Portland scouts log some serious miles in search of future stars

While the Portland Winter Hawks are playing Spokane in the Western Hockey League playoffs, General Manager Ken Hodge and his band of scouts will be working to secure the future success of the team.

Hodge's travels take him to Alaska, Minnesota and the East Coast. Scouts Gord Loiselle and Brian Shaw scour Western Canada. And 'bird-dog groups' in California, Arizona and Texas tip off the Hawks to prospects in nontraditional hockey locales. The Dallas-Fort Worth area, for example, has one of the largest youth hockey associations in the country.

In the end, the Winter Hawks hope to not only attract some hot prospects but also find the diamonds in the rough for the May 1 WHL Bantam Draft in Calgary, Alberta. Once drafted, prospects go on the team's 50-player protected list.

'You cover a lot of ground, and there's a lot of guys we like, but are they going to be available?' Hodge says. 'If our guys like them, the problem is, so do 19 other teams.'

The Winter Hawks have the fifth pick overall, followed by the third pick of the second round. Hodge says the team needs to get four players out of each bantam draft who eventually can play for the team, although drafts in the past seven or eight years haven't been fruitful.

There seem to be more Todd Hornungs and Luke Molotowskys (relative flops) out there than Braydon Coburns. That's the nature of the bantam draft, because 14-year-olds are being drafted and 'everybody develops mentally, physically and emotionally at different rates,' Hodge says.

The bantam draft feeds the team's 50-player protected list, which also includes players identified and listed after drafts. Former Portland greats Brenden Morrow and Adam Deadmarsh, remarkably, did not get drafted.

From the list, Hodge hopes to lure Dan Comrie, whose cousin, Mike, tore up the WHL two years ago and now plays for the Edmonton Oilers. Comrie, like many players, leans toward playing college hockey.

Hodge went to Alaska last week to try to convince Comrie, a San Diego resident,Êto come to Portland.

It's the same situation with highly touted Jon Sigalet, from suburban Vancouver, British Columbia, and Spencer Dillon, who's playing prep school hockey in Minnesota. They are listed recruits, but Hodge has to push hard on them to consider junior hockey.

'The difficulty with U.S. players is recruiting,' he says. 'Canadian hockey players, their No. 1 goal is to play in the NHL, and the stepping stone in their eyes is the WHL. The No. 1 goal of U.S. players is to play at the college level.'

The WHL will put on a prospect clinic May 22 in Seattle to educate U.S. players about junior hockey, which develops 16- to 20-year-olds for the pros.

'We push (recruits) quite a bit, as much as we can, without aggravating the situation,' Hodge says.

Many times, the listed prospects never show up at camp, and the Winter Hawks settle for other players to fill out the roster.

'We ask players to come in at 16, which is too early for some boys to leave home,' Hodge says.

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