Hockey may be played on ice but much of what makes — or breaks — the game happens away from it.
As in the board rooms, where white-collar decisions are made.
As in the corners of the stands in cold arenas, where scouts huddle to decide a young kid’s future.
Then there is the ice itself, where practices are held and games are played.
Where the minor hockey coaches are entrusted with the development of players in their formative years.
Where the minor hockey executives can shape or bend a player’s future depending on the coaches they choose and the level of outside competition that the young kids are exposed to.
So much goes in and out of the game that players and their parents have no control over.
So much depends on being in the right place on the right team and playing for the right coach at the right time.
So much depends on money to spend — whether the parents can afford it so their kids can play and whether the fans and advertisers support a team so it can exist.
Ah, grassroots hockey.
Fun but no fun.
Good intentions that don’t end well.
Hearts that are big and hearts that are broken.
Dreams that come true but hopes that are dashed.
Pucks and politics that don’t mix.
And questions that must be asked — and answered.
Like in Sault Ste. Marie, for example.
Like, what has happened to the minor hockey system in the Soo?
It wasn’t that long ago in a given year of the Ontario Hockey League draft that it was a given that five or six players from the Soo would be selected in the top five or six rounds.
But the decline in recent time is rather troubling.
Two years ago, centre Blake Speers was the only high pick from the Soo minor hockey system, a first-round selection of the Soo Greyhounds.
Last year, centre Zack Dorval was the only high pick from the Soo minor hockey system, a second-round selection of the Kingston Frontenacs. (But the Soo can only take partial credit for Dorval, who played just one season here after moving from the northeastern Ontario town of Hearst.)
At this year’s OHL draft, which was held on Saturday, the highest a player from the Soo went was in the sixth round. Three others followed — in the eighth, ninth and 15th (and final) rounds.
What has happened to minor hockey development in the Soo?
What are we doing wrong here?
Who has the answers?
They are questions that I can’t answer.
But some people need to answer them.
Some people need to look in the hockey dictionary and study the formula for development.
Some people need to shape up before parents ship their kids out.