Hockey Canada comes up with the gimmicky slogans, like “Relax, it’s just a game,” reminding parents that, well, it’s just a game.
Hockey’s greats, beginning with Gretzky and Orr, preach about playing for the sheer love of the game. Sidney Crosby and the folksy Tim Hortons commercial reminds us, “hockey brings together all Canadians.”
Yet for as much as we are told it’s about fun, fellowship, physical activity, teamwork, socialization and all that stuff, the message falls off the rails far too often.
A healthy majority of parents, thankfully, keep an even keel. But there’s a segment of the population that doesn’t get it, a sector that can’t help but bawl and shout at the youngsters on the ice, reminding Junior to hold the stick, shoot the puck, skate left, skate right, do this, do that.
It’s not just hockey, of course. They can be found at the ball field, on the soccer pitch and at the basketball game.
But it’s hockey — the national sport, with the biggest numbers — where it is particularly discernible.
“I guarantee you,” Bobby Orr told me years ago, “Walter Gretzky never told Wayne, ‘You’re going to be a pro player.’ He made sure he got Wayne his equipment and got him to the rink and just let him play.
“I think back to my days in minor hockey and I was never pressured to play. My parents never, ever told me to get to the rink, that ‘We want you playing.’ Kids today skate far too much. It’s so silly.”
Stories about pushy parents are so common today, they’re no longer considered newsworthy half the time.
But as a parent of a nine-year-old hockey player, tales of hockey’s Mommy and Daddy Dearest of the Rinkboards are still confounding, bordering on absurd.
Like the local blogger on canadianparents.com, or Canada’s Parenting Community, as it dubs itself.
She is the mother of a — get this — just-turned six-year-old. The wee lad’s beginning novice initiation, where five- and six-year-olds learn to hold a stick and skitter about the ice in hockey equipment for the first time.
Apparently, the parents are convinced — or have been convinced — the boy’s a bit of a prodigy, and should be moved up an age group, perhaps directly into novice or even atom.
The Mount Pearl Minor Hockey Association refused the request, of course.
So the mother takes her perceived slight to the canadianparents.com blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
“Dear Mount Pearl Minor Hockey Association
You will regret your decision.
When Ty is making millions of dollars in the NHL and he comes home to give back to his community and the hockey organization he played with when he was a kid, and it’s not you, you will regret your decision.
When it’s a locker room joke that the best player ever to come out of Newfoundland was once held back by a hockey organization more focused on politics than kids, you will regret your decision.
When you realize that every other hockey organization is willing to move Ty up a level, and will do anything to get Ty on their team, you will regret your decision.
... When Ty is playing with a different team and completely smokes the Mount Pearl Blades who are years older than him, you will regret your decision.”
You can’t make this stuff up.
If it wasn’t so pathetic, it would be laughable.
Delusional as she is, I will give the woman props for one thing: she doesn’t mask her feelings with lip service.
There are too many hockey parents out there who will say all the right things, all the stuff about the youngsters having fun and getting exercise. But judging by their actions, you know there’s a deep-seated yearning to see Junior skate all the way to the NHL.
Anything is possible, and players like Ryane Clowe — who was playing high school and midget house league hockey in Grade 11 — is the poster boy for hard work and perseverance.
But a player like Clowe only comes along every so often. And the peewee phenoms, like a little Danny Cleary all those years ago, emerge every generation or so.
Not to douse water on anyone’s parade, but consider these numbers: there are 690 National Hockey League players (30 teams, 23 players per team). Every single year, there are close to 3,000 hockey players in the Canadian Hockey League and United States Division I college hockey.
And we haven’t mentioned Europe.
So the odds of making the NHL are slim. Not impossible, but very slim.
Conversely, the chances of a child applying himself at school and working towards a degree or trade are far, far greater.
Then again, who cares about university when your career path towards hockey stardom has already been mapped out … even when you’re still doodling with crayons.
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email firstname.lastname@example.org