By James Mirtle
There’s a Canadian mythos that surrounds the hockey scout. This, after all, is a guy who gets paid to watch hockey games. A brooding figure at the far end of the rink, he sips his styrofoam cup of rink coffee and puts a checkmark on his battered clipboard every so often. Players on the ice glance over between plays, trying to catch a glimpse of the crest on his jacket.
Ed Kirsten is the head coach of Ryerson’s men’s hockey team, and it’s his job each year to stock the Rams roster with talented rookies. Far from the first-class flights and four-star hotels of the National Hockey League, Kirsten puts some serious miles on his VW Jetta, shuttling around Ontario watching Junior A games.
For the most part, Kirsten is watching the oldest players — 20 year olds who are playing their last season of Junior A. If Kirsten likes what he sees, he’ll approach players after the game and encourage them to apply to Ryerson University. It’s often a hard sell: the most talented players opt for NCAA hockey in the US or get snapped up by larger Canadian schools.
This fierce competition for players, combined with Ryerson’s lack of athletic scholarships and inflexible admission policies, make Kirsten’s job particularly challenging.
“For every 20 that I get to apply, maybe two get in [to Ryerson],” said Kirsten.
“I need 10 new players next year, so that’s 100 applications. Have I got that? No. Not even close.”
The Rams recruiting budget for this year is tight – about $6,500. This money makes up almost four per cent of the team’s total operating costs for the year. Terry Haggerty, manager of Interuniversity Sports for Ryerson, says that recruiting funds for each of Ryerson’s teams are similar, but get spent in a variety of ways.
“Different teams use that [money] slightly differently,” said Haggerty. “Some is for travel, some for a hotel maybe. Part of it can also go to the coach for his time.”
Hockey players are in a unique position among Canadian varsity athletes because so many teams are vying for their talent. There is big cash to be made overseas or in American minor professional leagues. Even Junior A squads will pay their university-aged players to keep them on their teams while they attend school.
“I don’t necessarily enjoy watching tier 2 [Junior A hockey] games anymore,” said Kirsten. “[Recruiting] is the most frustrating part of my job as a coach. It’s tough to compete with the major schools. The rewards don’t outweigh the work, that’s for sure
“There is some real nice talent out there, but i try not to get too optimistic. Come August, we’ll lose a lot of guys to their tier 2 teams. The big bucks — that’s what it comes down to.”
A few notable players Kirsten has pegged for next season are defenceman Grant Buckley, a former OHLer who now plays for the Stouffville Spirit (Jr. A), and forward Sean Burke, who is currently playing NCAA division III hockey for the Plattsburg State Cardinals. Pint-sized scorer John Duco, also from the Spirit, and Oshawa Legionnaires blueliner Grant Lemmon have also expressed interest in joining the Rams.
Ryerson was the lowest scoring team in the league last season, and Kirsten says the Rams needs new players who can put the biscuit in the basket more often.
“We need guys up front to score some goals,” said Kirsten. “Our guys just couldn’t get it done this year.”
Between his job as a parole officer in Oakville, Ont., and this duties with the Rams, Kirsten works up to 70 hours a week. Former assistant coach and chief recruiter Jim Peffers passed away in 2002, leaving a huge hole on the staff to fill. Darren Smith, who has some scouting experience in the Manitoba Junior A ranks, has come on board to lend a hand.
As for Kirsten, he’ll be on the road to North Bay, Ont., to catch the junior A championships, where he hopes to convince a few guys to shoot pucks for the Rams.