Well if you read The Telegram sports section I am sure that you have noticed the running articles on Newfoundlanders presently in the NHL you would be lead to believe that we have made great strides. However, to date this year we have had a record 7 players from NL play in the NHL; Dan Cleary, Ryan Clowe, Adam Pardy, Michael Ryder, Luke Adam, Teddy Purcell and Colin Greening combined with Darren Langdon, John Slaney and Jason King are the only players from this province to have played there in the past decade, and they have all represented our province with great pride and dignity.
From the outside looking in, you may think wow, we are doing so well here in NL, we have had 10 players in the league the past 10 years. Well if you look at the glass as being half full and not have empty then yes, you are correct! We currently represent 1.5% of the players in the NHL and that is with the additions of Adams and Greening in the equation. My question here and it always has been is WHY?
A few decades ago I can clearly understand the reasoning behind our low numbers because we were located so far east and the transportations options that are readily available today just weren’t present back then and it was very difficult to be seen by professional teams and scouts. However, today it is very easy to visit NL or see our players compete at the next level because we now attend so many tournaments on the mainland and in the states
When I first played in the QMJHL back in 1987 there were about 12 of us that were drafted into the league at the same time and we were joining two other fellow NL’ers who had competed in the league the year before. I also believe that at that time there were a few others playing in the OHL; Darryl Williams, Steve Locke, Darren Colbourne, John Slaney and Terry Ryan was our lone representative in the WHL, however that number could be off a bit as my memory just isn’t quite the same after all these years!
By the end of training camp in the QMJHL, I was the only player left in the league from NL and to my surprise this didn’t come as a shock to any coaches or GM’s in the league. There was a stigma attached to players recruited from NL and thus this made many teams hesitant on selecting players from here because it is a big investment. To draft a player from here, a lot of time and money is spent on evaluating players during the winter, the minor hockey association that they came from has to be compensated by the QMJHL team and then there is flights and equipment, so it all adds up to a nice dollar at the end of the day.
The QMJHL came east looking for players because we have had a long reputation as being very hardnosed, aggressive, determined and team players that were not in abundance in Quebec. You knew that you were out of your league the first time you stepped on the ice with those high flying Frenchmen, geez, I couldn’t stop or cross-over on both sides at that point of my career and some may argue that I never ever could either, but it was feast or famine and I wasn’t going to starve! However, we were also known as being a risk because hardly any of the players that went away stayed a full year. They would get so home sick and unhappy that they would just pack it in and head home. Sure back then it was a lot harder to adapt to the much faster and better competition than we were all accustomed to in NL, but damn, you were being given the chance of a lifetime. I can understand that completely, because I too was ready to pack it in and head back home after a very difficult first few weeks but ended up staying in the end. I, like many other NL’ers come from very close knit communities and families and we just weren’t prepared to move out on our own at such a young age.
That was then and this is now. Back in the 80’s we only played about 20-30 games a year compared to close to a 100 a year played by our top midget teams in the province today. Not only do they play on their respective teams, but many of them that are fortunate enough also compete on independent travel teams and practice all year round. The question I ask then is why our numbers are not any higher today than they were years ago. Parents spend 1000’s of dollars to allow their kids the opportunity to play on these teams and still we are no more successful today. I was sitting in the food court at the mall the other day and a gentleman recognized and sat down to have a chat. He was asking questions about his son and what I thought of a few different things but to make a long story short, he explained to me how he has to work a second night job on top of his regular 9-5 just so that his son can afford to compete and play at the highest possible level in Midget on the province. A place where they can develop and mature into the budding superstars and go on to fame and fortune, well there is a lot more development needed besides on ice skills to get there and this is what we should be focusing on because the rest just isn’t cutting it right now.
Now, if you happen to get a chance to check the scores of the provincial play downs right now you would be shocked. Last weekend, one of the St. John’s teams beat the Western NL entry 10-0 and 13-2 I believe which shows you just where we stand in terms of our level of competition. How can HNL just sit back and allow this to happen as it has for years now. Why not invest some of your money into player development right across the island instead of wasting it on the HNL council and flying to useless meetings and conferences. Just look at a few months ago for the 75th Anniversary of HNL, we had a big meeting at the old offices in St. John’s or the celebrity hockey game in Torbay and plastered it all over the media outlets, come on guys, who is this suppose to be about anyways?
So can you tell me why parents are dishing out all of this money to groups and teams if we are no better off than before? Is it all just in the heads of the parents to try and get “Johnny” to the NHL because if it is, it just isn’t working believe me, stats don’t lie, or have these travel teams and hockey schools just marketed their product so good that every child and parent believes that it is the only way to get “Johnny” on the All-Star team because believe me, many parents believe this and it is a crying shame. There must be some way to work together on a common purpose here and give everyone equal opportunity and to provide each player with the necessary skill sets to advance to the next level if they so desire. Don’t try and tell me that every player has an equal opportunity because they don’t, there are many kids in this province that just don’t have the financial means to play for these teams because the registration is just so high.
At the end of the day, yes there are more and more players leaving the province to play college, Major Jr, Tier II and even those that spend 10,000’s of dollars to pay for prep school for their child, where they are getting a much inferior education than ours in Canada. The question that needs to be asked though is are they any better off at the end of the day?
I lay the blame solely on the shoulders of HNL because they just sit back and watch. Implement a program to develop everyone that so desires, don’t just wait for Hockey Canada to come down and put off a make shift weekend camp being ran by 1 rep from Hockey Canada and assisted by a dozen or so local players. Let’s begin to develop our kids at home and keep them home for as long as they can. Erase any financial burdens for our Major Midget programs and those parents that dole out 1000’s every year with the belief that it’s going to benefit “Johnny” next spring when try-outs are on. If our present day philosophy is suppose to be working, then guess what, you are dead wrong!
Now, I am not trying to be the eternal pessimist here, I am just telling it the way I see it, nor am I the authority on the best route or way to get to the next level or to tell you what motivates you at all or how to bring your child through the minor hockey system, but I do know one thing for sure, the way that we are doing things today in this province just isn’t the way believe me!