The most influential minds in Canadian hockey, meeting in Toronto last week to discuss the state of our national pastime, came away with a long list of recommendations, including having more practices than games.
“I think the biggest issue is the practice-to-games ratio and the availability of ice time,” noted Lynn Kellar, president of the Fort Frances Minor Hockey Association.
“For us, the second ice surface will help us,” he said. “But I think if you go across Canada, there are a number of places that do not have the necessary practices-to-games [ratio] due to a lack of ice times.
“Locally, we’re not any different—ice time is still a big issue,” he stressed.
The “Open Ice” summit was deemed necessary as Canada enters the new millennium questioning its hold on hockey supremacy. Many believe the sport is in a state of crisis, pointing to the diminishing talent of players at the elite level and Canada’s lack of success in international competition.
Ken Dryden, former star goalie with the Montreal Canadiens and now president of the Toronto Maple Leafs, said the weakness in our system is that it places far too much on emphasis on games rather than practices.
He also felt it put too much emphasis on size and physical contact, and that the means of winning—using defensive tactics instead of offensive creativity—were becoming detriments to the game.
But these are issues that already have been touched upon here.
Besides the issue of more practice time, Kellar said the local association already has tried to better educate their volunteer coaches through clinics, including placing more emphasis on skill development particularly with the younger players.
“Since my time here, there haven’t been any different problems,” said Kellar, adding he’s “quite happy” with the minor hockey program in Fort Frances.
“We’re still developing good hockey players, and our players are just as good as the teams that are practising two to four times a week,” he noted.
“And when we get more ice time [here], we’ll only get stronger,” he predicted.
But while there’s no question Fort Frances is producing good players—and solid teams—as evidenced by all the tournament titles earned each year at all age levels, what has become noticeable is the fact very few local products have advanced to the junior, college, or pro ranks of late.
It’s a situation that has baffled—though not necessarily concerns—Kellar, whose son, Chris, recently was cut by a junior ‘A’ team in Newmarket along with former Muskie Brad Gushulak, last year’s leading scorer in NorWOSSA.
“I don’t know why that is,” offered Kellar. “The kids are just as good but I think it may be because they just aren’t seen in this area.
“It’s hard for players to get seen [by scouts] if their playing up here,” he reasoned.
The “Open Ice” summit, which wrapped up Friday, agreed on the following 11 recommendations, which will be forwarded to the Canadian Hockey Association (CHA):
•Create a system of mentor/master coach for every minor hockey association (eventually, the position should become a paid professional);
•The practice-to-game ratio should be that the ratio of games should not exceed that of practices (also, the meaning and perception of practices should be redefined);
•Age categories for players should be examined;
•Coaches and parents should raise the importance of skill development, and develop a system to measure and celebrate skills;
•Expand the implementation and marketing of the initiation program, including the use of the public school system;
•As part of the ongoing rewrite of the coaching program, it should include a “software skills module” and a mentor program;
•Examine the raising of the draft ages (both NHL and CJHL);
•Initiate a public campaign on positive values of hockey and having respect for all participants, rules, and the game itself;
•All Canadian players, partners, and stakeholders should be actively educated on the recommendations of “Open Ice”;
•Co-operative effort of school boards, local hockey associations, and sponsors to better utilize ice times and school facilities, and move towards development of sports schools; and
•Expanded communication among the partners in hockey with respect to program developments.