Hockey Scouting in the Modern Age: An Interview with Victor Carneiro of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds

hockeyscoutingBy Sunil Agnihotri

With the development of communication technology such as the web, social media and mobile technology, information pertaining to hockey has increased both in size and importance. The NHL, their broadcasters and media outlets are producing an astounding amount of content delivered on an array of platforms. Fans continue to demand information, and have played a key role in the development of new hockey related content. And of course, hockey teams are also acquiring as much information as they can for managerial decisions and to improve on-ice performance.

Not only has the amount of and demand for information increased, but many more channels between all stakeholders to share and develop information have opened as well. Teams however, are understandably restricted as to how much they can publicly disclose, mindful of the competitive nature of their business. Scouting in particular, which is relied upon to draft and acquire players has evolved in the modern age as communication technology increases in significance.

To get a better perspective on scouting in the modern age, I reached out to Victor Carneiro, Director of Player Personnel for the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Victor is also active online, at times giving a glimpse into the world of scouting in  junior hockey.

Tell us about yourself, how you got into hockey, and how you landed with the Soo.

Well, I’m from Toronto. I’m a big sports fan. I like a lot of sports outside of hockey, soccer probably being number two. I find a lot of the flow sports have some similarities with hockey as well. 

As for getting into hockey, growing up, like most Canadian kids, I was a big hockey fan. But I realized at a young age I wasn’t going to make it as a pro hockey player. Luckily the school I went to had a hockey arena on campus and I just ended up being a rink rat. I mainly did the scorekeeping and timekeeping for our school’s games but I also helped with the ice and at times in the snack bar. I remember being asked to do the scorekeeping and timekeeping for a high school tournament and I ended up getting paid. I thought it was so great to watch hockey and get paid.

One day my geography teacher, who had scouted for the original Winnipeg Jets and the Ottawa Senators, asked me if I wanted to help with his son’s major midget team the following year, the Toronto Marlboros. I did that for a year in my last year in high school. When I went to the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario I still wanted to be around the game of hockey but I knew I couldn’t devote that much time to a minor hockey team in London. Not having a car didn’t help either. So the summer before I started school I asked the London Knights, the local OHL team, if they needed any help. I never heard back from them but after a rough start to that season a whole number of people left or were let go so they were short staffed. They needed help on game days and I said sure.

So I spent my university years helping the Knights doing whatever was needed. Over time I got more and more responsibilities. After university I went to Durham College in Oshawa to study in their sports admin program. Even though it was a two year program, I got direct entry into the 2nd year of their program.  Second year you have to do a co-op placement. I did my placement with the London Knights. So I would go from Toronto to Oshawa Monday to Wednesday, then drive to London on Thursday mornings. I would crash at a friend’s place in London. I would either go home to Toronto Friday night after the Knights game or Sunday afternoon if the Knights played two games during the weekend. I also held a part time job during that school year.

It was during this year that a co-worker asked if I was interested in scouting. The team had recently let go of a scout based in Toronto and needed some help in the area. Part of the reason was the OHL had instituted a new bantam draft so more players needed to be looked at. So I asked Paul McIntosh, the director of hockey operations (ed. McIntosh is now the director of pro scouting with the Dallas Stars) if I could help out. He said yes so on top of school, the co-op placement, part time job, I got to scout bantam games in Toronto.

They must have liked the job I did because that summer they hired me to be their Toronto area scout. So I officially started scouting during the 1999-2000 season.  That was the same year Mark and Dale Hunter bought the team. So here I was a brand new scout in my first year thinking that I was going to get let go in favour of someone they knew after one year. But they too must have liked what I did because that summer Dale asked if I wanted to come back. Of course I stayed. I think pushing to draft Rick Nash that year in the draft had helped my cause.

I worked with the London Knights from 1999-2000 to the 2009-10 season. During those ten years we had a lot of success culminating with the 2005 Memorial Cup win. I was fortunate to also help out with Team Ontario U17 team during that time where we won 3 golds and 1 silver at the World U17 Challenge in the four years I was part of the program.

As for how I joined the Soo. Following the 2009-10 season I felt it was time for a change. The Soo Greyhounds were looking for a Toronto area guy so the GM at the time Dave Torrie brought me on board (ed. Torrie is now the director of amateur scouting for the Buffalo Sabres) And from there it’s history. Dave was let go at the end of the 2010-11 season and Kyle Dubas was brought into replace him. And after some organization changes Kyle named me director of player personnel for the start of the 2013-14 season.

Editor’s note: Kyle Dubas recently left the Greyhounds this past summer to become the assistant general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. [National Post]

What sort of day-to-day tasks are involved for a scout?

Day to day tasks aren’t much. My current hockey job isn’t a full-time job. I hold down a regular job much like most people who scout in the OHL. Fortunately being in Toronto I’m in a good spot to watch a lot of minor hockey. If I want to I can pretty much catch a game every night of the week. But in terms of tasks, a big part of it is scheduling and managing how to watch players from across Ontario and eligible US states. Keeping in contact with the rest of the scouting staff. Keeping in contact with others on the hockey staff. Usually just talking hockey. At the end of the day though, I stick to the adage, scouts scout, coaches coach, managers manage.

So my responsibility is to watch minor hockey players. Biggest part of our assessment is finding players that fit the way we want to play. So I’ll go watch games and after every game file a report on Rinknet on said game. It’s the same system that NHL teams used, but stripped down a bit. Every so often there are tournaments and showcases to attend. Those can be long days as usually scouts will spend 12 plus hours a day watching hockey. Even for the biggest die hard hockey fan it can be a bit of a grind. But at the end of the day, it’s the game that makes us do it.

A lot of your work is about information and knowledge management. You’re acquiring information, and then making major decisions based on various scouting reports and stats. Talk about the collaboration on your scouting/management staff. And how to best share knowledge in a hockey operations department.

As I mention, like every OHL team, we use Rinknet. It allows you to see everyone’s schedule. I know I talk to most of the guys on staff every day. I send out a newsletter of sorts every week to the scouting and management staff just on what’s going on scouting wise and to share info. We have a good staff that are on top of things so I normally don’t worry so much about their schedules or getting information. We work as a team in sharing info. 

Twitter is a natural place to be as a sports fan or for anyone working within the game. You’re active online, and even share some of your old scouting reports on players. What was your motivation for participating online?

Initially it was mainly because I had a lot of friends who were savvy when it comes to social media and Twitter was mentioned to me. So I set up an account but wasn’t really active. But I kept hearing about it from others so a couple of months later I tried to give it more of a shot. Then over time you start following more and more people and learning new things, getting information. Twitter is a good tool to disseminate information. And get it quickly, which has its positives and negatives. At first I tried to keep it to strictly hockey but over time you become part of a community so you open up a little more and have some fun with it. Outside of hockey, I’m a big soccer fan. Really just sports in general. And another passion of mine is music so I’ll tweet regularly about things like soccer or an upcoming concert.

Information is in high demand and is generated by anyone and everyone these days. How has the development of the web and social media applications impacted your day-to-day job? What have been the positive and/or negative impacts to scouting?

The biggest impact has definitely been the ease of obtaining information. When I first started a lot of stuff like schedules and player lists were shared via fax. And my scouting reports were done in Microsoft Word which I would fax or hand over to our head scout. The GTHL, the main league I covered when I started, would print their schedule every Thursday in the Toronto Star for the upcoming week so you had to pick up a copy of the paper to get the schedule. Then come playoff time they had a telephone hotline you would call to see who was playing when. 

Now with Rinknet and the staff they have inputting information into their system, and with all the leagues being online, you can set your schedule far enough in advance. Rinknet will also email out any information changes they feel are relevant to your schedule and teams you’re going to see.

In terms of negative impact, it’s not so much to scouting as it is to the players. With social media and namely message boards, a lot of negativity can be directed to players even at the minor hockey level. 

Your work involves a lot of confidential information, things your club wouldn’t want leaked to other clubs. How do you find the balance of being active online, commenting on the game/players on Twitter for example, but also ensuring confidential information about prospects, etc, is kept in-house.

My rule of thumb is not to comment about current prospects or players currently in the league. Part of it is not tipping my hand and part of it is not wanting to be seen as tampering. In the past I’ve live tweeted a big game, for example a top prospects game, or acknowledged a player winning a MVP award at a tournament. But I see that more as just passing on information to interested people. Kind of like a news service. Being objective. While you want to give more insight to your followers you have to be fair to your club. But sometimes, as I’ve done in the past, I’ll tweet out old reports on players who have gone through the league or tweet out old lists. To give people a glimpse of that world.  

Fans and online communities have really pushed the development of analytics, which as you know has received a lot of attention this summer. What has your experience been with analytics as a scout?

I learned about analytics mainly through my usage of Twitter. The hockey community on twitter is a small one but a burgeoning one. I was skeptic at first despite realizing as I got into it that when I first started scouting I did so by tracking things. As for using it, not really. It’s tough at the minor hockey level given the lack of information there is terms of stats available. But I would say it has helped me scout. I’m definitely a much different scout today than I was in 2000. I think it has helped me in terms of how I view the game and players. I incorporate some of the values of analytics while I’m scouting. 

Editor’s note: Analytics focused on junior players is still in its infancy. ExtraSkater did aggregate data from CHL games, but the website is unfortunately offline now.

I try to read as much as I can when it pertains to hockey. I also read up a lot on a lot of other sports as well. I try to read anything I feel that can help me improve. I definitely don’t pretend to know a lot about hockey so I try to absorb as much as I can about anything and everything. Unfortunately there is not enough time in the day to read everything. There’s some stuff I try to read as much as possible. I definitely miss Tyler Dellow’s blog. And I try to read anything that’s written by guys like Eric Tulsky and other prominent hockey bloggers. Elliotte Friedman’s 30 Thoughts are always a must read. And Justin Bourne’s Systems Analyst posts are always solid as well. I really enjoyed his Unique Team Traits series this summer with the help of Thomas Drance. It was outstanding. And of course I try to read everything when it comes to the OHL and the going ons in college hockey. Neate Sager and Sunaya Sapurji are musts in that respect. 

The Blueprint

The Blueprint

Any books in particular that you find interesting/relevant to your field that might not be directly about hockey?

As for books, there are a number of books I’ve enjoyed over the years that give you a glimpse on team building and the dynamics of putting together teams. Favourite non-hockey books include “A Scout’s Honor” by Bills Shanks on the Atlanta Braves, “War Room” by Michael Holley, “The Blueprint” by Christopher Price. My favorite hockey book of all time is “Losing the Edge” by Barry Meisel, which is a fascinating look at the New York Rangers of the 1994-95 season.
But really if there is any book that has an element of behind the scenes look that revolves around putting teams together I’ll read. You never know what insight you can glean to apply to your current situation.

What advice would you give to anyone who’s interested in being a scout?

This is always a tough question to answer because there is no easy way to be a scout. Lots of people take different routes on getting there. Save being a former NHL/OHL player, the biggest piece of advice I can give is get involved. Get out to the rink as much as possible and realize that for a while you might be doing this for free or for very little money. Many people will tell you that they would do it for free no matter what but it’s not easy when that’s the case. It’s essentially about building networks, relationships and a body of work.

A lot of independent scouting services are always looking for guys to help, that’s one way to get started. Be leery of services that ask you to pay to scout. Lower level teams like Junior A and Junior B teams are always looking for help as well. Another way to get involved is to coach minor hockey. Again, it’s all about building networks and relationships. Don’t be afraid to have opinions but at the same time adjusting your opinions when need be. 

But mostly it’s about putting in a lot of work. I love what I do, and so do many others, but it does come at the expense of other things be it family, friends, or social events. You really have to have a love of the game. 

Big thank you to Victor for sharing his experience and insight into hockey scouting. You can follow him on Twitter @vcarneiro


One thought on “Hockey Scouting in the Modern Age: An Interview with Victor Carneiro of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds

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