Keeping the Combine on track a logistical challenge
Behind the scenes, making sure every interview was scheduled, every player had his goody bag, every team had its interview suite, the Reebok showcase was up and running, the media was taken care of and the fitness and medical testing rooms were set up was NHL Central Scouting Coordinator Nathan Ogilvie-Harris.
Along with his assistant, Luke McGoey, it's up to Ogilvie-Harris to make sure everything runs smooth and stays on time during the week-long event.
"Nathan organizes it all, and to his credit does a great job," Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire told NHL.com. "The Combine has been raised in stature by the work of the NHL Events departments, which brings visibility and professionalism, and Nathan and Luke do the internal work of making it organized and flowing smoothly."
Planning for the Combine starts in February, when Ogilvie-Harris starts sending out invitations for the top international prospects, and then begins making travel arrangements. The North American players come next, with the invitation list based off Central Scouting's final meetings, which are held the first week of April.
"(The number of players) varies from year to year," Ogilvie-Harris told NHL.com. "Some years there are 105 to 110 depending on how strong (the draft) is, others there are 100 like this year."
Once those 100-odd players accept their Combine invitations comes the real juggling act -- taking those 100 prospects and scheduling them for interviews with however many of the 30 teams want to meet them.
"The teams give us their request list over an automated system over our Central Scouting web site," Ogilvie-Harris said. "They can select however many players they want out of the 100 invited and we break it up through that."
The scheduling process contains a number of issues to be dealt with, from how many days a player can be in Toronto to how many days a team wants to have meetings.
"The interviews are like a jigsaw puzzle," Ogilvie-Harris said. "When you start doing the first teams they're easy and they just fit in. But when you get down to the 28th, 29th, 30th teams, it's a jigsaw and some guys might only have two or three open spots left, so you have to try to fit that in and juggle that around.
"The interviews are the biggest piece of the puzzle because there's 30 teams, 100 players and only eight hours in the day."
One change this year is a waiver NHL Central Scouting received to allow players with NCAA eligibility -- or hoping to maintain it -- to stay more than 48 hours. In years past, those players would come in Thursday, have upwards of 25 interviews in one day, then have to rush through the fitness testing the next day.
"It's easier to tailor the players' schedule," Ogilvie-Harris said. "If a player has 20-plus interviews he can come in a little longer, meaning he doesn't have a crazy schedule. This year's much easier and more beneficial to the players and gives them a better experience."
Still, things come up, like flight delays or teams wanting to meet a prospect a second time, or meet with him at a different time than originally planned.
"There's a lot of moving parts and things happen on the fly," Ogilvie-Harris said. "Flight times change, or planes are delayed. (Cretin-Derham defenseman) Mark Alt's plane was delayed so that threw his interview schedule off, so you have to react and act on the fly. We rescheduled his morning interview to the afternoon."
Or there's the Tampa Bay Lightning, who hired Steve Yzerman as GM Tuesday. He came to the Combine Thursday and wanted to see a few of the prospects that could be available when the Lightning pick sixth at the 2010 Entry Draft.
"The Tampa team said Steve is coming in on Thursday, let's rearrange the guys who are likely to be there with our first pick," McGuire said. "And they went to Nathan with a wish list that Nathan, I don't know how he did it, but he managed to rearrange the schedule in order for a new event, something Tampa didn't foresee, that Steve would be hired on this day. Nathan found a way to accommodate them."
"The part I enjoy the most is talking to these 17-, 18-year-old players. A lot of them are very confident and looking forward to this experience, meeting the teams. There's a lot of moving parts and things happen on the fly"
-- NHL Central Scouting Coordinator Nathan Ogilvie-Harris
Another unique challenge was meeting the growing number of media requests for player interviews. For the first time, TSN set up a broadcast platform in the fitness testing room and wanted to schedule a number of interviews with the top prospects. Other media from the U.S. and Canada also had their wish lists.
"This year there were a lot more media requests for players, scheduling interviews for them with various media outlets," Ogilvie-Harris said. "It had been a small media scrum in the past. This year a lot of media outlets wanted to talk to a lot of payers. Having TSN in the room was great, it just meant we had to be more organized with our Events department and media and PR."
After a week's worth of 15-hour days juggling schedules, setting up interviews, dealing with the hotel staff and making sure everything's running and everyone's in place, Ogilvie-Harris is looking forward to another Combine finishing Saturday afternoon. But as his fifth Combine comes to an end, as much work as it is, he still finds he has a good time at the event.
"The part I enjoy the most is talking to these 17-, 18-year-old players," Ogilvie-Harris said. "A lot of them are very confident and looking forward to this experience, meeting the teams. There's a lot of moving parts and things happen on the fly.
"You have an idea of how you're going to go about it, but every year something different comes up that you never would have thought of."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org
Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Staff Writer