Bernie Desrosiers doesn't accept pay for placing youths with colleges or junior hockey leagues, which often elicits strange looks from parents expecting to pay hundreds or thousands to a scout.
"People think this is a scam, but I do it because I want to help players find college scholarships or opportunities to play in junior hockey leagues in America and Canada," said Desrosiers, who runs Sunbelt Hockey Scouting.
A New Tampa resident since 1992, Desrosiers works with goalies from area high schools and junior league teams at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum.
Desrosiers, 54, excelled as a high school goalie in the hockey hotbed of Woonsocket, R.I., and later at Providence College.
He played with several semipro teams, but breaking into the pro ranks was hard because there were few scouting services at that time.
"Especially for goalies, there weren't those opportunities when I grew up," Desrosiers said. "We had high school, maybe college, and if you were a marquee player you could try out for a pro team."
Desrosiers got a one-week tryout with the Hartford Whalers in 1977.
"I got to practice with (Hall of Famer) Gordie Howe and his sons. I had Gordie shoot on me in practice and that was it," Desrosiers said, laughing. "Now, who would think we'd have about a dozen hockey rinks within a couple hours of Tampa?"
That's what fostered Desrosiers' idea for his independent scouting service three years ago.
With more than 1,000 scouts in the network, Sunbelt Hockey Scouting has worked with more than 500 young hockey players between the ages of 13 and 19 in the U.S., Europe and Canada.
"We are not affiliated with any team exclusively," Desrosiers said. "We do not provide camps or clinics. We focus on the individual player's skills and we work to enhance those skills on a personal basis.
"It's for the love of the game and the passion about what you do. And it makes you feel good if you can get a kid a tryout with an Ivy League team or a Division I school."
Desrosiers' organization does not serve as an agent for players. However, once a player reaches a certain level, Sunbelt Hockey will work with agencies such as Orr Hockey Group, run by Hall of Famer Bobby Orr, and Tim Cranston LLC, the agent for Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby.
Desrosiers pointed out there are recruiters and then there are scouts, both charging hefty sums.
"There are companies out there that are trying to get parents' money to place their kid, and there are scouts from the good old boy network that are from western Canada and scout all major junior league hockey games," Desrosiers said. "They don't come to the States or Florida and they already know what they are looking for."
An independent computer consultant who travels across the country and volunteers at rinks, Desrosiers' approach is altruistic and much simpler.
"My gig is that I'm from Tampa, and I would love to be able to throw a kid from the Southeast into the National Hockey League draft in five years," Desrosiers said. "That's the objective. We're close, but we're not there yet."
One such local player is goalie J.P. d'Ambrosio, a junior at Wharton High with whom Desrosiers has worked for several years.
D'Ambrosio and his father, John, said they immediately recognized Desrosiers' acumen.
But it was his off-ice advice that made them believe in him.
"Bernie is a straight shooter," John d'Ambrosio said. "On the ice, he's a great technician about teaching J.P. how to play the position."
But Desrosiers also takes a bigger view of life, knowing that not everybody even makes it to college hockey, let alone the NHL, and he tries to apply that to real life as well.
Desrosiers has told the younger d'Ambrosio he has the budding skills to possibly play in Division III or the United States Hockey League, a Junior A amateur league in the Midwest.
"Recruiters might ask, 'Why should I recruit a kid from Florida?' " Desrosiers said.
He points to the Tampa Bay Lightning's Marty St. Louis, an undersized guy who was undrafted before he signed with Calgary.
"Overall, I think we've got a shot. If we can move kids from Florida into the mainstream — college and junior hockey — getting them up to play in leagues in the Northeast, that will attract more kids to play."