by Mark Janzen
February 19, 2014 (ISN) – Growing up as a minor hockey player, you can’t help but wonder where the game might take you. There are millions of dollars waiting for a few, and there is a lifetime of enjoyment available to many. What’s your future?
Right now. Right this second. It has never been easier to be discovered.
As burgeoning youngsters play Canada’s frozen beautiful game, the odds of getting spotted in Anahim Lake, B.C. or Lac La Biche, Alta. or Moose Factory, Ont. are as good as ever.
With ever-improving technology and the creation of YouTube, the scouting world has become a whole lot smaller. For players wanting to be seen, times couldn’t be better.
At the same time, for those young hockey players, reaching their ultimate goal – that, of course, being the National Hockey League – has never been more difficult.
The reality is that there are 690 jobs in the NHL on any given night – 23 players per team multiplied by 30 teams – and with more than 425,000 boys registered for hockey in 2011/12 in Canada alone, the challenge of making it is extremely daunting.
1. Enjoy a lifetime of the game we love
A future full of hockey sounds like a pretty good future.
Whether that’s playing rec hockey all the way through senior citizenship, volunteering as a coach for your kids, being a super fan, or all of it, the game of hockey offers so many opportunities beyond just being an NHL superstar—which, of course, wouldn’t be too bad, either.
Many NHL players cite that they didn’t enjoy street hockey because it would make them rich, one day—it’s just the game they love and they will always love it.
And most hockey people can resonate with that intrinsic enjoyment of scoring, playmaking, and making a diving save; not to mention dressing room banter (a fond memory often cited by retired NHL .
The biggest disappointment is not so much coming short of ‘The Show’ – especially because it’s so hard to get to – but the bigger loss might be not being able to spend a lifetime enjoying the best sport in the world.
2. Learn actual life skills from the game
Striving for excellence is rarely a poor idea. In fact, playing high-level hockey in a healthy environment will give players an advantage in life.
As almost any elite hockey player, McCoy included, will attest, playing professional or Junior hockey is a valuable experience. In fact, simply playing high-level minor hockey can be a difference maker.
McCoy, who played on a wide variety of teams over his career, is well aware of the dangers of pushing kids too hard, but if a reasonable balance can be struck, the results are exactly what young players should be striving for.
“I think it’s incredible what you can gain from hockey,” McCoy said. “You’re with a team and it’s like the army. You’re regimented. You practice together. You eat meals together. To succeed, you need everyone on board.
“If you play team sports and you play at a high level, companies cherish that because they know you’ll either be part of the team or you’ll lead the team.”
For Jim Dinwoodie, who coaches Bantam AAA hockey at the prestigious North Shore Winter Club in North Vancouver, developing kids as people is a key part of his job.
“That is one of the things we focus on,” said Jim Dinwoodie, “Sport helps to teach kids coping skills. It’s valuable to learn how to work within a team and accept roles in a team and to learn how to overcome something when you’re struggling. If they think their coach is tough, well, one day, they’re going to have a boss.”
3. Parents: give kids freedom to choose
For, Dwayne Lowdermilk, kids come first.
The now 55-year-old resident of B.C.’s Lower Mainland, played in three different Junior cities, four different minor pro cities and played two games in the NHL with the Washington Capitals. Since then, he has coached a variety of Junior teams and, most recently, spent four years as Trinity Western University’s men’s hockey coach.
His mantra is clear.
It’s all about the kid.
No matter the opportunities the kid gets, be it the summer camps he attends or the Junior teams he tries out for, if he’s good enough and wants it enough, he’ll get noticed.
“The biggest thing is allowing the kids to do it themselves,” Lowdermilk said. “When times really get tough, it’s only them that can dig down and do it; not mom and dad.
“That’s probably the hardest thing to get through to these parents. The case is not the opportunities. He will build the opportunities by his effort and by his passion and by his personality.”
Dinwoodie, who has coached his fair share of star talent, including, most recently, highly ranked 2013 NHL Draft prospects Nic Petan of the Portland Winterhawks and Connor Rankin of the Tri-City Americans, agrees.
“For the ones who keep going, it comes down to work and desire,” Dinwoodie said. “The elite athlete has something more. They have an internal drive. They’re able to face obstacles and persevere. The harder it gets, the better they are.”
Dinwoodie admits that indeed, as much as he’d prefer it didn’t happen, players selected in the first two rounds of the WHL Bantam Draft are treated differently than those picked in the 10th round. But, even so, if a player is good enough and, as McCoy would say, “isn’t burnt out” from the pressure and stress of minor hockey, they’ll find their way.
“If you keep being persistent and you’re consistent with what you do, it will shine through,” McCoy said.
However, the opposite is also true.
“It’s a constant grind,” McCoy said. “With the pressures of having to succeed, you just get washed out. If you don’t have the desire to play, you’re never going to go anywhere.”
One year after Parcels research, there was an NHL Draft in 2003 that went down as arguably the best of all time. Of the 30 players selected in the first round, 16 have already been NHL All-Stars.
Three years prior to that, those same players were the focus of the 2000 WHL Draft.
That year, 18 players were selected in the WHL draft’s first round. Yes, it included players like Braydon Coburn (selected first overall), Brent Seabrook (sixth), Eric Fehr (fifth) and Colin Fraser (ninth), but of those 18 players picked, eight were never picked in the NHL Draft and nine players never played an NHL game.
Even when it seems you’re on the right path, getting there is a monumental task.
4. Establish healthy perspectives, early
For parents, it’s best to figure out expectations when their kid is young.
As a Bantam coach, Dinwoodie says most of his players, and their parents, understand where they’re at.
Maybe it’s the parents of young kids who are convinced their kid will be different.
“By the time they’re at the Bantam level, they realize the dream of the NHL is not front and centre,” Dinwoodie said. “It becomes a lot more about the WHL. It’s a draft year for them. I think the craziness is at the younger ages.
“The problem is that parents don’t have a gauge to see how good their boy is at a young age. They’re looking at a small sample size in which to compare to. I’ve seen some dominant eight-year-olds who don’t turn into much.”
The reality of it all is that the ultimate goal – the NHL – is, indeed, entirely lofty.
But, with that being said, that doesn’t mean kids shouldn’t shoot for the stars.
Just remember, in 2011/12, 425,000 boys played minor hockey in Canada. A total of 968 played in the NHL.
5. Dream big and know the odds
Matt McCoy is a person who gets it.
He grew up in Prince Rupert, B.C. and left home at age 15 to pursue his Junior hockey career. He later spent three years playing pro hockey, first in Europe for two years followed by a season in the now-defunct Western Professional Hockey League. Recently, he published a book, The Kid Who Missed the Bus, which tells a fictitious story loosely based on his life, the road through Junior hockey, and, in the end, his effort, which ultimately came up just short, to make it to the NHL.
McCoy knows the ins and outs and the pressures of the game. And now he knows it as a hockey parent living in Tsawwassen, B.C.
“A lot of parents don’t want to accept the reality of the extremely long odds of making it,” McCoy said. “Parents want their child to be what they never were and they push and push and push.
“Every parent thinks their kid is going to the NHL and they’re not. That’s the reality. I was fortunate enough to play Junior hockey and then have a good pro career and that’s a real feat. Just getting to play Junior hockey alone is a feat.”
The numbers bare his statements true.
In a 2002 study, “The Chances of ‘Making It’ in Pro Hockey,” which is still amongst the best work on the odds of getting to the NHL, Jim Parcels looked at 1975-born players who played their minor hockey in Ontario.
According to his numbers, there were approximately 30,000 1975-born players who played their minor hockey in Ontario.
Of those, 232 players were drafted to the OHL but only 105 of those drafted ever played a game in the OHL. Meanwhile, 42 of those 30,000 went on to play NCAA Division 1 hockey.
Basically, in that birth year, other than a small few who may have played Canadian university hockey or gone on to play a level of Senior hockey, 0.49 per cent of players, or 147 in real numbers, played beyond minor hockey. Further to Parcels point, of those 30,000 players, 56 were drafted by or signed with an NHL club. Of those, only 32 ever played a game in the NHL. And only 15 played more than one full season.
Meaning, 1.06 players per 1,000 ever cracked an NHL roster.
Furthermore, 0.5 players per 1,000 played more than a season; essentially 1 in 2,000.
If one could find a roulette wheel with 2,000 numbers on it, you’d be better off putting all your hockey fees and hotel stays on it and betting on 1,328 with one spin
But then again, NHL players probably all heard the same statistics—and they still made it.
Many Canadians will agree this is the most enjoyable sport in the world and for so many reasons: speed, skill, creativity, teamwork, passion, hard work. It’s a game for the casual participant and a game for the player who dreams big.