difference.
With Matt starting camps last week, my main concern wasn’t how he was going to perform. Instead, I was worried that a problem would come up with his hotel situation. A week ago Matt got a call from the Texas equipment manager asking Matt if he knew where he was staying during the camp. Naturally this made me a little nervous since I knew the coach had already told me that Matt was set up for the week. Luckily, the coach was easy to get a hold of and he assured me that they had him taken care of. Throughout the process I’ve tried to get confirmation emails from coaches regarding Matt’s itinerary. It’s obviously a lot easier to prove something was agreed upon with a written email than from a phone conversation. Maybe this mentality is just a result of law school making me paranoid, but when covering your bases is as simple as getting an email sent, why not just do it for your own peace of mind?
Hopefully within the next few days I’ll have some good news regarding Matt signing with another club. Obviously I’ll be sure to include any developments in next week’s entry but if you’d like to stay up to date with Matt’s situation, feel free to also follow me on facebook or my twitter page at www.twitter.com/scott_deady.