Ten minutes into the first period Sutherland has not finished writing. He has taken out a deck of 3 x 5 cards and is scribbling furiously on them. Around him other scouts are doing the same, their heads going up and down over their programs like those joke-shop drinking ducks you sometimes see on the back bars of cute taverns.
An exception is the Boston Bruins' John Carlton. Like Sutherland, Carlton is on a "crossover" tour. Sutherland's normal beat is American college hockey and Carlton sticks fairly close to Boston, mostly covering the American Hockey League and the New England schools. This evening, with most of the work already done by other Bruin scouts, Carlton makes only occasional notations on his program, recording goals and assists.
"The crossover tour is a form of recharging your batteries," says Carlton. "Say you watch college hockey in the U.S. all year, like Jim. You can go stale seeing the same players game after game, driving around on the same circuit. Then you come up here and see new kids, a different style. It freshens you up."
As if to prove the point, the Knights and the Wolves get into a savage scrap. There are so many red and black gloves on the ice it looks as if someone had thrown a crate of mixed raspberries and blackberries from high in the stands. One player catches the referee in the forehead with a looping overhand left. The fans set up a roar, happily pouring popcorn down each other's necks.
"This kind of gloves-off fighting isn't allowed in the NCAA," Carlton points out, "but it certainly is in the NHL. So when Sutherland goes back to the States, he's got it in mind again that a kid has to have ruggedness for the pros."
Sutherland finishes writing by the second period, finally able to watch the game with full attention. He bends forward, elbows on knees. He jokes with a scout from another team when his negotiated player makes a mistake.
But there is a look in the eyes of these scouts that belies the humor. You get the same feeling from surgeons: a stare that seems to go through you as if you were being X-rayed, prodded, plumbed and measured. There is a ruthless quality to their stares at players, a kind of Last Judgment of sport, in which the player becomes a sinner before the throne, unable to hide even one equivocation of faith or transgression.
But perhaps this is too severe. Jim Sutherland says, "We scout because we enjoy hockey. If I find a kid somewhere out in the boondocks and draft him and he works out with the big club, it gives me a good feeling. I feel proud that he got the chance."
By the end of the second period some of the scouts have seen enough and head for their cars. They may listen to the game on radio during the 120-mile drive through the blizzard back to Toronto, but not to find out who won, only to check goals and assists.
As he crawls through the storm on the drifted-over highway, Sutherland talks about himself. Atypically, he is an American. Most scouts, most pro players, are Canadian. But he did spend part of his youth in the Maritime Provinces, particularly on Prince Edward Island, a beautiful and violent center of hockey madness out in the Atlantic.