We are just about halfway through hockey season here in Sault Ste. Marie and without getting into specifics, there have been positives and negatives that have gone on.
Some teams and kids have had a lot of fun and success while some have have had the opposite.
My concern is not just in wins and losses or how many goals someone has scored. Rather, why can’t we be consistent in getting our kids to love the game and love coming to the rink?
That is probably the million dollar question — and not just here in Sault Ste Marie.
I was Sudbury recently for the Silver Stick Hockey Tournament and listened to some people there — same story, different city.
I don’t believe there is a real easy answer to all our issues but I do think we can put together a better program for our kids that will help them develop as people and players and let them enjoy the game and love coming to the rink.
First off, it will take some real work and commitment by our organizations to get kids to want to love the game. We need to put a program together so parents know what they are getting for their money from the age of four until they are done at the midget age.
The program should have a solid plan for each age group and level that they play at. It should be a plan that is about development both on and off the ice. It is a plan that should be monitored on a daily basis.
Practice plans and development plans need to be consistent and coaches need to be helped and taught to work within the plan every time they are at the rink.
To get to this we need to think outside the box and have the courage to change in how we do things. I am not just talking about the AA or AAA levels. House leagues and A teams should be a focus as well.
In some bigger cities in southern Ontario and in the United States, there are people who are running these organizations as their jobs. Yes, they are paid!
It is time we take a look at what we are doing and change.
Starting in the Soo Pee Wee Hockey League — what does a kid get for his parents money? Certain amount of ice time and a jersey! Can’t guarantee development on or off the ice? There has to be a plan for both.
I believe the first step would be for the Soo Pee Wee Hockey League to hire a full time hockey operations director. His job would be to put together a hockey plan for every age and level. Also, monitor practice plans, help coach the mentor ship program with more seminars on and off ice and establish an off ice program (KBX is a great facility that is under utilized.)
Development would be the focus of the hockey operations director. (If kids get better at any thing, they like to do it more.)
It starts at Timbits … we need a better start for kids. It is their foundation years.
There are people who could run these initiation years and not just a dad who volunteers but has no real experience. Thank goodness those dads do, though!
As our kids go through the program they will grow as people and players and want to continue if there is a plan and a focus for them. Parents know they are paying for more than ice time and a jersey, which then they can back off and enjoy the process!
This plan should be continued through the Sault Major Hockey Association.
You know, we have some great people volunteering but we need to help them with a plan and preparation. There has to be collaboration between the SPWHL and SMHA — it is better now but it can be even better in having a hockey vision in the Soo.
We have some great resources in the Soo. Let’s think outside the box and make the program a real program.
There would be some good people who would want to do this full time — and it is a full time job!
I would be willing to volunteer to help. I have been helping coaches for the last year and half as a volunteer and will continue to, but there is a real need to hire a full time director to run the hockey programs in the Soo.
Put egos aside and let the director do his job. It is the reality of today’s game.
Let’s not stay the same, let’s be proactive.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Retired National Hockey League player and coach Craig Hartsburg is a Sault Ste. Marie area resident. Hartsburg retired from the game in 2016 after an eventful 27-year coaching career that included 19 seasons in the NHL and successful stints in the Ontario Hockey League and Western Hockey League. As a player, Hartsburg had a world-class career as an all-star defenseman with both the Soo Greyhounds of the OHL and the erstwhile Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He was captain of the Greyhounds for two of his three OHL seasons and was captain of the North Stars for seven of his 10 NHL seasons.