Calls growing louder for junior hockey reform
There’s a name so far unmentioned in the national furore over the toxic nature of junior hockey in Canada. But it’s a name that should be mentioned because it symbolizes all that’s gone wrong with our national sport at both the junior and professional levels.
And who would you say symbolizes the zeitgeist of Canadian hockey more than Don Cherry?
Sure, he’s not on TV anymore after being fired for an ugly rant against immigrants and his false assertion that they don’t appreciate the significance of wearing a poppy on Remembrance Day. However, that wasn’t the real reason for his vitriol. Cherry, a nativist to the core, resented star players from Europe and Russia displacing Canadians from the NHL because they were often better players.
“Rock’em sock’em” Don epitomized what Canadian hockey was all about; a brutal and mainly white game where skill was okay but violence was better and being ready to drop the gloves and pound your opponent into submission instead of outplaying him was the best route to victory and making the fans roar for more. And what’s a little blood on the ice?
Don’s world was a man’s world and millions of Canadians loved it. And how do you produce men that thrive in such a savage world? Simple! You get them when they’re young and preferably a little bigger than the average child. You get them organized and playing incessantly in leagues where the ones you’re looking for soon become obvious.
These ones are then put in three special leagues across Canada where they can develop the characteristics needed for a violent sport: skating, shooting and “hitting” as body checking used to be called in a gentler time. But the most important skill is being able to dish out severe physical punishment and accept the same.
And what better way is there of doing this than to have these potential superstars only playing against each other and not mixing with players less like them or who enjoy playing hockey just for fun? Ergo the billeting system which sees youngsters in their teens living with strangers in a community that could be hundreds of miles from where they grew up.
This happens across Canada especially in the more rural areas where the talent pool is not deep enough for the kids to play in what amounts to a professional league but where they don’t receive a salary. This system does a good job of developing players good enough for the NHL. But does it develop good people?
I think not.
What else can you think in light of the recent startling revelations that some junior hockey players secretly participated in multiple sexual assaults including some that took place in conjunction with Hockey Canada galas meant to celebrate the wonders of Canada’s national sport?
It sounds like a grade B horror movie and a pornographic one at that! But there must be something to it because Hockey Canada admitted to a parliamentary committee in July to paying out $8.9 million in secret hush money settlements to settle 21 legal suits brought against it by various young women and former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy, who was sexually abused as a junior by his coach.
Kennedy has since called for the resignation of the entire Hockey Canada board and rebuilding the organization from the bottom up.
Ironically, the junior players accused of this despicable behaviour are victims too.
Yanked out of their family homes in their formative years and boarding with strangers just when they’re trying to figure out what life is all about. Is it any wonder they sometime get things wrong and develop twisted values?
But you’ll never hear about this on Hockey Night in Canada. And that’s what’s wrong with Canadian hockey.
– Gerry Warner is a retired journalist, who’s not watching the World Jr. Hockey Tournament now underway.