KALAMAZOO — Bob Hoffmeyer knows a thing or two about hockey. Now a pro scout for the New Jersey Devils of the NHL, Hoffmeyer is a former player and coach whose path always seems to lead him back to Kalamazoo and K-Wings hockey in one way or another.
Before Hoffmeyer’s playing days took him up the ladder to the NHL, he played for the Flint Generals of the International Hockey League from 1975-77. During that time, Hoffmeyer became familiar with one of the Generals’ in-state foes, the Kalamazoo Wings.
After playing for the Chicago Blackhawks and the Devils, as well as making many stops with the AHL in between, Hoffmeyer found himself returning to Wings Stadium in 1991, this time as the head coach of the K-Wings.
“It was good coaching here,” Hoffmeyer said. “I enjoyed it very much.” Noting that he spent time as a visitor in the building when he played for the Generals in many battles against the K-Wings, he felt right at home when he was named coach for the team.
“I knew it was a great hockey town and an enjoyable place to be,” he said. “I did enjoy it here as a coach, especially with the great fan base they have here.” During his time as coach, Hoffmeyer guided the K-Wings to a combined 43-46-11 record.
Prior to coming to Kalamazoo as a coach, Hoffmeyer was an assistant coach within the Devils organization for both the AHL and NHL clubs.
Now in his 17th season as a pro scout with the Devils, Hoffmeyer is spending a little more time in Kalamazoo, as well as other arenas, scouting players. This past summer, the K-Wings reached an agreement to become the affiliate for the Devils and their AHL team, the Albany Devils. Currently the K-Wings have three players from the Devils on their roster: defenseman Harry Young, forward Bryan Haczyk, and goaltender Maxime Clermont. Defenseman Joe Sova started the season with the K-Wings but was called up to Albany in mid-December.
Hoffmeyer said that Souva is performing well for Albany. “He came into Kalamazoo at the start of the year and got to play in all types of situations, and that has helped him a lot,” he said. “They are happy with his progress.”
In addition to taking notes on the players affiliated with the Devils, Hoffmeyer says he keeps an open mind when watching all players out on the ice. “You look to other players, too, and you see who might look like they are ready to take a step up to the next level,” he said. On the flip side, Hoffmeyer said you also need to evaluate those players who aren’t quite ready.
Either way, evaluating as many players as possible can pay dividends to the Devils organization. “There are certain situations when you might get a call on a player, and you need to have an evaluation, even if it’s not a good evaluation, you have it ready,” Hoffmeyer said.
Hoffmeyer sends his game report directly into the Devils database. In addition, every report that is done by a scout ends up on the desk of Lou Lamoriello, CEO/President/General Manger of the Devils, David Conte, Executive Vice-President and Director of Scouting, and Chris Lamoriello, General Manager of the Albany Devils.
When players are assigned to Kalamazoo, Hoffmeyer said, they are well aware of the reasons why.
“Chris (GM of Albany) talks to them about if it’s a weakness or just because they need to get playing time or whatever the situation is,” Hoffmeyer said. “They (players) understand from our organization’s standpoint what’s expected of them and what they need to do.”
But when they come to Kalamazoo, they also need to do their best to fall in line with what K-Wings coach Nick Bootland asks of them. “Once they get here, they are a part of the K-Wings team, and the coaching staff here prepares them as they see fit to,” he said.
Hoffmeyer points out that neither side is working against the other during this process because everyone has the same goal in mind: to win. “Their goal here is to make players better to move them up, while winning in the meantime,” he said.
Developing players and winning go hand in hand in the ECHL, but that also means fans will have to say goodbye to their favorite players along the way.
“I know it is tough in these communities for the local fans when they get to following someone and they get called up,” Hoffmeyer said. “One thing you have found over the years is that when they take someone up, it’s usually your best player and not your worst.”
Hoffmeyer said longtime fans have grown accustomed to the constant shuffle that comes with being an affiliate. “The fans of these towns recognize that the good players are going to leave them, so they have to enjoy them while they are there. And hopefully they help the team win while they are here.”
While it is still early in the season, Hoffmeyer says that the K-Wings organization is doing a good job with their players and they are comfortable sending them to Kalamazoo. “They are a successful organization as far as winning. They proved that last year going to the finals,” he said. “We know from that aspect that they do a good job and they get good players in here, but they play our players too.”