When does it ever end? Short answer: It doesn’t. We have hockey here, we have hockey there. We have hockey in the fall, we have hockey in the winter, we have hockey in the spring and yes, we have hockey in the summer. We can’t get away from hockey even if we want to.
We have house league hockey. We have under this and under that levels of rep hockey starting at nine and 10 years old on up to under 16 and under 18 levels of the game. And in Sault Ste. Marie, all of the reps teams are called the Soo Jr. Greyhounds. (Which, to me, just adds to the cluster and the confusion of who is who.) Anyway, eventually, for more than a few, there will be junior A hockey to play. And for way, way, way fewer, there will be a major junior hockey career.
Hockey. Hockey. Hockey. More hockey. No wonder so many municipalities refer to themselves as hockey towns. Then we have politics mixed with hockey.
In Sault Ste. Marie, as I am certain is the case in just about every hockey town in Ontario, there is a fair share of politics. Doesn’t seem to matter what town we talk about or hear about it, there are politics. And there is no use in going on and on about what is fair and what is unfair, there have been politics at the minor hockey level — and beyond — for as long as I can remember. And as a journalist, I have been writing and talking hockey since 1975. So, safe to say that I have been around the block more than a few times and been witness to hockey politics and some of the corruption that goes with it.
Politics aside, there is a lot to like about the game, even if there are parents out there who are convinced that their lad is eventually ticketed for the Ontario Hockey League or the National Hockey League, regardless of the enormous odds that say otherwise. What there is to like about minor hockey is the friendships that are made, not only among players but parents as well. So, in other words, the healthy social aspect. What there is also to like about minor hockey are the community minded folks who step up and sponsor teams and player jerseys.
Sadly, there is a lot to not like about minor hockey. Cliques are developed. The cost for parents to have their son or daughter on an AA and AAA rep team can be downright unaffordable for some. And what really bothers me is that when a minor hockey player as young as 14 or 15 has to go out of town to play because opportunities in their hometown have been taken away in an unfair way. It is okay to leave town on your own. It is not okay to be forced to leave town because your kid was dealt a bad hand by a coach or a team with a personal agenda.
What is also bothersome is the insistence of some coaches that their players do not play another sport in the summer so as to fully concentrate on hockey. Even a retired National Hockey League superstar and coach like Craig Hartsburg of Sault Ste. Marie is of the notion that kids should take a break from the game during the off season and play other sports. Why not take two or three months away from hockey, recharge and stay fit and focused by playing baseball or soccer? Why not listen to a hockey legend like Hartsburg? Geez.
At any rate, I am sure that the good of the game is at least equal to the bad of it. At least I think so. And to be clear, there is so much good that can — and has — come out of relationships that are made in the game and all of the positive development that has taken place.
On the flip side of good there is the disgraceful downer that the governing body of Hockey Canada has become. Above all else, Hockey Canada needs to be cleaned up, new people need to be properly appointed — and the trash needs to be disposed of.
Talk about Hockey Canada having become a national disgrace of the game that so many of us love. When the Prime Minister of Canada is openly critical of the actions of Hockey Canada then we should all have a good idea that a lot is wrong with a game that parents and sponsors pay big bucks for the kids to play. I could go on and on about Hockey Canada but I won’t, at least for now. I am hopeful that those who have done others wrong will be removed from having anything to do with the game.
Not to end this column on a down note, though.
Personally, I love hockey, especially at the minor and junior levels. I have family members and friends who are parents, grand parents and aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters of hockey players and hockey coaches. There are so many good people in the game. There are so many good moments. To me, there is nothing better than watching family members and kids of friends play hockey, even if they all look the same in those Jr. Greyhound uniforms.
And of course as a scribe who is paid to write about hockey, be it at the minor, junior A, major junior and college levels — and especially as it relates to Northern Ontario — there is no better job for one to have, especially at age 70. Give me the young kids in minor hockey and the players and teams of the Northern Ontario Hockey Association, the Great North Under 18 Hockey League, the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League and the Superior International Jr. Hockey League — not to mention the Sault College Cougars — to write about and my love for the amateur game is as furthermost and outmost as it gets.
I get it that in junior hockey, the off season is when a lot of the off ice work by general managers has to be done ahead of the next season. I get all of that. But as for the on-ice tryouts and the mandatory camps in minor hockey — maybe the kids can have the summer off and take a break from the game and play some sandlot baseball or soccer?
Sheesh. We have minor hockey coaches out there who need to give their heads a shake and realize that they are not the second coming of Scotty Bowman or Ted Nolan or Craig Hartsburg or Paul Maurice. And that they never will be. We have associations out there who need to be reeled in and told that the game is not about them.
But back to the positive. Any hockey day can be a good day, done right.