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For NHL scouts, U18 World Championships just another day at the office

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Patrick Funk, an NHL scout from the San Jose Sharks, watches Canada and Denmark play at the IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship Friday at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks . photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald2 / 2

Dotted throughout the seats in the Ralph Engelstad Arena, or perched high above the ice in the Betaseed Club Lounge, spectators with notepads will be watching the U18 World Championship for the next week.

They stick out not because of their raucous cheers or flamboyant dress. In fact, it’s just the opposite. For these scouts, the International Ice Hockey Federation tournament is just another day at the office.

That’s the life of an NHL scout.

During the 11-day tournament, 250 to 300 NHL scouts -- represented by all 30 teams -- are expected to be in attendance to prepare for the upcoming draft.

Players born in 1998, and some born in late 1997, are eligible for the upcoming draft in June.

Dave Fischer, communications manager for USA Hockey, said scouts are given lineups before each game and a space to work from, though some teams have purchased suites to use as a base of operation.

Kevin Devine, director of player personnel for the Buffalo Sabres, said this is the best tournament of the year for scouts to watch the best European- and American-born players all in one place. Though some of the Canadian junior teams are still in the playoffs, most of the Canadian players they’ve been keeping an eye on also are in Grand Forks to play.

“We’re so busy during the year here in North America; it’s a great place for the North American scouts especially to see all of the European players in one spot instead of trying to chase them all over Europe,” Devine said.

The first big tournament of the year is in August in Slovakia, and that serves as a base for their scouting for the year, Devine said. The hunt for the next NHL stars continues through three more international tournaments, including the World Championship.

To be an NHL scout means to be familiar with hotels across the globe. Devine said he is on the road more than he’s home.

“I think I spent 220 nights last year in hotel rooms. Not all game-related, but all pretty well hockey-related,” he said. “Yeah, we’re on the road a lot. I’m just one of the typical scouts that do that.”

At the U18 tournament, Devine said most scouts will be watching top players like Team USA’s Clayton Keller and Kieffer Bellows. Both Keller and Bellows scored goals in their opening game against Russia on Thursday night.

“Kids like that are probably going to be first-round picks,” he said.

‘A fraternity’

While many of the scouts will be eyeing some of the same players, Devine said there’s no animosity among NHL scouts.

“It’s a fraternity, it really is. We all go to the same tournaments; we all go pretty to the same games. So we know each other quite well, especially the guys that have been around a while,” he said. “It’s actually kind of fun at times.”

Even with such a large collection of scouts in one place, with many representing teams still playing this season, Devine said it doesn’t really get competitive between them.

“This time of year the NHL playoffs are going on and so there are some -- unfortunately we’re not in the playoffs -- but there are some scouts represented by teams that are playing each other in the playoffs,” he said. “But it’s all pretty professional. We want to win. We all want to win. These guys are, a lot of them are friends. We don’t want to see bad things happen to them, as far as the playoffs go, but I guess it’s a little competitive, but you keep it inside.”