Observations From the Rink: Hockey and Politics, Where the Hell is the Mediator?

It’s unfortunate that politics exists in the game of hockey.

I learned this lesson at a very young age, when my brother who had a tremendous skill set was repeatedly “cut” from provincial teams over his career.

I idolized my brother growing up and tried to emulate him in every facet of the game.

I didn’t understand why he wasn’t making these teams. At a young age he handled this like a true professional. I would go to his games and he would be the best player on this ice.

So when it came time for me to take my crack at provincial, I really felt that I was playing for the both of us.

When I got cut my first year Pee Wee I was devastated. Looking back on it I wasn’t ready.

It was a very difficult season.

I never went through what my brother experienced and resentment was never present in our house hold.

My brother always took the time to teach me the finer points of the game, while I was getting more advanced coaching he was struggling to understand why he wasn’t given a fair shake in the game.

The game of hockey that was so rewarding from my perspective, but yet for my brother it was punishing. He was mistreated or not given a fair shot year after year because coaches would automatically ignore him during the tryout process due to the previous year’s team.

As I referred to in a previous articles the “pecking order” usually starts with the coach’s son, this was always the case for my brother, his skill set was clearly more suited for the higher level, but the political aspect of hockey continued to rear its ugly head.

The cyclical nature of the tryout process in my opinion is also a major flaw in today’s hockey world and existed back then as well.

Is it really who you know?

Do coaches make personal decisions rather than hockey decisions?

I was on both sides of this argument for many years and have a vested interest in both sides. I have coached players that didn’t play at the highest level the year before and they arrive during the tryout process an empty shell of themselves.

The hockey world has changed the name several times to try to spice it up but when “house league or recreational hockey” or even when a single letter is associated with the player or mentioned, provincial coaches automatically assume the player won’t be ready to play at the next level.

From a coaches perspective I used to evaluate every player on the ice and I didn’t look at their previous year’s team when selecting my club.

I realize that I’m opening a can of worms here and that it may be hockey’s little white lie or darkest secret.

Nonetheless, it all goes back to what I’ve said previously about branding players and the political aspect is part of this growing epidemic in our game.

The selection process is difficult enough without bringing personal feelings and emotions thus clouding our judgments.

Hockey shouldn’t be about who you know or creating clicks or only having the self imposed “popular kids” or “popular parents” make teams solely on that premise.

I’ve known kids personally that I’ve cut or released it is never a good feeling and causes a lot of sleepless nights, but as a coach you have to go with the hockey decision, and in most aspects you must use your head rather than your heart.

Let me tell you right now, the hardest thing I have ever done as a coach is cut someone.

It’s never a good day when you basically tell a player and their family that they aren’t good enough.

The controversial aspects of hockey are endless, but the selection process in youth hockey usually is where one would see the most political issues surface.

So is politics still running wild in the game today.

I’ve been told it’s perhaps worse than it’s ever been which is awful when you think about it.

Getting back to the selection process, to avoid this some associations have appointed people to help the coach select their club, in my opinion this is “adds fuel to fire” and the politics rage on.

I get why associations do it, but let’s try leaving the names off the list and evaluate by numbers.

Plus most of the so called independent evaluators are in the same associations and have a history of coaching meaning they know the kids and the parents.

That’s why it adds fuel to the fire, it reeks of politics.

I don’t have all the answers, but we have to discuss this aspect of the game, before it essentially ruins the game.

I think the hockey world has come to accept politics when picking teams is the new normal and most people are too worried about questioning the process because of fear of being listed as a trouble maker and in the back of their minds are always thinking about next year and all the what ifs that go along with that.

Case in point, look at the World Jr.’s and the cuts they have made in that past few years. Are they hockey decisions, political decisions or do they have a “ghost roster” already created before the tryouts even take place?

I’ve never been a big fan of how they select that team and I hate ghost rosters.

Hockey decisions need to be made free of political influence.

Politics has no place in our great game.

As for my brother, he was in every way a better hockey player than I was, I look back at my playing days with great memories, on the other hand my brother had the game of hockey somewhat stolen from him by the dark side of a sport.

I have been shielded from the political side of the game for the past few years given my roles within the game, but don’t you worry I have still witnessed it trying to seep into my world as well.

I had one player agent say “oh Craig you should write a story on Player A now that would be a great story.”

Clearly Player A was one of his guys.

I have to yet to write that story and perhaps I may never write it.

As Clint Eastwood said in Magnum Force, “A good man always knows his limitations.”

or as John Vernon said in the Outlaw Josey Wales “Don’t piss my back and tell me it’s raining.”

Hockey and politics, where the hell is a mediator?

Quick Hits

1. For all those Coaches out there just pick the best player

2. For all those parents out there that their kid may not deserve to be on that team, wake up do you really want your child to be given a spot on a team when they didn’t earn it?

3. For the player and their family that always get cut do in large part to politics, keep your chin up, keep working, you will be a better player and person because of it, and trust me good hockey people will notice you. They will appreciate your journey.

4. Coaches forget the hockey resumes of players trying out for your teams, pick the best players you will probably sleep a hell of a lot better at night because it

5. To the associations, how about going to retired non parent coaches or scouts in your community to help select your teams, everyone might learn something

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