Mark Mowers enjoys scouting for the Minnesota Wild.
Eight years into retirement as a professional hockey player, Mowers is doing fine. Adjusting like millions of people affected by the COVID pandemic to a new normal when going about their work, Mowers, 46, is learning how to go about his work while at home. As an NHL professional scout, being in arenas to evaluate players, for Wild and opposing skaters, traditionally requires traveling to arenas and seeing up-close how players perform.
This, of course, went out the window last March.
Adjustments in his work habits as one of two pro scouts for the Western Conference club are continual. However, Mowers is energized about the Wild's future, and his own within the organization - something that has not always been the case.
A phone call with a former college rival took Mowers from a negative situation in his scouting career with the Buffalo Sabres to a positive with the Wild.
"I called Chris Kelleher (Wild's director of pro scouting), and asked if a member of the Sabres' front office had said some things about me that were untrue. After reaching out to Chris, he asked me if I had anything going on," Mowers said during a recent telephone conversation from his suburban Boston home.
"I saw things completely different how an organization is run, with the Wild. I'm not going to schmooze to get a job. I like to work hard. After a couple phone interviews, I was hired."
In sync with the NHL culture presented in Minnesota, Mowers continues to be excited about going about his work. Joining the Wild in June 2019, after two years with Buffalo, professional bliss was falling in place for the Mohawk Valley native. Kelleher was promoted to his current position with the Wild. Then Minnesota general manager Paul Fenton, Mowers tells, was another breath of fresh NHL air to inhale.
Feeling appreciated; listened to, is important with any occupation. Employees want to feel valued, and those passionate enough looking to advance, need to contribute and be heard. This wasn't the case, Mowers explains, during his two seasons working for the Western New York based Sabres.
"Montreal (Mowers scouted for five seasons with the Canadiens prior to joining the Sabres) didn't listen to their scouts. If they weren't going to listen to me, why did they hire me? I didn't want a job where I didn't have an impact. That's a waste of time. It was like talking to the wall."
Now in the second year of his two-year deal with the Wild, Mowers tells of a much different environment with his work situation. There are no complaints. His sincerity is evident in talking about being among the Wild family.
"Billy (Wild's general manager and former Utica Devil Billy Guerin), Chris (Chris O'Hearn - Wild's director of hockey operations) , and Chris (Kelleher), nobody has an ego," says Mowers, who skated in 277 NHL games for the Red Wings, Predators, Bruins, and Ducks.
From exiting his employment with the Sabres on not-so-great terms with one individual in upper management (who has since been let go), to a team where his input is valued, Mowers tells of adjusting nicely to a change in work habits this past spring.
Responsibilities were clear. Whereas some NHL organizations has their scouts "going all over" to evaluate all teams and their AHL affiliates, Mowers' territory is well defined. The east coast is the former Whitesboro Warriors' hockey standout's work site. NHL teams from Montreal, Ottawa, down to Florida are who Mowers primarily concentrates on.
"My area has shifted a little. The New York teams, New Jersey, Philly, up to Boston, Montreal, Toronto, and Buffalo, these are the teams I cover," said Mowers, a 1998 finalist for college hockey's Hobey Baker Award, presented annually to the top NCAA men's hockey player.
As with MLB and NBA games this past spring, NHL arenas were without fans on game night. For Mowers, everything that he had become accustomed to in a scout's life changed.
A typical day since last season, when in March the NHL put a "pause" on how they were going about their business, for Mowers it is all about making adjustments.
As a scout, Mowers would watch a game on TV, a night. He would file a report on what he saw, the same as if he was high atop in an arena, in the comfort of a press box.
"Scouts build a team's future," Mowers tells. "Replays makes things better, in case I miss something. You can hone in on mistakes or things that a player is doing well. As a scout, you still try to find decline in guys. TV makes this harder. I find it much easier to evaluate the guys in person. TV shows where the puck is. It's more difficult to follow what is happening away from the camera, or behind the paly."
Every NHL scout files their reports using the same software. The report goes to the organization for hockey operations personnel to digest. For example, Wild's Guerin can click on to a player, and be able to view this individual's report on the last game played, and games filed all the way back to when they were a rookie.
With no travel to assigned NHL cities since last March, when not watching and reporting on NHL players, keeping busy with home projects has been an avenue for Mowers to adjust to his new normal.
"I've never done more (home projects). For six weeks straight, I was doing something. Besides working out, I was painting my bathroom, putting in tiles (with much help from YouTube) to keep busy. Then, I hit a wall. I couldn't do anymore projects."
Mowers, like so many associated with hockey and the NHL, is praying that the season starts when planned (January 13, 2021). At this time, with so much around sports and with COVID cases on the rise, remains fluid. Will scouts be allowed to travel? This is still up in the air. Hockey is a business, and the sooner it's business as usual, the better for all.
There are so many unknowns, to contemplate between now and next month's expected opening of the NHL's 103rd season. In the meantime, when not thinking sticks and skates, real estate is a budding second career Mowers is dabbling in.
"As an agent (Mowers is a licensed agent) the moving and buying I did, this seemed natural to do," believes Mowers, who recently bought a cottage in New Hampshire.
After his negative experience in Buffalo, and with an uncertainty about getting another job in hockey, selling real estate part-time seemed a no-brainer. Mowers isn't the kind of person who waits for a crisis, but works to stay ahead of one.
For now, power tools, laptop, TV, and patience sum up a day in the life of Mark Mowers - NHL scout, and family man.
Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter living in the Mohawk Valley. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com.
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