Scott Norton has been a player agent for 10 years after leaving his career as a commodity trader at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Norton had been running the Team Illinois hockey organization out of Chicago and was approached by a local agent to recruit for him because of all the contacts he’d formed with players both college and professional. He later founded Sunset Coast Sports Management and is President and the only certified agent with his company. They have approximately 50 professional and junior clients and the list includes players such as Mike Rupp, Dustin Brown and Igor Kravchuk, as well as 2004 eligible Robbie Schremp.
Norton is Chicago based, but he has offices across Ontario, in Syracuse, New York, as well as in Calgary, Alberta. He spoke with Hockey’s Future this week about an agent’s role during and leading up to the draft weekend.
HF: With the Entry Draft only days away, which of your clients are you going to be there with this weekend in Raleigh?
SN: I’ll have three with me in Raleigh. I’ll have Robbie Schremp of the London Knights, Kris Hogg of the Kamloops Blazers, and Gino Pisellini of the Plymouth Whalers will actually be at attendance at the draft.
HF: So you have other clients who might get drafted but won’t be there?
HF: Is it a long list or this there just a few that you can name?
SN: Well, there’s a few. There’s one boy whose family I advise because he’s going the college route, that’s Mike Santorelli. He played for the Vernon Vipers this year and he’s going to Northern Michigan next year. He’ll be drafted but he won’t be at the draft. Iain McPhee, a defenseman from the Windsor Spitfires, I believe will be drafted, but again he’s not going to be in attendance. And then there are a few others that we think may be late picks depending on how the draft goes.
HF: For Rob Schremp, have many of the teams talked with you and him already?
SN: Pretty much every team has either talked to Robbie or myself. With the Central Scouting combine I think he had 23 meetings there and he’s got some more down in Raleigh. Basically all I’ve done for the last few months is worked the email and worked the phones, talking to teams.
HF: His strong playoff with the Knights this year, and his play during the regular OHL season the past two years, has that offset things like his omission from Team USA at the World Juniors and his trade request at the start of the season from Mississauga? Do you think those things were factors at all with his stock?
SN: I think everything’s a factor. Based on the conversations I’ve had, different teams put more emphasis on different aspects of a person’s life than other teams. To me, certainly the World Juniors wasn’t that big of a deal. He would have been the youngest player there. I think the writing was on the wall once they had (Zach) Parise and (Patrick) O’Sullivan as their top two centers so it wasn’t that big of a deal that they didn’t take Robbie as a checking line center, knowing that’s not his game.
The trade from Mississauga had happened many months ago. Obviously I was heavily involved in that. It has not been that big of an issue raised by teams. It’s sort of like they asked why he did it, and once they found out they moved on from there. I think the biggest question with any player comes down to what they do on the ice, what they can do on the ice, and what type of person they are. And that’s where most of the questions come in. Robbie came into the Central Scouting combine in tremendous shape. He had the number one VO2 (stationary bike) test of any of the kids that showed up there, which I think shows the determination he has and the work ethic he’s willing to put in knowing that London played pretty far into the playoffs. It’s not like he had a lot of time to prepare for that.
It’s funny, someone had an article out about what bad shape he was in at the scouting combine including his weight, and it was so far off from what the actual truth was. He weighs in at 185, when he was listed in the 190’s all season, and as I said, he had the best VO2 of anyone there. You know, Robbie is a player who wants to be a hockey player more than anything else in life. And I think from most of the feedback that I’ve gotten from teams is that’s what they found out when they either talked to me or interviewed Robbie.
HF: Why did Rob request the trade out of Mississauga?
SN: The new ownership in Mississauga this past season (headed by Mario Forgione) owned the Milton Merchants of the Provincial Jr. League, who Robbie’s brother Tyler played for a short time the season prior, and there were a lot of promises made that were not kept. We saw the same handwriting on the wall when the owner took over Mississauga, and did not want to be a part of that again.
HF: What is your best estimate for Rob’s draft position? Do you have a range that you’re expecting him to fall into?
SN: I would say anywhere from four to 25. You never know what’s going to happen once it starts going. I’d be shocked if he isn’t taken before No. 25, and I’d be surprised if he’s the third pick.
HF: What types of things will do you do to prepare your clients for the draft before hand?
SN: In terms of the physical preparation for any of the players that go to the testing or get tested by teams, get them prepared for what they need to do whether it’s a VO2 test or the bench press test – those types of things. In terms of the mental preparation my biggest advice for the interviews, and I know that some agents get tutors to work on players for interviews, but I think you have to be yourself. We have to remember, there’s two steps. There’s being drafted but then, more importantly, there’s being signed. If you’re going to try to go into an interview and be someone you’re not, eventually a team is going to find that out. I think the biggest thing is a player has got to be himself. He’s got to answer the questions, to a large part, the way he wants to answer them. Obviously I’m going to help him with pointing him in the right direction, maybe giving him some little fine edge work, but the bottom line is it’s his personality. I mean, Robbie Schremp is a throwback to players 40 years ago. He loves the game. He’s at home right now and I guarantee if I try to get him on the phone I couldn’t reach him because he’s at the neighborhood rink. He’s been skating six hours a day.
In a day and age where everyone plays video games, or goes out and does whatever, Robbie Schremp wants to play hockey, and he loves playing hockey. So, what I told Robbie is that when he goes into these interviews, that’s what he has to show. You have to let these people know how much and how important hockey is to you.
And with Dustin Brown last year it was the same type of thing. I mean, Dustin is a 19-year-old who’s going on 14. He’s a little kid at heart who loves the game because it’s a game.
HF: Is there anything you can do to help them on the actual draft weekend?
SN: There’s a lot of preparation in terms of setting up meetings, seeing who wants to meet with what player. If I know one team is a real tough interview, I don’t want to put two tough interviews in a row for the player. A couple teams are going to be doing some testing with players, so again you don’t want to arrange it so a player has two teams testing him in the same four hour span. I’m busy with that. Robbie has got some public relations to do. NHL Productions is going to be following us around for a couple days. A Carolina TV station is going to be following us around for a couple days, so I’ve been busy with that. And then, just the usual banter that goes on during a draft weekend when I get down there and get to talk to the scouts, and try to make my last push for my players.
HF: How did you originally land Rob as a client?
SN: Well, it’s funny, because Robbie and Dustin Brown played Bantam together in Syracuse. I actually went and watched that team play a couple times and ended up with a couple of players on that team. Tim Sestito who plays in Plymouth with the OHL was on that team as well and is a client of mine. I picked up Dustin as a client, and at that point Robbie had another agent, or chose to go with another agent, a much bigger agency. When they became unhappy with the agent that they had they saw the service that Dustin was getting, at that point Robbie and his family made a change from the other agent, and the first one they met with was myself and my company and at that point they decided to go with a smaller agent, and they liked the individual attention that Dustin was getting.
HF: So that’s the main thing that you feel you can offer a client, more attention and more from you than a bigger agency?
SN: If you’re with probably any of the better agents, we all have access to the same web pages and we all have access to the same contract information, a player will get a good contract. Hopefully we’re all good business people. I know I am, and I’m confident in the belief that I can do a contract as well as any of the big agencies can, but the difference is the time and service you get that I don’t think any other agent out there can give you, and certainly not the bigger ones. Robbie Schremp lived with me for four weeks when the season was done, getting ready for the Central Scouting testing. I don’t think there are a lot of agents out there that offer that to their client.
HF: Gino Pisellini is from Illinois, is that how you originally found him?
SN: Yeah, he played for the Team Illinois organization so I’ve seen him play for a number of years, and watched him play for the Team Illinois Midgets and then watched him make the jump to Plymouth this year, and work hard. And I think Gino, again, is a throw back kid who’s just a hard-nosed kid who knows where the net is and he goes there and says, ‘If you don’t want me to be here, get me out of here.’
HF: Do you usually have scouts that tip you off as to players you should take a look at?
SN: The people that work for me through Ontario and Syracuse and Calgary, that’s really what their job is. I have friends who are NHL scouts, or OHL scouts, or WHL scouts, but we don’t rely on their opinions. I mean, they don’t work for us. Sometimes we’ll take a tip, but then I want myself or one of the people that works for me to go follow up on it, go see the player ourselves and meet him and see what kind of kid he is. Because a lot of time the best player isn’t the best person and although he might be the best 14-year-old, if he doesn’t have the right attitude, he’s not going to be the best 17-year-old.
HF: Kris Hogg had a good season with Kamloops, how would you sum him as a player?
SN: Good two-way forward. Very gritty, very skilled. Played on a team that didn’t score a lot of goals and he ended up as the third leading scorer on the team (first in goals). He’s a kid who I think is highly undervalued. It’s funny, there’s a misconception out there that he’s not as big as he is. And one of the reasons we decided to have him come to the draft, even though he’s probably not going to be a first or second round pick, is that a lot of people think he’s 5’9” or 5’10”, but Kris is a hair short of 6’0” tall. Here’s a case where we’re going to bring a player down to the draft to have him meet a lot of the scouts just so they walk away going, ‘Wow, he’s a lot bigger than I thought.’ We all know as we watch the draft that size does matter.
HF: So you’re expecting both Gino and Kris to have a good shot of going on the second day, right?
SN: It wouldn’t surprise me if either of them slipped into the first day, but I’m not counting on it. If they don’t, I would expect that they’d go fairly high on the second day.
HF: Will the teams that select your players talk with you at all at the draft or do you think they’ll just wait to see what happens with the CBA?
SN: I would be surprised if any North Americans signed this year. Maybe a couple Europeans that teams want to bring over. But basically, as NHL teams tell me, they’re not banks; they’re not in the business of lending money. If there’s no reason to sign a player because he’s not going to play for them, why sign them?
HF: I understand there is expected to be a lot of arbitration activity this summer before the CBA expires. Are you finding that to be the case for your professional clients?
SN: Well I fortunately or unfortunately don’t have any players in the position of arbitration. But I know talking to some of the people in the business that a lot of people are going to be taking teams to arbitration. I think what’s really going to be interesting is to see what players get qualified and what players don’t get qualified.
HF: Have most of your clients come out of the CHL, as all three going to the draft with you are this year?
SN: Yeah, I mean it’s funny. Seven years ago I moved from Chicago up to Ontario to really get the business going there and at that point we targeted Ontario based players. Probably eight to nine out of ten Ontario based players end up going to the OHL. Through that, we ended up with some American kids like Dustin Brown and Robbie Schremp who also wanted to go to the OHL. Now that I’m back in Chicago we’re sort of spreading our wings a little bit and I have more players that are looking at going the college route. So right now most of our players have been OHL players, but as we move forward it’s going to even out.
HF: With a junior player, are you dealing with their family as much as the player?
SN: It depends on the individual. Some players are more independent than other players. Some players I deal almost fully with the parents and some players I almost deal fully with the player. At all times I keep the family involved and notified of what’s going on, because I think even with a very independent 17 or 18-year-old, it’s important that he has guidance from his parents.