Hockey Sports Agents

Rookie Duties: Steeling the Spotlight

When I left you last week, I was expecting a busy week in preparation for the arrival of Team USA’s U18 squad in Chicago this past Friday.

Monday morning and afternoon was spent primarily on my computer. Over the previous couple of days, I had met a number of scouts at the Steel games and was fortunate enough to get some direct contact information from a few of them. I am meeting more and more people every single day, and as a person who’s not very good with names, I’ve relied heavily on my “MemoPad” in my Blackberry. Every time I walk away after meeting someone new, the first thing I like to do is grab my phone and plug in whatever details about the person I can remember. For the most part, I basically just like to jot down the names of the people, where they work out of, what leagues and regions they’re responsible for, and any other random relevant information that might have come up during the conversations. In some cases, though, when I’ve met a group of scouts from a single team, I can’t remember the names of everyone. Many NHL clubs have photos of their scouts listed, so at that point, at least I can go back and hopefully attach a name to the face. If you’re dealing with a team that doesn’t disclose much information on their scouting staff…well in that case, I’ll let you know the best solution when I figure it out myself.

That night, Kuch and Teddy wanted to go see a movie, and since I’d gotten my work done for the day, I thought it would be a nice way to relax for a bit. The amount of personal attention that a client wants from an agent generally varies on a case-by-case basis. In an industry like this, where trust is so vitally important, I prefer to spend more time with my clients in order to build a solid personal relationship as well. Teddy and Kuch are two great kids that seem to like having me around, so it’s been a very comfortable situation for me.

Last week, I got a work assignment from a Russian friend and former NHL’er, who’s currently skating in the KHL. This summer, he will be living here in Chicago and he needs to pack some size onto his 6’3”, 195lb. frame. He asked if I would mind checking a few places, and of course I told him that I’d be more than happy to help. A work associate recommended a facility not far from my office called The Academy of Human Performance, and so I set up a meeting with their managers for this past Wednesday. The guys over at the Academy are responsible for training some of the top college and professional athletes in the country including, among others, Brady Quinn, Jeff Samardzija, and Tom Zbikowski. As a Notre Dame football fan, the plethora of Fighting Irish Alumni certainly gave me a solid first impression. The facility itself was fantastic, and the staff proved to be equally as impressive. With him, price isn’t an issue – he just wanted the best training he could get…and this place certainly fit the bill.

During our meeting, I threw out the idea of setting up a professional partnership between the facility and my company – specifically the Hockey Division. I mentioned how I’d eventually love to get all my hockey clients into Chicago to train for a few weeks at the end of each summer, just before players started reporting to their pre-season camps. It would give the kids an opportunity to get to know some of the other players we advise and ensure that they’d be in prime shape when they showed up for the first day of practice. The guys at the facility seemed to love the idea and we are going to see if we can start getting something like that set up for the Summer of 2011. As for this year, Kuchin’s really the only kid we’d probably send to a facility of this caliber.

Later that afternoon, I had one of those moments when everything just seemed to be falling into place. I received a call around 3pm from Chris (Sean’s father). He and a few other parents were trying to figure out where all their sons might end up playing in the 2010-11 season and he started to explain a few of the options he was considering. At one point during the conversation, he mentioned the fact that Sean had a friend playing for Shattuck. As you may remember from a few months ago, I recently met and had a couple of good talks with one of the Shattuck coaches. I told Chris that I’d give the guy a call and see whether he thought they’d have any room on their team next season. A lot of things would have to fall into place to get Sean playing for SSM next year, but the coaches there seemed to think he’d be a good fit. Really though, this was just a win-win situation for me. It gave me the opportunity to show Sean my connections within the sport, and at the same time, I was able to offer some value to the SSM program that they might not otherwise know about. As I said, things just once again seemed to be falling nicely into place.

My Thursday began early in the morning with another Skype conference with Andrey’s mother. I wanted to give her an update as to which NHL clubs I’d spoken with to this point and where I thought the interest level was. Things have been looking good lately and I know Kuchin’s mom appreciated me keeping her posted. I explained that this past weekend was going to be a busy one and that we should chat again sometime this week.

Before I continue with the details of our teleconference, I should back-track a bit and let you in on some information that I’ve been keeping out of my column. Ever since I started working with Andrey, another agent working with one of the larger NHL agencies, has been calling Kuchin and his family constantly. This guy apparently had told Andrey a while back that he wanted to help him with his hockey career. Long story short – the Kuchins began feeling as though they were being led on by this “agent” and that’s when they decided it would be a good idea to contact me. They asked me to follow up on some the promises that were being made and none of them seemed to have any substance behind them. Kuch liked what he saw from me, signed with my company, and I left the other guy a message letting him know that I, and my company, would be taking over from here. Unfortunately, the calls to his family continued. After another message and a conversation on the phone with him personally, I still wasn’t confident anything was going to change.

So…just as Andrey’s mother and I were about to say our “goodbyes” guess who called the Kuchin’s home??? Yeah…exactly. To be honest, I couldn’t believe this guy. I’d been trying to handle the situation civilly up to that point, but sooner or later, something’s gotta give. Knowing that him continuing to ignore my demands to stop harassing my client was a likely possibility, a few days before, I had printed up a couple copies of our firm’s “Cease and Desist” letters. I had addressed a copy to three different members of this guy’s firm, but I didn’t want to send them out unless it was necessary. Well that was my breaking point, and those letters were in the mail within the hour. I’m not really expecting much of a response back, but I’ll be ready if I get one.

Jump to Friday night – the real highlight of the week. The Team USA U18’s were in town to play the Steel, and that reason alone is enough to attract scouts from dozens of teams across North America. For anyone not familiar with the USHL, I’ll briefly explain how this works. The USHL is a Tier I Junior “A” league. Junior teams are comprised of players who are twenty years old or younger at the beginning of the season. USA Hockey, however, has a U18 team (players are eighteen or younger) that competes in the USHL. Since the Team USA players are competing against kids that are generally much older, it goes without saying that their squad is extremely talented and heavily scouted by NHL clubs. Last year alone, ten players from the USA squad were taken in the NHL Entry Draft. And while most scouts had their eyes glued to the red, white, and blue, I knew this would be a great opportunity for Kuch to shine…and he did just that.

With just over thirteen minutes to go in the first period, and the Steel already down 2-0, Andrey burst through the neutral zone, received a crisp head-man pass, and blew past the U.S. defensemen. As he went to make his move, a last-minute hook pulled him to the ice and all eyes in the rink flew towards the official positioned down low in the corner. Then came the signal hockey fans crave – penalty shot. While I knew Kuchin is one of the better shootout players in the league, I couldn’t help but be a little nervous. As he came bearing down on the net, he deked to his right, froze the tender, and sniped one in just off the near post. What can I say? The kid knows how to turn it on. It sure didn’t hurt that all this was going on at the same end where all the scouts had positioned themselves.

Besides his goal, Andrey had a solid first period, and at the first intermission, I knew that it was time for me to get to work. I began walking around the concourse and stopped to talk to a few NHL scouts I had become acquainted with the past couple weeks. I could see a few scouts from the Blackhawks sitting at a table, and that’s when I noticed two guys that I didn’t’ expect – Hawks GM Stan Bowman and Assistant GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. Now these aren’t guys that I’d approach to talk about a client, but I’d been speaking with members of their scouting staff about Kuchin and thought this might be a good opportunity to introduce myself. Looking back, I couldn’t have been happier with my decision to walk over. Both Stan and Kevin turned out to be incredibly nice guys – two of the best I’ve met in hockey thus far (and I’ve met some really great people). They asked about Andrey, how I started working with him, and how things were progressing. Guys at their level generally don’t spend too much time worrying about scouting players who are slated to get drafted outside the top three or four rounds, and I let them know that I understood that. Nevertheless, I made sure to give both of them my card and let them know that they’re more than welcome to give me a call if they had any questions regarding Andrey.

I spent the rest of the game working my way through the seemingly endless line of scouts in attendance, and in all, I probably spoke with about 12-15 guys from six or seven different clubs. Generally, I don’t get much information from them (they know better than that), but all I really care about is getting information to them, and that’s what I’m always focused on.

Kuch ended up scoring again in the third period, but to be honest, I didn’t get to see much of the play in the 2nd and 3rd period. While a big part of my job involves scouting talent, there are certain times when that’s not what I’m in the rink for. This was one of those nights when I was there to sell. And thankfully, since Kuch was able to draw some attention away from the USA squad, my job that night was just a little bit easier.

Saturday evening’s game was fairly uneventful in comparison to the night before.  There were only a handful of NHL guys in attendance, and while I’d already spoken with those there, the lull in scouting action gave me an opportunity to continue building on my relationships with them. Two teams in particular have sent someone to almost every Steel game for the past couple weeks. Obviously they’re not looking solely at Andrey, but I know “he’s on their radar” and both these clubs have a number of late-round picks available this June. Needless to say, I’ve been working them pretty hard, and with only six games left in the Steel season, there’s no slowing down now.

As if the prior two days hadn’t already provided me with enough activity, with the Steel facing off in Green Bay at 3:00pm, after an early morning church service I decided to make the drive up. I ran into a few guys from two NHL clubs I’d been speaking with, and although I’d never met this particular crew, it was nice to continue extending my reach within each organization to help get Andrey the recognition he deserves.

The game itself turned out to be a thriller. While both teams looked fatigued after a long weekend of games, the boys battled hard and after sixty minutes of regulation and a five-minute overtime frame, it would all come down to a shootout. Who would’ve thought that the climax of the night would come before the first shooter would even reach the puck? Just as the Zambonis exited the ice, each goaltender skated out to their respective net. But to the surprise of everyone in the stands, including myself, they didn’t stay there long.  The two tenders took a stroll out to center ice, tossed off their helmets, and starting throwing haymakers like Tommy Hanrahan. If you’re confused by the reference, either see Slap Shot or you should probably stop following this column. Obviously I’m kidding…but no, seriously.

Four Gambler shooters were all it would take to snatch the extra point away from the Steel. With two cold goaltenders coming into a shootout, I was surprised there wasn’t more scoring but hey, I guess “that’s why they play the game!”

After a three-hour drive back to Chicago, it’s right back to work. This week I’ll be continuing to follow up on some leads with a couple different NHL clubs. There are still a few teams I haven’t run into where Kuch would be a great fit, so my primary goal for the next week or so is getting them in the stands. Hopefully, if they’re not at the game on Wednesday, the highlight DVD our company is mailing out within the next few days will get them there before the end of the season. And with that…it’s time to hit the showers.

One reply on “Rookie Duties: Steeling the Spotlight”

I forgot to mention the fact that I I would have gotten a picture or maybe a video of the goalie fight had I not decided to reset my phone while they were dry cutting the ice for the shootout. Anyone with a BlackBerry knows how long those things take to start back up. Other pics from the game though can be found on the “Rookie Duties” Facebook page.

Comments are closed.