^ Back to Top

Welcome to This Week’s Newsletter


This week, while in between games at a tournament, and while sitting in  in my truck (warming up). I reached for the book,  “The Art of Scouting”, by Shane Malloy (2011), which had been sitting in my briefcase for over a month awaiting an opportune time to begin reading it.

I had just been talking with a college coach during the previous game, and we had been discussing a number of points regarding a U-16 player that had been the focus of our mutual attention.

We had also been talking about the ability of being able to predict the future contribution of young players to the game of hockey, and the importance of being able to identify all the important little hints that might shed light on the future successes of a player, both on and off the ice.

The very first words that I read in the introduction of Malloy’s book were;

It’s easy to go out to a game and pick out the best players. Every fan knows the guy who got the hat trick that night probably is one of the better players in the  game. but it’s not easy to do to the game and see the  guy on the fourth line who had five shifts, did everything right, played his position, had good read and react, and is a big skinny guy who, once he gets strength, is going to be an above average skater and contribute down the road. it takes time and patience and a lot of practice to fine-tune that art.” Scott Luce, Director of Amateur Scouting, Florida Panthers

The book, then goes on and talks about a number of the key ingredients that scouts look for in players, including “Hockey Sense”.

E.J. McGuire, the Director of NHL Central Scouting, describes a player  with good hockey sense as “one who always seems to be around the puck or, better yet, the puck seems to follow him“. In other words, being  able to anticipate the movement of the puck and the flow of the game…..

Jeff Gorton, Assistant Director of Player Personnel, with the New York Rangers, explains that Hockey sense isn’t limited to what prospects do, but also shows through in what they don’t do. “Hockey sense involves having an awareness of the game. Does he take a retaliatory slashing penalty” If, for example, he does and it’s the third period with his team trailing by a goal, you would assume the player does not  have a good awareness of what it takes to win.”

Craig Button, former NHL General manager, says “Without good hockey  sense or awareness, your other skills don’t matter, and that’s why so many players that can skate and have elements of skill do not succeed. It’s not because they  don’t have the skill, it’s because they  don’t have the (hockey) intelligence.”

On the flip side of that quote, I cannot tell you how often I hear comments from coaches who tell me of the fact that although a player might have unbelievable hockey sense, he does not possess the work ethic, or discipline required to be successful at the next level….., or there are too many other distractions that seem to be of higher priority.

For young hockey players. and their families, life is full of distractions, opportunities and choices, and in paraphrasing the last part of Jeff Gorton’s  quote from above, it’s possible that they may not  have a good awareness of what it takes to get  where they want to be”.

We have the awareness of “what it takes” for a player to get to the next level, and beyond….

We also have the dedication, the network and the program to help make it work.

If you think we can be of assistance, please do not hesitate to drop me a line through the neat little pop-up box to the right, or through direct email.


David MacDonald, SPAD
Hockey Family Advisor





Posted in Newsletter

Am I Playing To Win, Or Playing Not To Lose?

By Dr. Paul Dennis

Montreal Canadiens v New York Islanders


Every athlete wants to win because it’s fun. But sometimes, there are pressure situations that take the fun out of competing. When that happens, athletes assume a defensive posture and are more worried about making mistakes. As a result, they begin to play hoping that they don’t lose.


Playing not to lose

Approaching the game with the mindset that “I don’t want to lose” is a clear indicator that the stress of the game is too much to handle. They view most situations as a threat. They become considerably more anxious, they have less energy to help them navigate through tough situations, and they are a step behind in making decisions on the ice.

When athletes are consumed with uncertainty, their attention is fixated on the unknown. They have a great deal of difficulty focusing on their strengths. They have adopted a negative expectancy effect in their mind, that is, “I hope I don’t make more mistakes”. Ironically, playing to avoid mistakes often leads to more mistakes during the game because the athlete is not mentally or physically relaxed. They might squeeze the stick too tight, or get rid of the puck prematurely resulting in an unforced error. Such behaviours often lead to a downward spiral of emotions and a great deal of uncertainty.


Playing to win

On the other hand, playing to win means that an athlete has adopted a completely different mindset. They are still stressed because of the nature of competition, but they view the stress as a motivator. They find it easier to stay focused in the moment, and are more willing to take the necessary risks that lead to a positive outcome. Even if they fail, they know there will be another opportunity. These athletes look for the silver lining in every failed attempt. As the great Muhammad Ali once said, “Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win”.

Choosing to adopt the “playing to win” mindset does not guarantee winning. It guarantees a chance to win, and that’s all that one can ask for. Acquiring the “playing not to lose” perspective almost guarantees a performance full of costly errors.

Pre-game preparation is the time to assume the right mindset. So next time you’re gearing up for a game, take a few breaths and visualize yourself being successful and it will help you do just that.


A Facebook ‘like’ reveals more than we know



This subject has always been a bit of a interest of mine (David). Through the years, I have seen too many young hockey players with social media postings that I know have affected their athletic careers. In conversations that I have had with various college coaches over the years (for example), the content of a twitter account often comes up. Knowing the dedication and focus required to get to the next level, I often weed out potential clients based (in part) on social media postings. After reading  this article this week, I thought that  I should bring this issue once again to our readers’ attention.


A Facebook ‘like’ reveals more than we know


By Rapheal Satter,  The Associated Press


LONDON — Clicking those friendly blue “like” buttons strewn across the Web may be doing more than marking you as a fan of Coca-Cola or Lady Gaga.

It could out you as gay.

It might reveal how you vote.

It might even suggest that you’re an unmarried introvert with a high IQ and a weakness for nicotine.

That’s the conclusion of a study published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers reported analyzing the likes of more than 58,000 American Facebook users to make guesses about their personalities and behaviour, and even whether they drank, smoked, or did drugs, even if they thought they were the harmless kind as medicines that could still generate an addiction, many people take xanax in a daily basis and become addicted to this.

Cambridge University researcher David Stillwell, one of the study’s authors, said the results may come as a surprise.

“Your likes may be saying more about you than you realize,” he said.

Facebook launched its like button in 2009, and the small thumbs-up symbol has since become ubiquitous on the social network and common across the rest of the Web as well.

Facebook said last year that roughly 2.7 billion new likes pour out onto the Internet every day – endorsing everything from pop stars to soda pop. That means an ever-expanding pool of data available to marketers, managers, and just about anyone else interested in users’ inner lives, especially those who aren’t careful about their privacy settings.

Stillwell and his colleagues scooped up a bucketful of that data in the way that many advertisers do — through apps.

Millions of Facebook users have surveyed their own personal traits using applications including a program called myPersonality. Stillwell, as owner of the app, has received revenue from it, but declined to say how much.

His study zeroed in on the 58,466 U.S. test takers who had also volunteered access to their likes.

When researchers crunched the “like” data and compared their results to answers given in the personality test, patterns emerged in nearly every direction. Since the study involved people who volunteered access to their data, it’s unclear if the trends would apply to all Facebook users.

The study found that Facebook likes were linked to sexual orientation, gender, age, ethnicity, IQ, religion, politics and cigarette, drug, or alcohol use, since people shows a lot of their regular and sexual features in their online behavior since is something natural for every person, some look for couples online, look adult films or visit websites with adult services like zoomescorts.co.uk. The likes also mapped to relationship status, number of Facebook friends, as well as half a dozen different personality traits.


Do You Know What It Take’s? Coach Nye Talks Junior Hockey.

by Warren Nye

fitness_trainerI’ve been watching a little bit of hockey this week  (like everyday at the OHL Cup) , it’s the Ontario Hockey League’s showcase of the ‘Elite’ Minor Midgets teams through out Ontario, Canada. You have teams representing their minor hockey leagues such as GTHL, NOHA, Alliance Hockey Association and the biggest minor hockey association in Canada the Ontario Minor Hockey Association, where you have had great players come through, such as, Wayne Gretzky, Paul Coffee and some kid name Bobby Orr.

Now the reason I wanted to talk about ‘ Do you know what it takes? ‘  it isn’t so much about this tournament but the reason why these ‘Young Guns’ are showing off their stuff! It’s their draft year for Junior hockey. In the next 2 months the top players will be hounded and poked from Junior team scouts, wanting to know if their team decides to pick you in the draft, will you come?, will you be ready to play right away?

So after some discussion from other’s in the hockey community I did a little research about this subject of what it takes to make it to the next level and came across this great article written by an ex-pro who has seen it all, that being Nathan Leslie.  Nate played seven seasons of professional hockey in the Swiss Elite League, the British Super League and the Central Hockey League and now is a hockey consultant. Also a guest writer on the great site of OneMillionSkates and this where I found him doing his best piece I have seen in a while.

Nate discusses what the scout’s of Junior teams are looking for. Not so much that you can skate like the wind or shoot a rocket to the top shelf where momma keeps the peanut butter, no they look at so many things through out the season that Nate has drawn up a list for all of us can see.

So lets take a look and remember one thing a scout had told me, ‘If you are good enough, we will find you!’


So, what do hockey scouts really look for?


So, what do hockey scouts really look for? It’s a question every serious hockey player will ask as he or she approaches Bantam and beyond. Scouts rate players in five main categories: skating, size, game sense, character and skill.

Glen Williamson, a former scout with the Los Angeles Kings, tells our players every summer at Prep Camp that it is a rare occasion when one player is a perfect “5 out of 5” in every category. Rather, players need to play to their strengths and be a 5 out of 5 in their strongest categories. Every player is unique. Intangible attributes are often the ones that can prolong a career or open up new opportunities for a player.

Scouts and coaches are always looking for players who can skate and read the game, and who are willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win and add to team chemistry.

Young players need to realize that someone is always watching. Consistent behaviour and performance day in and day out are keys to success. They must do something to “get noticed.” That “something” can come from a wide range of plays — something that catches the eye of a scout, and makes the scout take notice enough to remember the player once the game is over.

The following list will shed light on just some of the subtleties of the game that scouts and coaches look for in identifying good players.

Players should:

Seminar– block shots

– shoot the puck

– head-man the puck well

– pass the puck unselfishly

– communicate verbally on the ice and from the bench

– finish checks

– minimize turnovers in high risk areas

– identify defensive responsibilities

– drive the net

– create offensive-zone scoring chances

– use their sticks to take away passing lanes

– keep their bodies in the shooting lanes by staying between their checks and the net (also known as defensive-side positioning)

– stay on the defensive side in battles for the puck

Extra position-specific cues include the following.

Forwards should:

– support the puck

– keep a forward high in the offensive zone

– backcheck through the middle of the ice

– minimize turnovers

– cover for pressured or pinching defensive players

Defense should:

– get up-ice with the play to minimize gaps

– keep attacking forwards to the outside

– stay between attacking forwards and the net

– use their partners instead of throwing the puck away under pressure

– get shots past shot blockers

Goalies should:

– minimize rebounds that bounce into the slot

– battle to make second saves (rebounds)

– communicate with the defense in the defensive zone

– play the puck on dump-ins by setting it behind the net for a teammate or by passing it to the defense

– never quit until the puck is covered or is in the net

– deflect saves to corners

– skate hard to the bench on delayed penalties

– be square to shots by moving well in the crease and anticipating the play

– challenge shooters with appropriate depth, depending on shooter position and other scoring threats

The most skilled players in the world will always find a team that wants them, even if their attitude is not the best. However, these players are few and far between, and they often bounce from team to team until their luck runs out. Every team needs a player who can lead the league in scoring or stop the puck. However, they can only deal with a poor attitude for so long.

Beyond pure skating and puck skills, the above-listed characteristics all relate to a player’s ability to read the play and to make decisions that are best for the team. The best players in the world are not always the best skaters, and they don’t always have the hardest shot or the fastest glove.

To have the best chance to move on to the next level, a player needs athletic instincts, a team-first mentality and a passion for improving physical and mental skills.

Well I hope you read that last highlighted line because that sums it all up doesn’t it?

Thanks to Nathan Leslie and the OneMillionSkates for this great article.

Until next time.

See you after the game.

Coach Nye


New Study on Drafting Players…


With the 2013 USNDT invites coming up then the USHL, QMJHL and NHL drafts, we have learned the time of year the player was born is now going to have to be considered.

A study published online last week in the science journal PLOS ONE suggest the NHL mistakenly picks players born in the first part of the birth year.

The report found that 36 per cent of players drafted by NHL teams between 1980 and 2007 were born in the first quarter of those years, or from January to March, compared to 14.5 per cent of draftees who were born in the fourth quarter.

image (Deaner, Lowen)

“It’s never been shown that people are systematically underestimating the ability of the younger players,” said Deaner, an associate professor of psychology at the Grand Valley State University in Michigan.”We found the teams are consistently underestimating how good the guys are that are born from July to December.”

Deaner reported the selection bias can start at an early age, when 12-year-old players born between January and March will dominate the rosters of elite level youth hockey teams, ahead of their peers born later in the year. He said the younger players may be almost as good, but might not be as big or as skilled and will likely end up in a lower league or not as given as much playing time.

“On average, the players who are drafted in a lower league might turn out to be better and those players might more often be relatively younger,” he said.

image (Deaner, Lowen)

According to Deaner the study showed that men drafted in the second half of the year were about twice as likely to have successful NHL careers by attaining benchmarks like 400 games played or 200 points scored, than those born earlier in the year. “If the team wasn’t making this mistake, they probably would have been more successful,” he said. “The guys born in the first part of the year are much more likely to be busts.”

image (Deaner, Lowen)

The report found that players born later in the year and drafted later actually had more productive hockey careers. According to Deaner, “The average draft position of the draftees born in the third quarter of the year and those born in the first quarter of the year is almost identical. Yet those third quarter players are twice as likely to have successful careers. It’s not somehow because the third quarter players are absolutely younger. We know that absolute age has nothing to do with it because fourth quarter players are pushed ahead to the following draft due to the Sept 15 cut-off. So they are absolutely older than the first quarter players they are drafted with. Yet fourth quarter draftees are also twice as likely to be successful in the NHL. So relative age– birth month, not birth year– is a huge predictor of how successful a draftee will be.”Reference

Deaner, Robert O., and Lowen Aaron. “Born at the Wrong Time: Selection Bias in the NHL Draft.” PLOS ONE. n. page. Web. 3 Mar. 2013. <http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0057753&gt;.


Recruiting Tips: Showcases

from College Hockey Inc.

Coaches from Clarkson and Maine offer advice on playing in recruiting showcases.

Head coach Casey Jones (left) offers advice on how to land a spot on the Clarkson bench.

Head coach Casey Jones (left) offers advice on how to land a spot on the Clarkson bench.

Clarkson head coach Casey Jones and Maine associate head coach Dan Kerluke both spend their share of time on the road recruiting. Both have identified their share of players at showcase tournaments, but caution that those aren’t the be-all, end-all for prospective players.

Listen to their thoughts on showcases, how to select which ones to play in, and what else prospective players have to focus on in the offseason.


Chocolate Milk: The King of Recovery?

By Ryan Dennis



It’s a question I get almost every day: “Is chocolate milk the best recovery drink?”

The short answer: No.

Does that mean it isn’t a good recovery drink? Certainly not!

Let’s take a closer look to review the benefits, drawbacks and, finally, look at some superior alternatives to this conventional “king”.

The Good:
– Source of both carbohydrates (the simple kind) and protein (a mix of whey and casein) in the cherished 3:1 ratio, a good target for general recovery.
– Source of many essential nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin D and vitamin A
Real cacao powder, which may be beneficial to the cardiovascular system (your heart & veins)
– Milk is a whole food

The Bad:
– Contains simple sugars which, if consumed excessively, can promote obesity (and beyond).
– Often contains artificial colours, flavors and sweeteners, and may contain Carrageenan.
– May contain a high amount of saturated fat which slows digestion, making it less optimal for the quick uptake needed for recovery.

There are, of course, a couple simple ways to get the most out of chocolate milk:

– Purchase 1%
– Whenever possible: go organic! Organic chocolate milk will not contain artificial sweeteners, colors or additives! Just pure, delicious chocolate milk!


Some Alternatives:

Whey protein isolate (natural) with banana and berries (blended)
– Higher in protein, higher in fibre, far richer in antioxidants and lower-glycemic
– Can be lactose free
Vegan Protein Powders (Such as Vega or Sun Warrior) with mixed fruit
– Higher in protein, higher in fibre, far richer in antioxidants and lower glycemic
– Lactose free and free of any animal by-products

Either of these options makes a superior post-game recovery blend, in my opinion. Whether I’m coming home from the gym, or simply from a day’s work, I always make time for the active lifestyle’s best friend: the best blender for the money. It’s as easy as it gets.

So there you have it: Chocolate milk. No, it’s not the best recovery drink, but it’s good in a pinch!


My experience with the choice between major junior and college hockey

by Justin Borne on May 11th, 2012 

After reading about Seth Jones choosing major junior over NCAA hockey – a fine choice for the talented young buck – I felt the need to weigh in with my thoughts on The Choice, and share the path I took to come to a decision. Hope you enjoy, or at the very least, learn something about the process you didn’t know before.

After reading about Seth Jones choosing major junior over NCAA hockey – a fine choice for the talented young buck – I felt the need to weigh in with my thoughts on The Choice, and share the path I took to come to a decision. Hope you enjoy, or at the very least, learn something about the process you didn’t know before.

I tried out for the Kelowna Rockets, one of the premier programs in the Western Hockey League, in the fall of 2000. I was 17 years old, although in the junior hockey world I was considered an 18 year old because I was born in 1982. I was coming off of a successful year of Midget AA, having been captain of a team that won the BC provincial championship. But being that I was that old and undrafted, I was a definite longshot and I knew it.

The thing is, I had a really good camp, and sometimes you catch people off guard. I scored twice in a heavily attended low-scoring intra-squad game in Kelowna’s Prospera Place, and was invited to travel with the team to Kamloops to play the Blazers in the first of a number of exhibition games. They had already made a great many cuts by this point.

As a young player, you deal with a range of ideas and emotions: I’m from Kelowna, so if I could walk onto the hometown Kelowna Rockets and make it…I have to do that, right? (By the way, the Rockets won the Memorial Cup in the next year or two. Dammit.) But, I was also a gangly kid who got cut to house hockey his first year of Bantam, got better (read: bigger) in a hurry, and had figured out that you can get your entire undergrad education paid for if you play junior A puck. I also knew that if I played one game – even an exhibition game – at the major junior level, I was ineligible for at least a year of that NCAA hockey (plus a game for every CHL (major junior) game played, I believe), making that dream scholarship less likely.

My parents and I sat in the room and listened to The Most Important People in the Rockets Organization at the time and tried to gauge how likely it was that I would make the team while trying to make the decision to go for it or not. Essentially, it was down to myself and large, fellow right-winger Randall Gelech (a player far better than I, who would’ve likely played in the NHL for years by now had he not been drafted/buried in the Red Wings organization when they were on top of the world for years). We told them our concerns about NCAA eligibility. And they told us “how this works”: just play/tryout, and we’ll rip up the rosters after the game. If you make it – and you have a good chance – cool. If you don’t, you’ll be fine. I’m not sure if it still does, but it seems this is a thing that occasionally happened at the time.

My parents didn’t want me to play. Between all of us, a college scholarship was the goal. If I got an education paid for then the investment in gear, practices, and time would have amounted to something. Yes, you can get Canadian college hockey paid for after playing major junior, but it’s suuuuper rare to advance, hockey-wise, beyond that. You’re basically saying it’s NHL or done-by-20. NCAA puck gives late bloomers (like myself) years to develop against incredible talents to see what you can become.

At 15 or 16 or 17, a young hockey player has to a make a decision that will forever change his career and his life: take your shot at Major Junior or commit to the college path.

I played Junior B hockey that winter, led my conference in points (beating Chuck Kobasew’s team record), and finished second overall in the league to Andrew Ebbett. That summer, I signed a card with the Vernon Vipers of the BCHL, trained my butt off, and committed to earning that scholarship.

I scored 131 points over my 120 game Junior A career, and we won a BCHL title. After fly-down visits to three different NCAA schools, I accepted a full Div. 1 scholarship (to the University of Alaska Anchorage) just like my family had hoped – just like I had hoped.

So here I sit, with a primary education in hockey, but a different title on my business card, and I couldn’t be happier. I got an education (an education your love of hockey forces you to get, if you want to play), found my best friends and really, myself. College was an experience I can’t explain, an experience I’d never give back. I was fortunate to have the opportunity. (I was more fortunate that I lived with guys capable of installing a keg-orator line from the garage to the kitchen sink, giving us water taps labelled hot, cold and beer.)

When most players have to make the decision between major junior and college, they take what they can get. Most don’t reject one for the other; their talents, age and size direct them one way or the other. Only a lucky few get to choose.

Either one works. There is a hockey cliche that “If you’re good enough, they’ll find you”. And it’s true. They’ll find you in Timbukfuckingtu if you’re NHL calibre. It’s insane. Few are overlooked.

As someone quickly approaching their 30th birthday thinking about what I’d do if I were a young player now deciding between the two, I can’t help but think: I’d have to be awfully damn good to choose major junior hockey over college. It’s not taking anything away from those who choose to go the CHL route, it’s just that one way seems a little more all-or-nothing than the other. Both seem like flying down the highway on a motorcycle, but one affords you a helmet.

As a further college hockey pump-up: going that route isn’t exactly a hockey dead end. During my years in the WCHA I faced some great players – Zach Parise, Tomas Vanek, TJ Oshie, David Backes, Matt Niskanen, Alex Goligoski, Kyle Okposo, Phil Kessel, Blake Wheeler, Andreas Nodl, Jonathan Toews, Chris Conner, Matt Greene, Keith Ballard, Matt Carle, Paul Stastny, Joey Crabb, Ryan Potulny, Ryan Stoa, Brandon Bochensky, Brian Lee, Matt Smaby, Drew Stafford, Rene Bourque, Adam Burish, Brian Elliot, Tom Gilbert, Joe Pavelski, Ryan Suter, Travis Zajac, Ryan Carter, Jason Garrison, and the toughest to play of all of them all at the time, 5’7″ Hobey Baker-winner Ryan Duncan (AHL). I was also teammates with Curtis Glencross, Jay Beagle and Nathan Lawson. You can develop at that level, and you can still make it big.

For the big guns, major junior is great too: it’s more pro-style puck, it’s great exposure, and it’s comparable to the NHL schedule.

Nobody can say for certain what’s the best route – each player has a different set of developmental needs, and each league fulfills those differently.

But for those who could use a little more time to develop and miiiigghht just want to hedge their bets on the future with an education, college hockey is the way to go.

Justin spent 4 years at the University of Alaska – Anchorage, followed by 3-4 years of playing minor pro at the ECHL.


EJHL Teams Commits Top Teams and Players for 13-14 Season

All 14 franchises will be back to participate in the EJHL’s 20th year of operation

Boston, MA (March 14, 2013) – On March 4, 2013, the directors of each Eastern Junior Hockey League (EJHL) franchise met to discuss the upcoming 2013/2014 season. At this meeting the directors reached a unanimous decision, which guaranteed each existing EJHL franchise to participate in the EJHL with their franchise’s top rated team and top rated players for the upcoming season. This is exciting news for the EJHL, who will be celebrating its 20th anniversary next year.

The EJHL is considered the premiere Junior Hockey League east of the Mississippi, with more college placements than all of the other eastern junior leagues combined. As part of an ongoing effort to perpetually raise the standards of the league, the EJHL appointed six new franchise directors for the 2013/2014 season. Paul Jenkins (Islanders), Mike Anderson (Jr. Bruins), Ken Hulst, (Jr. Pirates), Nick Regas (Hitmen), John Gurskis (Kings) and Kyle Robertson (Breakers) will join the ranks as the new directors of their respective franchises. These appointments were made prior to the March 4th meeting, which was held as a formal introduction of the directors to the league.

“We are excited to welcome these six new franchise directors to our league,” said Steve Sherman, “they understand the level of commitment we have for our players and their success, and they share the revered principles and tenets of the league.”

Also, this year marked the first competitive year of the EJHL Elite Prospects League, an affiliate of the EJHL created to prepare players to become the EJHL and College recruits of the future. The EJHL Elite Prospects League experienced such success in its first year of operation that it will be expanded to include players in an under 18 division. That will be U16 and U18 for the 2013-2014 season.

About the Eastern Junior Hockey League
The Eastern Junior Hockey League was formed to meet the needs of hockey players in the Northeastern United States, who wanted to further their skills in preparation for college or professional hockey. The EJHL has since established itself as a quality Junior Hockey Program, with many of its players realizing success at advanced levels of play.
The EJHL is committed to providing every opportunity and advantage to its member teams and players.


Posted in Junior Hockey

CIS’ University Cup has convoluted format in need of a TV- and fan-friendly refresher

By Neate Sager

Alberta Golden Bears' Johnny Lazo checks NHL first-rounder Mathew Dumba during Team Canada's selection camp in …

Alberta Golden Bears’ Johnny Lazo checks NHL first-rounder Mathew Dumba during Team Canada’s selection camp in …

Some of the best hockey below the NHL takes places this weekend in Saskatoon. You might not watch it and it won’t be your fault.

It’s no newsflash that Canadian university hockey, men’s and women’s alike, is a well-kept secret in this country. It is as difficult to market to a national audience as it can difficult for even a team ranked as high as No. 2 in the country to get out of its conference playoffs, amirite, Western Mustangs? Sportsnet will carry the last two pool games Saturday from the University Cup along with the national championship game at 7:30 p.m. ET on Sunday. Any curious channel flippers who stumble across it should very well lucky into a thriller. It seldom gets more heart-in-mouth than it did last March, when McGill’s Evan Vossen scored the overtime goal to beat Western for the Redmen’s first national title in 135 years of varsity hockey.

Still, there’s a definite disconnect between the public prestige of our collegiate hockey championship and what it takes to win it. The essential truth is that it’s not what’s inside, it’s how it’s presented to people.

It’s way too blue-sky to expect the University Cup could be as big as the MasterCard Memorial Cup, but it could be something closer to appointment viewing. The public recognizes major junior hockey an essential stop on the Canadian hockey-hero assembly line, a place to see the NHL stars of tomorrow, yadda-yadda. Scores of those players, including some who will eventually make The Show from CIS, compete for the University Cup.

The calibre of hockey is serious enough to prepare players for the AHL, ECHL and European pro leagues. The lineups of the six teams convening in Saskatoon include a few who were integral for Memorial Cup championship teams not too long ago, such as UNB Varsity Reds defenceman Ben Shutron (2009 Windsor Spitfires) and Trois-Rivières Patriotes forward Pier-Olivier Morin (2012 Shawinigan Cataractes). They didn’t get worse at hockey since they were holding their own against future pros.

Clarity and collaboration

So how do you get people to watch? Two breakdowns seem to be the tourney’s convoluted six-team format. There has to be a host team because you cannot put on any sports event in Canada without a host-team berth. Everything below the the NHL, CFL and curling is heavily localized, thanks to the wider public and Toronto-dominated national media’s neutral zone trap of indifference. The other is the lack of collaboration between CIS, the Canadian Hockey League and Hockey Canada, the three stakeholders in promotion of university hockey and the players who make it great.

On the first count, put yourself in a TV programmer’s shoes and take a boo how the University Cup schedule reads:

Saturday, March 16
1:30 pm Game 5 – Winners Game 1 vs. Saint Mary’s (SPORTSNET)
8:00 pm Game 6 – Winners Game 2 vs. UQTR (SPORTSNET)

How do you promote a broadcast where you will not know who will be one of the teams playing until fewer than 48 hours before puckdrop? The way the University Cup works is the highest and lowest seeds in each pool face off on Thursday. The losing team has to do some mind-over-matter regrouping to play the middle seed Friday. The winner gets an extra day of the rest. The pool winners play for the gold medal.

It’s clear as mud to anyone who follows this level of hockey. Perhaps that’s fine. But CIS and new CEO Pierre Lafontaine need a simpler setup if they want more people to watch the University Cup. It is the climax of the CIS championship season, which will become more important should it find a single TV partner for all of its major championships.

The solution is obvious. Seed a Frozen Four with the four champions. Hypothetically, Sportsnet could hype the hell out of a David-Goliath matchup between the Cinderella Waterloo Warriors, very few of whom played major junior, against the perennially powerful Alberta Golden Bears. The other semi between Trois-Rivières and UNB would match two of the most successful teams in the country with numerous former Quebec League players renewing hostilities.

A win-win is conference playoffs would have stakes again: no wild cards, no host team. Last week’s Saint Mary’s-UNB conference final down east was anticlimactic since

In CIS’ defence, the format it has now is financially necessary, plus having assigned wild cards keeps its regional associations from being more feudal than usual. You could argue needing a host team is a crutch, though.

In the big picture, though, improving the lot of university hockey boils down to getting more people to appreciate it. The second part of this is that, from the looks of it, the Canadian Hockey League promotes how it supports former players with their post-secondary education. Why does the interest stop with sending out a press release, for instance, about how many of a particular league’s grads play in Canada West?

This ties back to changing the channel on the endless CHL vs. NCAA war. It’s so not about which offers a better shot at a long-term NHL career. It’s about the Canadian education system vs. the U.S. education system. Yet CHL players who move on to CIS have admitted to having little concept of university hockey until they realizes it’s their most realistic post-junior option.

There’s no way for CIS to go it alone and play the University Cup in Saskatoon without a guarantee the Saskatchewan Huskies (this weekend’s host team) would be there. That’s too much risk for a small organization to carry alone.

How about this? That’s why CIS, the CHL and Hockey Canada should get together. Ergo, that’s where the CHL and CIS should partner. Who knows how the financials would work, but that’s no reason to dismiss the idea post-haste. Play a Frozen Four-formatted University Cup in a major junior building. (I can already hear some OHL GM’s heels digging into the ground at the thought of being told they’ll have to be out of the building on the last weekend of their regular season, but funny thing about hockey, exactly 50 per cent of teams face that every season.)

It could be part of the dues-paying to host the Memorial Cup, the ultimate marketing exercise — sell out an arena to perhaps watch four out-of-town teams. Hypothetically the Barrie Colts, whose former captain Colin Behenna plays for Waterloo, would boost their case to host in 2014 if they did a good job with the U-Cup.

It wouldn’t necessarily have to be in a centre with a university team. Because it’s about getting the CIS game out of the university sports bubble, while putting the product in front of more eyeballs . Sportsnet has a slightly less difficult sell with a four-team tourney. And a championship with great history gets a boost in profile.

Just a thought. It’s not even a 2013 idea, maybe it’s a 2018 or 2020 idea.