No secret to Moncton and area minor hockey success

Robin
Robin Short
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It's been a banner season so far for Moncton and area minor hockey teams, with clubs from the region winning AAA minor hockey titles at the peewee, bantam and major midget levels.

The secret? Well, there is no secret.

"There are 22 arenas in and around Moncton," says Danny Flynn. "The kids are getting some pile of ice (time). That and good coaching."

Figuring out how to develop an athlete is not akin to splitting an atom - one requires lots of practice and bright coaching. And it's why the best Newfoundland and Labrador can ever hope to accomplish is to develop a scattered pro here and there.

Let's see, in St. John's the number of rinks total - let me check here - oh yes, eight. Two of those include Mile One and the wee St. Bon's Forum.

It's another challenge facing hockey players in the region, but to its credit, Newfoundland's done all right, challenging P.E.I., New Brunswick and maybe even Saskatchewan for producing the greatest number of NHLers - per capita - than any other province.

"No question," said Flynn, "the talent is here. Always has been. Look at our team - James Melindy (of the Goulds) is poised to become an NHL draft pick, Kris Hodge (of C.B.S.) will play for us next year, Scottie Trask was our assistant captain and a real character player for us last season.

"It's just the geographical challenge that surrounds Newfoundland. With the travel, it's tougher for chief scouts to get here so the best chance for kids are the tournaments like Atlantic championships, midget tournaments in Gatineau, Que. and Moncton, the POE camps.

"Sure there are scouts in each province - we have Scott Gordon here - but ultimately it's the chief scout who makes the call and the geographic and economic challenges getting to Newfoundland do make a difference."

Flynn is coach of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Moncton Wildcats, where he's won a couple of league championships. He won a Memorial Cup with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, been involved with Hockey Canada programs, coached Canadian college hockey and even spent a year as an assistant coach with the New York Islanders.

Flynn scouted for the Los Angeles Kings and is in St. John's, taking in the Atlantic major midget championship at Jack Byrne Arena.

He knows a bit about Newfoundland, having played for the Grand Falls Cataracts in the Newfoundland Senior Hockey League back in the day, winning a pair of Herders for Joe Byrne. In fact, Flynn worked for Byrne, cutting his teeth in the Newfoundland Amateur Hockey Association office until he landed an executive director's job in Nova Scotia.

So Flynn knows a bit about hockey, and player development. Critical to Newfoundland, he said, is maintaining the provincial major midget league.

There have been rumblings the league might not be around next season (Tri-Pen dropped out at season's end, leaving the two St. John's teams, Central and Western). Part of the reason is outside St. John's, more emphasis - for whatever reason - is placed on high school hockey.

Splitting powerhouse St. John's into two teams has also helped, Flynn said.

"Does it make for the best team at the Atlantics?" he asks. "No. But for the betterment of the league and overall player development, it's good to balance two St. John's teams."

Flynn now says the next step for Newfoundland and Labrador is a provincial AAA bantam circuit for 13- and 14-year-olds. There are only four major midget teams in New Brunswick, he said, but 12 AAA bantam teams.

"I know there are scheduling and economic challenges, but the midget league needs a feeder system."

In the meantime, Flynn and other junior and pro hockey people will beat the bushes for hockey players, hoping to find maybe another Ted Stephens, the Whitehorse, Yukon kid who just finished his fourth season in Moncton, registering 108 points in 171 career major junior games.

"If you have talent," Flynn says, "you will find a way. But it helps if you are in the right development program."

IN SHORT

Entering last night's game in Vancouver, Michael Ryder was one point away from matching his single-season high 63 points he tallied with the Montreal Canadiens in 2003-04. That's the highest number of points a Newfoundlander has scored in one NHL season. Teddy Purcell is close behind with 60 points ... Big Hockey Canada meeting in Toronto this weekend where a proposal to restructure the organization will be outlined. Currently, the various branch presidents - 13 in all - are, for all intents and purposes, the bosses of the organization, with president Bob Nicholson answering to the chairman of the board, which is an elected position. Under a new system, power will be taken away from the branch presidents and a management board will be appointed. If that happens, Newfoundland will never again see a Don Johnson, Brian Wakelin or Wayne Russell rise to the ranks of Canadian hockey president ... After the Montreal debacle, who will ever hire Pierre Gauthier - who takes micro-managing to a new level - again? Don't be at all surprised if Tampa Bay assistant GM Julien BriseBois does not get the Habs' GM job very soon ... Forget about Mark Nichols rejoining Brad Gushue now that Gushue has a spot open on his curling team ... Newfoundland's got a good thing going with its senior hockey league, hugely popular in centres like Clarenville and Grand Falls-Windsor. So why is it we keep hearing grumblings about teams - wink-wink, nudge-nudge - bending the rules a bit when it comes to paying players? If hockey hopes to have this league last, it might want to consider bringing in an independent, outside administrator to keep an eye on things. A hound watching the foxes, as it were ...

Robin Short is The Telegram's Sports Editor. He can be reached by email rshort@thetelegram.com

Organizations: NHL, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, New York Islanders Los Angeles Kings Newfoundland Senior Hockey League Newfoundland Amateur Hockey Association Montreal Canadiens Big Hockey Canada

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Moncton, St. John's Atlantics New Brunswick Saskatchewan Gatineau Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds Canada Nova Scotia Whitehorse Yukon Vancouver Toronto Montreal Tampa Bay Clarenville

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