IN PETERBOROUGH, Ont.
Scouting is like Groundhog Day.
There is a lot of down time, especially for night games. If you're moving elsewhere, the trick is to try to get as late a checkout from your hotel as possible. Otherwise, scouts search out a Tim Hortons to have coffee and kill time working, or maybe stroll around a Golf Town if there are no reports to do.
"I know where every Golf Town is in Ontario," Ottawa Senators director of player personnel Pierre Dorion said with a smile.
Hey, these guys aren't just good at scouting players.
Part of the afternoon in Peterborough is spent sitting in an East Side Mario's, trying to catch up with what Ottawa resident Brad Fritsch, a friend of Dorion's, is doing in his final tournament on the Web.com Tour in an attempt to get a PGA Tour card.
Then, he heads to the rink to see the Petes play the visiting London Knights -- a roster that boasts Max Domi, the son of former NHLer Tie Domi, who is in the house.
Scouts don't rate every player they see but after every game they do grade the ones they are following closely. Players are given a mark from as low as one to as high as seven. All members of the scouting staff are required to give grades nightly.
"It's the most important thing because we are paid to give an opinion, we are paid to rate players and you have to say on a night-in/night-out basis, 'This is what I think a guy will be and this is why that guy is that number,' " Dorion said.
"That's what we think. It does change. We could see someone (in October) that we think will be a top-three-line player, then we realize (in March) he's a fourth-line role player. It's a process of getting to know a player for the year."
Once the ratings are in, Dorion keeps a close eye because he is responsible for pro and amateur matters. If a rating has changed, he will circle back to the scout to ask why. He speaks to all the club's scouts at least once weekly.
IN GUELPH, Ont.
There are no secrets.
The scouts room at Sleeman Centre has the usual gathering this evening. Ask anybody whom they're here to watch and you'll get the same answer: Guelph left winger Jason Dickinson and Windsor winger Kerby Rychel, the son of former Phoenix Coyotes forward Warren Rychel.
Scouting has completely changed in the electronic era. The days are over of sitting on a pick because you think you might be able to sneak him into your pocket and take him in the later rounds. No, that doesn't mean it is easy.
"If you polled 10 guys who were scouting any game and looked at their reports, you could have guys seeing things 10 different ways," Dorion said. "It comes back to the fact it's not an exact science.
"Certain things can help a player become a player, but you also have to understand there are intangibles. Who knows if a guy just broke up with his girlfriend before the game, if a guy's parents told him a week ago they were getting divorced or if his grandmother died? They play hockey for a living but they still have to live their life."
As one GM said: The best scouts are ones who can pick out the "little things that will make a difference."
Senators owner Eugene Melnyk is committed to building through the draft. General manager Bryan Murray and assistant GM Tim Murray have a strong belief in scouting. Teams spend an average of $1.5 million a year searching for prospects. A big investment.
Dorion makes a quick call to Bryan Murray as the vehicle heads toward Guelph. Murray notes to Dorion's visitor that it's good to get a chance "to see what these guys go through to get these players." No kidding.
"I'm fortunate. This is the best staff I've ever worked with," Dorion said.
IN OWEN SOUND, Ont.
The rain is falling as Dorion makes the trek up Highway 410, and then through small towns, to see the Attack play host to the Sudbury Wolves.
He's tired after a lousy night of sleep. He was up early working on a report and had a quick coffee before heading out to find some lunch. Now, he's preparing for another night at the office, another hockey game on the horizon.
The telephone rings and on the line is Dorion's wife, Tanya. She's checking in to make sure everything is OK and to get a handle on his schedule. As a hockey wife, she's used to seeing the back of her husband's head going out the door.
There are sacrifices. More than 350 scouts -- pro and amateur -- are working in the business. Many see more than 200 games a year. Dorion hasn't always been there for 10-year-old daughter Vanessa's birthday or to attend a hockey practice with seven-year-old son Antoine.
"You can't do this without a supportive family," Dorion said.
Scouting runs in the family. His father, Pierre Dorion Sr., was one of the most-respected eyes for talent in the game before he died suddenly at age 49 from a heart attack, only a week before the 1994 NHL draft in Hartford while working for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Dorion Sr. worked part time for the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau during the 1980s while also teaching. He spent a year as an assistant GM in junior hockey with North Bay. He eventually became the head of the scouting bureau before joining the Leafs as director of amateur scouting in 1990.
The landscape in scouting his changed. Many scouts used to plan their schedules around the same games so they could travel together. Those days are gone. Competition has taken over.
"The game has (become) so much more politically correct," said Dorion, who has worked for the Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and Senators.
"Guys were friendlier with each other in the past. A lot of guys are on the road by themselves. There's less camaraderie. There are some guys who travel together but it doesn't happen as much."
The best advice his Dad ever game him about scouting?
"Never say never about a player."
IN KITCHENER, Ont.
Doubleheader Sunday wraps up a long trip for Dorion.
First, it's a stop back in Guelph to take a look at the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds at 2 p.m. Then Sunday night it's the Plymouth Whalers visiting the Kitchener Rangers. In that one, Ottawa draft picks Matt Puempel (Kitchener) and Stefan Noeson (Plymouth) go head-to-head.
It's a chance to see what kind of progress the two have made since the Senators selected them in the first round of the 2011 draft. Sens director of player development Randy Lee is in town to join Dorion. The club has been working with both players and wants to see the fruits of their labour.
"You do get excited by this kind of game," Dorion said.
Both have top-end talent and they'll have a chance to make the team. Puempel scores a goal. Dorion says it's only natural for a scout to stand by someone they've chosen.
"As scouts we get attached to the players we drafted or we traded for," he said. "You have to realize what a guy's limits are. Sometimes we overrate our own players. Sometimes you have to understand, 'This is what a guy is.'
"One of the things I told Bryan when I got hired is, 'As a scout I'm going to make a mistake and we're going to make mistakes.' It's my job to make sure we don't make the same mistake twice whether it's on a certain player or a different player."
SOMEWHERE ON HIGHWAY 401
The SUV is back on the lonely road with XM radio tuned to Game 4 of the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Detroit Tigers.
Usually, Dorion might have a Senators game on the radio. If not, there are other hockey games to choose from. The NHL doors are locked so that's not an option. Instead, he must find other ways to pass the time until there's a collective bargaining agreement in place.
All the hours he puts in scouting will lead to June when the tough decisions have to be made at the NHL draft. Before then, there will plenty of talk about where players are slotted, what kind of impact they could make and where they could fit in the organization.
"It's not an exact science," Dorion said. "That's where you're not going to agree on everything. If you do, you should fire the whole staff because it wouldn't be constructive and you wouldn't be making good lists."
"You asked me, 'Do you guys are argue?' Let me tell you, we argue. The most important day is the draft, but the most important time for the scout is the scouting itself (including) making your lists, having a good list of players and then bringing those lists to (the team). You have to make sure everybody knows how everybody else feels.
"We're not all at the same games at the same time and guys are going to play differently. I remember seeing Drew Doughty's first game in Guelph his draft year and he was minus-5. It doesn't mean he's a bad player. Guys are going to play good and bad. We have to pool all that information."
It's after 2 a.m. when the SUV rolls into the driveway of his Ottawa home. He has time only to catch a few winks before putting the kids on the bus at 7:20 a.m., and seeing the Ottawa 67's in a day game at Scotiabank Place at 10:30 a.m.
The search never stops.
ACROSS THE MILES
Ottawa to Rouyn-Noranda: 522 kms
Rouyn-Noranda to Val-d'Or: 105 kms
Val-d'Or to Peterborough: 697 kms
Peterborough to Guelph: 213 kms
Guelph to Owen Sound: 135 kms
Owen Sound to Guelph: 135 kms
Guelph to Kitchener: 32 kms
Kitchener to Ottawa: 543 kms
TOTAL DRIVEN: 2,381 kms.
TIME IN VEHICLE: 28 hours
TIME IN ARENAS: 25 hours
AMOUNT SPENT ON GAS: $430
NUMBER OF HITCHHIKERS: 4
STOPS AT TIM HORTONS: 3
TOTAL GOALS: 50 in 7 games