There's missing the entertainment and escape of watching a hockey game that fans are experiencing.

Then there are those whose job is to watch hockey games for their livelihood. At this point in a season, there would be many NHL scouts who would either be at showcases, college or junior hockey games. With all leagues shut down and showcases cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic, what are NHL scouts up to these days?

Brooks Bertsch is in his second season as a scout for the Los Angeles Kings and is primarily in charge of unsigned college free agents. Over the weekend, Bertsch would have been attending NCAA Division I regional hockey games. Instead, he was back home in Dubuque, Iowa.

"It is weird," said Bertsch, a 29-year-old who played hockey for St. Cloud State from 2011-15. "This time of year, you're used to going to all the different regionals and tracking the guys that you have targeted and you want to sign. Usually, our general manager (Rob Blake) and assistant general manager (Michael Futa) is out watching these guys down the stretch.

"Across all sports, whether it's college, junior, pro ... we're all used to this time of year when it gets exciting. It's springtime — Frozen Four, The Masters, NHL playoffs. Everything just kind of came to a halt. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but I think we'd all rather be playing, for sure."

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Brooks Bertsch (Courtesy of St. Cloud State University)
Brooks Bertsch (Courtesy of St. Cloud State University)

While Bertsch's typical office is usually a rink, he said that he has been keeping busy.

"Some of it is working on a list for next year for guys — we're always working ahead," Bertsch said. "College free agents for our development camp on top of our drafted players. With the (NHL) Draft getting postponed, we're postponing development camp as well. We're getting in touch with those kids and letting them know we're delaying it and keeping them up to date.

"It's also been good to see where college free agents are signing and double checking our reports to see what we thought of certain guys. Right now, it's been slow, though, with no games to watch."

One of the first big free agent signings for Bertsch was center Blake Lizotte, who signed with the Kings a year ago after finishing his sophomore season at St. Cloud State. Lizotte ended up signing with the Kings after talking to a number of NHL teams.

"Blake made my job easy as well as he did for every other scout, his coaches and his teammates at St. Cloud," Bertsch said. "You go to any game last year and every scout walks way saying, 'this No. 27 kid, I know he's small, but he's relentless.' Once you see that 3, 4, 5, 6 times, it isn't by accident. There's something more there that's driving this kid.

"That's where you start the process of recruiting and getting to know him as a person. He made my job easy. There wasn't any questions for me about doubting what I was seeing."

Bertsch admitted that his relationships at St. Cloud State helped in the recruiting process with Lizotte.

"Luckily, he was at my alma mater, whom I have a good relationship with," he said. "That made me feel comfortable in my first year (as a scout), talking to Blake and getting to know him.

"Last year, the plan was for me to get to know Blake and talk about ways in which we could come back to him after his junior year," Bertsch said. But nationally, Lizotte finished fifth in faceoff winning percentage (.620), sixth in plus/minus (plus-28), tied for 12th in assists (28) and tied for 15th in points (42).

"He accelerated his growth so quickly at the NCHC tournament that he felt he was ready to make the (pro) jump. I didn't want to pull him out of school. But we're here, we'll take you if you're ready. If you want to go back (to school), we'll fully support you going back. The early groundwork of getting to know him probably gave L.A. an advantage."

Bertsch, who is based in the Twin Cities, was around the Huskies a fair amount this season as well, keeping tabs on defenseman Jack Ahcan. Ahcan ended up signing a two-year deal with the Boston Bruins.

"We did a lot of work with Jack and I put in a lot of time with him," Bertsch said. "Right now, we felt that we needed some contract flexibility and there might not have been a fit there right away. I think what's great about our organization is that we don't really push anything that isn't a fit for the kid or for us.

"I give Boston a ton of credit for the work they've done with him with (player development coordinator Jamie) Langenbrunner, (scout) Scotty Fitzgerald and (scout) Brett Harkins. I know they put in their work and I don't want to take any credit away from the work they put into Jack.

"Jack had been to our development camp 2-3 years ago, so there was some familiarity and the relationship with me, being an alum. But at the end of the day, we felt it wasn't a fit for us. It's the general manager's decision and not mine. It's my responsibility to bring these players to the forefront of who I think could fit. It's up to the general manager to decide if we have room for a player like that."

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