Slapshots: Scouting Hockey in the Big Sky State
Editorial By Merrick Parnell
In Montana, you never know what you’re going to get weather-wise. One day you might be enjoying the sunniest and warmest of temperatures, only to endure a blizzard the next.
This same unpredictability goes for hockey in the big sky state.
Although Montana is considered part of the northern country, bordering Canada, the game of hockey here is surprisingly still developing, and due to this is often an afterthought to most.
Hockey often gets outshined by the bright Friday night lights of small-town high school football or drowned out by the sounds of a cheering basketball gym.
Those who play the game of hockey here play for the love of the game, often traveling up to 5 hours on end to play in rinks across the state. It is a labor of love and an investment in passion.
Like the players in Montana, I do what I do for the love of the game and to help develop young talent. I’m a hockey scout.
A team in the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) gave me my first scouting opportunity, in an industry that I’ve worked hard to reach. For the AJHL my assigned region was the state of Montana, which is where I reside in a small ranching and college town known as Dillon in the Southwest Corner of the State known the world over as Big Sky Country. Since my AJHL job, I have also got the opportunity to work for Montana State University and their ACHA hockey club as a head scout. When I’m not scouting, I am attending the University of Montana Western, working towards acquiring my teaching credentials.
Montana Is an area that sometimes gets passed over by the Hockey world in favor of promising talent from a more traditional hockey market such as Minnesota, as scouts continue on the eternal quest to find the next Gordie Howe or Bobby Orr.
The state has only graduated one Western Hockey League player, Bill Lindsay, who played for the Tri-City Americans and later played in the National Hockey League after being drafted 103rd overall in the 1991 Entry Draft by the Quebec Nordiques, and it’s my goal to find the next one. The next stop for a player with that potential is to play in the AJHL.
When scouting during the at-times unforgiving winter, my weekends consist of traveling across stunning landscapes, with filled views of mountains, prairies, and forests. It’s often a solitary drive, in which Alan Jackson’s country music or hockey podcasts are my only companions.
However, once I get to the rink, it is all worth it. I live to watch the game in its purest form. The world of hockey can be small, but it can also reach pretty far. I’m always running into old friends, contacts, and familiar faces. I love the way that this beautiful game unites people under a shared enjoyment. When I am at the rink, I am with family.
While the NHL hosts and promotes a few outdoor games every year to showcase their sport, some of the younger teams I watch play outdoors almost every game, as that is the only facility or asset they have to play in.
I enjoy the evaluations, the speculation and the analyzation of prospects. I love speaking with coaches and meeting players and their families. To me, scouting is a dream job that takes me to towns I wouldn’t have otherwise ventured to.
My travels take me away from home a lot, but like they say “Home is where the Heart is” and my heart is anywhere that hockey is.
About the Author:
Merrick Parnell is a Junior Hockey Scout in the AJHL and also serves as the Head Scout for Montana State University Hockey. Aside from scouting Parnell has worked as an advisor, media correspondent and analyst for several junior hockey teams. He also coaches minor hockey in the state of Montana and runs a “Learn to Play” Program with the Dillon Amateur Hockey Association.
Away from hockey he is earning his teaching credentials to be a secondary social studies teacher from the University of Montana Western in Dillon.