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This Job Leads McNab to the Ends of the Earth : Hockey: Whether flying or driving, the Mighty Ducks' player personnel director finds talent.

July 01, 1995|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — When the wind chill plunges toward 100 below zero, you leave your motor running in the parking lot.

David McNab learned that.

Half the town's population will be inside the rink, watching a hockey game. Outside, half the town's cars idle through three periods, sometimes even overtime. Turn off an engine in such frigid temperatures without a place to plug in your engine-block heater, and you will not be driving home to the Best Western.

"It isn't like you're worried about people walking down the street stealing a car when it's 100 below," said McNab, the Mighty Ducks' player personnel director and chief scout in charge of the team's choices at the NHL entry draft next Saturday.

Another thing a hockey scout learns is that the warmest seat in the house is sometimes on top of the ice resurfacing machine, right over the motor. Years before anyone imagined an NHL team would play in Anaheim, McNab and fellow scout Jack Ferreira stood by the glass at a rink in Aurora Hoyt Lakes, Minn., waiting for the makeshift Zamboni to come off so they could sit over the engine and draw its heat for the few minutes the warmth survived the bitter cold.

Looking for NHL players is not like looking for the next NBA or NFL star. The temperatures are extreme. The territory is vast. Players still come from remote Canadian prairie towns and some of the coldest corners of the United States, but now they also come from Sweden, Finland, Russia, Latvia, the Czech Republic. . . .

It is a job of extreme demands, and there are few scouts who can match McNab.

"He's a man of extremes," said Ferreira, now the Ducks' general manager.

McNab has flown 1.5 million miles on Northwest Airlines alone, once put 275,000 miles on a 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais and has turned in a rental car after a $100 weekend rental with 3,000 fresh miles on it.

"They look at the computer like they've made a mistake on the mileage and then they ask, 'Did you fill it up at all?' " McNab said.

At 39, he already is something of a legend in hockey circles. The son of former NHL General Manager Max McNab (alive and well although his obituary has been reported twice, but that's another story) and the brother of former NHL player Peter McNab, David is 6 feet 6--a towering, friendly presence known as "Too Tall."

But it is the size of his passions about which stories are told.

A Diet Coke fiend, McNab often swigs straight from a two-liter bottle. In a hard day of driving, he will drain four of them.

"He drinks a lot of it, and you don't know what a lot is until you see him," said Pierre Gauthier, the Ducks' assistant general manager. "That stuff kills rats--and he's a big rat."

At the draft one year, there was no Diet Coke at the team's table.

"You should have seen the glazed look in his eyes," said Angela Gorgone, the team's scouting coordinator.

"I don't know how they expect somebody to make their first pick drinking \o7 water \f7 ," McNab said.

*

McNab's marathon driving is the stuff of scouting lore.

He has done 800 miles in a day, scouting a Canadian junior game on the way. "I did 360 miles to the game and 440 after," he said. "From Prince Albert to Brandon and back to Saskatoon."

Once, he drove from Minneapolis to Boston in 26 hours.

"This one kid was going to play at a certain time, and as David was driving, he realized he had misjudged how long it would take to get there," Ferreira said. "He figured out he'd have to average 55 miles an hour for 26 hours. He got there 15 minutes before the game started--but he probably fell asleep during the game."

For sheer mileage, nothing compares to the three-week international odyssey when he drove from Minneapolis to Calgary, from Calgary to Denver, Denver to Las Vegas and Las Vegas back to Minneapolis.

"Trust me, when I think about it now, I don't know why I wouldn't fly either," said McNab, who drives less now that he is married and the father of two young girls. "When I was single, it was almost easier just to jump in the car and away I'd go. When you think about it, when you get as far as Calgary, to imagine how far that is to Denver, it's obscene."

There are dangers too. McNab's Calais never stranded him, never failed to start. But once he and Ferreira were in Ferreira's car, driving from Warroad, Minn., to Grand Forks, N.D. ("You hang a left at Black Duck," Ferreira said). Ten miles out of the next town, Ferreira's car overheated and blew a hose.

"It's three in the morning, it's 30 below and I looked at David and he looked at me and I said, 'We're [in big trouble]," Ferreira said.

A Good Samaritan saved them, and they will not forget it.

Driving was a way for McNab to pad his income with what some scouts call "fool's gold" when he was just starting out. Teams are usually happy to pay mileage instead of air fare, and McNab, driving his paid-off car, made up for his low wages.

Now, by driving alone instead of flying, McNab can move on late at night after seeing a game, or stick around to interview a player without any other scouts knowing.

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