Perhaps today is the day, the hockey gods will either smile or frown upon me for expressing this opinion. As the young people say, “it is what it is” and I think my opinion is shared by more people than it will not be.
Almost every week now we all hear about the junior hockey expansion team. In most case it is in the Tier III or independent pay to play self labeled Junior A level. It is very rare now that the Hockey Canada or USA Hockey are approving the expansion of high level junior leagues.
Hockey Canada and USA Hockey are the governing bodies in North America. The statistics of players in youth hockey are used to determine just how much junior hockey growth can be supported by players aging out of youth hockey to junior. This make sense when you think that they know how many player are available in any age group. The number do not lie.
The United States and Canada are also free market countries. This mean anyone has the right to start the business they want to start. So, anyone who want to start the junior team can start one if they can get in a league.
Troubling though is how many team start and fail. The most common reason of the fail is a lack of player to pay the tuition combine with the lack of talent to actually call the expansion team “junior” level. There is simply just too many team and not enough quality player.
Junior Hockey is supposed to be the pinnacle of the skill development for player aged 16 to 20. The purpose of this development is to prepare the athlete for career advancement either in the NCAA or professional leagues.
The key phrase – “Junior Hockey is supposed to be the pinnacle of the skill development”. Think about that phrase. It do not say, it is the next level of play for any player who want to play junior hockey, it say it is the PINNACLE OF THE SKILL DEVELOPMENT. This mean not everyone is deserving or good enough to play at the level.
As the coach, it look like many expansion team is more concerned about the business opportunity than the true concept of junior hockey. From the business standpoint that is fine, but from the hockey standpoint it is only hurting the game.
Two week ago I watch a game where I see two team on the ice that have several player who never play AAA hockey in the past, and those player are some top player in the games. The player did not come from prep school, or another high level development program. Compare to the other player they were good player, but the other player would not be suitable for high level junior program.
So why do we allow the label of junior hockey to be place on the team or the league that is not really junior hockey? Is it to let player say he play junior hockey? Is it worth the money to pay to just be able to say that? Are the parent and player so delusional to believe that they are actually playing high level hockey and will go to the NCAA or pro leagues?
My good friend recently give me a good analogy when we sit and talk about the game. The former NHL player still do the scouting in his spare time. He love to build the kit car in his spare time. This month he will finish the kit car Lamborghini. I recently see it in his garage and it look very sharp, and has all the right labels on it.
He say to me, “Coach it looks like the Lamborghini you see on the race track. Very clean and looks great in pictures or parked in the garage. But if you look under the hood you only have the six cylinder engine. Just because it looks like a Lamborghini, does not make it a real Lamborghini, and the same is true with junior hockey.”
When you expand without care, and place a label on something calling it junior hockey, you may have all the right marketing, the website, the arena, and a nice logo, but that do not mean you are junior hockey.
To all the careless expansion team, you may look great in the dressing room pre game putting on the jersey, but you don’t want to get out on the track with the real junior team.
To all the people being talked into the expansion, check the number, there are simply not enough junior level player available to fill every roster. The quality horsepower the real junior player deliver to each team is the difference between the Lamborghini and the Volkswagen.