Boy, do we love hidden sports talent stories! You know the ones, where a kid is put into a position he or she has never tried before, and pulls an amazing game from seemingly nowhere.
Meet Logan V. Last year he was brand new to hockey. As in, while many of his teammates had several years under their belts and were as steady on their skates as they are in sneakers on dry pavement, Logan was quite literally making his brave debut with blades strapped to his feet in a competitive game.
Knowing how quickly kids pick up the sport, his coach and staff were pleased to help Logan work on his skills. Week after week, the parents of Team 1 watched as this young man worked hard to improve, and they cheered every game when he was able to break up a play, move the puck forward, or back up his teammates.
It’s always a great thing to see a player develop. But there is nothing more astonishing than to discover that a player has a hidden talent.
Logan’s hidden talent … is for goalie.
Here’s how it went. One day, Logan told his coach that he wanted to give the old net a try. So of course, his coach strapped him into the pads and sent him out for a practice to see how he liked it. Turns out he liked it well enough. His coach, together with Logan’s parents, watched anxiously as Logan went out there into net the very next game.
What happened next defies expectation. Shot after shot, Logan made the save. He was down, he was up … he was the Great Wall of Clarington! The parents of Team 1 gasped in amazement. Could this really be their Logan out there?!
The game ended in a win for Team 1, and no one could deny that Logan was player of the game!
Since that time, Logan has decided that he wants to be a full-time goalie, and is improving even further with his new coach on Team 3.
It just goes to show, friends, that even though kids progress at different rates, they each have different talents. And sometimes they have hidden talents, talents we didn’t even think to consider might be there.
We think everyone can agree – it is nothing short of amazing when they pull those talents out and surprise the “puck” out of us!
On Wednesday, London Knights winger Max Jones was ejected from a game against the Owen Sound Attack when he threw a blindside hit to the head of forward Justin Brack. Media outlets reported on it, calling it a “vicious hit,” and there was no shortage of comments from the public. They were, unfortunately, polarising.
At the suggestion that Jones may have diminished his chances of becoming a first-round selection at the upcoming draft, Rico07 said, “How does he hurt his stock? If anything he moves up the rankings. The kid is 6’3” imagine what a few summers in the gym will do.” To which another respondent commented, “Hmm… it’s difficult to imagine from where this Jones kid learned to deliver such cheap shots.”
Max Jones delivers a vicious headshot then laughs as he gets ejected.
We know that contact is a part of the sport of hockey. It’s why players lug so much protective padding to and from the rink from the time they first step onto the ice at the Mini Watt age (and why there’s a boom in the minivan industry thanks to hockey families). But there’s a difference between clean hits that are permissible, and ones that can leave permanent, lasting damage to a player. We don’t need to bring up the career ending hit on Colorado Avalanche’s Steve Moore by Vancouver Canucks’ Todd Bertuzzi to illustrate that point.
A study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre’s Sports Medicine Concussion Program recently concluded that more than 40 percent of concussions in youth hockey are the direct result of illegal hits.
Forty percent! That’s a staggering figure. More worryingly, younger players are at a higher risk.
Anthony Kontos, lead author for the Pittsburgh study, suggested that training kids to obey the rules and enforcing penalties may reduce the number of concussions. He says, “Better enforcement of existing penalties for illegal hits – especially those from behind when players are less able to protect themselves – may help to limit concussions in youth ice hockey.”
It may. But a major contributing factor, we’d argue, is the fact that our youth players are watching illegal hits like the Max Jones one this past week on television. Just about every kid who plays youth hockey dreams of playing for the NHL one day. The players they see on TV are their role models, and their actions are, for better or worse, emulated on the ice at all age groups.
In the OHL, body contact isn’t introduced as an acceptable play until Peewee, and with the 2013-2014 season, body checking was moved back an age-group to Bantam. According to the OHL website, “Education will remain a priority focusing on the 4-Step Checking Progression, which begins the first time a young player steps on the ice. This progression emphasizes the practice of positioning, angling and stick checks followed by contact Confidence and Body Contact which is taught at the later stages of athlete development.”
So while penalties may reduce the number and severity of illegal hits, it’s really up to coaches, parents and the general youth hockey community to explain to these young players the consequences of illegal hits and discourage them from being thrown on the ice at the local house league game. Just like we’re teaching our children to be media savvy with the prevalence of age-inappropriate imagery and messaging, we hockey-loving adults need our young players to be able to comprehend what goes on during those televised professional and semi-professional games (legal, appropriate or otherwise), and how it’s not appropriate for youth play.
Forty percent is a frightening number. With all the benefits we know youth hockey offers, let’s do our part to make sure that they are not outweighed by the risks.
This was a question asked by the Toronto Star in a 2013 article which addressed the cost of minor hockey in Canada, and the statistical outlook for kids who hope to make it to the NHL.
Being a recreational hockey organization, our initial response was a resounding YES! For most of us who enjoyed a hockey childhood, we remember cold winter days spent on the pond until it got so dark we couldn’t see the puck anymore. We remember the smell of the ice first thing in the morning for those early games, and that twenty-kid pileup on the goalie after a well-deserved win.
Is minor hockey worth it … seriously?? [Insert snort of derision here]
However, with such a provocative question put forth by the Star, we naturally wanted to find out what their opinion was. So we read the full article …
Ahhh, okay. They’re looking specifically at minor hockey, as opposed to our recreational type of program here at the CRHL. And the writer does make some fair points with regards to expense, demographics, and margins of success — all points which don’t apply to us in quite the same way.
We did, however, find one suggestion particularly intriguing. The Star argues that with such a heavy focus on regimented, intensive training, minor hockey associations throughout Canada are producing players who are less creative than their forbears.
Well that’s quite a glove slap to minor hockey! But one the Star, and many other industry experts, defend with statistics and live examples. More than simply substantiating such an accusation, they go so far as to offer a solution to this alleged tangible problem. And that solution is …
Unstructured, unregimented, unscripted … shinny??
Yes, shinny. Apparently this free skate style of hockey for the sake of the game alone offers something that intense training cannot. According to the Massachusetts Hockey association (Mass), when there is “freedom from clocks and walls and officials and coaches and whistles and lines … unrivaled joy beckons. There is also a by-product from this lack of structure: Player development for young skaters.” Mass points to Roger Grillo, a regional manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model, whom they quote as arguing that creativity is a major part of developing high-end players.
Triple-A coaches far and wide are beginning to recognize this shift in player development also. The star reports one coach as saying, “Unlike Guy Lafleur or Wayne Gretzky, [players today haven’t] logged thousands of hours playing shinny. Instead they log thousands of hours in minivans; a game that can be a three-hour commitment when factoring in commute times and dressing time, but it only yields 10-17 minutes of ice time for the player.”
Interesting … and not inaccurate, when one stops to think about it. Ken Dryden, in his book The Game, writes that, “It is in free time that the special player develops, not in the competitive expedience of games, in hour-long practices … in mechanical devotion to packaged, processed, coaching-manual, hockey-school skills.”
To further this suggestion, there is an interesting anecdote on the Herb Brooks Foundation website:
A generation ago, Johnson High School in St. Paul was a Minnesota hockey powerhouse … Its success wasn’t due to better coaching, facilities, or innate athletic ability of East Side kids. Instead, it was the countless hours of unstructured practice by the Phalen Park rink rats. Hockey was part of the culture on the St. Paul’s East Side. Kids went to the rink/pond to meet their friends and have fun playing hockey. The game belonged to them.
As a recreational hockey association, of course the CRHL firmly believes that hockey practice, with regimented drills and a focus on skills, is an essential part of hockey development. But it’s only a part. With Canada being so strong on hockey culture, it’s safe to say that most of us can agree a little shinny wouldn’t go amiss. In between the early morning power skating, the practices, the games and the tournaments, perhaps we do need to remember to carve out some time for our kids to get out there on a pond, or a free rink, and just have at it.
If you think kids’ recreational sports are any less competitive than their adult versions, think again. That goes double for hockey! There’s nothing like that feeling you get when you step out onto the ice at the start of every game. It’s a feeling that gets you at any age, and it’s one of the best things about hockey.
Unfortunately it can also be one of the most dangerous … if you forget to pay attention to safety.
With the hockey season just around the corner, we think it’s important to remind all of our parents and players that injuries are preventable. Here are a few tips on how you can prevent and avoid injury. For parents with kids in sports other than hockey, these tips are adaptable to any sport.
Listen to your injuries
Sometimes it’s tough to put your hand up and say you’re injured. Our players love the game of hockey, they love their teams, and they love their coaches. It might be easy to think you’re letting your team down if you don’t play. But staying in the game now and playing injured will only take you out of the game for longer when that injury becomes serious. Parents, listen to your kids. If they say something hurts, investigate the whats, whens and hows. Your kids are still growing, their bones are still forming, and an untreated injury at this stage can lead to long-term consequences. Let your kids know it’s okay to rest their bodies. For our older players that might think playing through an injury is better than missing a game, just remember that missing one game is far better than missing the entire season.
Play by the rules
Hockey is one of Clarington’s best-loved traditions. We’re home to the great Oshawa Generals, after all. Game after game, our recreational league players see their hockey heroes on the ice – playing by a very different set of rules than we have. Depending on what level you or your children play at, they might not be allowed to check, even though they see their favourite professional players doing the same thing. Our rules on what players can and can’t do are there for a reason: to protect them. If your child is given a penalty for doing something that’s against the rules, talk to them. Explain why they can’t do that. It’s to prevent them and their fellow players from getting hurt.
Learn the proper technique
Hockey is a technique-oriented sport. Not only do you need to know how to carry the puck, stick handle, challenge and work as a team, you have to do it all with a pair of razor-sharp blades stuck on your feet. Technique in any sport is essential – especially in hockey. With the proper technique, you are on your way to making yourself a force to be reckoned with. You also minimize your risk of injury. Players, pay attention to your coaches at practice when they’re instructing you on technique. Parents, if you’re able, help your child by listening to the coach as well, and then (if feasible) give your child the opportunity to practice what they learned at public skates and stick and puck sessions.
Don’t forget to warm up and stretch before practices and games
When their blood is pumping just before the game, stretching and warmups are probably the last thing on your child’s mind. But all the pros do it. Having limber muscles is a must for preventing injury. If you have some time before you leave the house, sit down with your child and do some simple leg, arm, and torso stretches. Warm up a bit by having them jog in place. Do jumping jacks. Or just walk around the block. Here is a guide to some basic hockey stretches.
Wear proper and well-fitting equipment
At Clarington Thunder, regulated equipment is mandatory. This is not just our rule, it’s mandated by the Ontario Minor Hockey Association and Hockey Canada. Not every sport regulates equipment, however. Whatever sport your child plays, equipment is always important. And just because we mandate our equipment in hockey, doesn’t mean our players are automatically injury-proof. Parents, you need to make sure your child’s equipment fits properly. When buying their gear, choose a reputable store that has knowledgeable staff on hand to help you select the proper size. You can also search online for tips on what to look for if your child’s helmet, shin pads, mouth guard, or any other piece of equipment is either too big or too small. If you’re still not sure, ask your coach. Equipment doesn’t just prevent injuries – proper equipment does.