Interview of Oliver Janz, ice hockey agent
Français / English
- How did you become an ice hockey agent?
I got into the hockey circuit more and more. I have been working as a writer and scout and got in contact with players, coaches as well as managers. Since I have started to help some players, whom I've scouted or wrote about, I came in contact with more and more teams as well as agents. The opportunity to join the agent business came across - I took the chance. It fits my style pretty well; communication, the sense for talent, evaluating player levels, negotiations, helping guys as well as the hockey itself.
- Could you describe your usual workday ? What are your main tasks as an agent?
Each day I try to make the day longer as it is. Unfortunately each day as just 24 hours. Because of all the communication tools and the fact that happenings like injuries, releases etc. happen all the day - in the morning or also late at night - there won't be any "normal" days. If you have a smooth day, you made all your work you wanted to do, you are close to get some sleep: the phone rings, a player got injured, you have to look for a replacement. The next game is just two days ahead, so it needs to be an urgent replacement. Then you can say goodbye to the sleep.
A work day includes regular contact with teams like talking to coaches, getting a situation update from players, checking newspapers, internet sources, talking to new clients. Also negotiations, negotiations and negotiations. Career management as well as talking to possible sponsors who have interest in hockey as we are also covering this area. Setting up training camps like next years' Goalie Camp in Chicago and tournaments or exhibition games like the game from Dijon in Germany are also our responsibilites. The weekends are also often not free because of attending hockey games - and that's sometimes pretty hard for your family.
All in all, a workday is day where you work all the day and try to do the small things like shopping etc. besides and in the small free time you have. Sometimes you get tired or stressed, but if you see the results, it's worth to do it. And if you like your work - like I do - it's even more fun.
- Ice hockey players somtimes try to make their resumes better than reality. How do you relate at this?
If a client sends his resume to me, I'll check it out seriously. To sort out wrong informations as well as typos. Sources like eurohockey.net or hockeydb - as well as contacts to a lot of statisticans are very helpful to get all information you need.
Also, it does not look good if a player is trying to give me wrong information about his past years, what kind of character must he have? How should I be sure he will be honest to me in other things?
- How many players can a single agent reasonably take care of?
Hard to say as we are working in a group, where agents do have an area to take care of. This makes it possible to do a good job for the clients. If you would be a single agent and would have to be in regular contact with all European teams, you can't have too much players because the day only has 24 hours.
- What are your arguments to convince a club to recruit a player who never played pro before, as Scott Gordon (Dunkerque) and Oliver McGee (Montpellier)? Teams seldom are ready to take such a risk.
Most likely all teams are looking for unknown and not so much expensive players who want to get the foot into the door in Europe. Scott and Oliver are one of these players and they are players you can call diamonds. Take Oliver McGee as an example, he is unknown, but a defender with a very good size and has been a Power Play specialist. Montpellier's Pascal Ryser and Marc Fornaguera made their "homework" and checked him out, talked to references about him. They had the feeling he will be the player they need. And that's also a main factor when you get a player into a team: you know their needs and you know what they like and prefer - then I often know how they would feel about a player before they even looked at him.
- In Scott Gordon's case, it was announced he joined SHM agency only a few days before he signed in Dunkerque. He was probably already in contaact with them. How did this transfer happen?
He has been invited to a ECHL Tryout at a team, where I know the coach pretty well. He told me about Scott and that it would be hard for him to make the team because the NHL was about to have a lockout. And therefore, the coach was about to get AHL players send down to his team. As Scott mentioned to the coach he would love to play in Europe, we got in contact and took it from there. I contacted Dunkerque, they were interested and after some talks it worked out well for all sides. So we just posted the fact that we are working for Scott later than it originally happened. Also, there are clients who are not listed at our website www.schwartzhockey.dk.
- You personally cover following countries : Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Italy, France and Poland. Let's put DEL and NLA apart (but not Bundesliga or Oberliga). In which country do you think the teams have the most professional behaviour ? Could you rank these leagues according to the wages a player can hope for ? Which one has the most improved during the past years (in both levels)?
The Swiss NLB, the Austrian highest league as well as the German 2.Bundesliga are pretty good organized. Italy and France are close behind them. German Oberliga and then Poland following. As for the wages, I guess it's known that players can hope for the most in Switzerland. And after the NLB, it just depends on the team. There are high paying teams in each country and league - and they often pay much more than their opponents in the same league.
Who improved? The Italians a bit, but especially the French league and the German Bundesliga, they are getting more organized and therefore beeing able to spend a bit more in player salaries. But because of the EU rules, the time of huge salaries for just one or two super stars from North America is over. If a team has a lot of foreigners, they can't spend much money on just one, because the costs for a foreign player are pretty high if you look at the travel costs, the transfer card etc.
- In which country are there the most naive recruiters, and in which country are there the sharpest negociations?
The higher the level, the better the recruiting. Like some German or Swiss Managers contact more than ten people to find out more about a player (like playing style, character, family etc.), but there are also teams who won't do that much.
In addition, fans can see how a team recruited if there are too much players playing not as wanted - but only, if they know what the team wanted. Because the fans often can't understand why the team has an average player in the line-up. The simple reason for it is: compare the price with the performance. If you get an average player for low money, why not? Then you would have more money left for a high level guy.
- What do players usually think about French ice hockey beforehand? And afterwards?
Unfortunately, a lot of players don't know much about the level of hockey in France. Like nearly everyone in North America knows the DEL, the Nationalliga A, the Swedish Elitserien, the Finnish SM-Liiga - or they know at least someone who already played there. But if you ask a North American player about France, there are much players who don't know anything of the leagues and the levels there. It's up to me to let them know about the stuff in France - and this also means the players prefer to play in a league they know. Especially in this season, it's a bit hard for French teams to get what they want as the level is higher than the years before, but it's very hard to get better players interested in this league. Afterwards, players like at least the nice area and the athmosphere. That's what the most guys said so far.
- Some of your players (Steven Kaye for example) signed very late in French clubs. In such late moves, who is the more ready to make concessions? The club or the player?
Both. It depends on the situation. Some teams are waiting very long to sign players late, because they hope players go down with the price if the season is coming closer and they are still without a team. Otherwise, if the market isn't pretty full and the team really needs a player, the price could go higher and higher. About Steven, I guess you do understand that I won't reveal how the situation has been at the date he signed with Morzine.
- Has Mathias Karlsson been satisfied with his stay in Clermont-Ferrand? It was said there were two teams in one there, one for French players and one for foreign players and coach.
I can't really speak for him, but Mathias did not show much interest in return for a second year. He wanted a new challenge and a new place to play. If there have been two "teams", it's automatically the K.O. for a hockey team. In these days, you need team spirit to have a chance to win something. If your players don't stand together, they won't work for each other. Like last season in Germany, Frankfurt did not have the best players, but they had the best team - and won the championship.
- Tony Bergin (now Morzine) played in North American tier AA minor leagues and then came to play in Swedish division 1. It's an unusual move. How did it work?
It's like when everything works out. We are following all leagues, teams and levels on a daily basis, we know when a spot becomes available and we are aware of any player happenings worldwide. This also means: we can act immediately. In this case, my Swedish partner as well as myself had a spot open for a defender of Tony's level. The season already started, so it was pretty difficult to find exactly the player they needed. I got a call that Tony could be available soon as Bossier-Shreveport (his last team) had more veteran players than allowed. I've contacted him and he was very high on the idea to play outside of North America for the first time in his life. He has been loved by the fans at Bossier-Shreveport where he played for five years, but he was also ready for a new challenge.
The offer for Tony to play in Sweden has been pretty well, the team wanted to boost their defense to have a chance to promote to the next highest league by signing an outstanding defender. After some talks, he took their offer and it worked out very well for both sides. They started an awesome winning streak and were very close to promote to the Swedish Allsvenskan League. For sure, the Swedish Division 1 is not one of the high level leagues in Europe, but the best teams in the league can challenge the best French teams also. A huge number of native talents and a good addition of foreign players boost this league.
As for Morzine, Tony had to chose from a good number of offers from France, Germany and Sweden - he decided to play for the Pingouins because of several facts like the Swedish guys at this team or especially the nice area to play and live in - as well as the organization and Jerome Baud who believed in him since the first time we talked about Tony.
- Philippe de Rouville is available [NB: he's just signed in Val Pusteria, Italy, after this interview was made]. Why is such a player with past experience in high level leagues still looking for a club?
Philippe is currently working and skating in his hometown. He is waiting for a good offer, the ones he had weren't what he want. So he is - like many others - still waiting. There are two group of players in the "waiting area", some play somewhere else to stay in shape, others are working and skating at home like in a hockey school. There has been a General Manager called Bernie Johnston who said: "Good players wait long, very good players wait even longer". Sometimes, it works out.
- David Dostal is a client of your agency. He has played for years in the same team (Anglet). What can be your role for such a player?
David agreed to work with us via our Czech partner - and it's only for teams outside of France. This means he has an interest to see whats out there besides Anglet and it's our role to look and ask around to find out if there is anything.
- Have you already had French clients (except Czech-born David Dostal) ? Did some players ask information about your agency ?
Yes, we have/had other French clients and there are also talks with more French guys. Unfortunately, the number of high talented players isn't that big in France and the best players at the teams are often the foreigners. But there are also others, players like Cristobal Huet, who is currently playing awesome for Mannheim in Germany.
- Do you think you could help young Frenchmen to get a useful experience in an ice hockey country? Which destinations do you think they should try?
Of course. Countries like Sweden, Finland or also the huge number of teams in North America provide a better chance to develop than the French teams. They have more talents and therefore focus on "building" new top players - that means the staff of an average junior team in North America has more employees as a pro team in France. They have more practise sessions, more off-ice training and better opponents. If you are French and if you are a big talent - then you should consider playing outside of France. We do have the contacts in bantam, midget and junior leagues and teams in several countries like Germany, Sweden as well as Canada and the United States.
Interview by Marc Branchu (November 2004)
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