By Woodard, Dale on October 13, 2017.
A ‘Hockey Talk’ column by Matt Weninger
It seems like everyone is settling into hockey season. Or just being forced to settle in as it seemed like every road into and out of southern Alberta was closed earlier this week. I golfed in shorts two weeks ago and dug my car out of the snow last week – God love southern Alberta.
One last reminder for those looking to sign up for programs and the Team Building and Leadership Seminar. To sign up go to: https://www.hockeyalberta.ca/regional-centres/locations/south/.
I have seen a few comments lately on the state of sport schools in Western Canada and the role they are playing in the development of hockey players. When I played (not that long ago), the Canadian Sport School League didn’t exist and there was only a few sporadic academies (Notre Dame in Wilcox, Sask., and Edge in Calgary are the only two that come to mind). Now the CCSHL is a 13-team league in Bantam Prep and a 16-team league in Midge Prep.
I look at the list of players who were named to the recent U16 Team Alberta that will compete in the newly named WHL Cup; half of the team plays at academies this season. In the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft, 13 of the 22 first-round draft picks came from academies. Yet, somehow it seems Lethbridge and southern Alberta are somewhat immune to this phenomenon. Ridley Greig and Ronan Seeley are two of the players who were drafted in the first round and who made the U16 Team Alberta team who did not attend academies and both are currently playing AAA Midget in Lethbridge. Lethbridge isn’t completely immune as some players have chosen to leave for academies, but compared to other areas in Western Canada our city hasn’t been hit by the mass exodus of players.
Let me make something clear, I am not opposed to the concept that these sport schools offer. Typically they do offer daily practices, workouts and elite coaches that some minor hockey associations simply can’t offer. The AAA teams in Lethbridge do practise four times per week with additional off-ice opportunities similar to academies. Typically, the coaches at the AAA levels in Lethbridge are extremely qualified: Doug Paisley at the AAA Bantam level and Mike Dyck at the AAA Midget level are both probably overqualified for the levels they are coaching. Those qualifications and practice times are probably large influencers to the reasons that sport schools haven’t hit Lethbridge as hard as other places.
The idea that hockey is an expensive sport isn’t as myth. It is a reality. Between equipment, travel, fees and additional training a $10,000 bill for a season of hockey would be quite conservative. Typically a sport school will run the cost up three times that amount. The reality is that hockey is becoming more and more a white-collar, elitist sport. The frequency of the blue-collar, small-town kid becoming an elite player is becoming less and less. The dollar figure associated with the game is becoming too obstructive to the average family. The working-class family, heck even the middle-class family, simply can’t afford a $30,000 bill for a season of hockey.
The value many academies offer to players isn’t lost on me. There are great coaches and great training opportunities at the majority of these academies, not all of them, but the majority. For southern Alberta on the male side, there isn’t a need for an academy. It is easy to see the success Lethbridge Minor Hockey has had at developing players the past few years and the reality that our AAA programs offer the same development opportunities that the best academies offer. The cost of minor hockey is significant but the cost of an academy would cripple and exclude many families from participation. Our community is privileged for the opportunities that are presented to our hockey players and that our elite coaches are more qualified than the most well-paid academy coaches. It is great to see a not-for-profit association such as Lethbridge Minor Hockey have success as a development association in the face of so many private institutions and private groups increasing the cost of our great sport.
This isn’t a rant against sport schools but more of a letter of support for Lethbridge Minor Hockey and the elite volunteer coaches such as Doug Paisley and Mike Dyck. The value these people bring to hockey in our community in an effort to develop players and be as financially inclusive as possible to families to be a part of our great game. Look at the players these gentlemen have helped support in the past several years, a list that is simply unrivalled. If an academy were to come to our area of the province I would hope our citizens would be able to see the reason our city has been so effective at producing players and why players from across the province want to be a part of our association. In the face of the numerous academies that continue to run up the cost of hockey we continue to be a model for success that no new private group could emulate.
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