You might have missed him. It was a 7:45AM start for Day 2 of the Ducks West Coast Prospects Camp, and he was sitting quietly in the far upper corner of the stands, poring through his scouting guide. Still, for the skaters on the ice who noticed, it must have been a thrill to see Anaheim Ducks Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations David McNab watching them play.
"I played hockey in California," says McNab. "It's interesting to be able to follow the better California guys, and I think it's important [the Ducks] are around."
As a former Southern California youth hockey player himself, McNab's perspective is rather unique. "The biggest difference is that when I played, there were actually leagues where you could play right through high school. I played through 12th grade and went to Wisconsin directly from San Diego, and my brother went directly to Denver from San Diego. So, I guess the biggest difference is that players [today], as great as the competition is [here] and whether it's right or wrong, they feel they have to go elsewhere. Or maybe it's just that they're persuaded to go elsewhere because of the interest in them. Before, there was really no place else to go. When I was in high school, there really wasn't any other options."
And yet, while much has changed in the 35 years since McNab left to play for Wisconsin, much has remained the same. California players are still marked by the travel time, even within their own state, required to pursue hockey.
"There aren't a thousand rinks [in California]," McNab agrees. "There's more and more all the time. [The Ducks have] done great to be involved in more rinks all over the place in this area, but there's still not enough rinks that it makes it simple for everyone in the state of California to just go down to the local rink. It's not a high school sport. [The Ducks] are trying to start that a little bit, but it's not easy like it is in lots of parts of the country. So, if you want to play the sport, you're going to have to do more work to play the sport and take more time. And that has been consistent, right back to when I was playing the late 60s and early 70s, whether it's driving to San Diego, driving into Los Angeles, driving three hours or driving four hours to play games. You do that. Or now, they're going around the country to play in different tournaments. The commitment is tremendous, and that probably drives the players even more."
The College coaches and the Junior scouts at the Camp have noted that commitment in California prospects. It's a nice thing to have in players who are already so skilled, and getting better every year.
"The caliber of hockey in this area, it's exploded," McNab says, "And I go on what I've heard as much as anything [in evaluating where California talent is now]. And I've heard a lot of College coaches say that there are as many really good 15-16 year-olds in this area as there are in any other area. Maybe in a given year this state or that state will be better, but it's not like you come to California and there's one or two [good] players. There's LOTS of good players...And when you talk about the priority places for people to watch young players, California's going to get thrown into that mix for sure."
Of course, with players leaving to finish their development elsewhere, it will be hard for California to get the credit it deserves. Case in point for McNab is 16 year-old Nicolas Kerdiles.
"He'll get drafted, and people will say that he's a product of the National Development Program, and he's not. He's a product of California, of the California programs. He's not a product of anywhere else," McNab emphasizes. "He's as good a player at that age as you're going to find anywhere in the country, and he did that in California. And so, if he becomes a guy who, in a few years, everybody is talking about, it's because of what he did in California...In a year or two, they'll say, 'wow, what a great job [the National Development Program has] done, and they will do a great job. But they're getting an awfully good player [to begin with in Kerdiles]."
It seems the rub of hockey in California that the sport has always trained its players to travel, even in McNab's day. And today's players have a talent level and numerous opportunities to travel that weren't prevalent back then. Somewhere, in that nomadic development, California will lose credit for its players, an oversight that harms the coaches, programs and generally the local opportunities that bred those players for most of their hockey careers.
"I would love to see the day, [like] back when I played, where players would not have to focus on leaving when they were 15 years old and would stay here and realize that the coaches will come to see them," McNab laments. "I think sometimes the players have this idea that they have to go to quote/unquote hockey hotbeds or whatever, but if they [would only] realize that if you're a good player, the College coaches or the coaches of teams that you may want to play for are gonna come find you, like they are [at this Camp]."
By giving California kids the opportunity to be scouted in their own backyard, the Ducks West Coast Prospects Camp is fighting the notion, and maybe the reality, that travel equals success in California hockey. The Camp is also familiarizing local talent with the experience of having the coaches and scouts come to them, something that has, for too long, been the other way around.
Our complete coverage at the 2010 Ducks West Coast Prospects Camp Main Page.