John Rosso is a second-year scout for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Currently, he was on a break from his scouting duties in Minnesota and a few states further west to attend the scouting meetings in Tampa Bay with the rest of the team’s staff.
Recently, he sat down with TampaBayLightning.com to give a behind-the-scenes look of his day-to-day life as a Lightning scout.
When John Rosso last stepped off a plane, it was to take a look at a player who very well could be the next great hockey prospect.
On Monday, he arrived at Tampa International Airport in much the same fashion which has become routine for him during his tenure as a scout – with bags in hand, notebook, pen and paper packed, and a few incidentals such as a water bottle or personal laptop computer tucked tightly underneath his arm.
Only this time, there were no up and coming prospects to be looked at. Still, he had come with a purpose, and one that alluded to the fact that even for a few days, the game had not escaped him.
After a first full day of scouting meetings with the Lightning’s regional scouting team, spearheaded by director of amateur scouting Al Murray and head amateur scout Darryl Plandowski, Rosso sat down at a conference room table at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, some hours before a scouting staff dinner to take place that night at a nearby restaurant.
If anything, it is clear that Rosso is enjoying his time here in Tampa Bay.
There are no games for him to see, the only time such an occurrence takes place other than the Thanksgiving or Christmas holiday. The weather outside is 82 degrees, quite a variation from his home base in Minneapolis, which last week had two feet of snow on the ground. He is wearing a blue polo shirt and khaki shorts, a wardrobe choice not as practical to be worn back home in the local rinks.
After comparing notes on prospects for the better part of the day, Rosso went back in his memory of a recent trip in the weeks prior to give insight on the day-to-day events preceding his trip to the Bay Area.
His schedule, simply put, is busy. It gives him a lot of options from which to choose to tell his story.
He can either go with one of the Minnesota High School Hockey games, typically played on Tuesday or Thursday night, a USHL junior game or WCHA collegiate game, played in succession on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.
Rosso makes his own schedule, and the designated games on each of those specific nights makes it easier to manage.
But there are curveballs.
“A certain kid gets suspended or gets injured, and you have to re-work the schedule,” he said.
Sometimes, that involves going out West – as far as Colorado and Alaska – and seeing those games first before working his way back to Minnesota.
For this specific exercise though, Rosso chooses to let us in on a recent trip to one of the USHL weekend games.
Using Minneapolis as his starting point, any drive to neighboring cities – which mind you, doesn’t include any in Minnesota, but rather in Iowa, Wisconsin and South Dakota – could take a minimum of three hours and up to much longer.
The length of travel and time it takes to get to the destination city depends on what time Rosso leaves for the trip.
Being that it is a Friday, and that he is planning on hitting three games in three nights, he has his bags packed for the allotted amount of time, three reservations in different hotels, and a car with a full tank of gas.
Some mornings are better than others in terms of how late he is able to leave, but the routine more or less remains the same in the hours leading up to his departure.
“I have a lot of time to go over my stuff, make sure I have everything, double check the hotel reservations, call and make sure everything is in place and go over my checklist,” Rosso said.
The time he has in the morning hours leading up to him leaving, as well as the car ride itself, is a nice luxury to have.
“You don’t have to be clicked in really until you arrive at the rink,” he added.
When driving on the road, Rosso can relax. He calls it “windshield time.” The time is used to think about things other than hockey. It is used to enjoy listening to music or grabbing a bite to eat when making a pit stop and catch up with his friends.
Sirius XM Radio is his go-to guide, or as he calls it, his “best friend” for getting through the long doldrums of driving through the wintery landscape in the upper Midwest.
Rosso also has a favorite eatery to hit up, almost without fail, on each and every trip.
He loves Panera Bread. Not only does he enjoy the food, but the coffee on hand comes in handy for staying up late seeing games and writing reports, not to mention the free Wi-Fi Internet that helps him keep up on current events for his own leisure, as well as assists him with anything work-related, such as sending in his daily prospect reports or double-checking the scheduled start time of a game he is going to see.
When he finally arrives at the rink, usually 90 minutes before the opening puck drop, he is in full “go mode.”
That is, no time to enjoy a snack at the concession stand or make small talk with the other scouts in attendance. By now, most of his meals have already been consumed, on the road of course.
The conversation with the other scouts is limited to merely small talk.
“They keep what they’re doing pretty tight to the vest,” Rosso said. “We know more or less who we’re all there for.”
It’s about an hour before game time, and Rosso has his lineups in hand, scouting over anything he might find interesting, such as who is injured, who is scratched and/or who is playing on what line. There is still time to kill, so he goes into both teams’ dressing rooms and talks to the coaches.
“Usually it’s limited to just asking how they are doing and how their season is going,” Rosso said. “Occasionally they’ll give you a tip or two on how the kid’s been playing lately.”
From there, it’s up to the seats, although that’s a bit misleading, as Rosso actually prefers to stand due to the fact that he is seated in the car for the hours leading up to the game.
A spot at the end of the rink, for the most part unoccupied, is most preferable. It is a strategic vantage point.
Rosso prefers that exact spot because it allows him to see the bench. Other than how a guy handles the puck and how responsible he is defensively, it is one of the things Rosso looks for.
“It says a lot,” he said. “I like to see how a kid reacts when he goes back to the bench, his body language, how he interacts with his teammates and his coach.”
All of Rosso’s observations are mental. He does not take notes because looking down at a piece of paper takes away from what he sees on the ice. There will be time for writing though, later on, back at the hotel as he does his reports. He added that when it comes to choosing a hotel, he has a strong affinity for Marriott and Fairfield Inn.
Approximately two and a half hours pass until the final horn sounds and Rosso goes down to talk to the winning coach, and rarely the losing coach. He doesn’t talk to the player or players themselves, nor does he speak with any teammates or the prospect’s parents.
What he does from there is contingent on his schedule.
If there is a game the following night in the same town, Rosso will return to the hotel, begin his report and go to bed.
Since he is on the road so much, and often for consecutive nights, Rosso has learned to start writing down his room number, as something so simple to remember loses its degree of ease not only with time, but with all the other things going through his mind, such as those related to his job.
“There have been times when I would put my key in the door and it wouldn’t work, and it turns out that one was from the Fairfield Inn in Waterloo from the night before,” Rosso said. “If you learn to turn the keys in when you check out of the hotel, those are the types of small things that can make your life a lot easier.”
If the next game he is to attend takes place in another town, he gets in the car late at night and drives usually halfway, or until midnight hits. The next morning, the report from the night before is to be completed.
Sunday night games are a bit different in that those come with their own added bonus.
Usually there are no games to be played Monday for which he has to watch, so following a Sunday night game, Rosso will return home back to Minneapolis and enjoy one of the rare nights he is given the chance to sleep in his own bed, do laundry, run errands and do the typical chores he does not get to do during the week.
Of course, this doesn’t come without some suspicions from the neighbors.
“I’ll get home at three, four o’clock in the morning, so the neighbors in my apartment complex probably think I’m unemployed since I’m staying out all night,” Rosso joked. “I’m not there on the weekends so I’m sure they think I’m out doing God knows what, then they see me home at noon on a Tuesday.”
Yet, for Rosso, this is all too normal.
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