50 Years Ago in Hockey: Scouting Ain’t What It Used to Be

Former Toronto Maple defenseman Bob Davidson is now the chief scout of that National Hockey League team and this week he was talking about how much the scouting game has changed over the years. He also touched on how young players are coached and how he thought the changes in that area may not be for the better.

Eleven Years With Leafs

Bob Davidson during his playing days with the Leafs.
Bob Davidson during his playing days with the Leafs.

Davidson, a Toronto native who is now 53 years old, spent his entire 11-year NHL career with the Leafs. He was a solid left winger who didn’t find his scoring touch until the latter stages of his big-league years. His best season was in 1943-44 when he scored 19 times and added 28 assists. He retired to become the coach of the St. Louis Flyers of the American Hockey League in 1946-47.

As the Leafs’ chief scout, his job is to travel the country looking for diamonds in the rough. If he heard about a youngster in a northern Ontario mining town who scored five goals in a pee wee game, he’d be off to that locale, hoping to talk his parents into having the boy commit to the Leafs. But the scouting game has changed with the institution of the universal amateur draft. This new draft gives all six NHL teams a chance to pick the kids one at a time.

New Amateur Draft Makes the Job Tougher

The new draft works on a rotating order. This season, Toronto picks fourth, next year it will be third, and so on. The young players they select will be 17 years old, a sticking point with Davidson. He, along with Leafs president Stafford Smythe, believe that it’s impossible to predict how well a 17-year-old will do in the NHL at such a tender age. Smythe is believed to be lobbying the NHL governors to change the age of the draft to 20. At that point, Davidson reasons, the teams will at least have some idea of which kids actually have a chance at making the big time.

This year, each NHL team will be allowed to draft four kids. American and Western League teams then will get three picks, followed by the Central Professional League teams, who get to make two selections.

Kids like Dave Keon are becoming more difficult to find.

This system, had it been in place several years ago, would have prevented the Leafs from signing such stars as Dave Keon and Frank Mahovlich. Chances are Bobby Orr would have been picked up by someone other than the Boston Bruins.

Stars Tougher to Find Now

Davidson told reporter Paul Rimstead of the Globe and Mail that there aren’t the stars out there like there were in years gone by. Part of the problem, he says, is that the coaching is becoming too technical and the boys aren’t playing for the fun of the game any more. Davidson has an idea on how to fix the problem. He describes what should happen when a boy starts out in hockey, before he has a team to play for:

“A kid goes out for his first team anywhere between eight and 11 years old and the coach tells him he’s a left-winger, so right from the start, that’s where he plays. He starts learning a position before he can skate or shoot a puck.

“The coach should put about 40 boys out on the ice and throw them a puck. When the time is up, pick up the puck. Keep it up all season, then the next year, see if there are enough players to form a team.”

Davidson says that they don’t find nearly the number of stars as they used to, but the Leafs are finding as many as the other five NHL teams.

“There are a lot of kids wasted.  I’ve seen an eight-year-old defenseman get the puck and before he can take a stride with it, the coach is yelling at him from the bench to get it up the ice. Heck, why doesn’t he let him carry it up and try and beat two or three men and score himself?”

Leafs Call Up Stemkowski

Pete Stemkowski
Pete Stemkowski

The Toronto Maple Leafs, having scored only nine goals in their first six games, yesterday put in a call for help to the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League. Highly-regarded young centre Peter Stemkowski, 22, has been brought up from the Amerks and he will see action tonight against the New York Rangers at Maple Leaf Gardens.

Stemkowski has played well at Rochester, netting 10 points in seven games, with five goals and five assists. He played 37 games for the Leafs last season, scoring five goals and 15 assists.

The tall, rangy centre hasn’t been assigned to a line yet by coach Punch Imlach, but the Toronto mentor says he will definitely get the youngster into tonight’s game.

Campbell: Tampering Not Proven

NHL president Clarence Campbell has released his decision after he investigated a complaint by the Montreal Canadiens that the Toronto Maple Leafs tampered with retired Canadiens superstar Bernie (Boom Boom) Geoffrion. The Habs complained that Toronto had offered Geoffrion a five-year contract to come out of retirement and play for them without first seeking Montreal’s permission.

Campbell says that his investigation revealed that there is no proof that Toronto actually committed the tampering offence.

“There is no dispute that he (Geoffrion) talked with Toronto club officers on three different occasions, but that is about the only point of agreement between the witnesses.

“The conflict of testimony between the witnesses makes it impossible to resolve  on any disputed issue and the matter of relative credibility of the witnesses cannot be determined effectively in this type of informal inquiry without the benefit of cross-examination.

The only result possible in these circumstances  is a Scottish verdict of ‘Not Proven.’”

Flyers Take Over First

Don Marcotte
Don Marcotte

The Niagara Falls Flyers took over first place in the OHA Junior A Series last night with a 4-2 win over the Oshawa Generals before 3,700 fans in Niagara Falls. The teams were tied for top spot going into the game.

It was the best game played in Niagara Falls this season. The teams, both farm clubs of the Boston Bruins, skated and checked with unusual vigour. Perhaps the presence of  Bruins general manager Hap Emms and chief scout Harold (Baldy) Cotton spurred the boys to put on their best show.

Ted Snell, Don Marcotte, Steve Atkinson and Bud Debrody had the Flyers goals. Billy Heindl and George Babcock replied for the Generals.

Wings Looking to Trade

Detroit Red Wings general manager-coach Sid Abel is burning up the phone lines trying to arrange some sort of deal which would improve the lot of his third-place team.

Howie Young
Howie Young

The Red Wings have been weak defensively in the early going this season and Abel is looking to bring in at least one experienced hand to shore up the blue line corps. One name that has surfaced in connection with Detroit is former Red Wing Howie Young.

Young, who is with the Los Angeles Blades of the Western Hockey League, has been sitting out over a contract dispute. The former NHL bad boy seems to have cleaned up his act and if he can maintain that, he can be an asset to any NHL team.

The Chicago Black Hawks have the right of first refusal on Young’s contract, so if Abel does want to bring him in, he’ll have to arrange some sort of barter with the Black Hawks first.

Also on the trade front, rumours continue to swirl that Abel is trying to pry Eddie Shack away from the Toronto Maple Leafs. Toronto coach Punch Imlach was asked about the possibility of Shack being dealt to Detroit and replied with a curt “No comment.”

Andrea Leads CPHL Scoring

Paul Andrea
Paul Andrea

Paul Andrea leads the Central Professional Hockey League in scoring after four games. The Minnesota Rangers winger has four goals and four assists.

Andre Champagne of Tulsa, Norm Dennis of Houston and Oklahoma’s Skip Krake are the leading goal-getters with five each. Danny Johnson of Tulsa has the most assists with five.

Seals Edge Totems in Overtime

Wayne Connelly scored the overtime game-winning goal to power the San Francisco Seals past the Seattle Totems by a score of 2-1 last night in Seattle.

Both goaltenders, Jack McCartan of the Seals and Jimmy McLeod of Seattle, had spectacular games. McCartan had 32 saves while McLeod blocked 37 Seals drives.

Jean Marc Picard had the other goal for San Francisco, while Gerry Leonard replied for the Totems.

Canucks Slap Hornets

Billy McNeill
Billy McNeill

Billy McNeill scored two goals to lead the Vancouver Canucks of the Western Hockey League past the American League Pittsburgh Hornets in an interlocking game last night in Vancouver.

Other Vancouver scorers were Bob Cable, Buddy Boone and Larry Popein.

Pittsburgh goals came from Gary Jarrett, Andre Pronovost and Duke Harris.

Bob Champoux started in goal for the Hornets, but had to leave late in the game with an injury. He was replaced by George Gardner. Gilles Villemure had a solid game between the pipes for Vancouver.