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“What Scouts Look For” with MSU’s Tom Newton

by John Wires, JHR

Coach Newton On the Ultimate Hockey Recruit

NCAA assistant coaches are in charge of finding the perfect hockey recruit each season.

Tom Newton has been an assistant coach with both Western Michigan University and  Michigan State University for over 27 years! He recruited the likes of Ryan Miller, Justin Abdelkader and Duncan Keith to name a few.

NCAA eligibility rules allow for 21-year-old freshman, making the NCAA the perfect route for guys like me who were considered “late bloomers”. So Newton loves dispelling the myth that if you are not being recruited when you are 15 or 16 that you’ll never “make it”. He says, “just because it doesn’t happen after your minor midget year doesn’t mean it’s all over”

1. Performance

Newton says it starts with Performance. “We need great hockey players. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a 60 goal scorer in juniors.” Newton explained that there are great players in different aspects of the game. “You don’t recruit an entire team of 23 scorers. We need guys who will turn pucks over, win pucks in the corners, create space for other. We need defencemen who can create plays, break pucks out and quarterback a power play.

When I was recruited by Jay Heinbuck at St. Lawrence University, who is now the director of amateur scouting for the Pittsburgh Penguins, my stats were far from impressive. He wasn’t looking for a 50 point scoring d-man, he was looking for a tall, right-handed shot d-man who had hockey sense, could battle in corners and get pucks into the offensive zone.

2. Academics

The second thing Newton looks at is academics. He says: “We go to the schools. We need kids who want a degree. Generally MSU finds that high school students from Canada in the 70’s can go to MSU and get a degree, but you won’t be a doctor.”

He encourages recruits to “be the best academically that you they can be”. The fact is, it makes it easier on scouts and opens opportunity to more schools if your grades are better. Some schools can’t get players in with poor academics. The obvious examples are Harvard and Yale who won’t work with a hockey recruit whose grades are in the 70’s.

Newton says, “If you’re in the 80′s and 90′s, there isn’t a school in this country that won’t recruit you.”

3. Character

Coach Newton went on to stress that: “At the end of the day, you win with people. I don’t care how good of a player you are if you are not a good person, a good teammate, you never seem to be there at the end when you really need that person.”

MSU goes out of their way to talk to Bantam and Midget coaches, teachers and principals at a recruit’s school.They want players who are popular on their team. People who are respected and respect their teammates and show strong leadership qualities.

Hockey Parents Can Be the Deal Breaker

Scouts and coaches hate parents who lie, cheat and beg their kid’s way to the top. In our interview with Coach Newton, his first comment on parents was, “We don’t need high maintenance parents at this level”.  We look for “package players” from families that are happy to support them and stay out of their affairs once they hit the NCAA level.


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