Bob Wetick doesn’t know how many minor hockey games he’s scouted for the Brampton Battalion, but he has a good idea.
“Depending on how many tournaments you go to, you’re probably looking at about 200 games a year,” Wetick said between periods of a recent Battalion game at the Powerade Centre. “You can do the math from there.”
Wetick has been the club’s director of scouting since its inaugural Ontario Hockey League season of 1998-99. He oversees a five-man scouting staff numbering Steve Blinn, Jason Day, John Evans, Dave Gray and Errol Hook. Blinn, who lives in the Sudbury area, and Gray, who lives in Whitby, have been with the club since its inception. Evans, a resident of the Ottawa area, joined the Battalion in 2002-03, while Day, a Windsor resident, and Hook, based in Aurora, joined the staff in 2004.
Evans had been head scout for the Barrie Colts and Sudbury Wolves, while Hook held the same position with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
Wetick, recently retired from the Ontario ministry of the attorney general’s office, first met Stan Butler, Battalion director of hockey operations and head coach, when Butler was coaching the Wexford Raiders bantams.
“I started out scouting in Toronto for Michigan State University, and that’s what I was doing when I met Stan,” said Wetick. “I moved to the OHL’s central scouting department for two years, then spent three years with the Kitchener Rangers.”
Wetick, a Toronto resident, has presided over each of the Battalion’s Priority Selections. The Troops have chosen 275 players, with 118 having played at least one game with the club.
Wetick and Butler started preparing for the Battalion’s first season by choosing eight players in the expansion draft, among them defenceman Jason Maleyko, who would be captain for the club’s first three seasons after being picked from the Oshawa Generals, and left winger Scott Thompson, plucked from the London Knights. Thompson recorded 95 points in 183 games with the Battalion.
The Battalion picked 32 players over 28 rounds in its first Priority Selection, starting with defenceman Jay Harrison. Twelve other players from that process, including longtime contributors Jeff Bateman, David Chant, Tyler Hanchuck, Kurt MacSweyn, Raffi Torres and Aaron van Leusen, would see action with the Troops.
“In any expansion scenario, you’re going to get other teams’ 19th or 20th player, if you’re lucky,” said Wetick. “We had to fill in with a lot of kids we picked. We were choosing over 20 rounds or more then. We had to basically see anyone who could walk and chew gum and had any sort of potential at all, because we needed that roster. There are no quick fixes, and we had to bite the bullet that first season and hope to improve.”
In 2000 the OHL changed the Priority Selection to focus on 16-year-old players. Wetick said that the development of prospects then became paramount, as immediate help from recruits wasn’t as readily available as when players were chosen from the junior A and junior B ranks.
“It’s a slow process now. We look at kids at the minor midget level and we try to project what they’ll be like down the road. We try to have an understanding of what the club will be looking for and how Stan wants the players to play and whether they can fit in here.
“There are a number of things we look at. What kind of desire does a player have to play the game? What kind of sacrifices is he willing to make to excel at this level? Even in the National Football League, where they spend a lot more money on scouting than we do, they have a hard time trying to quantify how players will react at their level. I wish we had some sort of device that measures heart and desire and told us why some players are successful and other ones aren’t.”
Wetick said the stability of the Battalion organization, with Butler and owner Scott Abbott still at the helm, is a big asset when trying to recruit players.
“It’s really magnified now. The first part is taking the player, then you have to recruit the player to come and play. That’s where you see the impact of stable ownership and stable management. Nobody wants to go to an unknown situation with constant change. Down the road in Mississauga, there’s been a great deal of change, and sometimes that can really impair your ability to retain your picks and convince them to come. If you look at any successful sports franchise, you’ll see that stability and consistency are very important.”
Wetick, who will continue his duties when the Battalion relocates to North Bay, said Butler’s commitment to development helps his job too.
“Stan has never been huge on trades. He focuses more on developing our players and not making trades for the sake of making them. The big issue at this level is how patient clubs are with maintaining the development of their players and not panicking.”
Wetick conceded that there’s more than a little luck involved in finding players who are able to come in and contribute.
“How did we get Torres in the sixth round? Look at a guy like Matt Clark. We had some inside information on him, and it took him two years to get here, but now he’s a potential National Hockey League player. Brent Burns was a smart player whom we liked when he was a little over five-feet-11 playing right wing for the Jr. Canadiens. We could see he had the hockey intelligence, but who knew when we took him in the third round that he would be a first-round NHL pick?”