Gare Joyce has an obsession with junior hockey that some might refer to as maniacal. Or perhaps mind-boggling. Maybe even unhealthy.
But there is no doubt that Joyce is the foremost authority on the workings and people involved in major junior hockey in North America and that expertise, intertwined with unparalleled passion, comes through incredibly clearly on Joyce’s latest bit of work, Future Greats and Heartbreaks: A Year Undercover in the Secret World of NHL Scouts.
If all of that sounds a little too inside for Gino from Woodbridge who thinks the Leafs should trade Mats Sundin and bring Wendel Clark out of retirement, that’s probably because it likely is.
But I suspect Joyce doesn’t really care whether his book resonates with the casual hockey fan. He’s clearly a man who writes for himself and for those who look at his work with a critical eye and worries more about what they think than how many times its bar code will be passed through the cash register at Indigo.
(In the interest of full disclosure, Gare is a friend from the hockey beat and I am mentioned in the acknowledgements for this book. Something I wrote about junior hockey for THN more than a year ago is also discussed in the book. But I also believe this is a very good piece of work and if I didn’t, I would simply ignore it and write nothing about it.)
In Future Greats and Heartbreaks, Joyce gives us a unique insight into the game from the perspective of an NHL scout, perhaps the most underappreciated, underpaid and most vital position in any NHL organization. And in doing so, Joyce leaves no stone unturned. He travels from the Yardman Arena in Belleville to Zimny Stadion in Piestany as a de facto scout himself, trying to separate the future stars from the future stiffs of the 2006 and 2007 entry drafts.
To his credit, Joyce received unparalleled access to the inner workings of the scouting world when the Columbus Blue Jackets gave him an all-access pass to their war room in the months leading up to the draft. Joyce was encouraged to give his input and ask questions during the interview process. He conducted interviews with players on his own, asking questions from a reporter’s point of view and, in the process, gathered information scouts might never consider. He was privy to discussions and meetings that he parlayed into some very keen insights.
At one point he talks about 2007 draft prospect Bill Sweatt showing up for the scouting combine with his arm in a sling and tells the medical staff that he was pushed by a coed through a window at a frat house. “Couldn’t he have just said that he did it working out?” one scout says. “Not too bright for a college guy.”
Through it all, Joyce weaves his way through the Canadian Hockey League, making stops everywhere from Swift Current to Rimouski to get insight into the young men who, in the next few years, will see their life’s work result in either an NHL career or, more likely, a life in the minors.
And in doing so, Joyce pulls no punches when it comes to many of the players in his book. He is particularly hard on Phil Kessel, who would later be drafted fifth overall by the Boston Bruins and go on to a reasonably productive first two seasons in the NHL. On the other hand, he seems to take a liking to Akim Aliu, a player whose performance has never reached his potential and is playing for his third OHL team.
In an interview with Brady Leavold of the Swift Current Broncos, Leavold has the following to say about Ian White, formerly a star player with the Broncos and now a regular on the Toronto Maple Leafs defense corps.
“In training camp we were supposed to show up for fitness testing in the weight room at the rink, and we were all there in our gym stuff. (White) shows up in jeans and a cowboy hat. He didn’t even take it off when he had to do the bench (press). He did one rep and put the bar back on the rack and said, ‘That’s all I feel like today.’ …On the bus, I was afraid to even look around my first season. I sat near the front – all the veterans were in the back – and one time when I turned around, White saw me and said, ‘What the f— are you lookin’ at? After that I didn’t look back the rest of the season.”
Joyce also reports that prior to going to Leaf training camp, White asked Broncos GM Dean Chynoweth if he could skate with the Broncos, “then proceeded to carouse around town.” Chynoweth’s farewell to White was marked by the GM throwing White’s equipment out the back door of the arena when White didn’t show up for a practice.
The book, which follows Joyce’s critically acclaimed When the Lights Went Out: How One Brawl Ended Hockey’s Cold War and Changed the Game, about the 1987 brawl between Canada and the Soviets at the World Junior Championship, Future Greats and Heartbreaks is typical Joyce work, painstakingly researched and well crafted. It brings readers inside the world of scouting and player evaluation like never before and explains the intricacies of the most inexact science in sports.
There are a few nagging errors, such as Columbus scout Milan Tichy once being referred to as Milan Tuchy and Brian Lawton being from Minnesota when he actually hailed from Rhode Island, but they’re very, very minor and aren’t close to enough to undermine what is a very strong piece of work.
But will that be enough for the casual fan to relate to it? It might not be, but it should. Any hockey fan worth his autographed jersey should know what goes into player procurement and why his or her team is either good at it, not bad, or abysmal. It should also be a must-read for anyone whose son is showing promise in this game because in many ways, it presents the sobering reality that so many are called, so few are actually chosen.
Ken Campbell’s Cuts appears Mondays only on The Hockey News.com.
One of THN’s senior writers, Ken Campbell gives you insight and opinion on the world of hockey like no one else. Subscribe to The Hockey News to get Ken’s expertise delivered to you every issue.