If there is a girl between Cornerbrook and Salmon Arm with dreams of being the next Wayne Gretzky, or the next Vicky Sunohara for that matter, it is likely Wally Kozak knows about her. Kozak is head scout and director of player development for Hockey Canada's women's division.
While the scouting system doesn't run as deep as that on the male side, it has made significant strides.
This year, for the first time, Kozak is hooked into the RinkNet Scouting system data base, the same system used to rate boys' midget, junior and NCAA players.
"We see the top midget and intermediate tournaments and we know these athletes," says Kozak, who has four full-time and another six part-time scouts to help him.
His itinerary reads like a road map. In one week he was in St. Jerome, Que., for an under-18 tournament, spent Saturday and Sunday at a Boston NCAA tournament, had other scouts at tournaments in New Hampshire and Montreal, and stopped off in Toronto to watch two NWHL games.
"I've lost track," he says when asked how many days of the year he spends on the road, "but I know so far I've filed 427 reports on the RinkNet system on players ... as young as 15."
He believes the player pool has grown to the point that it could sustain a pro league.
"It's about money, marketing and exposure but from a talent perspective if a lot of the college players come back and decide to keep playing it wouldn't have any difficulty sustaining itself." The NWHL teams currently fill rosters by holding tryout camps.
Players in the national programs, though, find their way to development and tryout camps through the national and provincial scouting systems. Cherie Piper and Gillian Apps, currently with the national team, were both discovered at the under-18 championships. "Meghan Agosta participated in the Canada Winter Games three years ago but she was so young we had to wait to bring her up to the national team," says Kozak. "It looked like we got it right because she did very well at the Four Nations."
That was in November after Agosta turned all of 17.
Who else is out there? "There's some real prodigies coming," says Kozak. "I've seen some 15-year-old players who are exceptional but may be just too young to bring into the mix."
Youngsters such as Agosta and Tessa Bonhomme, a 19-year-old from Sudbury will lead the next generation of women hockey stars.
Other top prospects, says Kozak, include Nicole Goguen, an 18-year-old defenceman from Nova Scotia and Alycia Matthews, a 17-year-old from British Columbia.