Bill Sullivan will need to get his front bumper fixed. His car, a 2010 Dodge Charger, was recently involved in a minor traffic accident. But it’s the perfect companion to his new journey. It can get around 25 highway miles-per-gallon. It can handle inches of rain and feet of snow, and it has heated seats.
All are critical components for his new job that will take him away from his home in Pittsburgh, PA because as of July the former Div. III ice hockey player and six-time U.S. Men’s National Ball Hockey Team member will be hitting the road as a scout for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League.
A New Dimension
On any given day, Sullivan is fully immersed in hockey. The former Franklin Pierce University Men’s Ice Hockey forward serves as the director of hockey operations at Greater Pittsburgh Dek Hockey – the same rink he started honing his skills on over 20 years ago. His extensive experience on the dek – where he won silver at the 2015 ISBHF World Ball Hockey Championship with Team U.S.A. – is coupled with years of building a solid foundation on the ice. Aside from youth hockey and collegiate playing experience, Sullivan also served three years as an assistant coach and scout for the Chatham University Women’s Ice Hockey team.
But it’s his work in ball hockey that has added a layer of knowledge that other scouts may not have. He credits more than 10 years with the U.S. Men’s National Ball Hockey Team as having, “absolutely been the most integral part of the development of my ‘hockey mind’.”
“Ball Hockey is a wide-open game with slightly different rules,” noted Sullivan, a former U.S. Junior National Ball Hockey Team player, coach and current scout for the program. “It has taught me countless lessons over the years in terms of systematic play. It has shown me how different styles and strategies can be used in the game, while ultimately resulting in success. It has shown me that certain systems can a better fit with different playing styles and that there needs to be a fit of a player into a system and a fit of the system designed for a player.”
Bill Sullivan’s Road to London, Ontario
The scouting landscape is littered with former NHL and professional players. But while Sullivan’s resume may skew down a different road, his passion for hockey and determination to become a scout showcases his drive to succeed.
“In the off-season of 2015, I emailed the majority of NHL, OHL, USHL, and OJHL teams asking to volunteer as a scout, or shadow a current scout, or do whatever needed to be done to be involved,” recalled Sullivan, the director of youth hockey for the American Street Hockey Institute – the organization that runs U.S.A. Ball Hockey. “No luck on the first go around … I sent emails again during the off-season of 2016. I started doing a little work for the Kingston Voyageurs of the Ontario Junior Hockey League …
[O]ne day in October the Director of Scouting for London, Ken Hornick, called me and gave me an opportunity and sent me on a trial run during a showcase in Philadelphia. After I sent in my reports, I went to another tournament, and then another, and so on throughout the 2016-17 season in a volunteer capacity with the team. This past July, Ken and Knights’ General Manager Rob Simpson let me know that I was going to be brought on for the upcoming season.”
Building a Team in London
Located about a six-hour drive from Pittsburgh, the London Knights are a storied franchise in the OHL and the Canadian Hockey League. The 2016 Memorial Cup Champions, the organization has served as the jumping off point for superstars such as Rick Nash, Patrick Kane, John Tavares, Hall of Fame honoree Brendan Shanahan and 2016-17 NHL rookies Matthew Tkachuk and Mitch Marner.
Sullivan is fully aware of the work that Knights owner, president and head coach Dale Hunter and his staff have done to build the organization into one of the best in North America. It is now his job to find the next wave of superstars in the designated OHL recruitment zone – Wisconsin to New York and south.
“The position is an area scout with the team,” explained Sullivan who captured gold in 2006 with the U.S. Junior National Ball Hockey Team. “Every team has scouts that are responsible for their ‘areas’ and the teams and players who play out of those regions. My area is the Eastern U.S. Basically the states east of Michigan and Chicago. I am responsible for evaluating players [15- to 16-years-old] on teams in IN, OH, PA, NJ, NY, MD, WV and VA. I develop an opinion on these players over the course of the year … and give my honest opinion to management on these players.
Coaching both Women’s NCAA ice hockey and junior-aged ball hockey at a high level has given me the time and experience needed to have a good idea of how to evaluate players on an individual basis and the coaching has taught me to understand what they do well and need to improve on.”
Ready to Hit the Road
Sullivan has worked hard to achieve his goal of becoming a scout. He has traveled down a road less traveled by others in his new profession. But like the player he is on the dek – a 5’6″ scrappy but highly-skilled player – Sullivan is prepared to be a “sponge” and show the Knights they made the right choice.
“The organization from top to bottom has a work ethic that you would not believe,” said Sullivan. “Always striving to improve on and off the ice, and that work ethic is contagious. My father was a Marine during World War II and had a work ethic that led him to work well into his 80s. He always said, ‘If someone is willing to bring you into their group, be it a family or small business or a hockey organization, you owe it to them and yourself to work as hard as you possibly can for that group. Why wouldn’t you?’ So, I’m excited to work as hard as I possibly can for an organization that knows nothing but hard work.”
It’s fair to say Sullivan is ready to hit the ground running to bring the best players into the London Knights organization, which is a good thing because hockey season is just around the corner.
But first, he has to get his car fixed.