Is Fighting Losing its Place in Hockey?

#77195081 / On the back of recent trends of NHL teams opting not to employ fourth line enforcers, the debate about whether fighting serves a purpose in today’s game reaches new heights. With many teams opting to dress more serviceable fourth line players, it appears that the days of the gunslinger in hockey may be coming to an end. I’m not talking about complete extinction, but it seems there is no longer much use for the 4-minute-a-night face-puncher in the new, evolving game of hockey. This article has been a particularly tough one for me based on the fact that I grew up in the game of hockey during the heyday of the celebrated goon. I grew up bobbing and weaving while watching Stu “The Grim Reaper” Grimson, Donald Brashear, and Tony Twist run amok. These were true enforcers, in every sense of the word. I watched Don Cherry’s Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em religiously and I wasn’t one of the “Teetotalers” who went away at the end when the fights came on. I loved watching hockey fights and I still do. Having been baptized into hockey during the era of the hired gun, it took me a lot of years to be able to remove myself from the culture and really examine fighting in hockey for what it is. As a former minor leaguer, I had a few scraps. I wasn’t great at it, but it was something that I had to do to ensure I had a place Continue Reading →

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6 Tips for a Better Healthy Scratch Experience

There is no nice way to put it, being a healthy scratch sucks. Getting the tap from the coach after pregame skate to tell you that you won’t be in the lineup is like getting kicked in the balls. Walking into the room the day before a game and seeing your name penciled in on the “Donut Line” (wingers with no center) or trying to jump into drills in practice as the seventh defenceman, is even worse. The worst part about it is that you still have to show up, put on a brave smile and pretend that you’re happy to be there, doing whatever you can to help the team. The first time I experienced the “kick in the balls” was in the NCAA. It was a Friday morning, right after a drill during the pre-game skate. Coach pulled me aside and said, “Kid, you aren’t going tonight. Keep your head up and work hard and we’ll try to get you back in there tomorrow.” It was a brutal feeling. Part of me wanted to smash my stick into a million pieces and part of me wanted to grovel at his skates and plead: “Please, please, please, Coach, put me in, put me in, I will do anything! I will take better angles, finish checks and pay more attention in our end. I’ll even block shots, I swear, I will!”  Here are 6 tips to help make your life as a healthy scratch more tolerable:   1)  Invest in Continue Reading →

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Less Games, More Practices Key to Kick-Starting Development in Canadian Minor Hockey

A debate in hockey today that is like a pesky mosquito focuses on the claim that Canada, as hockey’s best development factory, is starting to deteriorate. Personally, I believe more credit should be given to other nations who have made major developmental strides in hockey, but I do agree Canada could be doing more to stay on top. Where I do feel Canadian hockey is lagging, is in developmental efficiency, and I feel this is directly linked to developmental focus—specifically, practice-to-game ratio. One of the main complaints I hear from parents and coaches is that there isn’t enough time or resources to practice the way they know they should be. Coaches say: “That theory is nice, but I only get 2 practices a week with these kids and we have to get ready for 2 to 3 games on the weekends. I need to focus on systems and get the systems down with these kids or else we’re going to get waxed.” In this one sentence, this coach has acknowledged that they don’t have enough time to focus on development and that priority is given to winning. Here are 4 Practice-to-Game Ratio-related issues in the current youth hockey system in Canada and how they directly affect development:   1) Cost The cost to put a kid through a season of AAA hockey in Canada now runs a family upwards of $11,000 to $15,000 a year. This figure alone, automatically drastically reduces the overall number of kids who can participate at Continue Reading →

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Phil Kessel’s a Milk Bag and That’s OK

#478443639 / Much ado has recently been made over Phil Kessel’s seemingly low “Give-a-Shit Meter” reading.  The milk bag physique, reports of lazy summers spent fishing, playing poker and golfing, and the fact that views training camp and pre-season as a way to get back into game shape all suggest that he’s resistant and rebellious.  30 years ago, Kessel would have been following the norm, but now—in the age of the VO2 max, wingate, and body fat tests—he is mocking the system. Now we all know that staying in shape during the off-season is both important and beneficial.  All you have to do is watch an NHL game from 1975, followed by a game from 2013 and anyone can see that the players now are bigger, stronger and faster.  But, how crucial is it for a player like Phil Kessel to bust his ass all summer to look like Georges St. Pierre?  Would Kessel’s 40 goals per year turn into 50 or 60?  Would he suddenly go from being great to legendary?  There is really only one way to find out, but the odds of that happening anytime soon is likely slim to none; at least not while Kessel is still performing like an elite level superstar. The question still lingers: Should Kessel be doing more in the off-season to elevate his game?  My response to this question is to answer a question with another question: “Why?”  Why should Phil Kessel do anything differently?  He’s an explosive skater with Continue Reading →

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Why Playing Experience Matters in Coaching

While playing hockey at high levels doesn’t mean you will make a great coach, it certainly is an invaluable prerequisite. Some say that’s not true, and that coaching has nothing to do with having played hockey and everything to do with being able to mentor, teach and implement a system. These same people point to the failures of hockey’s greatest player, Wayne Gretzky, during his tenure behind the bench with the Phoenix Coyotes and say: “See! He couldn’t do it and he’s the greatest player ever.” They also point to accomplished coaches like Ken Hitchcock and say: “Hitchcock never played beyond minor hockey and look at what he’s done.” Looking at these two scenarios, it is true that great players don’t always translate into great coaches. For someone like Gretzky, who was so naturally talented, it may be difficult to explain to others how to become great. It may also be difficult for someone of Gretzky’s ilk to relate to a player who is an up-and-down role player, having never really experienced any adversity in their career as a player. And looking at Hitchcock, sometimes brilliant students of the game are able to expand that knowledge and transfer it into coaching and leading others. One of the main duties of a coach in hockey is to create and maintain a strong culture. A major component to creating a strong culture is trust and respect. In the simplest form, this translates into: “Do you trust this person to lead you and Continue Reading →

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Beauty Buckets from the Last 40 Years in Hockey

 1.  The Gretzky Jofa      Wayne Gretzky could have worn a pompadour and it would have been cool. That being said, despite being no more protective than a baseball cap, the Jofa 235 is a classic. It’s like the Hell’s Angels bowl helmet of hockey.     2.  Goring’s Diaper   I had a teacher once that used to wear this helmet out to pick up hockey. I offered him everything from cash to indentured servitude, to no avail. The Cooper SK-10 is definitely a cult classic.     3.  Moose’s Winwell      Very similar to “The Beetle”, Mark Messier made this Winwell Model a hit. When you have a hookup list that may or may not include Madonna and Tyra Banks, you can wear whatever the hell you want.      4.  The XL7           The Cooper XL7, worn here by Mario Lemieux during his QMJHL days, was a big hit when I was a kid starting out in hockey. My early childhood hero, Cru Jones from the BMX cult classic movie “Rad”, rocked it magnificently on Helltrack. This is just one of many upcoming instances where cool movie characters wear hockey helmets.     5.  The Johnny Upton Special     “Johnny always says, ‘you can only drink so much and screw so much…” Fictional Charlestown Chiefs’ captain Johnny Upton from the movie Slapshot sports a Lange helmet, also worn by a few NHLers during the late 70s. “Chrysler plant, here I come…”     Continue Reading →

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5 Reasons Why Kids Lose Interest in Hockey

Being in a position to work in player development has allowed me to focus on what’s best for a particular player at a specific time. In this role, I often get questioned by parents about my thoughts on development. Here is a common one: My kid doesn’t seem as interested in hockey anymore. What can I do to increase their engagement? To answer this question, you have to take inventory. Ask yourself the following questions:   1)  Are they playing too much hockey? With everyone and their dog running clinics, schools and camps all year long, sometimes it’s important to step back and realize that sometimes less is more. Desire and passion can often be negatively affected by burnout. Don’t become wrapped up in keeping up with the Joneses. I often see kids in the sessions that I run that are ragged, tired and going through the motions, while their parents shell out thousands of dollars thinking that the more their kid is on the ice, the better they will become. This is one of the biggest reasons that kids lose interest in sports, today.     2)  Are they playing at the right level? Kids develop at different stages, both mentally and physically. Some kids reach their peaks earlier than others. This doesn’t mean that Sammy Superstar at 10-years-old is going to still be Sammy Superstar at 18-years-old. Understanding that kids develop at different stages allows parents to take a step back, assess what level their kid will have the Continue Reading →

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5 Ways the “Moneyball” Approach Benefits NHL Teams

“Moneyball”, a 2003 book by Michael Lewis about the Oakland Athletics and their sabermetric approach to success in major league baseball, produced a new way of thinking in all sports. Athletics GM, Billy Beane, was looking for a way to do more with less. Hamstringed by a small budget in disparity-rich major league baseball, Beane needed to devise a system to essentially, cheat the system. Analytics became the backbone of his approach and the results have been astounding. Here are 5 ways Beane’s approach to success can benefit NHL franchises:   Analytics  Both baseball and hockey produce statistics. While baseball is much more conducive to advanced statistics, considering it is a sport based upon isolated events (pitcher vs. batter), hockey is slowly adopting more analytical approaches to measuring effectiveness in isolated situations (ie. Corsi Rating and Fenwick). Remember, before the creation of Rotisserie League Baseball by author/editor, Daniel Okrent, baseball didn’t have statistics like WHIP (Walks plus Hits per Inning Pitched). And, everyone thought sabermetrician guru Bill James was crazy for looking at ways of combining traditional statistics with emerging statistics to produce efficiency ratings and values, such as: Secondary Average: [(Total Bases - Hits) + Walks + Stolen Bases] / At bats—which attempts to measure a player’s contribution to an offense in ways not reflected in batting average. Finding ways to analyze players in isolated in-game situations can go a long way to determining value. Does Player A seem more valuable than he really is because he is playing Continue Reading →

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5 Regrets of a Failed Pro Athlete

There comes a time in every former athlete’s life when he or she evaluates what went wrong and what could have been handled better. What could I have done to change my fate? Why didn’t I make it, while many others around me did? My moment of clarity happened when I began coaching. It’s like that rebellious teenager who grows up to become a parent of a rebellious teenager. There’s a moment where you shake your head and think: “If only I knew back then what I know now.” Below are the 5 biggest regrets of my hockey career:   1.  Self-Belief One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t have a strong sense of self-worth. Likely, it had to do with the fact that I was born in December and that I was a late-bloomer (I grew 10 inches in grade 11). When you’re always a year younger and a foot shorter than everyone you’re playing with and against, it’s pretty easy to develop a complex. On top of that, I grew up in the era of every coach trying to emulate Bear Bryant and Mike Keenan. It was the 90s, the era of the tough guy. The rules of hockey weren’t what they are now and the game didn’t favour a player of my size and strengths (or lack thereof). Coaches were gruff and compliments were few and far between. If you couldn’t build confidence off of your own accomplishments (if you had any to boast about) Continue Reading →

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The Time is Right for a Major Junior Hockey Players Union

Two years ago when the notion of unionizing major junior hockey in North America was introduced, the majority of the public shook their heads and laughed. Public perception was that these are amateur hockey players who get everything handed to them on a silver platter. Why would these kids need a union? The initial launch of the CHLPA, although mired in controversy and ultimately unsuccessful, did one particular thing. It started the conversation about whether or not players are actually employees and whether or not they are being exploited. If you ask Canadian Hockey League (CHL) President, David Branch, major junior players are “Student-Athletes” (hahaha, more on that one later) who are amateur athletes that receive stipends and educational support. Given that major junior athletes are amateur players, there is no legal requirement or precedence for them to be unionized. The NCAA (major junior’s major competition for prime grade beef) stipulates major junior as an organization employing professional athletes according to legislated Bylaw and thus, deems any player who signs a major junior standard contract and competes in major junior competition as in violation of amateurism. This is where the war over 16-year-old kids begins between the CHL and the NCAA and why the birth of “School Boy” packages in the CHL was needed to maintain an edge in recruitment battles. So, if we make the assumption that major junior hockey players do qualify as employees under North American labour laws, is a players union justifiable? In order to Continue Reading →

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