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Hey Mom, Johnny Ain’t Going to The Show. So Just Have Fun!

It’s likely that you’ve heard them at least once during every hockey season. The shrill bunch. You know the ones, the ones who constantly berate the officials, the coaches and the league organizers.

If you’ve spent any amount of your child’s hockey-playing life at the local rink, you have, on a few occasions, heard their shrieks and now that the 2011-12 season is just getting started, it might be a good time to remind you about their favorite rallying cries:

“Your missing a great game, ref!!!” is another.

“My kid’s going to the show, you buffoon!!!” is yet another.

(NOTE: When they stop yelling at the teenaged referees and start yelling at league officials, they usually employ the help of a lawyer.)

Bob Nicholson

Bob Nicholson

They’re the crazy parents. The ones who believe that their kid, and their kid alone, would already be in the NHL, if the stupid referee would call the game better or if the coach had a clue about his power play or if league organizers didn’t keep “My precious Wayne Jr.,” off the Triple A travelling team.

“There aren’t very many of them,” said Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson recently. “Studies have shown that only about two or three per cent of all hockey parents are a problem. Trouble is, for the other 97 or 98 per cent, the problem parents taint the atmosphere.

This sign was posted in an Illinois hockey rink.

This sign was posted in an Illinois hockey rink.

“As an association, what we continually have to work on, is giving the vast majority of parents, the good parents, the proper tools to deal with the problem parents. We need to give the good parents the ability to say, ‘Hey, cool it!’”

Nicholson has heard all the stories and he’s seen, first hand, all the craziness that can take place at kids’ hockey games. He’ll be the first to tell you that every parent wants what’s best for his/her hockey-playing children, it’s just that no one needs to get in a fist-fight over what’s best.

First of all, and this is incredibly important, one must understand reality. Folks this might now be what you want to hear, but it’s extremely unlikely that your son is going to make it to the NHL. Extremely freaklin’ unlikely.

A study done by the University of Toronto a decade ago concluded that the chances of a 12-year-old “elite hockey player” (that’s the best of the best across the country) making it to the NHL are 1 in 3,333.

That same study also concluded that only three per cent of the elite 15-year-old players in the world will ever play a game in the NHL. These are the kids who have ground it through every level, have been identified as top players in their cities or provinces and are, by the opinions of many of their coaches, “destined for greatness.”

Yet only three out of every 100 of the absolute best ever get to The Show.

Meanwhile, there is another little bit of reality to grasp. According to the same study, a couple of generations ago, nearly half of all 15-year-old Canadian boys continued to play the game until they were at least 18. Today more than 83 per cent of those who start playing hockey as an eight-year-old drop out by age 15.

That’s sad. And it’s sad because there is a belief out there that if a youngster hasn’t been drafted into big time junior hockey by age 15 — Grade IX – the kid is going nowhere.

Yeah buy your boy a uniform. He'll earn one later, a lot later.

Yeah buy your boy a uniform. He’ll earn one later, a lot later.

“Yeah, I’ve heard that stuff before,” laughed Nicholson. “Here’s the real deal. We are well aware that there are many late bloomers out there. We know that a lot of kids don’t get growth spurts until their mid-teens. That’s why we started the oft-criticized ‘Canadian Model,’ for junior hockey. Five years ago, there were 1,200 16-year-olds playing major junior hockey (CHL). Today there are fewer than 400. And that number is steadily dropping. We’ve put in place mechanisms that get us back to reality. That reality is this: Going through the minor hockey system is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

“And always remember this. There are so many hockey scouts out there, that very few players fall through the cracks. If you are committed to the marathon, if you want to play at a high level badly enough and you are prepared to do the work, don’t worry, somebody will notice.”

It’s true. Eight-year-olds don’t make it to the NHL. But no matter what your minor-hockey career has been like, if you keep grinding, you can reach the stars.

Just ask Winkler’s Dustin Penner.

Penner has been called “the kid no one wanted.” He was cut by his local Triple A midget team twice. He was cut twice by the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Winkler Flyers. The WHL didn’t want him and no U.S. college wanted him, either. He ended up as a walk-on at Minot State University, a junior college in Bottineau, N.D.
Penner played his first season at Minot State and then, the following summer he and his dad drove nine hours from Winkler to Saskatoon for a summer prospects camp. He didn’t think he’d get a look, but what the heck? Nothing ventured, right?
But as luck would have it, he DID get a look. Maine University Black Bears coach Grant Standbrook happened to be at the camp.

“Why don’t you come to Maine?” Standbrook asked. Penner was dumbfounded. He was, after all, 20-years-old and had been working for a year in the gas station in Winkler.

Dustin Penner 1

“Yeah, why not?” Penner figured.

After a year at Maine, he was signed as a free-agent by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. After a year in Anaheim, he signed a five-year, $21.25 million contract with the Edmonton Oilers. He was traded two years ago to the Los Angeles Kings where he wona Stanley Cup ring last spring as the team’s third-line leftwinger.

“Dustin Penner is proof that if you want to play pro hockey and you’re good enough, somebody will find you,” said Nicholson. “So don’t worry about your kid’s future. Let him have fun. He’ll find his own way.

“What worries me is that parents don’t look in the mirror. They need to do that. They need to look in the mirror and ask, ‘Is this my kid’s dream or is it my dream?’ Let your kids have their own dreams. Your only job as a parent is to guide them in the right direction.

“Hockey is a wonderful game for learning life skills and proper values and gaining friendships. It should be a lifelong sport not a means to some crazy end.”

There you go mom. Stop yellin’ at the ref and quit worryin’ about the coach. The fact of the matter is this: If your son is good enough, an NHL team will find him. All the studies show that your only job is to support him and give him the encouragement to keep playing.

In the meantime, do us all a favor and stop yelling.

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