Sitting in section 221, row eight, seat 17 during most Regina Pats games at the Brandt Centre is Darrell Baumgartner.
When play is on, his black winter coat remains buttoned up. His notebook rests on his lap, and occasionally, his cell phone will go off, showcasing a red background with a familiar hockey logo. While many consider the nosebleed section the least desired seat in the house, it’s the perfect vantage point for the Washington Capitals scout.
Since 2007, Baumgartner has been scouting amateur players part-time throughout western Canada on behalf of the pro organization. The 55-year-old Regina product got involved with the team courtesy of a longtime friendship with the Capital's current assistant general Manager Ross Mahoney, a fellow Queen City local, who spent 16 seasons as the Caps’ director of amateur scouting.
“It’s a great opportunity, I think, to be a part of the National Hockey League, which any young kid growing up in Saskatchewan would always want to be [a part of],” says Baumgartner.
Originally, he didn’t envision his stint in the bigs would be up in the stands.
Growing up, Baumgartner played between the pipes. He idolized former Philadelphia Flyers netminder, Ron Hextall.
“He liked to play the puck, and he was one of those goaltenders that challenged the shooters and was a stand-up style,” he explains.
“But that was the style back then and I kind of would like to think I modelled myself after his gameplay, not what he would do in terms of his antics.”
When his junior days were up, he wanted to continue his playing career. So, he sought an opportunity at the University of Regina, but his plans took a turn.
“I went to school for the hockey and four years later, I ended up with a teaching degree,” he says.
Baumgartner graduated at 25 years old, then spent 30 years as an educator with the Regina Catholic School system before retiring on Feb. 1, 2015.
Throughout his career as a teacher and administrator, he always made time for hockey.
On top of his classroom commitments, he spent six seasons with the Cougars as a goaltending and assistant coach. In the mid-1990s, he also led Team Saskatchewan, alongside Mahoney, to a gold medal at the Canadian Winter Games.
Baumgartner’s teaching skills carried over to coaching.
“I just remember Baumer being there to help with a lot of the problems you’d normally have whether it be through university, trying to adjust for time, relationships, and stuff like that off-ice,” says current Regina Pats assistant coach Darrin McKechnie, who worked with Baumgartner at the CIS level.
Later in his career, Baumgartner joined the Regina Pat Canadians behind the bench. There, he met current Caps prospect, Garrett Mitchell.
“Just having him around the dressing room kind of lightened stuff up when sometimes things aren’t going right,” says Mitchell, who is now with the Hershey Bears, the Caps’ affiliate in the American Hockey League.
“He’s a great guy, an awesome guy to talk with, and just sit down and make sure everything is going good with you.”
Their relationship transitioned into Mitchell’s five year stint with the Pats from 2006-2011, and continued after he was drafted by Caps, 175th overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
“I remember him telling me, for me to play at the pro level, I can’t change the way I play. I’ve had lots of guys tell me that, but at the same time, it’s definitely something that’s helped me out in the pro game,” Mitchell says about his former coach’s advice.
“Obviously I am where I am today, and he was a part of that.”
Player relationships are one of many ways Baumgartner’s teaching and scouting career interconnected.
After the scout watches a game, he writes up reports on the draft eligible players. Some of the primary attributes he looks for are skating, hockey sense, character, and physical play. Similarly, in teaching, he would write up report cards. As well, player interviews are a crucial part of the scouting process, like parent-teacher interviews were in school.
The big difference between the two professions is the travel.
As a teacher and administrator, his career included travelling around the Queen City’s catholic school neighbourhoods from St. Theresa, to St. Dominic, to St. Jerome, to St. Margeurite, to St. Angela, back to St. Jerome, back to St. Dominic, and finally, St. Francis.
As a scout, the travel is a little more intense.
“I haven’t travelled as much as the other scouts have, but a lot of times it’s not that you’re out for months at a time. It’s usually anywhere from five to 10 days on a given trip,” says Baumgartner.
“You’re having to book the flights, you’re having to book your hotel rooms - that part of it. There’s nuances with that, that you need to get some help sometimes,” he adds, saying he’s lucky the organization books many accommodations for him.
Baumgartner covers more than the western half of Canada, though. He also ventures overseas. Most recently, he caught the Five Nations Tournament in the Czech Republic, which features some of the best under 18-year-old players in the world.
“You get that chance to see the best players that they have to offer and you evaluate them. You bring that knowledge back to the Western Hockey League, and you can compare and contrast with the draft eligible players that are here,” he says.
The scout’s job is to identify young talent, but he will never take credit for drafting a skater.
“Hockey is a team sport and the scouting profession is no different where we work as a team to find the best possible players for our organization,” he humbly explains.
He adds that himself, along with up to four other scouts, have helped identify many notable Caps draftees including Cody Eakin (Dallas Stars, NHL), Braden Holtby (Washington Capitals, NHL), Madison Bowey (Kelowna Rockets, WHL), and Chandler Stephenson (Hershey Bears, AHL).
Baumgartner continues to substitute teach. Despite his busy schedule, he’ll take the next step in his career in the coming months when he begins a two-year contract, which promotes him to a full-time scout. Instead of watching about 125 games per season, he’ll be able to double that amount until at least 2017.
“When I look at the big picture, the 30 years that I was an educator was very rewarding for me. I forged many friendships with the teachers that I work with,” he says.
“I’m not saying that I have it all figured out because that’s certainly wouldn’t be the case. I would believe that I’m a little bit ahead of the game in terms of understanding the role and the expectations within the full-time scout [position]. I look forward to those opportunities and I certainly hope that I will to continue to do the job that’s expected of me.”