The state of minor hockey in Sault Ste. Marie serves as an ongoing and almost routine basis for banter among those with any sort of link or interest in its well being.
To be sure, a common conclusion is that Sault Ste. Marie is not developing or advancing near the number of players for higher levels of play than it did just a few short years ago.
By comparison, it was just a few short years ago that North Bay was clearly the weak side among the so-called big three Northern Ontario hockey towns that also include Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury.
Not any more.
As Sault Ste. Marie has seen its status decline at the minor and major bantam and minor and major midget age levels, the Gateway City has become a jewel through the revamping and restructuring of its North Bay and District Trappers Hockey Association.
In fact, one of Sault Ste. Marie’s top minor midget aged players, forward David Campbell, opted to leave home to play in North Bay this season. And the fact that Campbell leads the minor midget North Bay Trappers of the Great North Midget Hockey League with 13 goals in 11 games thus far this season is a tad embarrassing — and if it isn’t, it should be — to the Sault Major Hockey Association.
It is one thing for a player from Sault Ste. Marie to want to leave home to play in the Greater Toronto Hockey League as left winger Nick Porco did at age 14 before becoming a first round pick (fourth overall) of the Saginaw Spirit at the 2017 Ontario Hockey League priority selections draft.
But it is an entirely different matter for a youngster like Campbell to leave the Sault Major Hockey Association for a North Bay rep program that only a few years ago was a regional and provincial laughingstock.
Just looking at the aforementioned Great North Midget Hockey League, the records of the two Sault Ste. Marie teams and the two North Bay teams are stark in their contrast.
The major midget North Bay Trappers have a record of 14-3-1. The major midget Soo Greyhounds have a record of 8-8-3.
The minor midget North Bay Trappers have a record of 7-4-0. The minor midget Soo Thunderbirds have a record of 1-8-3.
Then there is the 2017 OHL priority selections draft at which North Bay had five players selected compared to only one Soo skater.
Considering that Sault Ste. Marie has a much bigger population to draw from than North Bay, one word immediately comes to mind when comparing the minor and major midget hockey programs from both towns: Yikes.
That is not to say that all is on the down side as it pertains to minor hockey in Sault Ste. Marie. There are some encouraging signs from within the Sault Major Hockey Association and for that matter, the Soo Pee Wee Hockey League.
But the common complaint or refrain — take your choice of word — that I hear is the major issue of what is wrong with minor hockey in Sault Ste. Marie starts with executive members who choose to, and are allowed to, carry on with their own agendas at the expense of player development and with little regard for parental input or concern.
I am not sure why certain people involve themselves in minor hockey. I am not sure why certain self-absorbed, self-serving people put their adult egos ahead of young hockey players and their parents. You know, the parents who are shelling out considerable cash to put their kids into and through the Sault Ste. Marie minor hockey system.
Again, there is some good going on within the Sault Ste. Marie youth hockey scene. But in comparison to the once-downtrodden North Bay minor hockey program, the once-vaunted minor hockey program in Sault Ste. Marie comes up short on the overall big picture.
As always, there are some who will take issue with what is being said and written. As always, there are some who have an issue with hearing the truth.
But so be it.
My hearing has not failed me, at least not yet. I hear what I hear from various factions and a lot of what I hear is head shaking and unsettling.
To be honest, I would much rather be writing about the successes of the minor hockey teams and associations of Sault Ste. Marie and the player development and advancement that would go with it.
But I hear what I hear. And I see what I see.
Still, I will continue to try to find positive among the negative and focus on as many players as I can, something that I have aspired to do in the 42-plus years that I have been writing and talking hockey.
For instance, I will write about a small goalie with huge potential such as Noah Zeppa of the Soo minor midgets. As I will write about an up and coming forward such as Ty Zachary of the Soo minor midgets who overcame two benign tumours in his leg to return to competitive hockey after a year away from it.
Just as I was quick to post it when the Soo minor midgets stunned the North Bay major midgets in an epic upset from this past weekend.
I will go out of my way to contact OHL general managers and scouts to ask that they at least give a serious look and consideration to a player who I feel is worthy of being a potential draft pick.
I will continue to go on the weekly Hockey North Show that I host on radio station ESPN 1400 to “talk up” local players and their aspirations.
Just as I will continue to try to promote hockey in general and players in particular as they pertain to northern Ontario and towns such as Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay, Sudbury, Timmins, Kapuskasing, Hearst et al.
But I can not and I will not pretend that all is well and that all are on board towards the betterment of minor hockey in Sault Ste. Marie.
I am not going to get into naming names and singling out those individuals who have allegedly played a detrimental role in regards to the current state of minor hockey in Sault Ste. Marie.
But I will resort to an old saying which goes something like this: If you are not part of the solution then chances are you are part of the problem.
In other words, step aside and give the game back to the kids.